Saturday 15 March 2014

Crafting Convincing Villains by Julie Anne Grasso #ChaBooCha


I am an Independent Author of middle grade sci-fi. When I was conjuring my villain, I couldn’t help but draw from the movies, books and characters I already loved.

The first draft of my MS was actually about 70,000 words, and for middle grade that is considered long. I had a manuscript service that suggested I had included a great deal about the villain, more so than the protagonist. 

You see, I had dreamed up an entire world that this villain inhabited, with fairly intricate details, but I had made the mistake of including all of his backstory. I was on the right track though, because although I cut 20,000 words before publication, I had a convincing villain with a bio that I stayed true to.

So true that I have had quite a few readers express how much they loved Alexander222.

Oh dear, I should be shaking my head you might be thinking, but actually, that’s how I wanted it to be…. You’ll see why. So let’s take a look at how to craft a convincing villain.

What is the function of a villain?
  • Drive your plot forward.
  • Create a problem / tension
  • Up the stakes.
  • Reveal a universal truth. ie Good and Evil.

Let’s Start With Some Inspiration:

Where do we draw from?
  • Multimedia: TV, movies, YouTube, games
  • Books
  • People you know
  • Universal Themes: ie Good v Evil
  • Concepts: ie Corporate corruption  

Let’s look at some:

Let’s look at some examples from Children’s literature.
  • “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman: Page 3-5The Man Jack is upfront on the first page, there is no doubt about who this villain is.
  • “The Wishbird” by Gabrielle Wang: Page 23-25Panther bullies Boy into stealing from the Demon Monster’s House. He we have two villains revealed in one conversation.
  • “Spiderwick Chronicles” By Toni Diterlizzi; Holly Black Page 373-5
    Mulgareth is alluded to throughout the book, until Jared finally meets the hideous creature about half way through.
  • “May Bird and The Ever After” Jodi Lynn Anderson Page 82-83.  Page 95-98
    Bo Cleevil is alluded to throughout the book. Few have seen him, but everyone has a story about him.
Alexander Gordon Smith says: from his book “Writing Best Selling Children’s Books”
“A common pitfall for the new author is not matching villain to hero. He suggests try giving your villain the same personality but twists it.”
He also suggests that we get into the mind of our villain.

Get in the mind of your villain

In J.K Rowling’s  “The Prisoner Of Azkaban,” Harry confides in Sirius that he is terrified that he will become like Voldemort. Sirius responds that we all have darkness and light.

Start with a mission statement

Practice first on a few all-time, down-right dirty villains: Write a mission statement for him or her: just a couple of lines.  Here are some examples, or how about you try writing one for your own villain.
  • Darth Vader
  • Ursula The Sea Witch
  • Voldemort
  • The Wicked Witch from Snow White
  • Bowler hat guy
  • Cruella Deville
  • Muntz from Up

Refer Back To Your Mission Statement

So now you have your mission statement:  If you are wondering how your villain is going to behave and speak, keep referencing your mission statement:
  • Would my villain stop for directions and pay for gas? NO
  • Would my villain take what is not rightfully his/hers? YES
  • Would my villain stand around and gloat about his plan, before it has succeeded? YES
  • Does my villain have a sense of humour? YES/NO This may impact at some point, so decide now.

A little Note To Beware:

Remember, villains who like to announce what they are going to do, can sometimes appear like you are telling not showing. 

If you are going to have a villain tell your protagonist his/her plan, make sure the dialogue flows, so it appears like the protagonist really wanted to know why, how and when.

Try not to be too Scooby Doo-like. “And I would have gotten away with it, if wasn’t for those pesky kids.”

Hang on just a second:

Before you get starting on the evil exploits your villain is going to perpetrate:
  • Decide how transparent or translucent you are going to make them.
  • Does the reader know from the get go that they are the baddie?
  • Will you reveal their identity slowly over time, leaving the reader guessing?

Create a Bio for them:
  • What events happened to them to change them or bring them to a place of evil?
  • What's their motivation?
  • Think about their actions and describe what they do as the villain.

Try not to drive the reader’s insane
  • Having a villain wax lyrically out loud or in thought, will definitely convince your readers that the villain is bonkers, but it will also drive your reader bonkers.
  • Keep it to a minimum, and find ways to dialogue or show instead through actions.

Consider adding a sidekick

Just as our hero can have sidekicks or supporting characters, so can our villain:

The aim of the side kick is to help reveal the villains character and motivations.

Do this in dialogue.

Do this in action: ie How the villain treats the side kick, gives us a great deal of insight into his character.

Don’t Box Yourself In

When conjuring a side kick, they dont have to be the traditional Batman/Robin.

A side kick can also be a collection of incidental characters:
Note: Be careful not to introduce too many, as kids will lose the plot completely as to who is who.

Gru is a great example

From Despicable me: Gru is kind of a mish mash of good and evil and as a result, he has sidekicks that actually demonstrate the polar opposites of his character.

The girls he adopts help to show his warm and soft-hearted side.

The minions do his bidding, provide loads of comedy and help to further the plot of the evil genius.

And the old guy that does his inventions, helps to validate him as a criminal and spur him on.

Use your sidekick to reveal your villains character
  • Through dialogue and how they speak to them: ie Condescending, giving orders
  • Through physical interactions ie How they treat them?
  • What does the villain make the side kick do?
  • How loyal or disloyal they are to their sidekick?

OOPS! How serious are we?

According to Alexander Gordon Smith, If you want readers cowering under the doona, then comedy is not indicated.

Remember: Refer to your mission statement: Does your villain have a sense of humour.

If you are willing to let the readers route for the villain just a little.Pop in some comedic moments.


What THE?
If your villain is completely and utterly bullet and fool proof, what hope does your protagonist have of defeating them.
They must have some flaws, which the protagonist can use to outsmart, outwit, or out perform.

Leave a little room for….

REDEMPTION:  Think of the great villains that weren't as bad as you thought: Shout them out to me

Let’s look at an all time classic:

Remember: Villain’s come in all walks
  • They don't have to be just super natural beings with limitless power.
  • Think of the people you disliked as a kid, your teachers, your class bully's, the other kids, your older siblings.
  • Always bring it back to their mission statement.
  • Would they do this to achieve their goals?

Time to check in on our villain:
  • Appropriate for age range?
  • Absolutely no sexuality.
  • Are all their actions in keeping with the rating of your book?
  • Avoid excess violence.

Beta readers are key:

In my first book, my 10 year old beta reader pointed out the level of violence. She suggested the 9 year olds might not cope with itLOL!!!!

Put on the parent glasses:
  • Do I want my child to read retaliation with weapons as standard?
  • Is there another way to portray this without bullet weapons?
  • In my books, I decided on stun guns that could revert to bullet weapons. The only time a bullet is fired, is accidental.

Don’t forget the protagonist:
If your villains actions are so heinous that they require, blatant retaliation and use of weapons by children:
You are not writing for children.
If your child protagonists have no empathy at all for the villain, when he/she is at their lowest, and they retaliate with equally heinous actions like murder:

I suggest you rethink the amount of violence included in your book.

Some folks can get away with it:

H---ger G--es

What would J.K Rowling say?

In her interview with Oprah, she mentioned a communication she had with her editor after certain worldwide event.
 “And they say we shouldn’t write about evil in children’s books.”

One last thing before we go:

You are the creator of this world that you have been dwelling in.

You can change your mind on your villain if you like:

Just remember, there is no going back once you do.

There has to be an entire plot and justification behind it.

Sometimes Cliché’s work

As clichéd as it is, villains are often forced into action by terrible circumstances.

Alexander Gordon Smith says,
“Nothing turns a plotline on its head and wakes the reader up like a villain who simply had to do what he did.”
“The better the villain, the better the hero.”

Keep Moving Forward
In all things, here is my parting advice…


  • Smith, Alexander Gordan. Writing Best Selling Children’s Books: 52 Brilliant Ideas For Inspiring Young Readers. Oxford UK Infinite Ideas Company Ltd. 2007. Print
  • Buccieri, Lisa Rojany, Economy, Peter. Writing Children’s Books For Dummies. Hoboken NJ Wiley Publishing Inc. 2005. Print
  • McDougal, Jill. Become A Children’s Writer, Insider Secrets. 2008  Kindle Edition.
  • Rowling. JK. The Prisoner Of Azkaban London Uk Bloomsbury.1999. Print
  • Anderson, Jodi Lynn. May Bird And The Ever After. New York. Aladdin Paperbacks. 2005. Print
  • Anderson, Jodi Lynn. May Bird Among The Stars. New York. Aladdin Paperbacks. 2006. Print
  • Gaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book. London. Bloomsbury. 2009. Print
  • Wang, Gabrielle. The Wishbird. Australia. Puffin Books. 2013. Print
  • Diterlizzi, Tony, Black, Holly. The Spiderwick Chronicles. The completely fantastical edition. New York. Simon & Shuster. 2009. Hard Cover.
  • Oprah Interview with J.K. Rowling


Julie Anne Grasso is an Australian independently published author with a background in pediatric nursing.  She spent many years literally wrapping children in cotton wool. Every day she witnessed great courage and resilience from the tiny people she cared for, which inspired her to write stories about a little girl elf just like them. The Adventures of Caramel Cardamom Trilogy was the result.

Where to find me:


Comment on this post by noon on March 24th to be entered into the drawing for a paperback copy of Roz Morris's "Writing Characters Who'll Keep Readers Captivated: Nail Your Novel." Winner will be chosen by a random number generator on March 24th at noon GMT. You must be signed up for the challenge to qualify.


  1. Great blog. Thank you so much for your wonderful advice!

  2. Thank you for this great post!

  3. I love creating villains, best characters ever. Some excellent advice here, thank!

  4. Great tips Julie :) Thank you for sharing your tips on creating great villains.

  5. Thanks for stopping by everyone, and I hope you craft some convincing villains, mwa ha ha

  6. Fabulous information again :) I will read this several times and let it all sink in as I build my villains. Thanks you

    1. Thanks Cecilia, it was great to meet you.

  7. This breakdown is so incredibly detailed and helpful, I'm having trouble absorbing it all. That's OK, though, because writing is a journey. Many thanks.

    1. LOL, thanks Joanne, I am a little wordy when it comes to villains, I hope you can soak it up and use it one day....

  8. Some really great tips that will definately make me look at my vilain in a new light!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Ramona, I hope this will make that villain zing, he he, cheers

  9. I love creating villains! Almost more than heroes. Almost.

    1. He he, Nicole, I share your love. Thanks for stopping by

  10. Thank you sharing your tips on writing villains. I find that I have the most fun creating villains … heroes can be so boring.

    1. I had loads of fun creating my villain too, thanks so much for stopping by.

  11. Wow, great advice. Stuck it in a folder. Thank you for breaking this all down so succinctly. Villains are just a whole lotta fun to write. Thanks again, Julie! :-)

    1. Hope you craft some convincing villains Robyn, thanks so much for stopping by

  12. Thank you for a very good post!

    1. So glad you enjoyed it Anita, best wishes on your villainous adventures...

  13. Super post. Thanks Becky and Julie!

    1. Great to see you here Wendy, hope you have some fun crafting a noteworthy villain

  14. Lots to think about. Thanks so much.

    1. So glad you enjoyed it Linda, thanks for stopping by.

  15. If I had to choose my favorite villian it would be the Joker in Batman! It makes sense what you said about the reader feeling some compassion for the villian once they realize why they do what they do! Makes me rethink the villains I have created in the past... Look at them in a new light!! Great blog and thank you so much for sharing this great advise!

    1. Hurrah, Kelly, glad we could challenge your view of villains, they come in all walks, so make them work for their title....

  16. Thank you, Julie, for the wonderful bio of a villain. I have fallen in love with the character and am at a loss to craft a protagonist, equally mesmerising.

    1. Yes Sakuntala, I have the same disease, but all the better to match your hero to.

  17. Another great post to print and keep on hand :) thanks :)

    1. Thanks for dropping by Bron, I hope this helps your craft.

  18. Julie,
    This is the pinnacle of villainous writing posts! Love it. Printing it for Neighbor Girl for when she is ready to add villains to her writing. Awesome.

    1. Mwah ha ha, Cool Mom, you always say the coolest things. LOL so glad you liked it, and happy crafting.