Villains can be one of the hardest characters to draft and create for your story. One great tool to flesh out your villain and their motives is to make them a foil to your hero.
Great villains create an ever-lasting impact on the stories they inhabit. They can be symbols of pure evil, like Morgoth from Lord of the Rings, or agents of chaos, like Eris from Sinbad, and more. Villains elevate their stories by adding moral and physical stakes, influencing their opposing hero’s actions to even influencing your own actions and choices. Today, some villains tend to be flat, predictable and even boring. Creating a potent and effective villain for your story can be a daunting task. Many writers, including myself, don’t know where to start.
As with all characters, the foundation for your villain directly impacts your story’s plot, conflict and opposing characters. Building a foundation for your villain is a great practice for both beginning and experienced writers. Without defining or outlining what your villain believes or what drives their actions, your story’s other characters will have a harder time to naturally react and progress the plot.
As movie critic Robert Egert once wrote, "Each film is only as good as its villain. Since the heroes and the gimmicks tend to repeat from film to film, only a great villain can transform a good try into a triumph."
Today, modern villains blur the lines of traditional character roles. But, villains still have an expected set of characteristics that offer a time-tested starting point to drafting your character. Many books and online sources list recommended qualities of a strong villain that can help guide you to creating a strong villain. I believe that there are generally four common desired characteristics of a villain.
Foil characters are defined as “a character who contrasts with another character; typically, a character who contrasts with the protagonist, in order to better highlight or differentiate certain qualities of the protagonist.”. Typical foil characters are often sidekicks or characters that spend a lot of time in the company of the story’s hero.
Writing your villain as a foil character to your story’s hero can allow for natural storytelling to meet the needed characteristics of your villain. Along with additional character tools, like character webs, you can guide and flesh out your villains motives, actions and personal decisions.
The definition of foil characters for your villain would then evolve into being an opposite foil for your hero. For example, if your hero has an internal obstacle that they need to overcome for the plot of the story, perhaps your villain faced the same internal obstacle and failed. Or they faced the same obstacle and came to a different result.
Characters drive and lead the story through their choices, struggles and personal convictions. But don’t limit using foil characters for just your dastardly characters. Foils can be used for any and all of your characters. By using a foil character as one of the many tools to draft your story’s inter-character relationships, you can unlock a boundless amount of potential great twists and turns to make your story captivating.