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How can I make an unrelatable villain more compelling?

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I have a villain who is more or less a complete monster. She has no goals other than gaining immortality at any cost. Psychopaths like this are sometimes hard to take seriously because most bad guys believe they are doing the right thing.

The most compelling villians have a motivation that makes the audience sympathize with them, or some redeeming quality to make them relatable, such as a code of honor. This villain is simply in for the pursuit of power.

How can I make them interesting for the readers?

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For me the point of interest is not the pursuit of immortality but why she's pursuing it. To be that bent on living forever she must have either strong history that makes that goal worth such dogged pursuit and/or plans for what to do with the time it grants her. Either way those past and/or future motives are the points where she's compelling and relatable not in her present actions.

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You don't have to humanize your villain to make him/her compelling. Fiction has a great number of examples when complete monsters captivated the audience. Count Dracula, Freddy Krueger, Darth Vader and Terminator - they all took their place in villains' stardom long before audiences learned about their tragic backstories.

What you need to do is to make your villain interesting, and unpredictable (but not illogical). If villain is a POV, then it is of course more difficult, but if its not, you can keep him/her as a mysterious and deadly force that mostly stays in shadows. Readers will be terrorized and mesmerized, while you can keep villain's secret up until the very end.

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The thing that makes people interesting is how well we can relate to them. It's easy to verify this - just go to any social gathering and talk to a few people - you will find that the ones you get on well with are the ones that you share experiences, ambitions and predilections with.

This extends to the relationship between readers and villains in books.

What is your target audience? If it's a bunch of geeks then make your villain narcissistic accompanied by being extraverted, more open to experience and more prone to (non-clinical) depression (source: 5 Traits Mark Out The Geek Personality).

If your audience is dictators then make your character charming, charismatic, and intelligent, brimming with self-confidence and independence, exuding sexual energy, extremely self-absorbed, a masterful liar, compassionless, sadistic, and possessing a boundless appetite for power (source: The Mind of a Dictator).

Trouble with the above is that you limit yourself by targeting a certain audience (unless you're going for a niche market) so you might want to look at the traits that the whole of humanity shares. In fact, you might want to consider trying to discover the humanity beneath the fa├žade of your villain. Where is your character hurting? What flaws are there? What hidden hurts hide inside that stern exterior? Reveal those things to your readers and you might just make your villain interesting to them.

That reminds me - isn't there a series where the main character (a bad man) goes to see a psychiatrist regularly? Hold on, let me look it up ... Breaking Bad? No. Mad Men? No. Analyze This? Yes, but that's not the one I mean. Got it: The Sopranos! That would have been a good vehicle for your villain to get in touch with his humanity. Pity it's already been done, but I'm sure you'll think of something else.

Good luck with your writing.

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I agree with Alexander on the fact that a villain doesn't have to be understood to be compelling for the reader. But I'd like to add some bits of my own.

For me, it is a problem of being believable.

If you write your villain in a way that feels like a comedy or that he's only in for the power, your reader won't sympathize for him, they won't believe that such a villain could exist. But if you write him in a veil of mystery, with some limits or something that make him feels human, it takes another turn. Your readers will ask themselves what are his true motives, how did he end like that, can he change ? They will be able to believe that such a villain is possible in real life. And if they believe, they will want to understand him -- an interest will grow for your villain.

For me, this is done by giving him features to make him stand out. Motives, code of honor, flaws, strong history, these are only the tools for it to be believable. If you don't want to use any of them - fine. But you have to compensate with something else, or nobody will find your villain compelling.

You first have to believe that your villain is possible yourself, before having your audience believe it as well.

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This post was sourced from https://writers.stackexchange.com/a/37296. It is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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