Villainy: How to Write Evil


(Another post to Randy Elrod’s Water Cooler Wednesdays a weekly series on arts & culture)


I’ll beat you to it and address this question right up front. You saw the title, it tweaked your interest, but now you want to know the answer to these simple questions: 

Why should I waste my time learning how to write evil? What’s so good about the bad guy? 

Let’s start with what this article is not about. 

It’s not about glorifying evil.

It’s not about justifying evil. 

It is accepting that for every story with a good guy, you need a bad guy. In order for the hero to win, he’s got to fight; and the better the hero, the worse the villain. I didn’t make the rules, but I hope to help you follow them.  

First, if you want to write a good bad guy, you’ll need to do a little research. The way I see it, you’ve got at least three types of villains to choose from: 

1)    The Bureaucrat

2)    The Enemy as Friend

3)    The Archnemesis 

But before we dive in, a word from our sponsor, 

Though I had never written anything more easily, I never wrote with less enjoyment.” – C.S. Lewis 

Lewis is talking about a book he wrote called The Screwtape Letters. It’s written as correspondence between a demon protégé and his demon superior. Lewis says it’s easy to write villains, and I agree, but that doesn’t make it fun. Just keep this in mind – every hero needs a villain. You may not like thinking about why your villain likes to kill people, or why she likes to lie, but your story will languish into mire if your readers cannot genuinely despise (or pity) your villain. 


1)    The Bureaucrat




He is called, “The Architect of the Holocaust,” and is one of the most despised human beings of the 20th century. His name is Adolf Eichmann, and he is my hands down pick for the most despicable picture of The Bureaucrat. 

I was one of the many horses pulling the wagon and couldn’t escape left or right because of the will of the driver.”  – Adolf Eichmann’s explanation of his involvement in The Holocaust 

These are the presumably remorseful words of the man responsible to carry out Hitler’s Final Solution – the extermination of over 12 million European Jews. In his mind, it was nothing more than a horse pulling a wagon. 

Haruki Murakami references Eichmann in his book, Kafka on the Shore, 

Our responsibility begins with the power to imagine…Flip this around and you could say that where there’s no power to imagine, no responsibility can arise.” 

Or as I like to put it, these types of villains argue,

It’s just my job.


2) The Enemy as Friend


Tony Stark & Obadiah Stane


He was your father’s friend, and he is your friend, too; He claps you on the back and wishes you a happy birthday; He’s constantly telling you not to worry about things, he’s got it all taken care of. Obadiah Stane, you are my pick as the most despicable Enemy As Friend.

When I ordered the hit on you, I was worried that I was killing the golden goose. But, you see, it was just fate that you survived it, leaving one last golden egg to give. You really think that just because you have an idea, it belongs to you? Your father, he helped give us the atomic bomb. Now what kind of world would it be today if he was as selfish as you?” – Obadiah Stane, Iron Man Movie

The Enemy As Friend usually wants something from us. Sometimes they want everything – our whole life – theirs for ours. Jealousy is the understatement here; they would wear our skin if they could (friends close, enemies closer?).  

The Bible talks explicitly about these types of villains, 

Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.” Proverbs 27:6

These villains tend to think,

No one ever suspects the nice guy.


3) The Archnemesis




They are close enough to be family, in a highly dysfunctional way. Heck, your hero might even see more of them than they do their real family. They don’t really want much: only your hero’s complete and utter humiliation, devastation, and destruction. What’s so bad about that?

You see, I don’t want to do good things, I want to do great things.” -Lex Luthor, Smallville

The Archnemesis is usually the shadow side of your hero. Both want to do great things, but only the hero stays the course, always making sure to use his power for good. The Archnemesis will also use his power to do great things, but for fame. He wants to go down in history as the greatest “_____________” (insert grandiose title here) in history. Picture a bald head the size of Jupiter, and you’ve got an idea of the Archnemesis’ ego. 

These villains will often say, 

The world’s not big enough for both of us. 


Let’s review what we’ve talked about. 

1) If your story’s got a hero, it needs a villain. You can make it a type of person (like the three I mentioned), or Nature, or conflict within oneself, but it’s got to be there.

2) If your story’s got a villain, make me hate him. Take your time to flesh him out. If I don’t despise (or pity) your villain, I probably won’t read your story. If somehow I do read it, I probably won’t like it. 

3) Try to have some fun with it. It won’t be much fun, but it shouldn’t be too hard either. Just think of all the things your hero should be doing, and have your villain doing… something else. 

Most importantly of all, whether the hero wins or the villain wins, make it a good fight. Because that’s something we’ll all read about.  





Published in: on May 21, 2008 at 6:03 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What a great post! I thoroughly enjoyed your descriptions. I’ve never really thought much about villains and writing evil – but now I will!

  2. Thanks for the tips. I am a freelance writer in the process of learning every single thing I can about writing.

  3. Interesting description. I keep coming up with villians I don’t think you’ve covered, then I realize that you really have.
    For example, I thought about the sort-of villian because the plot simply puts them at odds. The climax is that only one person can have X and so the hero and villian are competing.
    It occured to me that sometimes the opponent isn’t a villian at all, though. Sometimes the competetor is just a competetor. Other times, like in the National Treasure movies, the opponent treasure hunter is really more of an arch nemesis.

    Personally, I’m most interested in villians who actually see themselves as heroic and view the protagonist as the real evil.

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