How to build a Villain, by Jim Butcher

A J HartleyA J Hartley
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A.J. Hartley here, but fear not: I’m just doing the introduction, and for a man who–unless you live under the proverbial rock–genuinely doesn’t need one, so this will be brief.

Jim Butcher is the author of the wonderfully original and compelling Dresdon Files which originated a decade ago with Storm Front, and centred on Harry Dresdon, a Chicago-based wizard. Jim’s Codex Alera series, which is set in a the fantasy world of Carna, is younger but no less successful. Because as well as garnering rave critical reviews for his imagination, playfulness and talent for action/suspense, Jim is that rarest of fantasy writers, the repeat New York Times bestseller whose books appear even in the generally fantasy-free shelves of the local Piggly Wiggly. There’s no doubt that he has become one of the most influential writers of fantasy, especially uHe is also–and this is really too much–a genuinely decent guy, as I discovered when we were on a panel together at last year’s Dragon Con, since when I have been badgering to share some thoughts with us here at Magical Words. Please welcome, the great Jim Butcher!

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One of the most critical skills an aspiring writer needs is the ability to build a solid villain. Even the greatest protagonist in the world cannot truly shine without an equally well-rendered opposition. The converse of that statement isn’t true, though—if your protagonist is a little shaky but your villain absolutely shines, you can still tell a very successful story.

It is for this reason that I believe that an excellent villain is actually more important, from a storytelling standpoint, than is your protagonist.

(I’m using the term “villain” and “antagonist” as synonyms in this article, because I’m writing this for the newbies. In point of fact, a character can be an antagonist without being a villain: look at Tommy Lee Jones’ character in “The Fugitive,” as an overt example. Karrin Murphy, in the Dresden Files, was actually an antagonist in storytelling terms. But that’s adding a few layers of complexity to a character, and it’s important to master the simpler task of building a good villain before you attempt something more complicated. First learn walk, then learn fly. Nature’s rule, Newbie-san, not mine.)

Is this the only approach to putting a villain together? No, of course not. But though it seems simple, that isn’t the same thing as easy.

So what goes into a good villain?

1) Motivation. Your villain has to be motivated even more strongly than your protagonist, to move in a direction that is opposite to your protagonist’s goal. The drama and tension of the entire story is based upon those two opposing forces. Buffy versus vampires. Sith versus Jedi. Spy versus spy.
2) Power. Your villain has to have enough power, of whatever nature, at his disposal to make him a credible threat to your hero. Personally, I believe that the more the villain outclasses the hero, the better. David wouldn’t have gotten nearly the press he did if Goliath had been 5’9” and asthmatic.
3) Admirable Qualities. Every serious “big bad villain” you write ought to have facets of his personality that are desirable, even admirable. Perhaps your villain is exquisitely polite and courteous, extremely perceptive, remarkably intelligent, or possessed of a skewed sense of honor that makes him something more than a simple black-hat. In point of fact, a villain might be loaded down with admirable qualities, all of which should serve to only make him even more dangerous to your protagonist. Think of the Mayor of Sunnydale in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Except for the part where he was trying to turn himself into a giant demon and devour the graduating class, he was a great guy!
4) Individuality. A good villain needs to be instantly recognizable to your reader, so that even if he hasn’t appeared in a hundred pages, your reader will recognize that character instantly. You can achieve this pretty effectively using Tags and Traits, identifiers for a character which reserve particular props, personality traits, and words to associate with any given character. You can find an article that goes into them in greater depth on my livejournal at jimbutcher.livejournal.com.

I have a standard operating procedure for creating characters. I keep a dossier on each of them. When the character is created, I open a new file and fill in name, goal, description, tags, and traits. I write down a brief summary of what their capabilities are, and more fully describe their goals and motivations. If it’s a recurring character, I keep a running log of their development: how have the events of the story world affected them? How have they changed as a result? What are they likely to want in the future?

If you’re going to take anything away from this post, it’s this: Villains are even MORE important to build well than are heroes.

Spend every bit as much time and effort crafting your villain as you do the hero, and make sure that you motivate your villains every bit as thoroughly as you do your protagonist, or your story risks a lack of depth and contrast. In other words, it’ll be the one thing a fiction writer cannot afford to be: boring.

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40 comments to How to build a Villain, by Jim Butcher

  • First of all, Jim, thanks so much for joining us here at Magical Words for the day. We’re all excited to have you visit and we appreciate your willingness to take time out of your busy schedule to share your thoughts on writing. I’ve done many posts on character for the site, but I have to admit that I’ve always focused more attention on protagonists than antagonists. You raise a fascinating point: that a book can more easily survive a boring hero than a boring villain. And you’re right — my first series suffered from a bad case of BHS (Boring Hero Syndrome), but it worked because my villains managed to be interesting. As a reader, did you have favorite villains who you thought about and modeled early villains after as you began your own writing career? Thanks for the post, and again, welcome.

  • Thanks, Jim, for guest posting for us. We’re thrilled to have you with us. I agree with you that villains are more important than heroes in keeping a tale interesting, and I have to admit, they can be more fun, too. It’s the same part of us that, when we were all kids, liked to kick down the sand castle we had spent time building (but never anybody else’s sand castle — that would be wrong). It’s fun to build a whole world and that put in this destructive force that, if not stopped, will cause havoc. At least, it’s fun for me. :)

  • That’s a good point to bring up. In my current WIP, I’ve spent a lot time thinking about the protagonist than I have the villain or antagonist. But then, I’m still in the planning stages – figuring things out and who each of the characters even is – so I still have time! It reminds me, though, that I really need to think hard about the villains.

    I’m intrigued by this idea of Tags and Traits. I’m guessing these are like the natural evolution of Homeric Epithets? Words, phrases, and descriptors that you reserve to evoke a particular character in the story, is that right? I’ll have to go check out the livejournal, I guess, to learn more…

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Thank you for a great post and a great reminder about how to make a story interesting and believable. I must admit to wishing for some new, cool kernel of insight ever since reading the great writing posts you have on your livejournal – so double thanks!
    As one of those newbie writers, I’ve really been struggling with the motivation of my villain(s). I have foolishly chosen a structure involving a super-villain who dictates the actions of the front-stage-villain, and working out the motivations and the balance of power between the two in order to make the story I want to tell believable has been a bear. Thanks for the check-list to help me keep working on it.

  • Jim Butcher

    “As a reader, did you have favorite villains who you thought about and modeled early villains after as you began your own writing career?”

    Oh absolutely. Vader was a big one, kind of the penultimate villain for anyone who was small when the Star Wars movies were first appearing. Jadis, the White Witch of Narnia was another. Gollum, naturally, along with Star Trek’s Khan, Xanth’s Trent the Transformer, and Johnny from the original Karate Kid (I got picked on by bullies a lot when I was young).

    “I’m intrigued by this idea of Tags and Traits. I’m guessing these are like the natural evolution of Homeric Epithets?”

    I haven’t heard them described in those terms, but yeah, that fits, though the goal is to use it with a little more subtlety. Tags are words you use to physically describe any given character. Traits are aspects of their personality.

    For example, the tags for Karrin Murphy in the Dresden Files are words like “tiny,” “cute,” and “blond.” Her traits are words like, “tough,” “smart,” and “fierce.”

    The goal is to create a kind of mental signature for any given character, so that the reader need not consciously labor to identify who is speaking, and so that a very clear impression of the character is created when that character is introduced.

    It all feeds into the idea that the goal, as a writer, is to create a kind of virtual reality in the head of the reader. That works best when the actual mechanics of words and sentences are as transparent as you can possibly make them. Part of making them transparent is to identify a few words or phrases so strongly with a given character that the reader doesn’t really notice the words themselves–they only see the character to which you’ve connected those words and phrases.

  • [...] Jim’s post on How to Build a Villain, then join the discussion! He’ll be responding to questions and comments all this afternoon, [...]

  • wmdean12

    I wonder how important it is to reveal outright the villain’s weakness? Or is that revealed by the demise of the villain in the story process? I found out in real life how villains have some sort of weakness and exposing it is the key to halting them. I was never bullied but in high school saw it happening. I walked up to the bully and bitch slapped him the face. He was embarrased and it stopped right there. I don’t think violence is the correct way to act but at the time that’s what happened. I found this bully the rest of the year to be sheepish. But I often wondered if me standing up for the student really exposed his true character…just an embarrassed immature child who needed some balance in his life.

  • pamela.shaw

    I have no issue creating heroes – those characters are strong – but I run into obstacles creating villains that are anything other than archetypal. Do you have any suggestions for stepping into a bad guy’s shoes to make him or her shine as unique and truly awful in the best sense of the word?

  • Jim, Three thank yous rather than questions.
    First: Thanks for being here, today. We are honored!

    Second: I love a good villian, and your *list of four* is succinct and easy to share, especially the part about motivation. A lot of writers forget that villians need to have reasons for the *evil* they do, rather than creating a *Black Cloud* evil, the formless antag who is little more than a plague or natural disaster in terms of character development.

    Third: I am trying to hold in my fan-girl squeal, but not succeding very well. My nephew and I have read your novels together since he was a kid, and he’s now 25. I saw him several weeks ago and he gave me the *Butcher look*. He said, “Soooo. When we gonna get the new book? Hmm? Soon, right?” Thank you, Jim, for the long-term relationship-building you have been part of without even knowing it. :)

  • ninjadude853

    I have a question about the third point, about the admirable qualities. I’m not trying to argue the point or anything, i completely agree that the best villains need to be respectable and admirable in some ways, i know most of my favorite villains are.

    But there are plenty of great villains that don’t have anything admirable about them. They’re just freaking monsters. Like The Joker, or Darth Sidious. I do prefer admirable villains, but i’d be lying if i didn’t enjoy the occasional complete monster. Are they just the exception that proves the rule or what?

  • Pamela,
    if I might stick my two cents in (and Jim, please jump in on this as well), I think the key to avoiding overly archetypal villains is to remember that they are not JUST villains. In fact, they’d probably be surprised to hear other people call them villains. After all, a villain is the hero of his own story :) As such he or she has goals and needs, quirks and foibles like the hero and everyone else. Don’t let them be defined solely by the fact that they are the villain or the antagonist: see things from their view point.

  • pamela.shaw

    AJ, holy crow, that’s precisely the reminder I needed! Thank you. (And by the way, I met you last year after that Dragon*Con panel when I was helping Shannon and Jim; delighted to be able to “hear” from you again. You were exceptionally gracious.)

  • alilisa

    Hello, Jim, nice to speak to you again, it was a pleasure listening to you in Naperville, again thanks for the book signing. My question is this…when I write a villain character, I seem to get so into “it” that I sometimes find it hard to not keep wanting to take it further and further (great for future books), but once I get to the point where “hey, it’s time to end this book”, how do you cut yourself off an say enough!

    Have you ever had that problem, or am I alone in this, that you get so involved in the villain that you want to keep going?

    Thank you again so much for giving us a “hero” type who is like so many of his fans. It’s been a real pleasure getting to “meet” him these past 7 months.

  • Spytle

    Hey Jim, first you’re awesome! Now that the obvious is out of the way I’d love to pick your brain on a few things. As a video game developer of 15+ years, I am no stranger to creating stories and experiences for my players, but games are an interactive medium, and I am finding that the task at hand is very different – in a game the player is literally in the story, shaping it for themselves to varying degrees. As I have been exploring putting my creativity to use in your arena I find it much more difficult, because here I am in control of the entire journey. One of my issues, and concerns frankly, is that I am spending too much time on my villain. I am jumping all over the place creatively as the ideas hit me during the world building phase, but the villain keeps pulling at my ideas like a black hole. Is it dangerous to spend too much time with the villain/antagonist up front like this? I have a strong and familiar archetype for the protagonist and I keep saying “ah, he’ll be no problem when I get to his part”, so I keep putting off the details of his development. Conversely, the antagonist, being an immortal, figures heavily into the state of the world and the trials that will be put before the hero. Am I falling into a noob-trap here?

  • ninjadude853

    Okay, this doesn’t really doesn’t have anything to do with villains so I’m sorry, but it says in the comments section on the sixth message says there’s going to be a discussion on Writing Craft, it also says the same thing on Jim’s website and… i cannot find it. Has is started yet? It says all afternoon and I’ve been looking for it for the past hour, and it is the afternoon.

    Is this supposed to be the discussion? If so then I’m sorry for wasting space but the links on the aforementioned message are only leading me in circles and i really, really want to be a part of the discussion. Right now I’m really frustrated. So if anyone could explain this to me I’d be very appreciative.

  • Ninjadude, you are part of the discussion right now. This is it. :)

  • Spytle

    Jim seems to have responded to a few questions above so I am guessing this is the format for the discussion. I am new to this site however so I am not 100% sure.

  • ninjadude853

    Okay, sorry about that, i was just kind of confused because it’s been pretty slow.

  • Spytle

    I was going to wait for an answer before asking more questions but given the delta between post and response time, I am scarred I’ll miss my opportunity. So not to be rude, but I’m firing off another one so I don’t regret waiting. I won’t be at your signing so I can’t ask in person later. hehe

    You clearly have a greater antagonist that we’re catching glimpses of in the later Dresden Files books. You’ve created some great antagonists along the way, some clearly serve this big bad and others have their own agendas. What is your approach, or rather your thoughts so I don’t make you feel all spoilery, on hinting at the big bad’s fingerprints in the early parts of your story arc without jumping the gun and revealing too much about them and their agenda?

  • orangeceltic

    Having read all of the Dresden based novels, I am quite aware that your protagonist is deeply flawed and often those who act as antagonists display character traits that are admirable. Given this near equality, how does one avoid having everyone be candidates for “villian” status? Is it merely character centrality that determines protagonist over antagonist in this kind of system or is there some other measurement? For example, one could argue that Dresden has stepped over the line to what could appear villanous on more than one occasion and others have suffered because of it. How does he remain the protagonist under those conditions? Is it because the books are written from his point of view?

  • Jim Butcher

    “I wonder how important it is to reveal outright the villain’s weakness? Or is that revealed by the demise of the villain in the story process?”

    Who says the villain has to /have/ a weakness? Though if you are going to go for a villain with a 2-meter exhaust port vulnerable to photon torpedoes, you can certainly do that. I did it with the Loup-garou in Fool Moon, after all. But most of the villains in the Dresden Files don’t have a silver-bullet weakness. It makes their takedown (if they’re going to be taken down) a little too simple and predictable.

    “But there are plenty of great villains that don’t have anything admirable about them. They’re just freaking monsters. Like The Joker, or Darth Sidious. I do prefer admirable villains, but i’d be lying if i didn’t enjoy the occasional complete monster. Are they just the exception that proves the rule or what?”

    The Joker is crazy brilliant, literally, and he has style. It’s a bombastic and cartoony style, much of the time, but it’s still style. And Darth Sidious just wasn’t all /that/ great a villain, at least in my opinion–but even so, he was intelligent, eloquent, and a capable administrator. I mean, he conquered a whole galaxy. You don’t do that without at least a little talent. :)

    “when I write a villain character, I seem to get so into “it” that I sometimes find it hard to not keep wanting to take it further and further (great for future books), but once I get to the point where “hey, it’s time to end this book”, how do you cut yourself off an say enough!”

    Just remember that the end of your story is the answer to a question: will your hero succeed in his goals when the villain gets in his way? If your hero has achieved his goals, you’re done, that’s it, wrap it up and start on the next story.

    “Is it dangerous to spend too much time with the villain/antagonist up front like this? I have a strong and familiar archetype for the protagonist and I keep saying “ah, he’ll be no problem when I get to his part”, so I keep putting off the details of his development. Conversely, the antagonist, being an immortal, figures heavily into the state of the world and the trials that will be put before the hero. Am I falling into a noob-trap here?”

    Possibly, but it’s not one that can’t work out well for you. I mean, look at how well that one went for JK Rowling. When you think about it, Voldemort shaped absolutely EVERYTHING that happened in the Harry Potter books, right down to the scar on the hero’s head and his mysterious ability to speak with snakes. Why did it work? Because Voldemort, with his own actions, forged Harry into the means of his own demise. Harry, meanwhile, is sort of unremarkable as a hero, in a personal sense. He’s brave, but no braver than many other folk in the HP universe. He’s smart, but not the smartest around. He’s not even the best at magic. Voldemort made everything about him that was truly remarkable.

    That said, I think it’s /far/ smarter to build your hero with every bit as much attention as your villain. Batman versus the Joker works so well precisely because they were designed with one another in mind, as champions of order and chaos, respectively. More importantly, it gives you double the audience appeal potential. I’ve read books where I just couldn’t stand the heroes, but loved the villains, and so continued. But the books that stay with me the longest are the ones who are solid all the way across the board, who fully engage me with their entire cast.

  • Jim,

    Thanks for the post! I really like the way you use very familiar examples. :) I’m recently getting into comic books, thanks to my SO, and I’m really impressed by the complicated nature of their heroes and villains (Captain America being a shining example of a NOT complicated hero–he’s just a pretty good guy). But I’m currently readng Uncanny X-force, which is a bunch of almost not good X men doing horrible things that other X men can’t do (like killing children that will grow up to be monsters). It’s hero/anti-hero stuff is really compelling, as is the struggle they all face. (And it has Wolverine and Deadpool, who are two of my favs heh).

    I’m finding that I love my villains, sometimes more than my heroes (or protagonists). So much so that in my newest work I’ve decided to make a decidedly BAD person my “hero.” She’s pretty awful, but has style, a (pretty) good reason for being the way she is, and chance to be better. My “villain” for her is a decent monster, who might run the risk of being a boring hero. I’m kind of interested to see how it will all play out, since I’m just starting.

    Anyway, cool stuff! Thanks again!

  • Spytle

    Great answer, thank you. Although now I am a bit torn because the very example you gave inspires me that the approach can be valid, or at least not a waste of time, but I didn’t realize how close my protagonist/antagonist relationship is to Harry/Voldemort’s. I am in danger of being derivative I guess. Not going back to the drawing board yet as my hero is very different from Harry but I better be careful. Although, it worked for Jordan in Eye of the World to re-skin the the Fellowship of the Ring to great success.

  • Jim Butcher

    “What is your approach, or rather your thoughts so I don’t make you feel all spoilery, on hinting at the big bad’s fingerprints in the early parts of your story arc without jumping the gun and revealing too much about them and their agenda?”

    That’s mostly a matter of taste, but do yourself a favor and assume that the readers are smart. They are. Drop hints without being too overly dramatic about it, if you’re going to keep the identity of your villain hidden for a while, and make sure that you’ve got a villain to defeat in effigy before the end of the story. Think of, oh, Darth Maul and Palpatine. Palpatine may have been briefly stymied by the Jedi, but Maul got chopped up and thrown down a killin’ hole. His death was symbolic of Palpatine’s demise–literally, since Palpatine got thrown down a killin’ hole too.

    “Having read all of the Dresden based novels, I am quite aware that your protagonist is deeply flawed and often those who act as antagonists display character traits that are admirable. Given this near equality, how does one avoid having everyone be candidates for “villian” status?”

    Storytelling craft is not about making moral judgments of the relative values, ethically or otherwise, of your character’s actions. The readers will do that for themselves. For craft purposes, the protagonist is the one who is going after his goal. Your antagonist is getting in the way of that goal. “Hero” and “villain” are both separate terms which can overlap with protagonist and antagonist, but they aren’t absolutely bound together. Think of The Fugitive again. Sam Gerard is a perfect example of an antagonist who is, in fact, personally heroic. Artemis Fowl and Megamind are good examples of a protagonist who is personally a villain.

    But don’t try to make the call for your readers. Just tell the story. They’ll do the rest on their own.

  • ninjadude853

    In the more morally gray stories like the Dresden Files it can be hard to really see the difference between heroes and villains. There are of course characters who are obviously good and evil, like Michael, Murphy, Nicodemus or the Lord Raith. But then you have villains like Cowl, Aurora, and the FBI werewolves from Fool Moon who could easily be made out to be the good guys if you told the story from their points of view.

    So what do you think truly defines the difference between Heroes and Villains in the grayer conflicts like Malcolm Reynolds vs the Operative in Serenity or Lelouch vs Suzaku in Code Geass? Or hell, even Lex Luthor could be made out to be the good guy against Superman if you told the story differently.

  • Personally, I love it when an obvious solution just makes things worse … but enough about me.

    So, do you genuinely know who all of your villains are when you go into the next book or story, or do some of them just grow out of the story environment?

  • Jim Butcher

    “So what do you think truly defines the difference between Heroes and Villains in the grayer conflicts like Malcolm Reynolds vs the Operative in Serenity or Lelouch vs Suzaku in Code Geass?”

    Questions about the fundamental nature of good and evil go somewhat beyond the scope of a writing craft discussion, I think. :) Or say instead that as writers, it’s our job to get people to think about the question for themselves, rather than to answer it for them. As a writer, concern yourself with making sure your characters have strong, logical, believable motivations and then write them. What you think about the relative natures of good and evil is going to come through regardless of what you do.

    “So, do you genuinely know who all of your villains are when you go into the next book or story, or do some of them just grow out of the story environment?”

    All the major villains, yeah. Occasional spear-carriers for the enemy team get created on the spot, but I don’t do that with any of the bad guys who are driving the action.

  • alilisa

    I’ve found, when creating a villain, that there is little difference between them and the “hero”, as has been mentioned. The character traits are very similar, it would just take a little push from one way or another to turn the hero into a villain or the villain into a hero. How can a writer, especially a new one, learn to keep from crossing that line, or could it possibly be beneficial? (now I’m thinking about a storyline *G*)

  • alilisa

    And thank you for the first answer, please respond to others before mine who’ve not been answered, don’t mean to be taking up more of your time but I’m finding this very helpful, Thank you so much.

  • Spytle

    My third question is in line with Ninjadude’s observations about Harry. Experiencing the world through Harry’s eyes let’s us accept the decisions he must make for the greater good – aligning with vampires and crime bosses isn’t exactly something he would do if not pressed into it because of the utmost need. So we let it slide because we know he’ll sort it out in the end and that he’ll “die doing the right thing”. I mean you make it very clear with that recurring epitath Dexter is another example, you start cheering for him at first and it really makes you confront your own judgement of right and wrong and his actions as a force of vengeance. Is he good or bad? Do the ends justify the means?

    When we were working on the story for my last game we had to consider that players would be either heroes or villains, and we needed a big bad they could both oppose, largely for production reasons. It isn’t a huge leap, I mean it’s no good for either Lex Luthor or Superman if Brainiac destroys the world, right? But what I found was that it could easily weaken the villain side of the story because in a way they were do-gooding. Anyway, my question is about perspective. First person can make it very clear on motive and the reader can accept, for better or worse, why the protagonist is motivated to act one way or anotehr. Do you find that a third person perspective would make this challenge harder or is there really no difference? I hope that makes sense. hehe.

  • Jim Butcher

    “How can a writer, especially a new one, learn to keep from crossing that line, or could it possibly be beneficial?”

    Now you’re getting away from the /craft/ of writing and into the /art/ of writing. That’s a question you have to answer for yourself. But offhand, what I’d say keeps your hero from crossing the line is largely the goodwill of the reader. :) For characters they love and (more importantly) understand, they’ll be much more willing to forgive mistakes and lapses of character.

    Thank you very much for taking this time for the discussion, guys! I’m off to a signing in DC, but I had a good time today!

    Oh, and hi Shai! :D

    Jim

  • Spytle

    Thanks for your time Jim! Have a great signing. I’m really enjoying Ghost Story, which is signed believe it or not – Got lucky to get the last copy from the publisher booth at Comic Con. If you’re there next year, stop by the DC Universe Online booth and get your nerd on. I won’t tell Marvel, promise ;)

    Skol!

  • alilisa

    Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to help us out, we so appreciate it, keep yourself safe and try to take time for yourself, when you can. Enjoy your day and blessings!

  • ninjadude853

    Thanks for answering my questions Jim. Getting direct advice from you is nothing less than pure awesome.

  • Thanks, AJ, for introducing Jim here. And Thank You, Jim, for your post on antagonists/villians/bad guys. Love them, I do! Spent many a con-evening over one (or more) too many beers discussing ‘em.
    And thank you for the link to your livejournal site. I would have posted earlier, but, after reading the most recent, nothing would do but that I start at the bottom and read them ALL! I did manage to NOT read the comments, but you’ve been bookmarked so I can go back (often) to refresh my aging memory as I try out some of your methods.
    Thanks!

  • Walkingshark

    I’ve always found that the best way to build a really “real” villain is to not build one at all. Just build a second protagonist with different goals from the first one (and more available capability/resources) and let them loose on each other. :)

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright

    Wow. Jim Butcher here at Magical Words. This is the universe trying to taunt me, right? (My SF Book Club version of Ghost Story has been “on the way” for over a week now.)

    That aside, great post, and so true. Many books fall flat due to one or two dimensional villains.

    My favorite tool for building up a villain is an exercise on page 64 of Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. It is a really quick way to establish motivation and make your villain 3-D. There is surely more to making great villains than this one exercise…but if writers did just this one exercise and put the resulting paragraph in their book, their villains would be way ahead of many.

    Thanks again!

  • [...] A man far better at writing than I am shared this article on magicalwords.net.  Everyone, please meet Jim Butcher, and his article on “How to build a Villain”:  http://www.magicalwords.net/really-i-mean-it/how-to-build-a-villain-by-jim-butcher/ [...]