Given the number of villainous post I’ve written, I feel I should start this one with a disclaimer: I actually am not obsessed with villains. Nor am I a super-villain in disguise. I rarely sport an evil laugh, nor do I have a secret lair where I practice mustache curling and cape twirling. My childhood aspirations never wandered so far as wild and dastardly schemes for world domination. What can I say? Guess I’m a low achiever.
Though I have no such lofty goals for myself, I do enjoy crafting devious plots for the villains in my novels. And the villains themselves … well, they are so much fun to write. Villains can run the gamut from the black cloaked, mustache twirling variety mentioned above … to the creatures of pure evil and darkness you find in many epic fantasies … to the conflicted villains you just can’t help feeling sorry for … to those twisted ones that are just plain horrifying.
I’ve experimented with these four different sorts of villains a good bit over the years. I won’t say one sort is better than the others. Each has its uses for different times and places. Nor is this an all-inclusive list. Not remotely. But I thought it worthwhile to give some favorite examples of these different common types of villains.
Sometimes a story is all the better for a good, old fashioned mustache twirling baddie. The mustache twirler is all about style. He enjoys his nefarious reputation and intends to get the most out of it. He may be of average intelligence. Or he may be brilliant. Regardless, he’s a bad boy and he enjoys it.
“Every fairytale needs a good, old fashioned villain.”
– Moriarty, BBC’s Sherlock
Some “mustache twirling” villains that instantly spring to mind include:
Captain Barbosa, Pirates of the Caribbean
Moriarty, BBC’s Sherlock (Though if he ever saw this post, he would undoubtedly resent being called a mustache twirler and put a kill-order out on my head.)
Obviously, the mustache twirler can tend toward the comedic, but he can also be plain scary. See Moriarty for a prime example. If you decide not to turn your main villain into a “mustache twirler,” this sort of villain also makes for a great evil henchman.
You tend to see this type of villain more so in epic fantasy than anything else. The things at stake—the world, humanity, life as we know it—tend to attract the worst sorts of unfeeling, inhuman monsters. These villains have no regard for human life and tend to spill it cheaply. They are powerful and always seem to have the upper hand. There are few things more terrifying than a monster who just wants to see the world burn.
Some examples include:
The Dark Lord Sauron, The Lord of the Rings
Ruin, The Final Empire Series
Voldemort, Harry Potter
The Joker, The Dark Knight
No matter how terrible this villain’s means, motives, goals, or actions may be, there is something about him we can understand. Some deeper longing we can relate to. Some terrible event in the past that causes us to sympathize. Some goal that still doesn’t justify the villain’s actions, but makes us understand how he could become what he is.
This villain believes he is in the right. Believes it so strongly that the hero—and maybe even the reader—may wonder. This villain sometimes even believes he is saving the world … and the hero, well, he just doesn’t have the guts to do what is necessary.
“Every villain is a hero in his own mind.”
– Tom Hiddleston
Some examples that spring to mind:
Loki (You knew I was going to mention him, didn’t you? He’s one of those villains we love to love.)
Javert, Les Miserables
Sadaes, Way of Kings and Words of Radiance
I’m currently writing one of these villains for my WIP, and even as I write him, I can’t help feeling sorry for him. In another sort of story, in another sort of world, he might have been a hero. Or at least your ordinary not-mass-murderer.
*Shudder* These villains are just plain scary. They take the “sympathetic” side and turn it into something dark and twisted. There is still a “valid” reason behind everything they do. And it’s not just because they want to see the world burn or mankind destroyed. Sometimes like the sympathetic villain, the twisted villain might think they’re saving the world. Or at least accomplishing some higher, more worthy goal. But they don’t care how many bodies pile up along the way. They often take “mentally unstable” to the extreme. Nothing, no sense of right or wrong, no hint of conscience, is going to stop them from accomplishing what they desire. Examples?
Emperor Commodus, Gladiator
Colonel William Tavington, The Patriot
Taravangian, Words of Radiance
Maybe once upon a time you would have felt sorry for them. But now? Well, they’re the sort about which you can truthfully say:
“He’s not the kind you save. He’s the kind you stop.”
– Falcon, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Do you have a favorite sort of villain? What are some other common “types” you can think of? Other examples of these types?