A trope is simply a common or overused theme or device in a story. Some people like the word cliché to describe them and some like the word stereotype instead. It’s all the same thing and simply means that a story element has become popular and now everyone knows about it. A trope is not something you should avoid but before you use them you need to apply your creativity. Since an antagonist is necessary for every story many villain devices are seen as overused. Your villains don’t have to be that way!
You’ve probably read reviewers say that there wasn’t enough conflict in a story or the conflict was contrived. Opposition is needed in a story because it helps the protagonist grow. Growth in a hero helps the reader to relate to the character and want to take their journey with them. Growth only happens when the right kind of opposition is provided for the protagonist. Many times the wrong antagonist or villain trope is at the root of conflict problems. When conflict arises naturally from the relationship between an antagonist and protagonist a story becomes more enjoyable and satisfying.
It’s important to understand the difference between an antagonist and a villain. An antagonist has goals that actively oppose the protagonist’s goals. They aren’t necessarily evil so much as the opposite of the hero. A villain is a character whose evil actions or motives are important to the plot or a person or thing responsible for specified trouble, harm or damage. An antagonist opposes and a villain causes trouble.
There are many kinds of antagonists: nature, society, self. These sometimes don’t even have a human face to them, they can be a mega-storm, a dystopian government or dealing with jealousy, shyness or guilt. In fact most stories deal with some kind of internal struggle with your self and many are set in a society that causes conflict. Today we’re going to talk about the human variety of antagonists and their benefits for your story!
#1 - Mastermind
-Identity is a secret and must be learned by the protagonist
-Leads other villain types to oppose the protagonist
-Shares similar skills and abilities as the hero but differs in morals and ethics
-Example: Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes
-Perfect for a series
#2 - Anti-Villain
-On the opposing side of the protagonist but not an evil character
-Creates questions about morality and ethics due to the positions of the hero and villain in society
-Traditional Example: Inspector Javert from Les Miserables
-Non-traditional Example: Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent who captures Frank Abagnale, Jr. in Catch Me If You Can
-Perfect to use opposite an anti-hero
#3 - The Redeemable
-A shadow of the protagonist who is allowing their negative traits to dominate
-One focused goal of taking out or disrupting the plans of the protagonist
-All sorts fall in this category: bullies, good characters who are corrupted, entitled characters, constructs or creatures ruled by their programming or urges
-Example: Professor Snape from the Harry Potter Series
-Perfect when the protagonist grows by understanding and trying to redeem these villains
#4 - Charming Traitor
-Preys on the protagonist or someone the protagonist cares about like a love interest
-Uses their charm, good looks, sexual prowess, cunning and creativity for their own gain
-Manipulates and deceives protagonist into believing they are an ally
-Example: Truman Capote from The Swans of Fifth Avenue
-Perfect to build suspense or to create a twist ending
#5 - Savage Predator Menace
-The protagonist gets in the way of their base lusts, or provides challenge that amuses
-Option for the villain to be ruled physically by bloodlust and brutality or mentally through psychological manipulation
-Physical Example: Shere Khan from The Jungle Book
-Mental Example: Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca
-Perfect for stand alone books or for stories set in a particular location.
When we know what is common we can use it as a starting place to get creative. The important thing is to find the right balance with the protagonist for your story. We don’t just want to see a character in conflict with another character. The wrong type of villain won’t create the opposition a protagonist needs to grow. Experiment with these tropes and the benefits of each for your story. Using the best villains will create the best stories!