How to Write a Good Baddie

Updated on October 5, 2019
Disastrous Grape profile image

Ash has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.

Ursula was the ultimate baddie in the little mermaid.
Ursula was the ultimate baddie in the little mermaid.

I'll admit I'm probably the last person who should be writing about how to write a good villain, but screwing up provides a lot of wisdom, and let's suffice it to say . . . I am very wise.

Not only have I failed spectacularly, I have also read books about this stuff. Armed with this knowledge, perhaps my next villain will be a glorious bastard that my audience loves to hate.

In the mean time, allow me to share my mistakes with you and how you can avoid them.

You can do better than this guy.
You can do better than this guy.

Make Your Villain Three Dimensional

This is a trap a lot of novice writers fall into. It's very easy to make a villain who just wants to watch the world burn. While this kinda sorta worked for Batman's nemesis, the Joker, most of the time it makes the villain come off cartoony. The best villains are realistic because knowing you could meet this psycho in real life (or even become them) is supposed to be terrifying.

The best way to graduate your villain from cartoony and mustache twirly to three dimensional is to give them proper motivation. This usually involves giving them a backstory. Why are they doing all this crap? How did they become the person they are now?

One of the biggest mistakes I made with my science fiction series The Prince of Qorlec was not giving my antagonist a backstory. He did not have much in the way of motivation aside from an irrational hatred for the people of Qorlec. I didn't really develop him well as a character because I suppose I got carried away by world-building or something. The end result was that the audience probably didn't care about him much, which made the final showdown in the fifth book something many readers didn't even see.

Because of Phorott, a lot of readers don't make it past the fourth book—that is, the few who bother to read the third one. And I kinda can't blame them. It's my opinion that the first three books are fine, but it's book four where the series starts to go downhill. The flat villain was just one of many reasons for this.

Ironically enough, Dr. Zorgone, a minor villain in the second book, was a better-written antagonist because his past with the late empress of Qorlec was heavily implied throughout the books: He hated Quinn because he loved her mother and was spurned by her.

Incompetence is strictly for minions.
Incompetence is strictly for minions.

Make Your Villain Competent

I was drawn to Jessica Page Morrell's book Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction when I was a young(er) writer standing in a book store one far-gone day. Due to the hilariously intriguing title alone, I took the book home, and while I still haven't managed to read it cover-to-cover, I've found its contents ultimately helpful.

One of Morrell's chapters cautions writers to give their villains a skill that will make them formidable and an actual threat to the protagonist (you'd be surprised how easy it is to fail at this. But then, no one ever said writing was easy.). Morrell then lists a bunch of "weapons" the villain might wield, like an army of lawyers, poisons, or being some kind of escape artist, all of it good advice.

There is nothing that will piss off your audience more than a villain who is an incompetent boob and yet is played up by the self-indulgent writer as some kind of ultra badass.

Your antagonist should have some kind of power, trait, or skill that gives them an advantage over the protagonist, and they should be shown to live up to the hype.

Give your villain a weapon and have them use it to best the protagonist at least once. Keep in mind that the villain should win because they are actually badass and not because the plot demands it.

Plot armor is bad. Really bad. And by this, I mean that the villain winning should make perfect sense and should not contradict or undermine anything you have established about your protagonist. If your protagonist has been established as a badass knitter, having them lose a knitting contest to someone who can hardly knit a hat just because you needed them to lose is going to be ridiculous (and piss off many a knitting enthusiast).

Have your villain win and have it make sense.

Also, your protagonist at this point should have a weakness the villain can exploit.

Use it.

Not only does winning make your villain look capable, it also gives the protagonist a chance to learn from the failure and grow as a person. What's more, it reveals more about their character. There is nothing so character-defining as how a character responds to defeat.

This is classic Hero's Journey, but the formula became a formula for a reason. A believable villain has to win some of the damn time.

Aladdin and Jafar are near mirror images of each other.
Aladdin and Jafar are near mirror images of each other.

Ideally, a villain should be a worthy adversary of the protagonist and should have abilities and personality traits that almost mirror-reflect them.

If your protagonist is a baker, the villain should be someone who

a) hates cookies or

b) loves cookies and wants the protagonist to come work for them or

c) is a fellow baker who wants the protagonist's secret recipe.

There should be some common ground that brings the protagonist and the antagonist together. They should each have traits and abilities, weaknesses and strengths that they can use against each other.

An example of this would be Disney's Aladdin. The protagonist, Aladdin, is a street-smart kid who relies on his trickery and agility to survive. The antagonist, Jafar, is a book-smart older man who relies on magic and trickery to survive.

Aladdin's advantage over Jafar is his youth and agility, which is stated a few times throughout the film. Meanwhile, Jafar's advantage over Aladdin is his access to education, secret knowledge, and powerful magic.

The two have a lot of similarities and mirror each other almost perfectly. Jafar is pretty much what Aladdin would be like if he went full throttle evil. We see what both of them do when they have the lamp: They both make wishes to help themselves gain wealth and power and they both attempt to use the genie to woo and marry Princess Jasmine.

Neither of them gave a damn about those kids eating out of the garbage down in Agrabah. Maybe this wasn't the best example.

Aladdin is actually kinda an asshole.

© 2018 Ash


Submit a Comment

No comments yet.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)