To write a story with a villain as effective as Harry Potter’s Voldemort or The Hunger Games’ President Snow, you need to amp up the evil for credibility, not tone it down: watch for these 8 warning signs that your villain won’t be worth the hero’s sacrifice.
1. The villain is too big.
Evil things come in small packages.
- Harry Potter: Lord Voldemort is tiny enough to hide under Quirrell’s turban.
- The Hunger Games: President Snow is “a small, thin man.” (HG Ch.5).
- Twilight: The evil vampire James is “slighter” than the other vampires in his coven. (TW Ch.18).
2. The villain is too grumpy.
Villains love to be bad! Yours should smile and enjoy mocking the hero.
- Voldemort: “The evil face was now smiling. ‘How touching . . .’ it hissed.” (HP Ch.17).
- President Snow: “He’s still smiling when he settles the second on my head, but his eyes, just inches from mine, are as unforgiving as snake’s.” (HG Ch.27).
- James the Tracker: “The hunter smiled in a friendly way as he sauntered forward to kill me.” (TW Preface).
3. The villain looks too alive.
Make your villain look devilish and undead by giving him red eyes and a pale face.
- Voldemort had “the most terrible face Harry had ever seen. It was chalk white with glaring red eyes . . .” (HP Ch.17).
- Bella sees “the dark red eyes in the abnormally pale face . . .” (TW Ch.21).
4. The villain looks too human.
Let the villain channel a deadly animal predator.
- Voldemort has “slits for nostrils, like a snake.” (HP CH.17).
- President Snow’s eyes “are as unforgiving as a snake’s.” (HG Ch.27).
- James the Tracker’s “walk was catlike, a gait that seemed constantly on the edge of shifting into a crouch.” (TW Ch.18).
5. The villain’s motivation is too nuanced.
First and foremost, the villain is a control-freak. Make power and control his obsession.
- Voldemort taught Quirrell that “[t]here is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it. . . .” (HP Ch.17).
- Katniss explains, “. . . I was only thinking of outsmarting the Gamemakers, not how my actions would reflect on the Capitol. But the Hunger Games are their weapons and you are not supposed to be able to defeat it. So now the Capitol will act as if they’ve been in control the whole time.” HG Ch.26).
6. The villain works alone.
Give the villain some minions to control to demonstrate his power.
- Voldemort uses his followers’ bodies: “I have form only when I can share another’s body . . . but there have always been those willing to let me into their hearts and minds. . . .” (HP Ch.17).
- In The Hunger Games, “Career tributes are overly vicious, arrogant, better fed, but only because they’re the Capitol’s lap dogs.” (HG Ch.12).
- James works with his evil coven: “Victoria was monitoring them for me, naturally; in a game with this many players, I couldn’t be working alone.” (TW Ch.22).
7. The villain has no surprises up his sleeve.
To be a worthy opponent, the villain should be smart enough to trick the hero (and the reader).
- In Harry Potter, Quirrell leads everyone to believe that he’s too scared of the dark arts.
- In Twilight, James tricks Bella with a recording of her mother’s voice to convince her to meet him.
- In The Hunger Games, the Capitol tricks Katniss into thinking that two tributes can win the Games.
8. The villain too recently turned evil.
The villain’s track record for evil should be decades old. The hero is battling a legacy.
- Voldemort killed Harry’s parents eleven years ago. “I killed your father first, and he put up a couragous fight . . . but your mother needn’t have died . . . she was trying to protect you. . . . Now give me the Stone, unless you want her to have died in vain.” (HP Ch.17).
- The Capitol has been killing children tributes in the Hunger Games for at least seventy-four years.
- James explains that he tried to kill Edward’s vampire friend Alice in the 1920’s, and she is the only victim to have ever escaped him.
Let’s introduce the villain’s character card in Chapter 1 of the master outline, so we know right away what is at stake. We’ll return to the topic of villains and add a scene card for the final battle scene soon.
And finally, don’t forget that for a bestselling ending, the villain is ultimately defeated by the hero’s friend and not the hero himself. I hope you take these lessons from Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games and go create a villain that your readers will love to hate!