Monday, August 18, 2014

The 10 Kinds of Villains and How They Can Deepen Your Story

It's been a while since I did a post on villains, but the above picture is one of my faves from Pinterest and it makes me laugh every time I see it. I hope you've all seen enough of the featured villains to appreciate the humor. It got me thinking about different kinds of villains and the different roles they can play in a story. As an author, you don't want to do the same kind of villain all the time. Changing it up can add depth and variety to your plot, pulling your readers into it even more efficiently. Which is pretty much the whole point.

The Joker (Duh) Source
1. Crazy Creeper Villains -- These villains are straight-up insane. Think Heath Ledger's Joker from The Dark Knight, or Chigger of No Country for Old Men. Villains of this ilk do evil, sometimes unimaginable things, cause chaos, and advocate absolute anarchy. That said, be careful not to make these villains too flat. Bad guys of this kind who are dumb would be all-too-easy to catch. Both the Joker and Chigger were ridiculously intelligent, which made them creepier still, and really difficult to defeat. One advantage of this kind of villain is that they often don't need motives. The reader never has any idea why Chigger does what he does, or how he got into that lifestyle. The only thing we need to know is that our characters want to avoid him at all costs. The Joker told everyone he met a different origin story about himself, which just added to the shiver factor.

Walter White of Breaking Bad Source
2. Anti-Villains -- Everyone's heard of anti-heroes, and this is kind of the opposite concept. These are villains that have good motivations, but are just going about things the wrong way. Walter White of Breaking Bad is a good example of this. Boromir of Lord of the Rings experienced this paradigm for a brief moment when he tried to take the ring from Frodo, though he quickly repented his actions. These characters are most interesting because they often re-write the rules of evil. The reader can see that their motivations are pure, even if they don't agree with the villain's actions. This throws the reader through a loop, in a good way. They want to root for the villain, though they know they shouldn't, and because of that they just HAVE to keep reading

Darth Vader (Duh) Source
3. Up-To-No-Good Villains -- These are just your all-around bad guys who go around causing trouble, hurting others, doing the work of evil regime, or otherwise upholding evil ideals. Think Darth Vader. Not always the most compelling villains (Vader's back story and turn first from and then back to the good is way more interesting than his evil-ness) but they can still make potent bad guys.

Voldemort (Also duh)  Source
4. World Domination Villains -- These are villains that want to and actually try to rule the entire world. They are power-hungry and will stop at nothing to get what they want. They'll betray even their closest and most loyal followers, and are predictable only in their unpredictability. Think Voldemort or, you know, Hitler.

Mordred of Mists of Avalon Source
5. Tragic Villains -- These are those with ridiculously sad circumstances in their pasts. Though we can't condone what they're doing at present, we feel genuine sympathy for the hands they've been dealt. One of the best instances I've seen of this was the Mordred of Mists of Avalon. You just feel so bad for the poor guy! Criminal Minds does the tragedy thing with their weekly perps as well. And then there's the ultimate tragic villain: Tolkien's Gollum.

Cinderella's Stepmother of Ever After Source
6. The Douch-Bag Villain -- This is the villain that's a total jerk to everyone. Often, though not always, this villain is not wholly evil. They're the kind that might appear in a daytime soap opera. Not (necessarily) homicidal or anything, but just an all-purpose tool. Think Cinderella's stepmother and sisters. Are they homicidal? No. Do they want to rule the world. No. At least, not in any practical way. But is the level of douch-baggery they use on poor Cinderella despicable? Oh, yeah. *twitches* Another good example is Joffery of A Song of Fire and Ice (see graphic above) though incidentally, he also happens to be a, you know, homicidal psychopath?

Charles Logan of 24 Source
7. Full-of-It Villains -- This is the arrogance villain. Again, not necessarily homicidal, though they can be, but they are just arrogant enough to believe that their crap doesn't stink, and they can get away with anything. You see this most often in really bad kings/presidents/rulers. The most recent example that comes to mind is President Logan of Fox's 24. Though I do believe he had people killed at some point, he was really too stupid and full of himself to be really tough, creepy, or intimidating. He was just. So. Annoying! The audience couldn't wait to see him get his comeuppance. (And it was awesome when he did.)

Tywin Lannister of Game of Thrones Source
8. Detached Villain -- This is a villain who isn't front and center, and hardly seems to really care about what he's doing. That said, he can still be super evil and creepy. His cold shoulder just makes him that more chilling as he signs death warrants or gives torture orders. Some say Bane of The Dark Knight Rises was this way, though I'm not sure I entirely agree, given that we had a pretty decent back story for him. A better example (especially of the creep factor) is Tywin Lannister of A Song of Fire and Ice. He's never on the front lines, always operating behind the scenes, but he controls a lot of strings and can talk about how great the wine is and how easily a person is beheaded without changing his conversational tone.

Glen Close's Femme Fetale of Fatal Attraction Source
9. Femme Fetale -- Not much to say here as most people know what this is. The origins of this kind of villain go all the way back to the Old Testament with Sampson and Delilah. It's such a classic trope, in fact, that it's become somewhat cliche. Don't underestimate it, though. It can serve an important purpose in a story, and is something most people understand and perhaps even identify with to some extent. Plus, if you can make your femme fetale creepy enough or evil enough, you end up with Glen Close of Fatal Attraction, and let's face it: she was one of the craziest villains ever written.

The Dark Knight's paranoid schizophrenic Source
10. Side-Kick Villain -- These villains tend to be pretty flat, but don't bash 'em. They can add another layer of evilness to your villain and yet another branch of evil or drama for your hero to worry about. After all, people attract those who are like them to them, so if your villain isn't a lone wolf, consider giving him/her a pretty twisted entourage. In The Dark Knight, Harvey Dent tries to grill one of the Joker's henchmen, but Batman tells him he won't get anything from the man, who happens to be a paranoid schizophrenic. But that's just he kind of twisted mind the Joker attracts, right?

In my experience, most villains fall into one of these, a sub-category of one of them, or a combination of a few. Keep in mind that your villain can be a combo-villain. Joffery is both a douchbag and a psychopath. Fatal Attraction's Glen Close was a femme fetale and a psychopath. And even the Joker had quite alot of hubris. 

So mix it up, experiment. The more craziness in your villain, the better. Give your readers something they've never seen before, but which also seems a little too chillingly real.

Which category does your villain fall into? Did I miss any?


  1. That first graphic is so accurate!
    Regardless of the type, a villain needs some depth. Cardboard villains just won't cut it.

  2. I do have a love/hate relationship with some villains, sometimes it's hard not to fall for the bad guy. :) I think one of my favorite villains from TV is Joe off The Following, he is a crazy pyscho but at the same time he just oozes appeal and you can see why he has so many people who does anything he says and follows him.

    1. Yeah, charisma in a villain is definitely a plus. It gives him depth and makes the audience torn, which can only deepen their connection to the story. Thanks for stopping by, Stormi! :D

  3. Hahaha love this! The creepy ones freak me out and the douchebag ones make me so mad :(

    Eileen @ BookCatPin

    1. Thanks, Eileen. I feel the same way. Thanks so much for dropping by! :D