More questions. More help. Introducing Mastering Table Topics Second Edition.

Basing the villain on yourself

Caricature of a villain (image from Wikipedia)What makes for a good villain? Their motivations? Their reactions to their misdeeds? The possibility for redemption? And where can you find inspiration to create such a good villain in your stories?

There is one place we overlook because we don’t feel comfortable looking there. But suppose you base the villain on yourself?

I assume that you are a decent law-abiding person who would never think of robbing banks or tying damsels to railroad tracks. But we all have bad habits and negative tendencies, and we’ve all made minor infractions of the law, even if it’s just speeding. You can use those naughty traits to enhance the villain in your story, or you can create your “evil twin” and let them run amok.

Here some questions you can use to develop a villain:

  • If you could commit a crime and get away with it, what would it be?
  • What would be the perfect revenge you would exact on someone who hurt you?
  • What is something about you that you would be ashamed of if others find out?
  • What type of person would you be if you grew up without morals?
  • If the only way you could save a loved one or yourself is to commit an immoral act, what would you be willing (and unwilling) to do?

By basing the villain on yourself, you can strengthen your story in the following ways:

  • You give your villain stronger motivation because you look at the ways you might be motivated to commit the same misdeeds — and the motivations that prevent you from doing them.
  • You humanize the villain because their flaws are based on your own.
  • You avoid creating a character who’s “evil because they’re evil.” History is full of normally decent people who are nudged into committing evil acts. The boundary between good and evil is thin and often blurry. You can show this and add complexity to your story.
  • You can build similarities between the hero and villain because you see the good and bad sides of yourself. You can add temptations for the hero to join the “dark side” and the values that enable the hero to resist them.
  • You can offer redemption to your villain just as you seek redemption from your own failings.

Letting your “inner bad guy” come out on the page can be therapeutic and fun! What mayhem can they cause? And what help can they offer to deal with your own inner villains?  Find ways to tap into the negative aspects of yourself to improve your story.


Also published on Medium.