Villains n’ Conflicted Characters

Today, I am featuring a guest on the blog! Sam (she/they) (@S.G.Dorrity on Insta) has graciously provided her own knowledge and insight on how to write villains and conflicted characters, as the title suggests. I am so excited and thrilled to share their answers with y’all!

First up: What’s the difference between villains and conflicted characters? Too often, as a reader (and writer), I automatically place conflicted characters as the villain in the story, which is not always the case. As Sam points out, “Many villains are conflicted characters since they have a reason for doing what they are doing. But despite the occasional overlap, conflicted characters do not always fall into the same category. Sometimes a conflicted character can be a hero.”

A great example of this might be Heartless, written by Marissa Meyer. Throughout most of the book, the main character can be construed as the protagonist in spite of all the heartbreaking events that befall her. However, there is the underlying conflict within herself (good versus evil, how far she’s willing to go for revenge) that ultimately leads her (spoiler alert) to become a villain. The main character didn’t start off this way, though, and can be categorized as conflicted.

Additionally, Sam states that, “When writing a villain, there is most commonly one direction to take a naturally sadistic and inherently evil character. The other path is to give them a conflict, a backstory, a reason why they are who they have become. But when writing a conflicted character, who isn’t necessarily evil, a backstory is very important… If they’re the hero, have moments where they doubt themselves and what they’re doing.” They also emphasize this point: “Backstories aren’t necessarily essential to writing villains but providing small glimpses into their past can give them a reason as to why they are doing this. For conflicted characters, however, I would say backstories are very important because they give more context”.

Think of it like this: we’re all human, we all have flaws, which means that your characters should as well. Some may have a more evident flaw while others bury it deep inside. Villains and conflicted characters are the same way. Most likely, you’ll be writing from the hero’s perspective, which means that you really have to dig deep and reveal all aspects of their personality, including the bad ones. The worst thing you can write is the “Mary Sue” character, so having them doubt themselves or their path is an essential part of the story.

In regards to motivations, my guest noted that, “One thing that could motivate a villain could be someone close that wronged them, someone they treasured. A more common theme is proving people that thought little of them, wrong. They could also be he misguided villain, who has the right ideas but goes about them the wrong way, which can be very appealing to read.”

In the end, the writer must decide which path to take. If you’re focusing on the villain or a redemption arc, then backstory for him/her would make sense. However, if you’re fixated on the hero and their journey, then you might not want to overwhelm the reader with too much of the villain’s past (and if you do include a decent portion, don’t infodump! Add hints and clues along the way 🙂 Don’t forget to create complexity within your hero’s past life, struggles, and weaknesses, too!

Photo by Samson Katt on

Special thanks to my guest, Sam, for tackling this interview!

If you would like to be featured, be sure to fill out the google forms on @highschoolwriters Insta page.

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