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Updated: Sep 12, 2023

In our exploration of villains, perhaps one of the less used versions in modern novels is the flat out, evildoer. This villain is bad. They are not redeemable and they are not even relatable. They are evil, and enjoy doing things that in the context of the book would be considered evil for evil sake. There is nothing wrong with that.

Thanos, being bad
Thanos, Evil, but motivations are understood

In a recent push to make sure everyone is relatable, bad guys are not so bad, and maybe just misunderstood, we can’t lose sight of the fact that sometimes, people are in fact just rotten. In addition, everyone loves to hate a good villain, so give them someone worth hating. It is at the core of our being and a kind of catharsis reading can provide. It has been part of our literature and mythology since we have chosen to tell stories.

Some points to remember for the truly evil.

Evil doesn’t mean stupid. Let me repeat that because in many a pulp fiction story and too many attempts at fantasy and science fiction, evil for evil's sake means stupid. Villains can be extremely intelligent, well mannered, planning people, who happen to have nothing but bad on the heart. It doesn’t mean they can’t be very good at it. They don’t need to monologue away their evil plan, build easily escapable traps of torture or mistreat henchmen as a side effect of being bad. Incompetent villains are stopped in their tracks by the many societal controls in place, police, school supervisors, etc.

When creating your villain, consider the impact to and from stereotypes. World conquering military members who just want power, CEOs who just want money, political leaders who just crave adoration, and evil wizards who just desire more power are cliché. It doesn’t mean they can’t be done, but you have to bear I mind, they have been done a lot. They also don’t get borne out in reality, so suspension of disbelief is harder. The military has many checks and balances. CEOs are generally very driven but also have to play inside a set of rules, answer to a board, and do in fact sacrifice a great deal for their station, not always to the end result of happiness. Political leaders are rarely beloved in modern times, and well … I’ve never met a wizard. Aim for a new take on the antagonist.

Why so serious?
Evil, and REAL motivations are pretty mysterious.

So, we can have evil antagonists, who aren’t relatable, we can have them as stereotypes, or not, but we should also remember scale.

They don’t need to be earth changing evil. A bully in school who torments other kids because they can, because they want to, and because they enjoy it, can be every bit as devious, conniving and believably hate-able as a world conquering villain. They can look like a perfect angel in front of the authority figures, have perfect grades, be friends with people, and still be cruel without purpose beyond being cruel to a protagonist character.

Bad, is partially determined by the perspective relative to the protagonist. The villains are not bad or mean to others but can be bad or mean to protagonist characters.

Lastly, being evil for evil sake doesn’t mean they do not have motivations and goal, it just means they are not relatable. Their motivation goal structure might look simple, but it is still present.

No matter who you choose as your villain, remember the basic rules. They still have motivations and goals, even if they are selfish to the core, they still require competence, and they still need to stand in the way of what your protagonist wants.

Go create the evilest person you can imagine having to go toe to toe with in your real life. What would they be like? Why would you hate them? Imagine the same thing from your protagonist’s perspective. Now write them down, and always remember, writers write.

For more on the villains series, the conflicts series and other content, subscribe here.

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