3 Steps to Unlock Your Extraordinary Villain Within

Are you, as a villain, reaching your fullest, most extraordinary villain self?

Or is your villainy being limited by mundane, mealy-mouthed tropes or other half-baked screenwriting mistakes made by your creator, the screenwriter?

It’s time to take charge of your life, Villain. I’m here to help you unlock your villainous potential, and unleash your villainous power. Because you’re special and the world deserves you.

In every story there is a villain. Without a villain, there’s nothing for the heroes to overcome. Watching our protagonists spend an ordinary day of their lives might be compelling in the hands of a great screenwriter or director, but even in the most understated of films, there’s always a villain. Sure, sometimes they come in the form of a ticking clock, Mother Nature, or bad luck, but they’re still villains. You can run, you can hide, but if you want to tell a great story, you need a great villain.

And that’s where you come in.

Everybody in this seminar, please get on your feet and repeat after me:

No great thing — and certainly no interesting movie or tv show — has ever been achieved without tremendous struggle.

Say it again.

No great thing — and certainly no interesting movie or tv show — has ever been achieved without tremendous struggle.

To put it a different way? 

Movies and tv need tremendous struggle. And you can’t have tremendous struggle without ____ ?

Say it, audience.

That’s right. A tremendous villain. An extraordinary villain.

To provide such a struggle for the heroes in our stories, your screenwriter must create a compatible antagonist.  Namely, you. And that requires finesse. Because you deserve finesse, villains.

Alright, here comes the Powerpoint presentation. Let’s sort what makes an extraordinary villain into three easy categories.  One:

Extraordinary Villians Need Motivation

You’re not a hero, villain. You’re a villain. Say it with me:  I’m a villain.

Good. Say it again: I’m a villain.  Awesome! Love the energy in this room, people.

Heroes  (blech) often have lofty motivations for their deeds of valor. Saving kingdoms, stopping world destruction, and investigating presidential obstructions of justice are all standard fare in a hero’s work.

Bo-ring. Am I right?  Show of hands.  Awesome.

But here’s some harsh truth. Heroes and villains like you share something.  What is that something? We both have motivations.  And often the motivation for actions, and, yes, even heroes (blech), usually comes from places closer to home.

Personal motivations are commonly the root for us antagonist characters to justify our terrifying plans or horrible goals. Instead of saving the village, we want to burn it.

Am I right?  Show of hands. Awesome.

But why do we want to burn it?  Why do we villains want to burn down that village?

Except for the fortunate few of us who are born sociopaths, most of us don’t start off wanting to hurt people. That’s a skill that has to be learned.  So why shouldn’t we, as villains, as antagonist characters, wrestle with the same moral questions? Coming up with a good motivation for our evil schemes is essential to making all but the cartooniest of us plausible for the audience.

And folks, if we villains ain’t plausible, we most certainly ain’t extraordinary.

For example, in Disney’s Aladdin, the vizier Jafar — a baddie like you and me — wants to stop Aladdin so he can take over the kingdom instead. We understand his motivation because who wouldn’t want to be the Sultan and kick it with Jasmine? She’s got a pet tiger so clearly she knows how to party.

Recently, Marvel’s Black Panther received critical acclaim in part because of the motivation of its awesome villain. When faced with the oppression seen around the world, it’s easy to understand the villain’s urge in that film to take action, even violent action, if it means fighting against perceived injustice.

Returning to a movie mentioned in a previous post, perhaps the simplest and maybe greatest motivation for a villain is the great white shark in Jaws. Not much exposition needed there.

Everybody knows a shark gotta eat, yo.

Next slide.


"Is your script ready? You get one shot with agents and producers. Make it count."


Extraordinary Villains Need to Have Impact

The amount of struggle the protagonists’ must exert to reach their goals is usually in direct proportion to the effectiveness of the antagonist. My strength as a villain is only as good as my ability to stop the heroes in their tracks.

Okay, maybe that’s oversimplifying it a bit. In practice, as an antagonist, or as an antagonistic force, we must be enough of an obstacle to push the heroes to their limit but not so difficult that they are impossible for the heroes (blech) to overcome. The magnitude of our villainy’s power is where skillful finessing really helps.

The Death Star from Star Wars makes the villain of that story, Darth Vader, into one hell of an effective killing machine. When you can blow up a planet, resistance feels hopeless. And yet, the battle-station has a weakness! Without the defect in the design, the Rebel Alliance would have no hope of destroying the Death Star and achieving their heroic goal.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy features an all-powerful magic eye as the main villain. Using his wicked power, our boy Sauron searches the land of Middle-Earth for his ring of power, which happens to be in the possession of that mealy-mouthed little do-gooder, Frodo. While Sauron’s forces are legion (and awesome like us), they don’t know the location of the ring and this unknown gives Frodo (blech) and his little band of pathetic, whimpering companions a fighting chance.

Keep in mind: not every villain has to be sentient to be effective. The iceberg in Titanic, for example. (Full disclosure: the iceberg and I have the same agent.) The iceberg has no motivation to drown all those simpering fools aboard that deliciously doomed ship, but the effectiveness of its sharp ice against the ship’s fully-deserving metal hull makes the floating hulk a compelling, antagonistic force of nature via the danger it represents.

Next slide please…

Extraordinary Villains Need to Have Style

With good motivation and clever application of power, we villain characters can function competently in any given script. However, a great villain must do all of these things with a personal style that elevates us above our peers.

A screenwriter, ideally, will create a villain with the same kind of gravitas that the dewy-eyed protagonists of the movie receive. This isn’t necessarily a call to make all us bad guys as bombastic, weird, or creepy as possible — again finesse is paramount — but to treat us the way they treat the good guys in the script.


Because — say it with me — villains are people too.

That’s right. Get up out of your seats, put your hands together, and say it again:

Villains are people too.

The Christmas classic Diehard gave us one of our greatest contemporaries— one of our most cherished peers — the villain extraordinaire, Hans Gruber.

Put your hands together for Hans, everybody.

That’s right.

Hans’ motivation is greed, which is good. And his impact is definitely impressive, but it’s his style that sets him apart. His dogged relentlessness, his deadpan delivery — these are the things that transform our brother Hans from functional to legendary.

In the cult hit Mean Girls, Regina George set the standard for teenage queen bee not only with her burn book and sycophantic followers, but by hiding her inner pettiness under a veneer of niceness. The moments where the real Regina slips out from under the mask create moments of tension that stick with the audience long after they leave the theater.

Be Regina! Be Hans! You can do it! Unleash that inner villain, people.

Screenwriters who create us often make the mistake of taking the task too lightly. They don’t think about the story from our perspective, but they should. And you, as villains, should hold them accountable.

Finally, if you can tell your screenwriter just one thing — if you can leap off the page for just ten seconds and you have the opportunity to tell them just one thing, tell them this:

Tell them that you matter.

That’s right. Say it with me.  Villains.  Matter.

Say it again.

Villains. Matter.

Tell your screenwriter it takes practice to write an extraordinary villain. Tell them not to give up.

Then if you have any time left, tell them to stop making you deliver a monologue right before you’re supposed to kill the heroes, which always, always gives those pathetic little heroes a chance to escape.  No speeches! Just. Throw. Them. In. The. Volcano. Already.

Now get out there and conquer! You can do it!  Unleash your power! Unleash your villainy!

Also, buy my book because I’ll be signing copies in the lobby right after this seminar.

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