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Create A Character Clinic

How to Write Villains

Creating Convincing, Compelling Antagonists, Bad Guys, and Villains

QUICK COURSE DESCRIPTION: For most writers most of the time, the villain arrives as an afterthought. To write compelling fiction that keeps readers coming back, building the right conflict --- and the right character to drive your conflict --- is where you start.


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You can maintain control of your villains, make them convincingly evil, and use them to tell the stories YOU want to tell.


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2 monthly payments


  • Eight comprehensive PDF lessons. 
  • Printable PDF worksheets.
  • Diagrams and charts as needed.
  • Private Class Forum for lesson work, help, and practice.
  • Permanent in-version access, and all in-version upgrades free.



I'm writing the class at a planned speed of one to two weeks per new lesson.

As I update this, I'm well into Lesson 6.


Important! This is the SPLINTERS VERSION of the class.

What's a Splinters Version?

It's my first version of any class, built directly to the questions asked to me by prospective students before I put together the outline.

From the questions I receive, I build a class outline that covers all the material requested, and put this into PDF-ONLY format at the fastest pace I can manage -- generally at the pace of one lesson per week, though from time to time lessons prove to require significantly more work than I anticipate, or require more than one lesson to cover entirely.

Once I've finished the class and have caught up on cleaning up other pending Splinters Versions, I'll clean up this one. That make take a while.

BUT, no matter when you bought, students who buy at the early prices get all in-version up grades, INCLUDING the upgrade from Splinters to Revised Final, for free.

I try to write material that is based on fundamentals, and make each lesson's content evergreen, but from time to time, things change. While I'm not expecting any changes in the nature of villainy, or any new twists on evil, I could be wrong.

Hope not. But it could happen. In that case, the new version will be significantly discounted for existing class owners.

But the first version of the class will contain typos, spellos, and things that cause a lot of questions in the forum that require me to add materials to the lesson later. Hence, SPLINTERS.

Also hence the big early discount.

The $127 price for the completed version may stand. I may come in at exactly eight lessons. I've never managed to only write the number of lessons I think I'll need before, but it could happen this time. And please understand that I WANT it to happen this time, because I have two more classes lined up to write next:

First, How to Write Short Stories, and then How to Write A Novel.

I have strong incentive to bring this in at the allotted number of lessons.

So what will it cover?

LESSON ONE: Understanding Evil and Villainy:

Do You Need An Antagonist, a Bad Guy, or A Villain, and If You Need a Villain, What KIND Do You Need?

This seems like it ought to be pretty simple. Good guys do good things, bad guys do bad things, and villains do evil things.

But until you have a clear working definition for evil, and don't just "know it when you see it" but are able to point out exactly why an action is evil, rather than good or bad...

And can point out WHY someone is a villain, rather than a bad guy or even merely an antagonist...

You can't write villains.


  • Lesson
  • Conflict chart to determine the kind of antagonist your story needs
  • Worksheets and Practice

This lesson is complete in Splinters Version

LESSON 2: Creating Good, Bad, and Evil Characters

This week, you're going to do work with the differences between what people think, what they say, and what they do, and how you can USE these in fiction to show the reader what you want him to see while saving some surprises for later -- WITHOUT cheating him.

You'll be doing a lot of writing -- and seeing a lot of progress in your quest to get better villains into your fiction.


  • You'll turn one character into a hero, antagonist, bad guy, and villain with one tiny technique
  • You'll discover who your villains CAN be by defining the worlds they live in
  • You'll invent your own fictional version of evil (it's your story, you get to say what's evil in it)
  • And you'll learn how to turn a hero into a villain in the course of a story, or do the reverse and turn a villain into a hero 
This lesson is complete in Splinters Version

LESSON 3: Sympathy, Empathy, and Villainy

This week, we're delving into sympathy and empathy, how to apply each to your villains (and why you might want to avoid writing villains empathetically), the three-step process for creating a sympathetic villain, the dangers when creating empathetic villains (the big one being a special-case appearance of that writing nightmare, You can't know what you don't know), and a trip through How to Break Your Sympathetic Villain and Make Your Reader Hate You, Too. 

You don't want to go there.



  • Create three sympathetic villains -- a Small Villain, a Big Villain, and a Monster. Post a poll for each to determine Sympathetic or Not Sympathetic
  • Create at least ONE, and up to three, empathetic villains. Post a poll to determine Sympathetic or Not Sympathetic. 
  • Select a Most Memorable Hero and a Most Memorable Villain, and determine why they hold these roles for you

 This lesson is complete in Splinters Version 


LESSON 4: Villain Roles in Fiction

This week we're going to look at all parts of the story villains can inhabit, and the viewpoints they can use to inhabit them.

We'll work on villains voices, and on moving your villain smoothly from backstory to foreground as you get deeper into the work -- and we'll cover how to move a main villain from deep backstory to main story over the course of a series. 

You'll be working with third person past and present and first person past and present, and learning when and WHY you use each of these voices -- and danger areas to avoid. 

And you'll be doing a lot of writing.

In this lesson you'll learn:

  • The Evil as Whisper, Rumor, Ghost technique
  • The Shape as Shadow in the Corner, as Footprint in the Snow technique
  • The Knocker at Your Door with Thoughts Unknown techinque
  • The Horror in Your Bed with Thoughts Whispering in Your Ear technique
  • The Monster You Were Yesterday technique
  • The Nightmare You Are Now technique
  • How to advance your villain through these techniques over one book or the course of a series

 This lesson is complete in Splinters Version

LESSON 5: Representing Evil: Science Villains & Art Villains

In this lesson, you'll be working on creating representations of evil that fit the world you've built. Evil in a magical world filled with elves and dragons looks very different than evil in a world filled with Artificial Intelligences and run by a Central Computer.

And there's a big difference between Evil as Art and Evil as Science.

So this week you'll be learning to how to recognize and define Science Villains and Art Villains, and then how to create both types, along with using techniques to shape your worlds to fit them.

In this lesson:

  • You'll learn what Science-Flavored Villainy is
  • You'll learn what Art-Flavored Villainy is
  • You'll discover how to create both Science- and Art-Flavored villains, as well as
  • When to use each
  • And what each kind can bring to your story
This lesson is complete in Splinters Version


WEEK SIX: Controlling Characters and Story

Categorizing Your Villains

Maintaining Tone

Maintaining Consistency

Maintaining Scope and Scale

Techniques for keeping your story going in the direction you plan, for preventing villains from becoming SUPERVILLAINS!!! over the course of a story or series

Writing Demos and Practice

This lesson is IN PROGRESS now

WEEK SEVEN: The Come-Back Villain -- When Readers are Reading Your Story for Your Bad Guy

Intentional Development of the Come-Back Villain: How you build one

  • The Lines You Can Cross
  • The Lines You Can't Cross
  • The Vast, Howling Importance of Understanding WHY People Come Back for Your Villain — So You NEVER Break the Come-Back 
  • Techniques and Tips
  • Writing Practice and Demos

WEEK EIGHT: Dealing with Writing Evil

This is the one category only briefly touched on in the questions, but as someone who's written some pretty horrific villains -- and done it well -- I have to note that there's a toll the writer pays for writing villains that you don't for writing bad guys. It'll depend on you, of course, but I've had to walk away from stories for a while after writing a particularly tough scene -- the one with Danya at the midpoint in Vengeance of Dragons that broke me for longer than my deadline would accommodate, and I had to get back to words before I was ready.

So this is going to be a pretty personal finale to the class. To write really villainy and real evil, you have to show the reality of it. 

And at least while you're writing it, if you're going to write it well, you have to live inside it. This is... not fun. It's fun to write good guys. It's frequently at least a little fun to write bad guys. If you're doing over-the-top villainy, that can be zany and enjoyable.

If you're writing real evil, though? No. You want to take a lot of showers afterwards, and you avoid mirrors for a bit.  

So here's what I've learned about writing really bad guys and walking away afterwards

  • Connecting to Evil Characters
  • Using Evil Characters
  • Disconnecting from Evil Characters
  • Demos and writing practice

What I'm Planning

I'm more than halfway through the call, and still doing about a lesson a week.

When complete, the class will contain:

  • Eight comprehensive PDF lessons. 
  • Printable PDF worksheets.
  • Diagrams and charts as needed.
  • Private Class Forum for lesson work, help, and practice.
  • Permanent in-version access, and all in-version upgrades free.

Holly Lisle

Novelist, Writing Course Creator


single payment


2 monthly payments


  • Eight comprehensive PDF lessons. 
  • Printable PDF worksheets.
  • Diagrams and charts as needed.
  • Private Class Forum for lesson work, help, and practice.
  • Permanent in-version access, and all in-version upgrades free.

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