Let’s Talk Bookish – What Makes a Good Villain?

Hey people and welcome to another Let’s Talk Bookish post! Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme, hosted by me & Dani @ Literary Lion, where we discuss chosen topics, share our opinions, and spread the love by visiting each other’s posts.

Today’s topic is: What Makes a Good Villain (courtesy of Dani!)

This is an awesome topic and I am super excited to talk about it, so let’s get started!!

What makes a good villain?

#1. an amazing backstory/past.

My favorite villain is the kind who has a story that explains why s/he became the person that they are today. For example, Kaz* has such an incredible past that explains everything about him today, and it makes sense, and it’s so deep and sad.

Another great example is Victor Vale. While he’s not technically a villain, he still does some villainous stuff. With Schwab’s awesome time jumping skills, we get to see what happened to him in the past while watching his actions in the present, and bit by bit, everything comes together and makes sense and explains why he does what he does now.

Most important thing is for the backstory to make sense. All villains come from somewhere, and there has to be something which makes them a villain. Nobody is just completely plain old evil; there is something that happened to them that triggered the life path that they chose, and that trigger has to make sense and be plausible-maybe even a little sad. Which makes me sympathize with them for all of 5 seconds, and then they do something heinous and I remember why I hated them to start with.

*and I know I just literally called Kaz a villain…but you get what I’m trying to say. He’s like…a morally grey hero, who is not really a hero because he’s technically a bad guy, but also the good guy. It’s complicated. But, you get what I mean.

#2. a real villain.

What’s a real villain? A real villain is the kind of person who will slaughter everybody in their path and be amused by it. Or maybe not amused, but definitely not crying or being remorseful or sad about it. That’s not a villain….that’s more like an antihero, because that kind of person still has some kind of good in them but there’s something that’s making them do what they’re doing. An antihero can be saved. Or at least, you can work with them without fear that they’ll stab you in the back without prior warning. A villain would delight in torturing your soul.

Example: the Artifex from Ink & Bone. Now that’s a guy who has no good in him, and if he does, it’s locked up somewhere where it will never get out. He’s willing to kill children, librarians, even BURN BOOKS, just to get his way. And he’s burning treasured and rare books while being the Artifex of the Grand Library that controls everything. I’m still horrified by it.

#3. someone you can learn from. If you’ve come from a really broken past, and it’s twisted you around and made you angry at the world and determined to destroy it, or rule it, or break some prophecy, or whatever it is, then I feel like there’s something to learn from that. Especially when the backstory starts off with neglect. It’s like a reminder that everybody is human, with emotions and feelings. Abandoning them can have so many negative consequences and can result in so many bad things.

That’s not to say that all villains come from neglect, or that neglect produces a villain. It’s just that there usually was some sort of neglect or serious emotional pain inflicted on the person, and instead of them choosing the good side, their pain and hatred turned into something dangerous and powerful which pushed them to the bad side.

This point is entirely subjective, because you might not believe that there’s anything to learn from a villain, but I feel like it’s a reminder to appreciate the people around me, and not to hurt people’s feelings or abandon them.

So in the end, for me, what makes a great villain is a villain with a good and plausible backstory, a real and complete villain who really really does hate the world and the MC, and is someone that you can learn something from, or remember to be a better person by reading about them.

This Week’s Participants:

Dani @ Literary Lion| Rian @ Dogs and Books | Evelyn @ Evelyn Reads | M.T. @ The Last Book on the Left | Jane @ Blogger Books | Aria @ Book Nook Bits

That’s it for today guys! How are y’all doing? What do you think makes a great villain? Do you agree that there’s something to learn from villains and their pasts? Would you like to see topics about antiheros, side-characters, etc? Chat with me in the comments below!

27 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Bookish – What Makes a Good Villain?

  1. Ahh.. this post !! I love villains and talking about them!! I mean villains can really affect a novel !! I definitely think they need a good past and backstory because choices and what happened to you really shape a person and as villains usually have very strong goals or personality traits, they also needs a really strong backstory.
    I think they also need a strong goal so you know what they are aiming for and that sometimes the goal that they seek isn’t so strange or monstrous. In another situation maybe it could be a goal that others would want, or even something a good person would want.
    I definitely agree with making them a real villain because obviously morally grey character, anti-heroes exist but to be a villain you have to have something really cruel and horrible about them. (like in Game of Thrones) They do delight in it and would rarely display remorse. I also love it when this can be mirrored with them caring for something in a very human way, for example a pet, a car, a hobby, a partner. It makes them more scary. Or when they can put on a show of being very charming and likeable. I think an example in Snow from The Hunger Games (I’ve haven’t read the books) but in the movie they show him caring for his grand-daughter but then he is fine with killing children.
    Also I love intelligent villains who can say such eloquent things and really manipulate situations to benefit them and make it worse for the heroes.

    And I do think you can learn something from villains too, like the quote ‘the evil queens are the princesses who were never saved’. It makes you think and how niceness really can reproduce kindness, to never underestimate the power of this !! Villains in their opposite behaviour can remind you of this in a completely different way to how the heroes do.

    I think Azula from ATLA is one of my favourite villains at the minute !! This was such a great post and I really loved reading it !! ❀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yess, I agree! Their goals don’t always have to be all bad, but they are now twisted because of the circumstances, or just their method of getting to this goal is what’s considered bad.
      I haven’t read The Hunger Games either, but it would definitely give me chills to have a villain who slaughters everyone, but then is super tender and kind of to someone/something that they love. It makes you conflicted because you can see that they are capable of love, but then they do that and you want them to die, but then you hesitate, and it’s just an endless loop. I love that “trope” too now that I think about it. Like you said with Azula, well, *SPOILERS FOR AVATAR THE LAST AIRBENDER*

      She cared about Ty Lee and Mai and even her mom, but she was still unbelievably cruel, and horrible, and all that. Even to Ty Lee and Mai before they turned on her. I hated her so so much throughout the series, even more so because of how she treated Zuko (Zuko’s my precious little boy who I maybe love a bit too much πŸ˜‚πŸ€¦πŸ½β€β™€οΈ I actually was honestly livid and hurt that Katara didn’t trust him when he came to join them….I understood why she didn’t, but I still hated her in those episodes before she accepted him lol). During the Final Agni Kai, it hurt so much seeing how broken she was. She’s still a villain and I still hate her for what she did, and I’m still kind of baffled that I felt sorry for her at the end of it all. She truly is a perfect example of an amazing villain.


      Oh yes, villains being eloquent and manipulative annoys the life out of me because it hurts the MC, but then I also respect them for it. I’m glad you agree about them being someone you can learn from! That quote is basically what I meant! They really are the princesses who were left behind, and it’s so interesting to see how one small act or kindness could have prevented everything that happened.

      I’m so glad you loved this and I had so much fun replying to your comment!!! Thank you so much βœ¨πŸ’š

      Liked by 1 person

      1. *SPOILER FOR AVATAR* I agree with everything you said about Avatar. I remember in the Agni Kai with Zuko and their father when his father burnt Zuko she smiled so it just goes to show how cruel she is to smile at her dad hurting her brother and then all the actions she did after. But she did have these moments of being human which conflicted you in a way even if just for a second!! An amazing villain !!
        *END OF SPOILER*

        Liked by 1 person

  2. i’m actually struggling with figuring out who the villain of my story is right now, so this post was super helpful to read, Rukky! i honestly don’t put much weight into villains, which is why i think i’m struggling so much. it’s super weird, but i don’t even have a favorite villain πŸ˜‚ like, favorite *actual* villain in a story. i like Kaz and Victor, but they’re the main characters of their respective books, so i don’t really consider them my favorite villains. but i agree that a good villain has to have a good backstory, and i like villains who are *extremely* powerful. lol, i used to watch a lot of shounen anime, and in shounen anime, the villain is always this incredibly powerful dude who could destroy a whole country in seconds or something. so it’s always exciting to see the final battle between them and the hero, because you’re genuinely left curious about how the hero is gonna triumph against them! i also read somewhere that a villain’s agenda usually makes sense, but the problem is that it lacks empathy (e.g. thanos wanting to wipe out half the population, but for the greater good)
    ok, i actually think i just answered by question for myself πŸ€¦πŸ»β€β™€οΈ i actually *do* know what i like to see in villains (however, i don’t think that all villains should be someone you can empathize with. personally, i’m a fan of villains who are just so evil and disgusting that you literally cheer when they finally die. looking at you, Straff Venture)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could have sworn that I responded to this comment πŸ€¦πŸ½β€β™€οΈπŸ€¦πŸ½β€β™€οΈ Okay, here we go.

      I’m so glad it did help!! I honestly feel like I only covered the surface with what makes a good villain because they’re so so complex. There is just so much complexity with villains, and the reasons why I love them, or why I appreciate their character/role in the story is because of this complexity that I can’t untangle in my head lol.
      Honestly, I don’t think I have a favorite villain either (they do a good job of being really really unfavorable lol), but possibly….idk. Kaz is the only person that comes to my mind πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ Yeah, Victor too is a great example, but I also don’t really think of him as the villain. I feel like when we actually start liking the characters who are “evil”, and they are the MCs, we tend to push them into the morally-grey section and think of them that way instead of as villains. Because villains are bad and you ain’t supposed to like them, so we put them in that morally grey section to feel better about ourselves? I think? In a way, I guess lol. I think I’m going to make that a discussion because it’s super interesting to think about.
      When the villain is this all-powerful guy, I have heart palpitations when the hero has to finally face them off πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ Yeah, they have to make sense, otherwise, they are just bad just for the sake of it which is really ~meh~. There’s always a reason, and a plan that makes sense (they could have a couple of loose screws, but their plan always ends up making sense in a way, even if it looks crazy to us in the moment)
      πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚πŸ˜‚ I can’t believe I didn’t remember Straff! And yes, not all of them are people you can empathize with, but I like the fact that there are some that you can. Kind of like Zayn. He’s a villain, but I still really liked him anyway. (what happened with him hurt 😭)

      Sorry it took me such a long time to reply to this!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful discussion! I love what you said about backstories. I think it’s really important for villains to have an interesting backstory, and I like for them to have some kind of build, rather than a tragic event happens and BOOM they’re evil now. Tom Riddle is such a fascinating villain, because he’s pretty twisted and “messed up” even as a child.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Why thank you, Charis!! Yess, multiple wrongs that slowly eat away and leave them desiring whatever it is are the best, because then you can sympathize, but also hate them so much. Ooh, I have to check him out!
      Thank you for reading!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “That’s not to say that all villains come from neglect, or that neglect produces a villain. It’s just that there usually was some sort of neglect or serious emotional pain inflicted on the person” I love this take on villains. I strongly agree with this statement of yours. To add, I also think that villains have to be calculating and deliberate with their actions, knowing that they’re going to inflict their wrath in the right places. I don’t like villains that are so passionate w/ their desires for “world domination” that they get blindsided. A good villain (lol the irony) for me should be a formidable force that propels the hero’s greatness and not just an easy stand-in for the sake of conflict. Lovely post Rukky!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly, yes! The villains that are so passionate about it to another level that they become monsters, now that is the kind of villain that is good because they don’t make mistakes. And they also stress our poor nerves out πŸ˜‚
      Haha, yes, I agree with everything you said!! They’re the ones that make the hero become even better. Thank you so much, Divine!!! (I love your name btw πŸ–€βœ¨)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Very cool post! I agree with you completely. Unfortunately, I read a lot of ya fantasies in which villains are just evil because “they are evil”, not having a real reason for it. And, I think that that is really boring to see. // Totally understand the conflict with Kaz, haha. πŸ˜‚πŸ–€ I really need to read a book with a villain having all those characteristics you mentioned. Any recs? πŸ‘€ I would love to read your posts on side characters and antiheroes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Linda!!
      Yeah, I get it. One dimensional villains who are just there to make the MC’s life hard are so annoying. There has to be more to their character.
      Hmm, I’d recommend, The Storm Crow by Kalyn Josephson. The series isn’t completed yet, and we don’t really know much of Razel’s backstory, but there is so much potential, and I think it’s going to be awesome to see more of her in the next book.
      I’d also suggest Vicious by V.E. Schwab. The villain in that book is rather complicated (and we also have an anti-hero!!), and I love the way Schwab weaves the story together! The second book is really really good, so I would highly recommend those two! Hope you enjoy!!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great discussion! Especially the second point! I love villains being evil for the sake of being evil! Makes the book so much darker πŸ™‚


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Kaz is definitely complicated. Idk how to explain that I love him, understand his villainous actions and accept him for who he is without sounding totally corrupted? πŸ˜‚πŸ™ˆ

    I love how you explained this topic and I agree with everything you said. Especially about their backstory making sense πŸ™ŒπŸ’―

    One of the most real villains I’ve come across is Keris Veturius from An Ember in The Ashes. She’s plain EVIL! Like I hate her living guts 😭! She’s a perfect villain and so easy to hate lol πŸ˜‚πŸ’€

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He’s the defintion of complicated tbh. They should add him as a synonym in the official dictionary. Haha, we all sound totally corrupted when we talk about Kaz. It’s inevitable lol. It’s also ironic, because if anybody other than Kaz did what he does, we’d probably hate that person’s guts πŸ˜‚

      Ahh, I need to read Ember!! Now you’re making me excited, because I can only think of a handful of awesome villains. I can’t wait to meet her!!


  8. My boy Kaz! It’s like you’ve read my mind honestly I’ve been thinking about him so much recently. Kaz does some pretty terrible things over the course of the series but none of it ever feels out of place for his character after you understand his backstory. I think you hit on most of the points that I did.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, he really does do some terrible things, and I’m fine with it. If it’s from a real real villain, then I’d be horrified and use it to justify why he’s bad…but I accept Kaz and even love him. It’s a complicated love lol

      Liked by 1 person

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