I’m not going to lie–good villains are damn hard to write. But they’re one of the most important characters in your story (arguably, the most important!), so you need to spend the time getting him right.
As a reader, you’ve probably noticed an abundance of villain cliches in books, but sometimes it’s hard to see these in your own villain. Or, maybe you’re not sure what it is exactly that makes a villain cheesy or cliched. Maybe you’re afraid you have a cheesy villain without even realizing it.
Don’t fret! With a little work (okay, maybe a lot of work), a cheesy villain can be polished into one who’s formidable. Let’s get started, shall we?
The cheesy villain dresses like he’s part of a Broadway show, or a teen going through a Goth phase. His outfits must scream ‘I’m evil.’ His wardrobe consists of black, red, leather, spikes and studs, long capes or coats, and anything printed with skulls. He wants to make sure you know he’s evil, just in case, you know, you couldn’t tell from his smoldering scowl. Bonus points if he’s ugly or disfigured, adding to his edgy appearance.
2. Stage Name
If your villain insists on dressing like a pop star, he’ll probably choose a flamboyant name that will make Lady Gaga jealous. You know, something stylishly evil like Crimson Bane or Lord Dark Skull or Damon Shadow-blood. Wait, are we naming a villain or a bad punk band?
3. Over dramatic
Like a teenager begging for attention, the cheesy villain goes out of his way to make sure you know he’s evil. He razes villages and slaughters innocents for no reason other than to prove that he really really is evil. And you should like, be totally terrified. He’s constantly snarling threats and insults, and doesn’t hesitate to torture or kill random henchman. Are you paying attention yet? No? Maybe some maniacal laughter will make you show him the respect he clearly deserves.
4. Bargain Bin Henchmen
Speaking of ill-fated henchmen, the cheesy villain always seems to employ an abundance of useless minions. They have worse aim than a firing squad of Stormtroopers and are always letting the heroes escape. You would think that someone as powerful and cunning as a villain would find a way to get the best of the best fighting for him. But apparently undying, mindless loyalty is better than competence. And taking over the world these days is expensive, you gotta cut costs somewhere.
5. Gossip Girl
Like a gossipy teen girl, the cheesy villain loves to chat. Especially about his plans. Once he’s captured the hero, he finds it necessary to explain every detail of his master scheme. He can’t help but reveal how he was behind everything, how he managed to trap the hero, and what he plans to do next. He has to brag to the hero about how brilliant and diabolical he is. Because if he doesn’t, then how will the hero appreciate his evilness? While he’s busy chatting away and taunting the hero about how he’s going to kill him, the hero will make his escape.
6. False Swagger
Cheesy villains have a certain swagger about them. They always smirk, sneer, glower, and glare. They have dark smiles and chilling laughs. They boast about how clever they are, and have an arsenal of witty and nasty insults. When they’re not making empty threats, they’re probably plucking the wings off butterflies. But really, this sort of villain is nothing more than a poser–he’s all talk and no game. He may constantly taunt the hero about how he’s going to kill him and destroy everything he loves, but it will never come to pass.
7. Awkward Dialogue
Villains tend to get the worst dialogue. If they’re not shooting off wise cracks, puns, and witty remarks like a comic book super villain, they have an aversion to contractions and speak with an eloquent malice like they’re in a High Fantasy novel…even if the story is set in 21st century New York. They often speak very on-the-nose, saying exactly what they’re thinking and being completely transparent–which most people don’t do, whether they’re evil or good. And of course, they talk way too much.
They also tend to say phrases we’ve heard a hundred times like:
- You think you can defeat me?
- You have no idea how long I have planned this moment.
- Well, well, well.
- I will take great pleasure in killing you.
- You will never escape/defeat me/see your lover again.
- Bonus: addresses the hero as boy/girl instead of using their name.
Cut down on your villain’s witty remarks and taunts, and give him dialogue that is time-period appropriate. And if you feel like you’ve heard a line before, change or cut it!
8. Black and White
One of the main problems with the cheesy villain is that more often than not his character is underdeveloped and flat. He is defined only by his evilness with no grey areas. He only feels anger and hatred and is evil for the sake of being evil. But villains need goals, motives, pasts, and personalities just like heroes. Don’t forget that villains are people too!
The cheesy villain has to try so hard to act and look evil because in reality, he sucks. The hero always gets away unscathed, his plans always fail, his traps never work, his threats never come true. The more he fails, the more anxious he becomes that the hero might not take him seriously, so the harder he tries to prove his evilness. Maybe he shouldn’t have skived off so many Evil 101 classes at the Villain Academy….
10. Cat with a Mouse
If there’s one thing the cheesy villain can’t resist, it’s concocting ridiculous ways for the hero to die. Instead of killing him at once and taking care of the problem, the cheesy villain likes to play with his victim like a cat with a mouse. Why run the hero through with a sword or place a well-aimed bullet in his head? Screw efficiency. This is the moment for the villain to show his twisted creativity.
But once the villain sets up his elaborate death trap, he will scurry off to finish his evil plans, giving the hero an opportunity to escape. Stick around and make sure your most hated enemy dies a gruesome death? Ain’t nobody got time for that. The world won’t take over itself, you know.
When done well, your villain can be one of the most interesting characters in your story. What do you look for in a good villain? Share your thoughts below!