This post is the fourth in a series of 7 Tips for Writing Epic Super Villains. Check out the earlier posts below:
Tip 4. Make the Villain Credible
So, what do I mean by making the villain credible? In order for readers to be able to take your story seriously, they have to be able to take your villain seriously, and so do your heroes. Your readers and your heroes have to believe the villain is a major threat to your setting and the people in it.
We have all seen a lot of cases of what I would call a joke villains. These are the super villains in name only. They are the ones that superheroes fight without much risk, and they are typically the ones that get caught through their own incompetence. Examples would include COBRA commander from the cartoons, Dr. Light, Batroc the Leaper, the random thugs that are beat up by Batman at the start of just about every Batman story, and dozens of others who barely rate the term C-list. If your villains end up spending more time in jail due to their own stupidity instead of committing crimes, then I would say that they’re not credible villains.
For a super villain to be seen as credible, his goal and means of accomplishing that goal have to be plausible within the rules that you’ve set up in your superheroes’ world. Not only that, but I would say that the super villain is assured victory even if the superheroes get involved.
Look at it this way: if you write a story where the superhero has a very good chance of defeating the super villain, then you don’t have much dramatic tension. The readers know that the hero is going to win. They only stick around to find out how he wins. And, if the victory doesn’t take a lot of effort, then the readers aren’t going to be terribly satisfied.
But, if the villain has set things in motion such that the readers can see no way that the superhero wins, then you’ve got readers who are compelled to find out what happens. In the readers’ mind, you’re threatening to break one of the classic rules of morality plays: that good has to triumph over evil. That burning curiosity on the part of the readers to find out if you’re going to break that rule, or if you’ve come up with a solution where the hero wins in a way that the readers could never imagine, is going to keep them turning pages.
Make it so that the villain is guaranteed to win at the start of the story.
Make it so that the villain is able to see to the destruction of the hero, by whatever definition of destruction you want to use – physical, spiritual, legal, moral, or any other form of destruction. Your villains don’t have to kill the hero. They just have to destroy them.
Here’s an example of a credible villain: Trigon the Terrible from the New Teen Titans is the demonic father of Raven. He is evil incarnate, and he has spent years searching for his daughter to convince her to join him. Now, writer/creator Marv Wolfman was able to build up the tension over several issues in the series. By the point that Trigon enters our dimension, he literally brings Hell to Earth, complete with pits of sulfur, firebreathing demons, and the city transformed into a terrifying replica of Dante’s Inferno. Not only that, but our heroes have been possessed by Trigon’s demons and have killed Raven. For all intents and purposes, evil has won. There is no way that a reader could conceive how are superheroes could actually emerge victorious. You can bet that the time from Trigon’s victory, to the release of the next issue the following month, was the longest 30 days ever for Titans fans.
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Tune in again tomorrow for another tip. Same bat-time, same bat-channel. In the meantime, let me know what you think of the tips and the series in the comment area below!