I just finished writing my 11th TV series and what I learned is that I love writing the thriller/drama genre the most. I love thrillers and dramas because of the endless depth and breadth of the characters and storylines.
Obviously, conflict is what drives a TV series, so it's important to make sure your show has captivating, unique villains that prevent your protagonists from reaching their goals.
Below, I outline 11 character traits and situations that will give your TV show villains “more teeth.” Using these traits will help keep your audience intrigued throughout the life of your TV series.
Make your lead bad guy so awful that your audience will literally cheer for their death and ultimate demise (see #11). We hate Negan from The Walking Dead because of how horrible a tyrant he is. When he first appears on scene, we immediately hate him and crave for his death. (CAVEAT: see #2 so you can create a great character arc like he currently has in season 9).
Maybe your lead villain goes soft and realizes their wrongdoings. Or maybe he or she has a change of heart and helps your hero and protagonist in the end. \Perhaps they turn out to not be so bad and there is another villain that is MUCH worse than they are.
These are all great ways to use the character arc for your villains. We love Dexter because he is a bad guy who kills even worse bad guys. We know what he is doing is bad, but in a way he is a anti-hero who kills even worse bad guys (see #6).
There is nothing that drives a drama and thriller TV series better than a villain who hides behind a mask. We all want to know who 'The Carver' is from nip/tuck because this evil character terrorizes our main protagonists for two seasons. The audience is so driven to find out who is behind the mask that it works to accelerate the storyline and provide the audience a very ample reason to tune in every week.
Generally, this works well for any serial killer driven TV series. And much like finding out who is behind the mask, getting your villain to leave their calling card is a smart move. We always want to know who Red is from The Mentalist. It’s the main A-story among several B-stories. When Red kills his victims, he always leaves behind a painting. This is creepy and works really well to constantly remind the audience that there is a terrible man lurking out there.
This is a great option for anyone writing a cartoon series. We hate Skeletor from He-Man, but we know he never will die. He just gets defeated quite often. We like to see him defeated and the show could not exist without him.
We love Tony Soprano from The Sopranos and Walter White from Breaking Bad, but not because they're bad guys. We love them because they are anti-heroes working in a world that is much more devious and cunning than they are. Batman is also a great example of the ultimate anti-hero. Just like Tony and Walter, he is dark, mysterious, and has skeletons in his closet that really drive his character home for the audience.
Newman from Seinfeld is a great example of a villain with an evil sense of humor. We love him and we love to hate him because of his uncanny merriness when something bad happens to Jerry, George, Elaine, or Kramer.
When JR gets shot in Dallas, we all sit on the edge of our seats to try and figure out who did it. This is a great series or season ending episode moment that will drive your audience crazy and have them demanding to find out who did it. #ratings
For more horror driven TV shows, one way to really creep your audience out and keep them engaged is to create a sick and twisted creepy villain. Twisty the clown from American Horror Story is a great example of this type of character. He is also mysterious and hides behind a mask for one particular reason that we eventually find out about. This also allows for a great character arc to occur during any flashback type episode or scene. Your audience will dig it.
Errol William Childress, the serial killer from True Detective Season 1, is introduced a few episodes before exposing that he is the serial killer. When it is finally revealed that he is the serial killer, the audience has an “ah-ha moment.” The ending of the episode is a classic “good guy vs bad guy” chase.
Gustavo was the thorn in the side of Walter White from Breaking Bad for many seasons. When he finally dies, we love it and we cheer. This also is a great way to end a season or end a series. There’s nothing better than seeing the villain die, finally.
Well, there you have it. 11 villain character traits and situations that will improve your TV series and really drive home the conflict and storyline. After writing my 6th drama tv series, it seems that these tips have helped me create some evil and grueling villains. I hope they help you create some great bad guys, too.
Steven D. Snyder is a writer, actor and comedian who live in Los Angeles and Phoenix. He is currently working on getting his TV series’ developed and is finishing up a comedy satirical book. Steven also appeared in the television programs: Extant, To Tell the Truth, iCarly & Community. Learn more at www.stevendsnyder.com
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