The Art of Creating Villainy Villains (pt. 2 – Villain Series)

[originally published Dec. 2016; updated May 2021]

In the first post in this villain series, I defined an antagonist and also discussed when to introduce your antagonist (hint – right at the beginning of your story). This post is all about how to create a villain in your novel.

Stephen King, in his novel Misery, developed one of the all-time great villains in contemporary literature and film. His villain in this story is a sweet nurse named Annie Wilkes. In one of the first scenes, she rescues the main character (MC) from a car crash in a blizzard and takes him to her home. She’s thrilled to discover that the victim in the car crash is none other than her favorite author, Paul Sheldon. Lucky her!! She’s his number one fan and has read all of his books.

But why is Annie Wilkes a such a scary villain character? (Besides the shot above that films her like a giant looming over Paul)? How did Stephen King create such a fabulous villain?

He fully developed her character with a completely believable motivation and human flaws.

3 Quick Villain Guidelines

First, you want your villain to be a solid contrast to your main character. We’ll get into how to do that below, but make sure that your villain is different in some way.

Second, be sure that your main character isn’t also your villain. Your readers will feel betrayed and annoyed.

Third, avoid cliche’d villains. This is the character who wants to take over the world and kill everyone in it for no apparent reason. They have a slew of supporters (minions) even though they never do or say anything nice to these mysteriously loyal fans.

Or, their an evil high school girl who wants to ruin some poor, shy girl’s life, again for no apparent reason. Really, cartoon characters or super hero villains are the only character types who want to rule the world or ruin another person “just because.”

5 Questions to Guide your Villain Character Development

I’ll list the five questions first, and then explain each of them in more detail:

1) Why does your villain want to stop your MC from achieving their goal?

2) What will your villain gain?

3) What will your villain lose?

4) What is his/her fatal flaw?

5) How can their flaws double as strengths?

1) WHY does your villain want to stop your main character (MC) from achieving their goal?

Your villain needs a believable reason for wanting to get in your MC’s way.

What is it? It CANNOT be “just because.” You need to search for their humanity, for some key reason they are behaving the way they’re behaving. This is where digging into their past and getting to know your character really well helps.

This is where you’ll begin to develop the contrasts between your villain and your MC.

The villain always believes that what he’s doing is the right and good course of action. He can justify his actions because he believes he’s doing the right thing, no matter how abhorrent their actions may be. The key here is finding their humanity, that one shred of goodness that makes them oppose your MC for the right reasons.

In Misery, Annie Wilkes is upset that Paul, the main character, killed off her favorite character in one of his novels and finished the series. How dare he? It was her favorite. All she wants is for him to resurrect this character and the series because it was all just a big mistake. Right?

When Paul doesn’t write it to her liking, she makes sure that he can’t go anywhere until he does. clip is kind of violent, so if it’ll freak you out, don’t watch it!!)

2) What will your villain gain if they successfully block the MC?

Be super specific here. Your villain must gain something from opposing your MC. It can be something tangible, like a new book (in Annie Wilkes’ case), money, a career boost, or a treasure. Or, it can be intangible, like power, pride, or revenge.

3) What will your villain lose if they fail to block the MC?

Again, be specific and go back to your villain’s backstory to help you figure this out. What happens if they fail? In Annie’s case, she loses her favorite character and best friend. Annie is clearly a bit mentally unstable, but her characterization is so well done that her actions are completely believable.

4) What is his/her fatal flaw?

This is your villain’s character trait that is also their downfall. For example, maybe their proud to the point of arrogance and unable to see their own weaknesses.

Or perhaps their ambition becomes more than mere ambition and turns into greed. Perhaps their self-sacrifice turns into narcissism or they become a martyr and value their own “goodness” above all else.

In Annie Wilkes’ case, her loyalty and love for her favorite author turns into violence and abuse. All she wants is for him to write a new story because she’s his #1 fan? How bad can that be? As it turns out, it can be really bad.

It’s fun to sit down and free write on their fatal flaw and where it came from in their life.

Once you identify their fatal flaw, figure out how your MC can take advantage of it to overcome the villain in the end.

Your villain won’t see their fatal flaw as “fatal” but your MC should. Figure out how they can take advantage of it to help in developing believable conflicts between the two characters.

5) How can their flaws double as strengths?

Finally, most often our worst traits can also be our best traits. Again, in Annie Wilkes’ case, nobody would argue that loyalty and love for an author is a bad thing…until it is. Most great villains have a flaw that is also a strength.

Think about Voldemort. One of his biggest strengths is his intelligence and knowledge of the dark arts. He discovers the spells to split his soul and deposit it into the Horcruxes, but this is also his downfall. He thinks that no one else is as smart as he as, and his knowledge of the dark arts isn’t quite as complete as he thought it was. On the night when he kills Harry’s parents and gives Harry the scar, he inadvertently deposits some of himself into Harry.

Of course, we don’t find this out until the very end when Harry overcomes Voldemort in the final battle of the final book.

Put it in Action

The best way to really develop a solid villain is to take these questions and answer them in your notebook. Write it out. Get to know your villain.

What questions would you add to fully develop your villain?


  1. Norman Fullerton on May 17, 2021 at 11:55 am

    I appreciate your blog, the ideas and instruction. Thanks.

    • Amy Isaman on May 17, 2021 at 2:35 pm

      Thanks so much!!! I’m glad you found these posts helpful. I did a podcast on villains too that was kind of fun (if you like listening to podcasts).

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