Picture some of the greatest villains in pop culture: Darth Vader, Moriarty, Thanos, Hannibal Lecter, Voldemort, The Joker, etc. What do they all have in common? There are many elements that go into making a villain as formidable and memorable as these examples. An interesting origin story, a strict set of ideals, a violent or frightening nature, etc. But one of the quickest ways to catapult your villain from unknown to iconic is a killer villain intro scene.
A good villain intro scene should include two elements. First, they should cement the villain as someone formidable and memorable for the audience. Second, they should tell us as much about the type of villain they will become. Let’s first look at the example of Darth Vader, who is first introduced to the audience in the Star Wars film A New Hope. An epic fight scene ensues between the stormtroopers and the rebels onboard an all-white spaceship interior. Then, at the tail end of the fight, this masked figure cloaked entirely in black struts onto the ship, theme music playing beneath him. After a brief scene with R2D2 and C3PO, Darth chokes and kills a rebel trooper. This introduction not only uses color very strategically to make this villain immediately stand out, but the audience immediately sees him senselessly kill someone so they already know he is a formidable opponent.
Another great example of a villain introduction is The Joker’s introduction from The Dark Knight. Going into creating this scene, the writer and director know that their audience knows this character and it’s just about introducing this iteration of him in a fun and memorable way. The introduction scene involves a bank heist with men all wearing clown masks. As they expertly begin the process of robbing the bank, they speak about how they were hired by the Joker and what he’s like. As the scene unfolds, the heist becomes less and less seamless as the clowns begin to take each other out as they complete the steps for the robbery, citing that the Joker had asked them to kill each other so there would be fewer shares to divide amongst themselves. By the end of the robbery, there is only one clown left: The Joker.
This scene works well to get the audience excited for this villain for a few reasons. One, the bank robbery element establishes the Joker as the Gotham-style Batman villain that he always is in every iteration. Two, the fact that he turns his own men against each other establishes him as someone who isn’t just interested in a certain goal. If he wanted to assure that he got the money, he would’ve made it as easy for his men as possible. But instead, he made sure they all died in the process which means that he was more interested in creating chaos than the bank’s money. Finally, the quick pace, the sheer amount of death, and the callousness he displays shows that he is not only the type of person who likes to create chaos but that the violence we just saw wasn’t even a big deal to him. This fact makes him even more frightening.
Writing Prompt: Create a villain, this could be the antagonist in a story you’ve already created or one you make up for this exercise. Once you have a clear picture of them in your head, write a scene that introduces them into a story. This could be a scene from the POV of your protagonist, from an innocent bystander, from a victim, or even from the villain themselves (though the last would be the trickiest). Use the scene to tell the reader as much as possible about your villain and their motives up front. Also utilize the scene as a means of cementing your villain in the reader’s mind, making them both memorable and frightening to the reader.