We know what I'm talking about. The feeling when the legal side of a story doesn't bothers us too much because we want to see Joffrey getting strangled with a string of sausages.

So basically we want to see a character killing a hated one in the most brutal fashion possible. And all of this can freely happen because they were such a terrible persons to my birds in general, and the reader wanted him to be not just only merely but really most insanely deaaad.

However, there is a large pitfall, namely: strawmans and cartoon villains. After all, they must be easy to hate. And it's kinda hard to pull-off without damaging their personalities, as people rarely tend to be evil for no purpose.

For instance: Mao Zedong killed millions of innocent people and birds, but he also wanted to make China great again. Too bad that his massive ego, uneducatedness, and delusions ruined everything, but mostly the birds. (and 50 million people, but who cares about them, there are still like, 7 billion of us here, so we are really disposable.)

TL; DR - I'm interested in general tips to make a villain "Joffrey like" so the main anti-hero can smear them over a brick wall without regrets.


4 Answers 4


Someone who deserves to be smeared over a brick wall doesn't have reedeming features.

That's not to say the villain is stupid, or one-dimensional, or his/her only motive is "I like to be eeeeeeevil." But if you are trying to create a character "who needs killin'," then don't give him or her any good characteristics. Your villain shouldn't be physically attractive, or a sharp dresser. (Military uniforms are more imposing than sharp.) S/he shouldn't get off darkly funny one-liners, or have a pet which is treated well, or spare anyone from harsh treatment.

This should be a person who always puts his/her own interests first — even further, someone who always puts his/her pleasures first, above anyone else’s consideration, above anyone else’s life.

Tyrion gave Joffrey a beautiful book of history (in a society which doesn’t appear to have the printing press, so every book is hand-lettered). Joffrey immediately chopped it into pieces with his sword because he wasn’t interested in learning anything. He killed the prostitute Roz because he was bored and wanted to use his new crossbow. He displayed many instances of violence in which he took great glee, and was then cowardly in the face of danger (or Tyrion slapping him). We were happy to see Joffrey die because every choice he made, every action, every word, was only about putting himself and his wants first.

Ramsay Snow/Bolton, another all-out GoT villain, skinned people alive, chopped off bits of his prisoners, tortured them mentally and physically, sent his dogs to hunt people down and tear them apart, committed rape, et cetera. (He’s even worse in the books. On the show he at least has the actor’s physical charms.) Again, it was for his own gleeful pleasure — in fact, his father, a more cold-blooded pragmatist, scolded him for being tactically stupid with his excesses.

Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, on the other hand, is certainly out for himself, but he also can speak kindly and give gifts. He’s a good-looking man, dresses handsomely, and does favors for his allies. While those favors are always with an eye to what the ally can do for him later, and while he is entirely capable of murder, planning murder, selling someone into slavery, running a rough brothel, castigating a woman whose child was just killed, and other ills, we the audience can appreciate his schemes, his bons mots, and his chemistry with other characters like Varys.

Your villain’s wants can be just about him/herself, or they can be about a nation or empire etc., or a religion/deity, but someone due for chunky salsa karma will have nothing for the audience to appreciate or identify with.

ETA armatita makes a good point in the comments, which I'll append: If you want your audience not just to hate your villain but actively cheer for his/her demise, the villain's evil has to be personal. Ramsay raping a random woman is terrible. Ramsay raping Sansa (a character we've watched grow up, who has gone from innocent and airheaded to experienced, smart, and capable), on their forced wedding night, in Winterfell, is a personal horror. We identify with Sansa, so now we want Ramsay to die. We as the audience want revenge.

  • 4
    Great points. The distinction between Littlefinger and Joffrey is, I feel, rather profound. Littlefinger, while working solely towards his own desires, does so with planning, foresight and out of a belief that he is, in fact, the best person to do it. Joffrey (and Bolton to an extent) are concerned solely with their own desires/gratification, with no thought to the long term. They are impulsive and petulant, and this is the most repulsive part of Joffrey - there's no point to any of his excesses or outbursts, other than his own gratification. They don't achieve anything, and are just pointless
    – user18397
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 1:34
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    While this is a good answer (and deserved my +1), I don't agree with the very first part. There is no reason why a villain like that shouldn't be attractive, dress sharply, or have a sense of humor. Looks and moral standings should be separated, since they aren't linked - unless we are talking of something very high fantasy, as LOTR.
    – Liquid
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 7:49
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    @Liquid You are absolutely correct that looks and moral standing are not linked. What I wanted to underscore was that if you want a villain who can be killed without the audience feeling even a twinge of regret, you don't want any possible hook. There was a guy in CA a few years ago who was arrested for weapons and gang charges, and his mugshot was so attractive that he got a modeling contract. That is a person whom your audience may not want to see die, because he's so handsome. Actor Jack Gleason isn't ugly, but he's not knock-you-over hot. Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 9:39
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    @Liquid We enjoy Littlefinger's clever quips and his amazing fashion sense, so while he's done and orchestrated terrible things, we as the audience aren't as willing to see him executed as we are to watch Ramsay's well-deserved end. Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 9:41
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    There are some great points in this answer but I think adding a more complete model to it would improve it greatly. I think the OP is looking to get its readers to have a very personal, visceral, hate for a character. That usually implies that the exchanges of the vilain with other characters (namely the ones the reader likes) are fundamental to create the desired effect. For example killing a butcher's kid (any), or killing the butcher's kid that just happens to be the friend of a very likable character are very different approaches. My point is: you have to make it personal.
    – armatita
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 14:00

The trick is to never humanise the character, and this may be done a little differently than expected. THe trick is to never let the reader get to close to them.

As human beings we have a huge amount of empathy, and we are ready to give it to any monster.

Let's imagine a novel about Hitler. In an alternate reality he is captured by the allies, and sentenced to execution. The novel then told from Hitler's point of view as he sits in his cell and waits to die. There is no way that by the end of the book most readers would not emphasise with Hitler, and fell bad about his death.

Let's rook at Ramsay and Joffrey now. I am going to stick to the books here. There are lots of characters that gets their viewpoints in GOT, but never them. They are never seen alone, and instead are always portrayed from the eyes of people that hate them. This is what keeps them as these evil characters that we are happy to see die.

Saturday morning cartoons mess this up all the time. They set up villains, and they are all villainous until the moment here is a scene of them plotting. The moment we see them alone, and having goals, we suddenly want those goals to succeed. In GOT the Red WItch gets a couple of pages from her point of view, and all her evil just dissipates even as she wants to burn children.

Also never let us see the evil character suffer. We love to emphasise with suffering. If they have a small loss to the heroes, don't let us see them react in any kind of weak way.Even just showing anger to a loss is enough to make someone into a human.

So to make someone evil, have them do bad things, but never show them alone, always only show them through eyes of characters that hate them

  • I would only add, let your villain get away with it. In the GOT examples everyone is using, the reader wanted the villain dead long before he got his due. He should be lucky, maybe even escaping a well-planned assassination and getting his brutal revenge on someone we love. Once the reader is begging for it, you can make it as horrific as you want and we'll cheer you on.
    – IchabodE
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 21:20

Killing the opposition; even brutally, is an understandable trait of a villain. Mass "impersonal" killing (setting a bomb, firing a missile, exploding a nuclear weapon) are understandable traits, too.

Even if those kill babies and kids and innocents, the villain is killing them for some cause or purpose. What makes a villain truly hated is completely unnecessary killing, often casual, of innocent, defenseless and relatable characters, for no plausible reason.

For example, my hit man can brutally slaughter twenty gangsters. He might even be a bit cruel and vindictive (like in the movie franchise Taken); this can be seen as "justice." He isn't hated yet.

But as he is leaving, my hit man is checking rooms for survivors, and in the last room finds a baby girl, about six months old, lying in a crib. He smiles. He says, "Aww!" and seems genuinely pleased.

Then he shoots the baby.

Now he is hated.


Betrayal elicits stronger negative emotions than mere villany. The traitor, the false friend, we hate more than we hate an honest enemy. The betrayer adds the wounding our our pride to their other sins. We want to hurt them particularly, and personally, for having made fools of us.

That and harming an animal, apparently. I have been told by agents that no matter what you do in a story, you cannot harm a dog. Readers just won't stand for it. Dash babies heads against a stone if you must, but don't step on a dog's paw.

  • I suppose American Psycho is the exception to the dog rule? I honestly wracked my brain for hours: you’re right, I’ve seen every kind of malevolence in books, except that toward dogs. Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 17:09

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