Stories are typically told in terms of a hero putting his or her wits against a villain hellbent on thwarting their efforts. Writing these characters is not as simple as the good guys (or gals) fighting the bad ones. Screenwriters who do this face the prospect of writing flat, cartoonish characters. Villains serve a much deeper storytelling function. They test your hero’s resolve, force them to question their values, morality, resourcefulness, and strength to bring out their best expression.
Villains must be worthy adversaries to your heroes. They can’t simply be an irritant, an inconvenience, or a pest. Villains must truly be able to take down your hero. They often believe that they are heroes if only the real heroes could see it.
From villains, supervillains are born. From heroes, superheroes are born. Rather than tinkering in the middle over an inconsequential squabble, superheroes and supervillains must present a truly cinematic vision. The stakes must be that high. Superheroes must be determined to save the world and supervillains must be equally determined to destroy it.
Supervillains have a deeper function in your screenplay. They represent the mirror image of the superhero in strength, fortitude, and persistence. They know your superhero’s pain points and weakness and will use them as kryptonite whenever they can.
They are believed to have their roots in biblical scriptures starting with the angel Lucifer who was born good but became so filled with pride and hubris that he deceived Adam and Eve. Misunderstood, he was cast out of heaven and became a demon on earth.
It may behoove many screenwriters to tell their stories from the supervillain’s point of view.
Supervillains are heightened characters. Although they are megalomaniacs, they should be admired for their determination, planning, and complexity of their schemes to make them a force to be reckoned with. They have a particular world view to justify their actions. Audiences don’t need to like or agree with their actions, but they must understand them.
They are often characterized by superior intellect and perfected rare and complicated skills. They frequently have access to restricted resources and intelligence which regular people don’t have access to. They are deep planners and strategists.
It’s important for writers to create their supervillains as layered characters to make them interesting. Typically, they have similar fears, weaknesses, and concerns as wider society. They are highly intuitive and know how to activate and challenge the superhero.
Supervillains and superheroes often share some backstory to make them arch-nemeses. Therefore, it’s vital that screenwriters take the time to craft a suitable backstory for their supervillains. Here’s how to make them really memorable:
2) No Regrets
A supervillain needs to as ruthless and brutal as The Terminator. They are unwavering in their resolve and cannot be convinced otherwise.
They never show any remorse or guilt for their actions. They play to win and will not apologize. They will not question their motives or feel they have any reason to justify them. They are slaves to their unwavering beliefs and are merciless to opponents. Their only emotions are skewed toward self-satisfaction and smugness once they’ve wreaked havoc.
3) Unchecked Power
These supervillains are tyrants. Their power is absolute. They demand unquestioned obedience and will destroy anyone that questions their legitimacy or competence. They often work solo or with a small group of trusted advisors because their standards are so high. They are addicted to their power (no matter how fleeting) and all that it affords them. They are driven by greed and have a winner takes all attitude. They will not stop until there is nothing left to take.
Supervillains don’t use a commensurate force to achieve their goals. They will use a nuclear bomb to kill a fly just to flex their muscle and display their power. Their goal is to instill fear into people and show no pity. Their cruelty is limitless and they will often escalate it to ingenious levels. These villains will kill the family dog or those less powerful than them to act as a warning to anyone considering defying them.
Their cruelty must be congruous with their character otherwise your audience won’t appreciate it. It might even be ingenious and intricate as is the case with Jigsaw in the Saw films.
Supervillains can also be fallen angels, once having held positions of prestige and power, but are now treated as pariahs leaving them emotionally depleted and scarred. This creates empathy and motivation so audiences get a sense of why they act the way they do.
They may also be physically wounded. They could be disfigured either from birth or after an accident to accent their emotional wounds. Their wounds make them bitter and make them lash out at the world.
Supervillains can become both emotionally and mentally unstable. Their powers of reasoning and logic cease to exist. Their minds can’t be changed no matter how misguided or deluded their actions are. Sometimes, the have a do or die attitude and will persist along a path they will eventually lead to their demise. If they are going to die, they will die with their boots on.
7) Differing Morality
Supervillains don’t subscribe to regular moral codes of human conduct and decency. They are often considered to be immoral, but they often possess their own sense of morality arguing that the sacrifices made are for the greater good of humanity to justify their actions.
Nihilistic supervillains perversely thrive on the pleasure of destruction. They are often considered to be amoral because they don’t live by any moral standards other than humanity has no value, meaning, or purpose in the world.
Supervillains don’t always work in seclusions. They can be chameleons and circulate in mainstream society. They are erudite, sophisticated, and often move in closed, privileged circles making them very persuasive and difficult to suspect of wrongdoing. Hannibal Lecter is a perfect example of such a character despite being imprisoned.
9) Downfall Is Sweet
After watching the death and destruction caused by supervillains, audiences prefer these stories to end with justice prevailing. Even if they experienced a destructive moment where they supported the supervillain earlier. The more nefarious the supervillains’ actions, the sweeter their downfall.