Let Your Villain Fix Your Story

Is your story boring you?  Do you think its cliché?  Does it need a fresh twist?  A fresh angle?  Does something unexpected need to happen?

If so, your story must be like mine.

Recently, I’ve been working on outlining the book that I’m supposed to be writing for Camp NaNo (which is happening right now) and so I’ve been wrestling with some of these issues.  However, after an extended brainstorming session with a friend of mine, I think that my story is back on the right track.  How did I get it there?  I asked three little questions:

Why is my villain right?

Okay, so yes, asking this is an important step in developing your villain, but since your villain is an important part of your story asking this question can be an important part of getting your story somewhere where it’s worth reading.

We always look at our story from our hero’s perspective.  It’s natural.  But there are other perspectives to be had, and you’re villain’s is one of the most important.

My friend was working on a Snow White retelling, and wasn’t sure where to go with it.  The story had – naturally – already been told, and it needed a fresh twist to make it pop.  Her ideas were great (can’t give them all away, sorry.  Spoilers and stuff.) But it needed something else.  So she dug into her villain, the evil queen and we started asking questions:  Why did she curse the dwarves?  Why did she put the dude in the mirror instead of just killing him?  Why did she trust the huntsman dude, and what value did he have in her scheme.  What we came up with was a queen desperately – and sacrificially – working to save her kingdom from a bloody revolution.  The evil queen was RIGHT.  She was trying to do something WORTH DOING.

I can’t wait to read the book when it’s finished (*hinthintAsh*).

Now, the villain is still the villain.  We didn’t have to make Snow White the devil or turn the queen into some sort of twisted anti-hero who you’re supposed to root for, but because we looked at things from the villain’s perspective, we were able to understand her plan.

What is my villain’s plan?

Your hero is supposed to be the driving force behind your novel, but there are other forces.  Sometimes, those forces are hard to develop when we’re focused on the hero… but we’re not any more.  (Not for the moment.)

Once you’ve figured out why the villain is right, you should have a good sense of their motivation.  Once you understand that, you should be able to figure out what their plan is.  It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it might me?  Spend some time figuring out what exactly the villain is trying to do.  Remember, it DOESN’T ALWAYS HAVE TO BE EVIL.  It very well may be evil, but the important thing is that ultimately some step in their process creates a zero-sum game with the hero’s goal.  That means that their goals are mutually exclusive.  It’s either/or, not and both.  Once you’ve figured out what makes those two characters clash, you will have identified the source of your novel’s conflict.  That is something you can build around.

How does your villain treat the hero?

If you’re taking a moment to think about your story from the villain’s perspective, you may realize that it’s not actually in the villain’s best interest to up and kill the hero.  (Or capture him, or whatever.)  In fact, at some point throughout the story, the hero and the villain might be able to work TOGHETHER to accomplish a mutual step on their pathway to different goals.  Making sure you understand the relationship your hero has with your villain will make your story feel fresh; we’ve all read flat villains.  It’s the human ones that interest us.


There you have it, asking those three questions about your villain could be the key to unlocking a whole new perspective of your story.  I hope it helps you in your future (or current) outlining endeavors.


Photo: Shadow, Céline Van de Rostyne, CC BY 2.0

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Raised on C.S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend the physical reality to reveal spiritual realities which apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts and solar systems (including our own.)
When not writing fiction Brandon spends his time tending his blog The Woodland Quill, sportsing, or just struggling through that last-year-of-high-school/first-year-of-college which is really neither but is definitely both.


  1. Jenni G. July 11, 2017 at 7:39 AM - Reply

    Fantastic article, Brandon!
    I’ve been struggling with outlining my villain since, oh, forever. But these questions sound as if they might get me unstuck. 🙂

    • Brandon July 15, 2017 at 11:32 AM Reply

      I know the feeling. Villains are hard. Why can’t they just be evil and move on? But hopefully these questions will help. Thanks a ton for reading!

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