Hello, readers! In case you missed it, this is one in five posts – number three, to be exact. If you missed the previous posts, Motive and Evil Deeds, it’s best if you go back and read them first, because the points build on each other.
You’ve read the previous posts? Great! Read on:
A villain is his own person
What I specifically mean by this is that a villain’s existence must not be dependent on your hero’s existence. As in, the story (perhaps sans main plot) must still exist, villain and all, without your hero. The villain’s world does not revolve around the hero! It seems that all too often, a villain is created so that the hero can have something to fight, even if in creation, the writer wasn’t specifically thinking that. The problem with creating the villain as just someone for your hero to fight is that stints your villains growth, often grants your villain only the strength of a straw man, and very rarely allows your villain to be well-rounded and three-dimensional.
How I would best recommend separating villain and hero is to create your villain first, if you can. If you’re starting from scratch in character building, start with your villain. Answer at least a few questions like, “What is [Evil Bob]’s motive?” “Where did [Evil Bob] come from?” “How did [Evil Bob] come to be a villain?” Once you know your villain’s motive, plan out his schemes. What’s his ultimate goal, and what steps must he take to arrive at that goal? Now create your hero. You’ll find the conflicts improve this way as well, as now you have incidents built in for your heroes to oppose your villain: the steps to your villain’s goal.
But maybe you already have your hero planned. Maybe your way of writing is to invent the main character first. Maybe you have inspiration for your hero and not your villain. My first suggestion is just what I think is the easiest exercise; you just need the right mindset to keep villain and hero separate now. If your hero and villain don’t meet until the thick of the plot, perhaps an overlord and a young Chosen One, put the youth out of your mind and start with the backstory and the questions of your villain. The original machinations of your villain must have nothing to do with your hero – because your hero probably doesn’t exist yet. Even if you’re trying to do a “kill this chosen one baby” sort of plot. Surely your villain has been practicing villainy before little Chosen One was Chosen. When Chosen One shows up, the kid is a blip in your villain’s plans. This sort of story is easiest for me to illustrate, but the principle applies to all story arcs. Your villain may well have been a villain before your hero became the villain’s problem. They were a person without your hero.
Things can become stickier if your villain and hero have a long-standing relationship. However, growing up together does not sentence your hero and villain to be Siamese brainchildren. Always just remember that your villain is an actual person, too, that they have desires and aspirations and those desires and aspirations do (or probably should) not revolve around the hero. He should have things to do when your hero isn’t a problem.