Guide to Villains – Andy Peloquin

Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Category: Guide to Villains

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The Ultimate Guide to Villains and Antagonists: Dastardly Whiplash

Snidely Whiplash.

Darken Rahl.

Colonel Sebastian Moran.

From cackling, moustache-twirling, and melodramatic to pompous, arrogant, power-hungry nobleman or ruler, the Dastardly Whiplash is simply “evil for the sake of evil”. They use their wealth and power to prey on the weak for their own amusement or enrichment.

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Dastardly Whiplash: The Origin

This character type originally started out as the melodramatic foil to the straight and somber hero—like Snidely Whiplash from the Dudley Do-Right cartoon series.

  • In British literature, he was typically a minor nobleman of some sort, usually scheming to gain power or riches.
  • In American literature, he was typically a man of wealth and power: banker, oil baron, real estate mogul, railroad tycoon, etc.

His appearance was always pretty standard:

  • Evil-looking features—long nose, dark and shifty eyes, and an exaggerated chin
  • Black top hat and other accessories (gloves, cane, etc.)
  • Curling black moustache or similarly “evil” facial hair
  • Old-fashioned suit with cloak used for dramatic flourishes

He is typically evil for evil’s sake. Even when given the chance to make the right decision, he’ll typically cackle, rub his hands, and do the most ridiculous things for the sake of foiling the hero—the things that ultimately foil his own plans or lead to his untimely demise.

The problem with this villain type is that it’s incredibly one-dimensional. People are rarely evil just because they enjoy it (like the “Chaotic Evil” alignment of Dungeons and Dragons). Instead, a well-developed character will typically have an explanation as to how they can rationalize their “evil” actions. They tend to be amoral or have a twisted morality rather than simply a desire to commit evil.

An article on Psychology Today has an interesting explanation of “evil”:

“Evil people are those who are unable to empathize with others. As a result, their own needs and desires are of paramount importance. They are selfish, self-absorbed and narcissistic. In fact, other people only have value for them to the extent that they can help them satisfy their own desires, or to which they can exploit them. This applies to dictators like Stalin and Hitler, and to serial killers and rapists. Their primary characteristics is an inability to empathize with others. They can’t sense other people’s emotions or their suffering, can’t see the world from other people’s perspective, and so have no sense of their rights. Other human beings are just objects to them, which is what makes their brutality and cruelty possible.

This is usually the explanation behind the “Dastardly Whiplash” character.

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In Stories:

The perfect example of a well-developed “Dastardly Whiplash” is the Grinch from the 2000 film How the Grinch Stole Christmas. While the Grinch initially is portrayed as a character who is “evil for the sake of evil”, the movie gives a glimpse into how he became so: as a result of being bullied for his unusual appearance. He became the Grinch as a result of his mistreatment, not as a choice.

Darken Rahl from the Sword of Truth series is another similar character, as are most of the villains from that series.

Sherlock Holmes’ antagonist Colonel Sebastian Moran is another excellent example.

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The Ultimate Guide to Villains and Antagonists: Entropy/Chaos

Azazoth.

Apep.

Eris.

These names may be unfamiliar, but they all speak of one thing: chaos.

They are the embodiment of entropy, disorder, and the chaos inherent in all things. They seek to restore the universe to a state of chaos, the way it was BEFORE creation brought order. Perhaps not fully “evil” in the way we perceive it, but their intentions (the undoing of all things) leads to “evil” outcomes for everyone. Thus, they are the ultimate villains!

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Chaos: The Origin

The “Chaos” villain is actually a mixture of science and mythology.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that, “The entropy of the universe tends to a maximum.” To put it simply, the universe is always trying to return to a natural entropic or chaotic state, but it is only our efforts to organize, define, and coordinate that keep everything from devolving.

Most ancient civilizations viewed chaos as “the nothingness at the beginning of the world”. In their view, the gods brought order to the universe, and there is this nameless, faceless force of “nothingness” that is seeking to restore the universe to its natural state before the gods intervened.

Egyptian mythology had the god Apep, the giant serpent that was the embodiment of chaos and the antagonist to Ma’at, “the ancient Egyptian concepts of truth, balance, order, harmony, law, morality, and justice, and the personification of these concepts as a goddess regulating the stars, seasons, and the actions of both mortals and the deities, who set the order of the universe from chaos at the moment of creation.”

On a smaller scale, Greek mythology had the goddess Eris (in Roman mythology, she was named Discord). She was the reason for the Trojan War, and she sought to bring strife and discord among men.

Chaos is more than just an Ancient Evil (see the previous post on Ancient Evils)—it’s a force of nature as immutable as time and space, one that is ever seeking to reclaim its own. It’s typically used as an opposing force to law and order, as well as to creation and life itself. If these primeval beings of chaos succeeded, the universe would cease to exist and all things would be entropy.

This taps into our most primal fears:

Fear of extinction. When the universe is unmade, no trace of our families, race, world, or universe will remain. It is the most drastic form of extinction possible!

Fear of loss of autonomy. In the face of these ancient, all-powerful beings of chaos, there is nothing we can do to prevent the total eradication of life as we know it. Thus, we are totally powerless—entrapped in a doomsday scenario from which there is no escape.

With beings of Chaos, there is no ambivalence: they want to put an end to order in the universe as we know it. Thus, though they are simply playing to their nature, they are the ultimate “evil” because their triumph would mean to total undoing of everything.

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In Stories:

Chaos has appeared in modern fantasy:

  • Tolkien’s Silmarillian talked of a void, from which Eru, the Middle Earth version of God who created all things.
  • Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos has many beings of chaos: Azathoth, the “Nuclear Chaos” and Nyarlathotep, the “Crawling Chaos”, and Xexanoth, the Lurking Chaos.
  • Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series had the Prim, a force of chaos that would return if the Tower ever were to fall.

On a Large Scale:

The ancient, universe-destroying creatures of Chaos tend to be the ultimate evil, the god worshipped by the Evil Cult, and the big, bad threat looming in the background of the story. Though they tend to have mortals doing their bidding, they are the ultimate horror that will be perpetrated upon the world if the hero doesn’t succeed in stopping the villain.

On the Small Scale:

Chaos can also be used as a minor antagonist. Similar to the way Eris, goddess of strife, received power as a result of the discord she sowed, so too antagonists can become more powerful due to small-scale chaos (on a city-wide, nationwide, or world-wide amount of chaos, rather than the total unmaking of the universe).

For example:

  • Warmongers profit from causing two countries/kingdoms to go to war
  • Evil races flourish when the “good” races fight each other, or they just enjoy violence
  • People suffer and die from political and/or religious chaos tearing their city/country/kingdom apart

 

Whether chaos is on a cosmic scale or street level, it is a force that must be battled by the protagonists, champions of law and order.

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The Ultimate Guide to Villains and Antagonists: Ancient Evil

Satan.

Sauron.

Cthulhu.

These names immediately bring to mind ancient forces dedicated to one thing: evil.

For thousands/millions of years or “since the earliest age”, these supernatural, supreme beings have operated under the agenda of bringing death, despair, oblivion, and other evils. Whether they were created for evil purposes or simply always existed as the evil counterpoint to good, there is no ambivalence to them. They are EVIL—full on, unrelenting, deathless evil.

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Ancient Evils: The Origin

The concept of evil is as old as humanity itself. Civilizations as old as Ancient Egypt had Isfet, a god of disorder and violence that fought to kill the sun god Ra. Judaism perceives evil as a result of man’s bad actions. Platonic philosophy states that “evil does not exist as a substance or property but instead as a privation of substance, form, and goodness”.

But the origin of this “Ancient Evil villain” has its roots in two of the five primary fears common among all humans: fear of extinction and fear of loss of autonomy.

Fear of Extinction – Imagine a being so powerful that it could kill or even “unmake” you with the blink of an eye or the snap of their god-like fingers.

Fear of Loss of Autonomy – What could you, a single mortal, do to stop a god/supernatural/cosmic being from destroying our world/universe/reality? If such a being existed, we would have no control of our circumstances.

These two fears are the primary driving force behind the horror of the Ancient Evil. But there’s a third: the fear of the unknown.

Zombies are terrifying because they take something familiar (humans, friends, family, etc.) and twist them into something grotesque. It’s not the shambling, rotting corpses that are scary—it’s the shambling, rotting corpses of people we KNOW and LOVE that’s terrifying.

Belief in a Higher Power, Supreme Being, or Ultimate is something that unifies nearly all humans on the planet. Whether you call the being God, Yahweh, Allah, or Rufus, most of us believe in some sort of higher power or divinity to some extent. Given all the marvels in the world and universe around us, it’s hard not to believe in something greater than us. Even the world’s most renowned scientists agree that there is a possibility a God-like being exists.

Now comes the terrifying part: what if that God-like being WASN’T a good, loving god of mercy and peace? What if they were a god that wanted to bring death, suffering, chaos, and oblivion?

Whatever the reason for the Ancient Evil’s existence—to balance the gods of good, to bring chaos to the universe, or to destroy for their own malicious purposes—it is enough to know that their actions will be perceived as “villainous”. They cannot be bargained or reasoned with. There is no fighting them or holding them off. They simple ARE, and they intend to bring DOOM (all caps!) to the world.

In stories:

These Ancient Evils are typically used as the ultimate villain/antagonist.

  • If Frodo didn’t bring the One Ring to Mount Doom, Sauron would have regained all the might of the twenty magical Rings of Power and been absolutely unstoppable.
  • The Great Old Ones are the eternally threatening presence looming in the background of H.P. Lovecraft’s works.
  • Terry Pratchett introduced us to the “Dungeon Dimensions”, a background threat to those who use magic incorrectly.

They tend to be the greatest threat to the heroes, but will rarely be the primary villain/antagonist. Mostly, there are less powerful men and creatures seeking to summon/unlock the cage/open the gateway for these Ancient Evils to enter the world. The protagonists have to stop the primary villains/antagonists from unleashing this evil on their world. After all, saving the world is just part of the job, right?

 

Go back to the main list of villains and antagonists…

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The Ultimate Guide to Villains and Antagonists in Fiction

I LOVE villains! Better put, I love writing villains.

While the heroes are the ones we connect to in most stories, it’s really the villains and antagonists that make us care. After all, when our protagonists have to fight through impossible odds to triumph, that’s when we feel that thrill. And it’s the villains and antagonists that make the odds so “impossible”.

Think about it:

  • Without Sauron, would Frodo’s act of throwing the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom have had any meaning?
  • Without Captain Hook, would Peter Pan have had a chance to shine with his daring, brave swordplay and clever quips?
  • Without Lord Voldemort, would Harry Potter have been anything other than a normal wizard in training?

We root for the heroes, but only because the villains and antagonists have put them in a position that we care about them.

For the next few months, I’ll be doing a series of posts on all the best types of villains and antagonists in fiction. As a fantasy writer, I’ll be putting them into the perspective of a fantasy character, but I’ll also try to find good examples from across all the genres and in popular fiction.

Below is the complete list of villains and antagonists, with a short explanation of each. I’ll be following this initial post up with weekly breakdowns of each character type, including a bit of psychological context for each to help you understand how these characters came to be and what drives them.

(Feel free to share this list—over time, I intend to make it the most comprehensive guide around!)

Villain vs. Antagonist

One thing I like to make VERY clear: villains and antagonists are not the same!

Villains are defined as “a character whose evil actions or motives are important to the plot.” Simply put, they have evil motives or do evil things.

Antagonists are defined as “a person who actively opposes or is hostile to someone or something; an adversary.” They don’t have to be truly evil—all that matters is that they oppose your protagonist.

There can be a lot of cross-over between villains and antagonists. Your antagonist could have evil motives and do evil things. In many cases, the terms can be used interchangeably.

However, many antagonists can be inherently GOOD or have GOOD motives. All that matters is that they are opposing or hostile to your protagonist.

Understanding the distinction is very important for the list below. You can write villains that are pure evil but antagonists that are honorable and noble. Villains are a matter of morals and principles; antagonists are a matter of perspective.

If I may be so bold as to tap into my own writing, here are two good examples of villains vs. antagonists:

  1. In The Last Bucelarii (Book 1): Blade of the Destroyer, the villain is a demon seeking to return the “big bad” (Kharna, the Destroyer) to the world. The antagonist, on the other hand, is an honorable Beggar Priest trying to do his job and protect the world from demons—the fact that the Hunter is half-demon sets him at odds with the priests.
  2. In Child of the Night Guild (Queen of Thieves Book 1), the villain is a bully seeking to inflict psychological and physical pain on the main character, Ilanna. The antagonist, on the other hand, is the Praamian Guard and the Duke of Praamis—the fact that Ilanna is a thief sets her at odds with the “law and order” in the city.

See how it’s all about perspective? A villain will usually be evil to everyone around them, but an antagonist will simply be at odds with the main character due to their profession, religious beliefs, moral values, citizenship or origin, or any number of other factors.

Understanding these differences will help you approach the list of villains and antagonists below with an open mind, and may help you find some unique ways to turn these archetypes—both truly evil and simply oppositional—into fascinating, well-developed characters!

Types of Villains

These are the types of characters that could be easily defined as a straightforward VILLAIN (evil motives or actions).

Ancient Force/Ancient Evil

Based on the mythological concept of good vs. evil. Think Satan/The Devil, Shaitan from The Wheel of Time, or Lovecraft’s Cthulhu.

Read more…

Entropy/Chaos

Based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, “The entropy of the universe tends to a maximum.” This is a force that seeks to destroy all order in the universe to return it to its natural chaotic state.

Read more…

Dastardly Whiplash

The cackling, moustache-twirling, melodramatic “evil for the sake of evil”. He tends to be exorbitantly wealthy and powerful, and uses his wealth and power to prey on the weak.

Read more…

Bully

A person who is cruel to others, often for the sake of cruelty. Bullies often tend to use cruelties to hide their fears and insecurities.

Dark Lord/Supervillain

From Sauron to the White Witch to Darth Vader, the Dark Lord or Supervillain may or may not have a tragic backstory, but they are usually evil because it’s “in their nature”.

Beast

Vampires, werewolves, snakes, dragons, Cthulhic deities, and wild animals all share one thing in common: a driving, inescapable biological imperative to be savage. Often bestial/primitive instincts overlap with the innate human tendency toward violence.

Supernatural Forces of Evil

Marvel Comics’ Nightmare and the Biblical Satan are two perfect examples: forces created/destined/fated/driven by internal/psychological imperatives to be evil.

Sadist

Someone who derives pleasure or enjoyment from the suffering of others. Psychological abuse and cold-blooded torture are their favorite weapons.

Trickster

Loki from Norse mythology and Anansi from African folktales are not “evil” by definition, but their actions trend more toward evil because of their mischievous nature.

Types of Antagonist

These character types can be used as a counterpoint for the protagonist. They can be written as “evil”, “good”, or somewhere in the shades of moral grey between. Perspective is everything when it comes to these antagonists!

Mirror

Similar or identical to the hero in most ways, they will differ in one significant way: their morality, their actions/methods, or their desires. They are chiefly used as a foil to make the protagonist/hero question their ethics and beliefs.

Authority Figure

This is any sort of figure that stands in the way of “free will”, “freedom of choice”, or “freedom of action”.

Abusive Authority Figure

This is a figure of authority (boss, parent, president, nobility, etc.) that abuses their authority and power (emotional and physical) over someone else.

Morally Corrupted

From the dirty cop to the greedy nobleman to the unethical corporation, one of our greatest fears is not being able to trust the very people we have put in positions of authority over us.

Physically Corrupted

This includes classic vampires, zombies, werewolves, ghouls, ghosts, and any other “normal” human that has been physically corrupted and turned into an antagonist by way of disease, infection, or magic spell.

Career Criminal

The thief that steals the important MacGuffin, the assassin that tries to kill the protagonist, the swindler who takes advantage of kindly old ladies, and anyone else who breaks the law—either out of desire or necessity.

The Disturbed

A broad range of emotional, psychological, mental, and physical disorders can turn “good” people to “bad”. In some cases, a physical disability could either be the result of the villainy (think Darth Vader) or the cause of it due to resentment over mistreatment by a cruel society.

Henchman

Henchmen are happy to serve whoever will give them a sense of purpose and direction. If their master is evil, they’re typically willing to follow those orders—even if it means hurting others.

Note: Some people end up “henching” because it gives them an excuse to be a Bully or Sadist, or because they are “Disturbed”.

Machine

We all fear the day that A.I.s rise up and destroy us. Often, a “machine” antagonist is one created by humankind for one purpose (to prevent war), but in their extreme logic they go too far (by eradicating mankind, the cause of war).

Forces of Nature

The hero fails to save the girl in time. The heroine plummets from the back of her dragon to fall a thousand feet to her death. The ocean destroys the good wizard’s ship. The mountains stand between the protagonist and their objective. Weather (rain, wind, snow, sleet, hail, sandstorm, etc.) cause the quest to fail.

Bureaucrats

We all HATE bureaucrats, people who are “just doing their job”. They are paragons of inflexibility and sticking to the rules. Some may use their limited power (Petty Bureaucrats) to stymie the protagonist’s efforts.

Bonus: Red tape, or the established laws and guidelines that interfere with our desires and goals.

Organizations

We’ve all got a hate-on for the IRS when they take away our hard-earned money. The organization may not be inherently villainous, but their bureaucracy or regulations interfere with our protagonists’ actions.

Criminal Organizations

From the real life “Mob” to Marvel Comics’ Sinister Six, these tend to be organizations made up of law-breakers. Often populated by Bullies, Sadists, and Henchmen, along with Career Criminals.

Crowd

Gladiator summed it up best, “The mob is fickle.” A crowd of individuals can be whipped into a frenzy of passion, anger, hatred, xenophobia, religious intolerance, sexism, bigotry, or bloodlust. Add into that the “herd mentality”, and you have a riot on your hands.

Scheming Mastermind

Men and women scheme behind the scenes to gain power, increase wealth, “get the girl/guy”, or “make the hero pay for X action”. There may be no direct confrontation until the climax, but they are the invisible hand moving all the pieces.

Dark Knight/Punisher

Some may hold a high moral/ethical code, while others resort to violence to punish the “wicked”. They may be inherently “good” characters, but their actions tend to be less “good”.

Disposed Son

Born to wealth and privilege, only to have it all ripped away, these characters are driven by resentment and a lust for the power/riches they once had. Often, they’ll seek vengeance against any they believe wronged them.

Desperado

Trapped in their life—drug addict, career criminal, or prisoner—they perform unscrupulous acts in the pursuit of one goal: survival in desperate, grim situations.

Cult of Evil/Darkness

Faceless, nameless, wearing dark hoods and chanting arcane rituals, these cults can range from genuinely evil (death cults) to genuinely good-intentioned but misguided.

Fanatic

Driven by a single mission or ideology, they are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. The end justifies the means.

Traitor

What started out as friendship, love, loyalty, or brotherhood has been twisted to the point that they are willing to betray those closest to them. Think Lex Luthor or Judas Iscariot.

Victim

“It’s not my fault.” “I did it because…” Anyone who refuses to take blame for their actions can end up in the role of antagonistic victim.

 

Note: There are many other types of villains/antagonists out there (Black Widow, Femme Fatale, Frenemy, etc.), but I felt these were the most psychologically “realistic” and plausible for a well-developed novel (fantasy or otherwise).

However, if you feel the list deserves an addition, feel free to comment below and let me know. Or, just add any comments you may have.

Please consider sharing this article—the more people that learn how to write realistic, believable, and compelling villains, the better our fiction will become!

 

 

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