Do you have any tried and true techniques to make villains of your stories truly hated by the audience?

I mean, frequently it's "eh, sure, that's bad, he's got to be stopped" but the audience would rather observe the villain more, learn, maybe try to get them to change their ways. Or worst of all, pity the villain in the end for failing to execute their just revenge, or not getting along with their plan for what would -really- be a better future, even if through baptism of fire.

Now what to do if you want the readers to wish the villain dead in worst way possible?

Of course getting the villain to kill one of most liked characters may work wonders here. Except it will definitely alienate the audience, it's cheap and disliked. It's something that will make the readers hate the villain and hate the author for writing the story that way.

Now what to do to have the readers feel a warm fuzzy when the villain gets hurt? A good healthy dose of schadenfreude? A good dose of ire when the villain gets away with their shenanigans? Make them love to hate that character, feel the story was written just right, no cheap gimmicks, and the villain is still really worth all their hate?

This all without loss of the basics: keeping the character fully believable and with completely logical (or at least sufficiently emotional) motives driving them, at least moderately competent and sufficiently interesting.

4 Answers 4


A villain you want to take down is, at his/her core, someone who does not care about the suffering of others.

  • An evil wizard who wants to murder every witch or wizard who isn't a "pureblood," regardless of how skilled or what the person has done.
  • A plutocrat who became rich by destroying businesses, and then dismisses people who don't pay income taxes as "refusing to take responsibility for their lives."
  • A religious fanatic who thinks that everyone not of his faith deserves to die, and that he is fulfilling God's will by killing "the infidels."
  • A parent who thinks that his/her child is so tainted and corrupt by being gay that the child should be shunned, disowned, and thrown out of the house, never to return.
  • A bishop who moves a child-molesting priest to a new parish rather than reporting the crime to the police, and then refuses the victim Communion when he speaks up.

You get the idea: someone without empathy. Someone who either does not see that other people (heroes, villains, NPCs) are also people with feelings, or simply does not care because the villain him/herself is convinced of his/her own absolute and utter superiority.

  • 3
    This was a difficult choice because the reasons given in all answers are pretty good, but now as I think about it, villains who step out of their way to add insult to injury, bastards who go back to the ruins they left and destroy whatever traces of hope the survivors try to gather, are the ones that most easily arise blind rage in me. Yes, a coward is despicable and loses any compassion. Yes, you won't identify with an alien, formulaic, systematic villain, cold hate is all you can give them. But this answer goes beyond removing compassion and doubt, it incites rage.
    – SF.
    Dec 15, 2012 at 13:07
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    Hmm, this post brings to mind the thought that, (a) you shouldn't necessarily assume that all your reader agree with your political and social beliefs. About half of the above are pretty obviously the poster's characterization of some controversial people or categories of people he dislikes, and which recent election results showed about half of Americans disagree. Describe the same in slightly different terms, and they could be heros rather than villians. And (b) but of course if you do it right, you can paint someone with views you dislike as a villain, suck the reader into ...
    – Jay
    Dec 18, 2012 at 15:57
  • ... thinking of him as a villain, and thus use fiction as an effective propaganda tool to demonize your opponents.
    – Jay
    Dec 18, 2012 at 15:57
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    @Jay: Yes, I did draw from some real-life examples. (I'm a she, BTW.) And yes, fiction can be used as propaganda. However, you don't have to agree with the author's viewpoint or the author's portrayal of a villain. And if you really disagree, then put the book down; it's not for you. I am sure someone who holds political views opposite mine could come up with a villain in this vein who is a gloss on someone I admire. I just wouldn't read that book. I don't read the "Left Behind" series for that reason; I don't identify with the heroes, and the people I do identify with are the villains. Dec 19, 2012 at 0:05
  • @Jay I could come up with four more examples which are entirely different from those above. My point is that "lack of empathy" is my suggested tool for creating a villain who is truly worthy of being despised. Dec 19, 2012 at 0:06

On the flip side, let me comment that one thing I really dislike in many works of fiction is when we are told that someone is a villian, but he never actually does anything evil. To take a well-known book as an example: Consider "The Picture of Dorian Gray". The whole point of the book is that Dorian Gray is a horribly evil person who nevertheless does not suffer for his crimes. And yet ... what does he actually do that is evil? He's rude to his girlfriend. That's about it. The fact that his rudeness leads her to commit suicide left me thinking more that she was mentally unstable than that he was to blame for her death. I've seen lots of movies where at some point I find myself saying, Wait, what did this guy do that justifies the hero destroying him like this?

  • 4
    An "informed characteristic" of evil. Yep, that just makes you angry with the writer, not the alleged bad guy. Dec 19, 2012 at 0:07
  • One of few situations where the advice of "Show, don't tell" becomes of paramount importance...
    – SF.
    Dec 19, 2012 at 11:56

I love villains, so this is difficult.

What I love about them is their brazen disregard for convention—moral, ethical, political, etc. They represent a freedom that the hero doesn't have. The hero is constrained by some rule or code while the villain runs free. This freedom allows the villain to evolve in ways that inspire our imagination. We wonder, how vile can he become?

By this logic, I would hate a villain that didn't acknowledge his egregious position, his freedom. What I mean is, I would hate a villain that believed that he was more moral (I'm only using moral as an example) than the hero. If this hyper-moral villain became so constrained by his morality that his actions became formulaic, I would hate him. He would have lost the potential to surprise me, to horrify me; he would shackle my imagination. I would wait for his death as a relief.

An example that comes to mind is Blake in the John Cheever story The Five-Forty-Eight. He has done something awful to someone and he is oblivious to it. He is confronted by the victim of his awful act, and he is remorseless, ignorant even, of his misdeeds. Because he does not embrace his awful deeds, he cannot step outside of conventional morality, run free, and scare me. He is simply fighting a moral battle that the reader believes he should lose.

Now that I think about it, O'brien in 1984 is a villain that I hate even more. He is claustrophobic, oppressive, and fearsome. He isn't imaginative at all. He is formulaic, and I can't help but hate the mental confinement. Hate becomes my only form of rebellion.

For me, the irony surrounding good villains is that I want them to meet their demise, but I don't want this to happen just after their villainy has been established. I want them to thrive and then fall.


The villains I absolutely hate are selfish and self-serving, but they are also cowards. This may not be blatantly obvious when they have power to wield, because they hide behind it. If they stripped of it, however, they're reduced to a sniveling heap on the floor, begging the hero for clemency or mercy and betraying everyone and everything they can so they won't be hurt or killed.

For I think there's still a certain, reluctant admiration for villains who go down screaming their beliefs to the end. We may be totally against what they believe, and furious at their reluctance to see reason, but we still get that sense of loyalty - of their dedication to their cause, however abhorrent.

That's as opposed to someone who is truly out for themselves only, who commits atrocities out of self-interest. And when they are finally confronted, having exhausted their power to hurt/torture/kill the hero(es) and those around them, they immediately promise the hero(es) anything they want - including the fate of all who were loyal to the villain.

  • 2
    The ones who will do anything to save their skin... those are the ones I feel contempt for. I sort of want to wash my hands of them. I don't particularly care if they get their comeuppance or not; I just want them out of my hair. So yes, a good villain archetype, but not necessarily evil. There's a certain satisfaction in watching a powerful villain like Voldemort get properly Avada Kedavraed which you don't feel when seeing someone beg and bargain for his life. Dec 14, 2012 at 1:46
  • But if they've been using whatever power they have to torment the heroes the whole time, for me it goes beyond contempt to 'I hope you die a horrible, drawn-out death'. :P And then when they sell out everyone around them to save their skin, I wish for an even more terrible one because they're clearly not a human being.
    – Lexi
    Dec 14, 2012 at 3:58
  • I guess this is one of those "Your Mileage May Vary" issues. :) That kind of villain pushes your buttons. The one without empathy pushes mine. Dec 14, 2012 at 11:09
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    I wonder what you think about a villain who for a time struggles to power through noble if flawed ideals, and then confronted about the flaws, having every single point proven wrong in their face and requested to stop continuing the insanity, admits all the ideals and motives were entirely wrong then goes "But I like doing it, and what are you gonna do to stop me?" - in essence dropping all the pretense of nobility and just going straight sociopathic sadist.
    – SF.
    Dec 14, 2012 at 12:51
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    @SF. "Most likely, he became a monster gradually and grew to like it." You write that book, I'll buy it. Dec 14, 2012 at 18:58

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