Happy Tuesday writers! In honor of it being October and nearing Halloween, I've decided to start a writing series dedicated to all the villains, horror elements, and things that go bump in the night. As writers we use these elements to help give an edge to our antagonists, add suspense to our stories, and to generally speaking, entertain. We all know that our stories need some type of villain for our protagonists to overcome. Without them, the story has no driving force behind it and our quests would fall flat without any opposition. But what makes a strong villain? If you're on the fence about what kind best suits your story, check out these 20 types to help you decide.
What Makes A Good Villain?
Before we get into the break-down, let's answer the question "What makes a good villain" first. Think back to the last book you read. Was the antagonist memorable? Were they downright diabolical? Perhaps they fell into the gray area and at times pulled at your heart strings. If the author made you love to hate their antagonist, chances are it was a successful character. Bonus points if you ended up liking the bad guy even more than the hero by the end of the book.
According to the dictionary, an antagonist is "a person who actively opposes or is hostile to someone or something; an adversary" and a villain is someone whose "evil actions or motives are important to the plot". While the portrayal of these people and their motives isn't always cut-and-dry, their role of causing trouble for the main character never changes.
So what makes a good villain?
I think what it boils down to is whether they are relatable. While villains who are evil for the sake of being evil can still be used, I think that antagonists who do bad things for good reasons or because they feel they have no other choice are much more interesting. Varying degrees of villainy is also something we've been seeing a lot in books and on television. Game of Thrones and Harry Potter for instance, show a wide-range of gray area villains who can be ranked from mildly repugnant to they-need-to-die-now because they're horrendous. No matter what type of villain they are, we as readers (and viewers) can understand why they are the way they are, and at times can even relate to their circumstances.
How Do We Write These Villains?
Drawing inspiration from every day life is the best source. We all know and have faced our own villains within our life. They are the childhood bullies, the domineering teacher, the passive aggressive aunt, the overbearing mother, abusive father, bratty siblings, controlling partners, and of course, those who brought harm to us or our loved ones simply for the thrill of it. Whether their motives were revenge, thrill-seeking, low self-esteem, the need to tear others down, rage or mental health issues, crimes of passion, or simply because they're not good people you can use all of these things and weave them together with the good qualities of a character's essence. Creating a well-rounded villain will not only strengthen their role, but it will help elevate your story's quality overall.
10 Types of Villains
Here are 20 types of villains to help you create one that your audience will truly remember.
This type of villain is the most sympathetic to readers. These are the people who do bad things because they're driven to, they aren't entirely good or bad, and they tend to view their deeds with moments of regrets and disgust for themselves. They tend to take on starring roles, sometimes becoming the protagonist, but make no mistake, these are not "good" people. They do terrible things in the name of self-preservation and their goals. The main draw here is that the reader is fully privy to why they do these bad deeds.
Examples: Draco Malfoy (Harry Potter), Jesse Pinkman (Breaking Bad), Thanos (Marvel Cinematic Universe), Javert (Les Miserables), Carrie (Carrie), Erik Killmonger (Black Panther), Daenerys Targaryen (Game of Thrones), Scarlett O'Hara (Gone With The Wind)
The Authority Figure
The authority figure's biggest trait as a villain is their opposition to the freewill of the protagonist. This is usually set up through the authority figure's job which lends them power over the main character. These positions can be a government leader, a teacher, landlord, parent, foster parent, higher ranking soldier, police officer, doctor, CEO, manager, boy scout leader, etc. You see these types of characters in a variety of genres, but they are most prevalent in comedies and dramas. Here it is because of the protagonist's view of these antagonists that they are portrayed as villains, though most of them deserve the title anyways.
Examples: Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter), Principal Rooney (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Bill Lumbergh (Office Space), Gny. Sgt. Hartman (Full Metal Jacket), Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), Sergeant Major Dickerson (Good Morning, Vietnam), Frank Butterman (Hot Fuzz), and Miss Trunchbull (Matilda), Mrs. Medlock (The Secret Garden)
Similar to Mother Nature, but with a key difference. The beast has motive, which is the instinctual need to defend, hunt, or feed. The Beast is something that is unleashed, stumbled upon, or something that stalks with the intent to kill. This type of character flourishes in horror and thriller genres, and does have some crossover into other genres as well.
Examples: The Shark (Jaws), The Alien (Alien), The Whale (Moby Dick), The Bear (The Edge), The Monster (Frankenstein), Winged Monkeys (The Wizard of Oz), Napoleon (Animal Farm), General Woundwort (Watership Down), The Wolf (Little Red Riding Hood), Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)
We're all familiar with the bully archetype. They present direct opposition to the protagonist and typically appear in a similar age-range. Often their malicious intent lies in insecurity, a longing to be of higher station or societal rank, a lack of ethics and morals, a lack of empathy, or simply because of low self-esteem. Their use stems from the fact that everyone can relate to the dynamic presented when a bully is introduced. Dramas and comedies see these characters come to live, while other genres requires deeper meaning behind their antagonists, bullies don't take much explanation.
Examples: Lucy van Pelt (Peanuts), Curley (From Mice and Men), Moe (Calvin and Hobbes), Draco Malfoy (Harry Potter), Carrie's Mother (Carrie), Creon (Antigone), Massie Block (The Clique), Harry Flashman (Schooldays), James Potter (Harry Potter), Miss Minchin (A Little Princess)
These are the fallen good. Those who have come into power with good intentions who have since become corrupted by said power. They are people who hold positions of power who instead of working for the side of good have decided to go against their oaths to serve their own agendas.
Examples: Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones), Michael Corleone (The Godfather Trilogy), Jack Torrance (The Shining), President Coin (The Hunger Games), Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), James Bond, Evil Queen (Snow White), Jeanine Matthews (Divergent)
Exactly what their category suggests, criminals are those who commit crimes and other bad deeds from a variety of motives- greed, power, passion, revenge, etc. Commonly seen in Crime Thriller or Crime Drama sub-genres, these villains also make appearances in action and dramas as well. Depending on what their ultimate goal is, their approaches can vary from meticulous to sloppy.
Examples: Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker (Bonnie and Clyde), Tony Camonte (Scarface), Walter White (Breaking Bad), James Conway, Henry Hill, and Tommy DeVito (Goodfellas), The Misfit (A Good Man Is Hard to Find), The Gallagher Family (Shameless)
Characters who fall into the disturbed category are those who have clear mental and psychological issues that lead to their behavior. There does not have to be a logical reason for why they are the way they are or for their actions. Often these antagonists do terrible, unspeakable things and never comprehend the true consequences. Typically they appear in stories as both the protagonist and antagonist, as their struggle is portrayed internally.
Examples: Annie Wilkes (Misery), Norman Bates (Psycho), Hannibal Lecter (Hannibal Lecter), Hamlet (Hamlet), Mrs. Rochester (Jane Eyre), Bellatrix Lestrange (Harry Potter), The woman narrator (The Yellow Wallpaper), Deborah Blau (I Never Promised You A Rose Garden), The Joker (Batman)
A lesser used villain type, the equal is an antagonist who mirrors the protagonist. The essential difference is the ideologies they both hold. Whatever the protagonist believes, the equal believes the opposite thus placing them in direct conflict with each other. You see this in parings such as Lord Voldemort and Harry Potter, Loki and Thor, President Snow and Katniss Everdeen, and Massie Block and Claire Lyons.
Examples: Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter), Neil McCauley (Heat), Loki (Marvel), General Zod (Superman), President Snow (The Hunger Games), Massie Block (The Clique)
An attractive and seductive woman who will ultimately bring disaster to a man who becomes involved with her. These dark women usually grace the page in Crime Thrillers, Spy Thrillers, and Film Noir. Depending on what their ultimate motive is, these woman can play both sides, and in some cases can even emerge as the protagonist.
Examples: Alex Forrest (Fatal Attraction), Eve Harrington (All About Eve), Suzanne Stone (To Die For), Catherine Tramell (Basic Instinct), Ilsa Faust (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Circe (The Odyssey), Acrasia (The Faerie Queen), Geraldine (Christobel), Lady Audley (Lady Audley's Secret)
This is evil by proxy. While they aren't the direct villains in the story, they do help the main bad guy with their nefarious deeds. Their sole purpose in life is to do the bidding of their boss, which puts them solidly against the protagonist. They may even be double agents, betrayers, or those doing the dirty work of the mastermind. Typically seen in Action and Spy Thriller genres but have also been known to appear in Fantasy novels.
Examples: Peter Pettigrew (Harry Potter), Boba Fett (Star Wars), Flying Monkeys (The Wizard of Oz), Igor (Frankenstein), Diablo (crow from Sleeping Beauty)
With these 10 villains you can elevate your story and build antagonists that your readers will truly love to hate.
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