How to Write Villains

How to Write Villains

Logged-in Student Lesson Link

“Sometimes You Want An Antagonist… But SOMETIMES Your Story Needs a Villain… And If You Can’t Tell The Difference While You’re Writing, Your Story Will Crash and Burn!”

I already know I want this…

For most writers most of the time, the villain arrives as an afterthought. To write compelling fiction that keeps readers coming back, building the right conflict—and the right character to drive your conflict—is where you start.

If your villain, antagonist, or bad guy of any species or gender is weak, unconvincing, or too easily beaten, you’ll lose your reader.

Good fiction requires characters who overcome conflicts—but not easily. Good heroes of any gender have to start by being smaller and weaker than the obstacles they face. And that includes the enemies they face. Writing genuine bad, or convincing evil, and giving your protagonist someone to confront and overcome who is strong enough to be convincing is an ESSENTIAL fiction-writing skill.

Here’s what you need to know to get it right…

LESSON ONE: Understanding Evil and Villainy

This seems like it ought to be pretty simple. Good guys do good things, bad guys do bad things, and villains do evil things. But until you have a clear working definition for evil, and don’t just assume you “know it when you see it”… but are able to point out exactly why an action is evil, rather than good or bad… And can point out WHY someone is a villain, rather than a bad guy or even merely an antagonist…

You can’t write villains.

In this lesson:

  • You’ll learn working definitions of good, bad, and evil that will allow you to write…
  • ANY fiction that requires heroes, bad guys, and villains, and…
  • MOST fiction that requires protagonists and antagonists…
  • And you’ll start building a clip file of characters and their actions that relate to the kinds of stories you want to tell (thus bringing together both essential research AND writing practice)

 I need help with this…

LESSON 2: Creating Good, Bad, and Evil Characters

Having defined the characters you need, now you’re going to do work with the differences between what people think, what they say, and what they do, and how you can USE these in fiction to show the reader what you want him to see while saving some surprises for later—WITHOUT cheating. You’ll be doing a lot of writing—and seeing a lot of progress in your quest to get better villains into your fiction.

In this lesson:

  • You’ll turn one character into a hero, antagonist, bad guy, and villain with one tiny technique
  • You’ll discover who your villains CAN be by defining the worlds they live in
  • You’ll invent your own fictional version of evil (it’s your story, you get to say what’s evil in it)
  • And you’ll learn how to turn a hero into a villain in the course of a story, or do the reverse and turn a villain into a hero

Heroes, antagonists, bad guys, villains? Help!

LESSON 3: Sympathy, Empathy, and Villainy

This week, we’re delving into sympathy and empathy, how to apply each to your villains (and why you might want to avoid writing villains empathetically), the three-step process for creating a sympathetic villain, the dangers when creating empathetic villains (the big one being a special-case appearance of that writing nightmare, You can’t know what you don’t know), and we’ll also take a side trip through How to Break Your Sympathetic Villain and Make Your Reader Hate You, Too.

You don’t want to go there.


In this lesson, you will: 

  • Create three sympathetic villains—a Small Villain, a Big Villain, and a Monster. Post a poll for each to determine Sympathetic or Not Sympathetic
  • Create at least ONE, and up to three, empathetic villains. Post a poll to determine Sympathetic or Not Sympathetic.
  • Select a Most Memorable Hero and a Most Memorable Villain, and determine why they hold these roles for you


  • Downloadable PDF Lesson
  • Worksheets and Practice
  • Private members-only student forum for discussions, questions and answers, polls, demos and feedback.

I have no clue what to do with sympathy, empathy… and villainy!

LESSON 4: Villain Roles in Fiction

This week we’re going to look at all parts of the story villains can inhabit, and the viewpoints they can use to inhabit them. We’ll work on villains’ voices, and on moving your villain smoothly from backstory to foreground as you get deeper into the work—and we’ll cover how to move a main villain from deep backstory to main story over the course of a series. You’ll be working with third person past and present and first person past and present, and learning when and WHY you use each of these voices—and danger areas to avoid. And you’ll be doing a lot of writing.

In this lesson you’ll learn:

  • The Evil as Whisper, Rumor, Ghost technique
  • The Shape as Shadow in the Corner, as Footprint in the Snow technique
  • The Knocker at Your Door with Thoughts Unknown technique
  • The Horror in Your Bed with Thoughts Whispering in Your Ear technique
  • The Monster You Were Yesterday technique
  • The Nightmare You Are Now technique
  • How to advance your villain through these techniques over one book or the course of a series


  • Downloadable PDF Lesson
  • Worksheets and Practice
  • Private members-only student forum for discussions, questions and answers, polls, demos and feedback.

Well… EEEK!!!… but also… Help?!

LESSON 5: Representing Evil— Science Villains & Art Villains

In this lesson, you’ll be working on creating representations of evil that fit the world you’ve built. Evil in a magical world filled with elves and dragons looks very different than evil in a world filled with Artificial Intelligences which is run by a Central Computer. And there’s a big difference between Evil as Art and Evil as Science. So this week you’ll be learning to how to recognize and define Science Villains and Art Villains, and then you’ll learn how to create both types, along with using techniques to shape your worlds to fit them.

In this lesson:

  • You’ll learn what Science-Flavored Villainy is
  • You’ll learn what Art-Flavored Villainy is
  • You’ll discover how to create both Science- and Art-Flavored villains, as well as…
  • When to use each
  • And what each kind of villainy can bring to your story


  • Downloadable PDF Lesson
  • Worksheets and Practice
  • Private members-only student forum for discussions, questions and answers, polls, demos and feedback.

My villains need to fit my world!

Lesson 6: Controlling Characters and Story

Villains will get away from you if you’re not careful.

It’s in their nature to take over things, to wreck things, to expand on their self-proclaimed mandate until their ever-growing bag of supervillain tricks destroys your story. So this week, we’re going work through the ways that you can put your villain on a leash—and still let him or her be the villain you need to keep your story tight and your hero’s action meaningful. THIS week, you’ll be building a keeper villain—one whose stories you genuinely want to write. You can pull him, her, or it from previous weeks and previous exercises, or you can start fresh. But step up your own personal stakes by committing to writing at least one story (even a short story will count) with this villain.

In this lesson you will:

  • Answer six questions that will help you categorize your villain, making a character who is both unique and well-defined, so that you understand clearly the sort of stories in which this villain will work
  • Determine your villain’s scope and scale, which in turn determines the scope and scale of your story.
  • And you will learn how to write your villain consistently, preventing both Story Creep and Villain Creep.


  • Downloadable PDF Lesson
  • Worksheets and Practice
  • Private members-only student forum for discussions, questions and answers, demos and feedback

Help me prevent Story Creep and Villain Creep!

Lesson 7: The Come-Back Villain: When Readers are Reading Your Story for Your Bad Guy

Generally, you’re hoping that your readers will love your heroes enough to want to follow them with you to the ends of the earth (or whatever place you’re writing). Sometimes, however, a writer discovers that while readers might like the heroes, they LOVE the villain. If you discover this about your own work, first you want to understand why your readers love this character. Second, you want it to be a reaction you both planned and built toward. And then third, you want to make sure you don’t break the character they love. So this lesson is about getting all of that—Understanding, Planning and Building, and Maintaining—the Villain Readers Love to Hate, Love to Fear, or Love to Love.

In this lesson, you’ll build the working pieces for…

  • A villain readers will love
  • A villain readers will love to hate
  • A villain readers will love to fear


  • Downloadable PDF Lesson
  • Worksheets and Practice
  • Private members-only student forum for discussions, questions and answers, demos and feedback

Ooh! I wanna write a Come-Back villain!

Lesson 8: Dealing With Fallout from Writing Evil

There are three kinds of fallout you CAN get from writing real, honest-to-God evil:

  • Fallout from your own mind, both conscious and subconscious (or You and Muse)
  • Fallout from family members, True Fans and new or casual readers who generally like you
  • Fallout from haters… the folks who really DON’T like you

I’m going to cover these in order of importance, from MOST important to LEAST important. In other words, You, then Your allies, and finally Your enemies. This is a tough, important, and emotional lesson, and it will allow you to both write better villains and protect the joy and happiness and feelings of accomplishment you get from writing your fiction.

In this lesson, you will master:

  • Strategies for buffering your Muse from the very real effects of writing real evil
  • Finding reasons (in the folks who love what you write) to sometimes NOT show all the evil up close
  • Encountering folks who will hate what you do because you got it right—and get my take on how to handle them


How to Write Villains

Villains are essential to many kinds of fiction.

And if you get a thrill out of reading villains, sooner or later you’ll want to write them… and write them well.

So learn to skip past the pitfalls of creating them and moving them through your worlds, and discover how to build the kinds of villains that fit both beautifully and evilly into the worlds you want to create, and the stories you want to tell.

You can do this!

Your class will start the moment you complete the payment process. You’ll work at your own pace, and have permanent access to the class for use and re-use. You’ll also get all upgrades and updates at no extra charge.

The How To Write Villains Course Includes:

  • Eight comprehensive PDF lessons.
  • Printable PDF worksheets.
  • Diagrams and charts as needed.
  • Private Class Forum for lesson work, help, practice, brainstorming… and encouragement.
  • Permanent in-version access and free upgrades.

How to Write Villains
Single Payment
Compelling Conflict, "Can't Stop Reading" Characters
Single Payment, Permanent Classroom Access
Learn to Understand Evil and Villainy
INTENTIONALLY create good, bad, and evil characters
Learn when to apply Sympathy and Empathy to Villainy (and when not to)
Discover and learn to use the many roles villains can hold in your fiction
Learn to represent evil with Science-flavored villains and Art-flavored villains
Keep your villains under control (make sure you get the story YOU want)
Learn how to build the "Come-Back Villain"... and why you might want to
Learn to deal with the fallout from writing evil (this is a crucial survival skill)
Permanent class access and all in-version upgrades free

Holly Lisle

Novelist, Writing Course Creator


Course Information

Course Instructor

Holly_Think Holly_Think Author

Novelist. Writing-course creator.