Have you ever wanted to write an intimidating character for your short story or novel but didn’t know how? Intimidating characters can be a lot of fun to write, but they can also be difficult to create in a way that is believable and consistent with the story. In this blog post, we will explore some tips and tricks for creating an intimidating character that is both realistic and engaging. Let’s get started!
What Exactly Does Being Intimidating Mean?
When we write about an intimidating character, we usually think of someone who’s physically imposing or has a lot of power.
Someone like an NFL linebacker or a world-class boxer can be intimidating because of their power. Or it can be a person with a lot of money or power who can push things through in a way that makes the person feel like they control the situation.
Those are the usual suspects when it comes to creating an intimidating figure. But there are other, less obvious ways to make your character intimidating. For example, you could write about a very intelligent character who always seems to be one step ahead of everyone else.
Or you could write about a character who’s always calm and collected, even in the face of danger.
An intimidating character doesn’t have to be big or powerful, just strong enough to be feared. Examples include an expert, an authority figure, a tyrant, a criminal, a cult leader, an imposing figure, a fox, a gang member, a devil, a demon, a ghost, a hit man, a hunter, an assassin, a monster, a vampire, a veterinarian, a wolf, a zombie.
People with a lot of power in their communities – including those who are rich, those who run the social order, and those in the military – are intimidating because of their power. But it’s not the power itself that’s intimidating. It’s the fact that this person wields this power over you, and she’ll use it (or has used it) if she has to.
They can do something to you that you don’t want them to do – and they’ll do it if they’ve to. That’s why they’re so intimidating.
These are just a few examples, but the important thing to remember is that anyone can be intimidating if they have the right qualities. So if you want to write an intimidating character, think about what traits would make someone seem threatening or dangerous. Then use those traits to bring your character to life.
What Makes a Character Look Intimidating
When you create an intimidating character, there are some physical features you can use to make her seem more threatening.
For example, you could give her sharp features, like a pointed chin or angular eyebrows. You can also make her eyes look cold and emotionless.
Another way to make a character look scary is to put her in dark, off-putting clothing. Consider dressing her in leather or fur, or giving her long, flowing robes that hide her figure.
A character can dress in a way that intimidates others. For example, they may wear dark colors or menacing-looking armor. A character who always wears a military uniform or formal clothing looks more serious and punitive than someone who wears comfortable street clothes.
Another way to make a character look intimidating is to give her an aura of power and authority. For example, she may exude confidence or have a commanding presence. A person who always stands up straight and pulls his shoulders back looks more confident and commanding than someone who hangs his shoulders or looks hesitant. Likewise, a person who speaks in a booming voice or in short, concise sentences comes across as more intimidating than someone who uses many filler words or sounds shy.
You can also add props and accessories that convey a sense of power, such as weapons or jewelry.
How You Give a Villain Depth
An important factor to consider when creating a villain is how you give them depth and build this into your character arcs. This can be done in many ways, but one effective method is to explore their backstory and motivation.
- What led them down the path of villainy?
- What do they hope to accomplish?
By understanding their backstory, you can create a richer, more three-dimensional character that feels real and intimidating. Give them motivations and understandable emotional reactions, even if their actions aren’t. It’s also important to show how the villain sees himself. It’s all part of the character development for an intimidating character. It will enable you to draw a convincing character arc.
Does he see himself as the hero of his story, or is he fully aware of his villainy? By showing both the good and bad sides of the character, you make them more complex and interesting.
Also, it can be helpful to humanize your villain in small ways. Give them quirks or interests that make them seem like a real person, even if they’re still an evil force to be reckoned with. These little details can help your readers connect with your villain deeper, making them even scarier.
Remember that villains are people, too – they should be treated with the same care and attention as any other character in your story.
An example of this is Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. This character isn’t just creepy because he’s an evil cannibal and murderer. He’s also extremely creepy. He’s intelligent, sophisticated, and manipulative, but also unpredictable.
Predictability vs. Unpredictability in an Intimidating Character
Many intimidating characters are intimidating because you can’t predict their actions. They’re manipulative and unpredictable, and you can never be completely sure how they’ll react to you.
When writing an intimidating character, it’s important to find the balance between predictability and unpredictability. Too much of either can lead to a flat, one-dimensional character.
On the one hand, an overly predictable character can quickly be foiled by the heroes and be more of a nuisance than a real threat. On the other hand, a character who’s too unpredictable can frustrate readers and make it difficult for them to get a clear picture of who they’re and what they want.
The key is to find a happy medium and create a character that’s both believable and threatening.
One way to increase unpredictability is to make your character’s actions and motivations seem contradictory or nonsensical. Especially in situations of conflict or tension. A character who seems friendly and helpful one moment may become violent the next for no apparent reason. This can leave readers unsettled and not knowing what to expect next.
Another way to make a character unpredictable is to switch between different masks or personalities depending on the situation. This can be as simple as a villain who’s gentle and charming in public but ice-cold and cruel in private.
The “unpredictable” character is much more intimidating because they come out of nowhere. They’re surprising, mysterious, and fresh. The “good guys” may not even know who they are, which makes them much more dangerous and difficult to guess. The antagonist may be hidden.
You can make your bad guy even more intimidating by keeping the reader guessing.
How an Intimidating Character Projects Menace
One way to create an intimidating character is to give her a threatening aspect. Threat is a sense of danger, dread, and foreboding. It scares people without them necessarily knowing why.
- A threat can be projected onto a character in many ways. For example, a character can give off a general sense of unease, as if something is wrong, but you can’t figure out what it is.
- Another way to radiate menace is to give the character an unsettling quality, such as an unpredictable, erratic, or obsessive nature.
- Another way is to give the character a mysterious aura. For example, you could give her a mysterious past, a complicated backstory, an unreadable facial expression, or an unusual way of speaking.
- Consider the senses: I recall someone who was unpredictable, violent, and aggressive and who literally would stink – smell rotten – immediately before and during outbursts.
If you’re writing an intimidating character, you should think of ways to make her threatening.
- For example, your character might have cold and expressionless eyes or a crooked smile that seems to hide a dangerous secret.
- Another way to exude menace is to give the character a predatory air. The character might be waiting for an opportunity to strike, especially if it’s already been thwarted.
- One way to convey a threat is to give the person a soft, almost whispering voice. This can convey a sense of threat without the need for additional descriptions. One of the Bosnian Serb generals during the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s was notorious for quietly lowering his voice when he was at his most dangerous and threatening.
The most important thing is to consider whether and how you’d feel intimidated if you were in the same situation as your character. Then use this to your advantage when writing.
Writing Intimidating Characters
As with any other character, you should first create a basic outline – their appearance, personality, and backstory.
In Character Creation, Draw From Personal Experience
Then think back to your experiences to see if anything from your real life can be applied to your character. Think about what you’d be afraid of in that situation. For example, what would you be afraid of if your character is a police officer investigating a series of murders?
You might be afraid of the killer’s next victim, of being targeted next, of being unable to solve the crime, of your boss finding out you made a mistake, or of the killer finding out your true identity, etc. One way to create a sense of threat is to show that your character is experiencing something scary or unsettling.
Find a Great Name
It’s helpful to come up with a unique name by which people will remember your intimidating character. A good example of this is Bane from the Batman series. Other names that come to mind are:
- Big Brother, in 1984
- The Dementors in Harry Potter
- Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery
- John Wick
- Darth Vader
- Bane in the Dark Knight
Get the Voice Right
Try to imagine how they might speak. This will matter for your dialogue.
Do they talk fast or slow? Do they stutter or stammer? Do they speak in a certain rhythm or pattern? Do they speak eloquently and clearly or with grandiose speech? All of these possibilities can be used to create a unique voice and atmosphere.
There are many ways to create an intimidating character voice, but here are some ideas to get you started:
- Give them a deep, raspy or gravelly voice
- Give them a sharp tongue and sarcasm
- Give them a cruel and wicked sense of humor
- Give them a sharp analytical mind, reflected in the speed of speech
- Give them a cruel streak, such as taking pleasure in the pain of others or playing cruel tricks on them, and manifest this in their voice
- They tend to laugh manically or giggle quietly to themselves
Think About a Unique Trait or Habit
Then think about their behavior and appearance. Is there a particular trait or habit that makes people feel uncomfortable or anxious around them? Is there something about their appearance or behavior that makes them seem threatening?
Think about a particular trait or habit that might make them seem intimidating to someone seeing them for the first time. For example, your person might always keep their head down or speak in a low voice.
What’s their most distinctive feature? For example, does she have a scar? Or does he or she walk with a limp? Or does he or she wear sunglasses all the time, even indoors?
Focus on the small details, like their clothing and how they act. How do they act around others? What do they like to talk about? What is their default body language?
If you’d to describe them in one or two sentences, what would that sentence be?
How to Use an Intimidating Character to Build Suspense
Once you’ve created your intimidating character and developed a few ways to make them seem threatening, you can start building tension in your story.
Here are some ideas to help you build a suspenseful scene:
- Make readers suspicious of your intimidating character. For example, have them commit a violent or mean act. Or have her act in an unpredictable or contradictory way. Or have them show a hint of their mysterious past or sociopathic behavior.
- Make readers feel threatened by them. For example, have them say something that worries the reader. Or have them speak in a soft, whispering voice. Or have them display a disturbing sense of humor.
- Have them act in ways that readers don’t quite understand. For example, have them commit an act of violence for no apparent reason. Or have them get angry for no apparent reason.
- Have your character say something that scares the reader. For example, have her say that she’s going to hurt someone. Or have her say that she’s going to get revenge.
- Have her speak in a disturbing tone or way. For example, have her speak in an unnatural tone of voice. Or have them speak quickly and nervously. Or have them speak in a soft, whispering voice.
- Give them an unreadable facial expression or an unusual way of speaking. For example, have them look away when they make a threat. Or make them smile when they say something disturbing. Or let them speak coldly and distantly.
- Let them be unpredictable. For example, let them commit a violent act and then turn around and do something nice. Or have them be rude to some people and friendly to others. Or have them threaten to hurt someone and then turn around and try to help them.
Things That Might Trigger Irrational Behavior
People who behave irrationally may have many reasons for their behavior. For example:
- Fear: They may be afraid of something that’s happened in their past or present, or they may be afraid of something that hasn’t happened yet.
- Guilt: they may feel guilty about something they did or didn’t do or about something they know or don’t know.
- Anger: They may be angry at someone or at the world.
- Motivation: They may be motivated by greed, revenge, jealousy, or other reasons.
They may also have another reason. Here are some examples:
- They may have a violent streak.
- They may have a specific motive.
- They may be motivated by greed, revenge, jealousy, or other reasons.
- They may feel trapped or trapped in an inescapable situation (e.g., in prison, on a desert island, etc.).
With an intimidating character, you can use any of the above elements with an added layer of intimidation. Someone can be extremely intimidating, but they’re still human!
Examples of Intimidating Characters in Literature
- Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984
- Dracula in Bram Stoker’s famous novel of the same name
- Demon in The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
- Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery
- Professor Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- Sauron (also the Necromancer) in The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien
- Hannibal Lecter in Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, by Thomas Harris