I was quite excited to see the blog theme for this week, as I dedicated several weeks just to looking at villains a few years ago on my blog. Over that week, I discussed several types of villains and some of the best representatives from each category. But I don’t have space for several posts here, so let’s just break down the seven types here today: their characteristics, their weaknesses and how they work.
This is a classic villain with a lot of power and evil intentions to back it up. The tyrant loves ruling over his people, but for his own gain and not theirs. He is domineering and will go to great lengths to keeping his kingdom, business or gang under control: this includes manipulation and mass murder. Tyrants in books often exist to be overthrown. Take President Snow in the Hunger Games, or the Lord Ruler in Mistborn. Sometimes these characters start out evil and power hungry, and other times, they became that way over time, starting out with good intentions that went sour. They can be as sympathetic—or as terrible—as you want them to be (which is true of many of the types)
When you establish a tyrant, at one point, we have to see them knocked down to earth. Often their doom comes at the hands of a plucky young hero that represents a just and fair leader. Someone who takes the phrase ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ a little more seriously. Often one who doesn’t want power can ultimately defeat one who is obsessed with it and bring the world back into balance.
The Monarch can have similarities to the Tyrant as a tyrant can also be a king or queen. But the monarch may not be a tyrant, but simply the antagonist of the story. We don’t know, for instance, if the evil queen from Snow White was a tyrant, but we disliked her because she abused her power over one young girl. Maybe she had great economic policies.
Monarchs, like tyrants, are characterized by power, but they need not abuse that power to be a villain. Their people could love them, but your hero is from a neighboring kingdom that suffers because of it. Monarchs can also be more sympathetic if you want them to be—just villains who are trying to do their best.
Monarchs, to me, are some of the most regal villains, and all of my favorites in this category are women. Maleficent, Cersei from Game of thrones, Regina from Once Upon a Time. These are women who make power look good and bear it with style. Many of them are quite complex in their own ways as well, so you can also make them sympathetic if it suits your story. But, like the tyrant, they will soon find themselves dethroned at the hands of a revolutionary, or the fairest of them all. Someone who has different priorities.
The mastermind is the brains of the villain world: the one with the elaborate plans behind their evil. Think Moriarty or Baelish from Game of Thrones. They may not always do the dirty work themselves, but the nefarious goings on in the story can probably somehow tie back to them. And it’s up to the hero to outwit them and bring them down a peg.
As stated earlier, Masterminds are characterized by mental ability rather than physical. They may not be a huge guy with a sword (unless that’s what you want), but their strength at strategy is what gets them through and makes them a worthy match for the hero.
A mastermind can have any number of motivations for their plan, some understandable and some pure evil. This flexibility of motivations means that you can have a wide variety of villains in the mastermind role. But, inevitably, their plan must fall through in the end as the hero gets the jump on them or unravels their strategy. Still, the mastermind will always provide a worthy challenge in any story.
The Chaotic Evil
This is the wild card category, and a personal favorite of mine. Characters in here—your jokers, your Ramsay Boltons, your Bellatrixes—their primary trait is that they are unpredictable and uncontrollable. While other villain types operate by some sort of code, these villains are far more chaotic in nature. Some are nihilists and some are just plain nuts. Or both. But usually, they love what they do and its hard not to enjoy watching them.
Though your mileage may very on the joker, for instance, I’ve got to love the animated series version for keeping him fun and sinister at the same time. He’s a character ruled by his whims of what makes the best joke and it counters the extremely serious Batman, servant of justice, well. Ramsay Bolton is another character who many people loathe from Game of Thrones, but in his early seasons, we sometimes have to laugh at him because he’s so horrifying.
The chaotic evil villain can only last so long, of course, because the hero—often a symbol of justice and order—will fight to bring the world in balance again. Though maybe the world is chaotic and hopeless, it’s the hero’s job to find that shred of hope to peace it back together. Because the chaotic evil villain often makes despair their playground, they cannot triumph in the face of hope.
The Lucifer Figure
This type of villain is mostly named for their status as pure evil. Usually this is the big bad of your book, and not particularly redeemable. Because of this, they can be difficult to pull off in an interesting way. Villains that are pure evil can be boring or played out, yet the proper execution can be masterful.
Sauron is one of the easiest examples of this. He’s a malevolent force throughout the Lord of the Rings. Everything bad that happens connects back to him (another characteristic of the Lucifer Figure). He has no lines, however, and he exists through much of the books/films as a giant eye wreathed in flame. Despite having no mobility, he is a powerful force. We feel his presence throughout the entirety of the film through his servants and, of course, the ring. Still, he stays out of the spotlight for much of it so he doesn’t become a boring or cliché character.
Johan Leibert from Monster is an example of a Lucifer figure that shows up a lot more in his story. He’ll go missing for long stretches of time but you’ll always feel him lingering in the shadows. When he does show up though, he’s even more terrifying and does his fair share of horrible things. But he’s an example of a more complex Lucifer figure: not simply evil, but complicated. It’s a harder approach but can be very strong for your story.
Ultimately, this kind of villain will meet their end against a hero that represents goodness. Since the Lucifer figure represents moral depravity, the hero that defeats them must represent moral goodness. Though how you define that morality is up to you as the author.
The One You Hate
It seems weird that I include a separate category for this because this whole list has been about villains. Don’t we hate all of them?
Well, no. Villains are popular with most people, sometimes more loved than the heroes. That’s probably why we’re doing a villain themed month. That being said, there are some villains you just want to murder because they’re so unpleasant. The stepmother in Cinderella, Umbridge in Harry Potter, and of course JOFFERY in Game of Thrones. Everyone has different villains that they consider a part of this category.
This kind of villain is characterized by pushing too many buttons close to home. We’ve met an Umbridge, and we’ve met a whiny, cruel brat like Joffery given too much responsibility. Thus, rather than being fun, we just want to see these villains dead. That isn’t a bad thing. Joffery and Umbridge are effective because we hate them so much, and it makes their eventual defeat by the hero so much sweeter.
The final type of villain can also come from other categories, but their defining characteristic is their arc: specifically, the redemption arc. Some villains just don’t stay villains. Some start out bad but slowly have a change of heart or a break through that propels them onto the side of good. This can come in the form of a reluctant alliance with the hero, the resurgence of a tragic past, or a new chain of events that guides them toward good.
Jaime Lannister is a good example of a villain with a solid redemption arc, going from a despised character to a fan favorite over the course of Game of Thrones. Prince Zuko from Avatar: the Last Airbender is another stellar example, starting as the main antagonist but slowly drifting over to the hero’s side by the end. These redemption arcs can take a long time, and the villain may hit a lot of hiccups along the way, but if they ultimately complete their arc, it’s a wonderful moment. Everyone loves a good redemption story.
The redeemed villain is not defeated by anyone, in the end. Rather, they defeat themselves and become a new person, making them one of the most interesting, but difficult, villains to write.
And that’s all for today. Obviously there are many wide varieties of villains to choose from across different mediums, all with their own strengths and weaknesses. Choosing the right villain can make your story great, especially if you give your hero an incredible rival. So, get out there and make some memorable baddies.