Re: The Three Types of Villains

#1
This is just something I created to help myself when creating villains, if it helps some of you craft better characters then all the better!

The Three Types of Villains

I made this useful template for myself to use when writing. The template is that there are three major archetypes of villians: The Brat, The Evil Sue, and The Misguided Ideologue. Each of these three categories can overlap with one of the others to varying degrees to create more nuance in the Villian, and to a degree all Villians have a little bit of each of these categories. But all Villains will usually have one type which is dominate and one type which is secondary. There are some Villians which are purely one of these archetypes, but those usually exist in parody or in very black and white story telling. Also each of these archetypes exist on a spectrum with the attributes of that archetype being more prevalent or less prevalent in the Villain depending are where they are in the spectrum. Without further intro, let me explain each archetype.

The Brat

The Brat is probably one of the easiest Villians to understand. They are selfishness and pettiness incarnate. They believe the world owes them everything and they are most important no mattter what. If they can't have something they will make sure no one can have it either. If they aren't the center of attention they rain on the parade of whoever is in the spotlight. They are spoiled brats, hence their name. Brats are often protrayed in positions of power where their authority or strength can bring about the most damage and therefore created a compelling obstacle for the protagonist to overcome. Examples are The Brat being a petty King or a spoiled rich kid. Perhaps he is that playboy that refuses to be denied by any woman or the arrogant swordsman that can never admit that anyone is stronger than him. The Brat can take many forms, but his essense is always the same. Selfishness, pettiness, and immaturity.

The Evil Sue

There are no examples of a perfect Evil Sue outside of parody or ancient mythology. Evil Sue is originally a term meant for a Villain being so evil to the point of being ridiculous - evil purely for the sake of being evil and destructive. Despite that, there are plenty of Villians which display less extreme examples of the Evil Sue than compared to the parody/mythology versions of this archetype. A strong desire to destroy everything and everyone is a common trope of this Villian. Sometimes it's because they simply enjoy evil for the sake of evil while at other times it's for things like revenge or believing that the world is rotten to the core and must be burned to the ground. Whatever eventually ends up motivating the Evil Sue, they almost always end up enjoying their evil acts and seek out new ways to create more pain, suffering, or destruction.

The Misguided Ideologue

The Misguided Ideologue, unlike the other two villain archetypes, doesn't always believe what he is doing is wrong, or if he does, then he believes it is a necessary means to a good end. He has good intentions or goals that he wants to realize. Perhaps he wants to create a world with no war or a place with no criminals. But whatever his goal, he is always ready and willing to do horrible things in order to achieve his lofty ideal. Many villians of this archetype will often lose sight of their goal, while others will remain so laser focused on it that everything else is thrown by the way side. Many times these villians are victims of some other, greater villian from behind the scenes like a demon, wizard, or evil mastermind. Some may even see the error of their ways, but only when it is too late to change things or go back. A rare few however, may actually acheive their goals only to have them ruined later or not turn out the way they thought it would.

How to Blend the Three Archetypes

As I stated before, most Villains are a fusion of two of these archetypes with many having a bit of all three inside them. I want to give some examples of how this works and what it looks like. Let's take Light Yagami from Death Note as our first example. He is a fusion of The Brat with The Misguided Ideologue. He has the goal of destroying all crime by killing all criminals with the Death Note, but also plans on use the Death Note to "become the god of the new world" that he is attempting to create. Deep down he comsiders himself superior to all others and that he deserves the power that was granted to him by pure chance with the Death Note. His goal of eliminating all crime might seem noble until it is made very clear that he is willing to kill just about anyone in order to ensure his safety and his rise to power as the arbiter of all humanity. He truly believes in his cause, but he is also selfish and petty to the core. His "perfect life" is merely a fascade to cover up his egotism and lust for power. We can also see small amounts of the Evil Sue in him as he relishes the killing of certain individuls during the story - going so far as to terrorize some victims immediately prior to killing them just for his own enjoyment as he did in the case of Naomi Misura. His belief for destroying all criminals is rooted in the belief that the world is rotten to it's core and must be cleansed with his vengance.

With proper consideration and tweeking of these three archetypes you can created all sorts of nuanced villains depending on which archetypes defines the villian most and how strongly the villains display the traits of each archetype. I hope this will prove a useful tool for those who may need tools for villian creation.

Re: The Three Types of Villains

#4
I like this break down. One of my biggest weaknesses when writing is building characters. I've never bothered with questionnaires, profiles, oe any of that of that, and tend to simply pluck an image from from my brain that corresponds to a set of objectives, place them in the storyworld, and poke and prod them until their characters reveals itself. 
This to say that I don't set out to create characters starting with their attitudes, and instead focus on their goals. 

With this in mind, and purely for the purpose of discussion, I'd like to know what you think about villains that don't practice evil, and instead are simply a force that opposes the hero. This is common in stories with complex moral systems where the hero doesn't occupy a place of moral superiority and villains, if they can be found, are often just the most obvious obstacle in the way.

I'm thinking of stories like A Song of Ice and Fire, The Black Company, or even Attack on Titan, all narratives that deal in some way with war, politics, and the muck and grime of every day good and evil instead of clearly defined extremes. 

Re: The Three Types of Villains

#5

Elecham Wrote: With this in mind, and purely for the purpose of discussion, I'd like to know what you think about villains that don't practice evil, and instead are simply a force that opposes the hero. This is common in stories with complex moral systems where the hero doesn't occupy a place of moral superiority and villains, if they can be found, are often just the most obvious obstacle in the way.


That isn't a villain. That's an antagonist. 

The antagonist and the villain can be two separate characters. The villain doesn't even necessarily have to oppose a hero; think The Godfather, where the whole point of the story is the lack of heroes, and how heroism and honor don't have to coincide. If there is an opposing hero, but the story is about the villain, then the hero is the antagonist, working to frustrate the goals of the protagonist-villain and provide obstacles to overcome. My go-to example of this is Macbeth, where our main character is the villain, but not the protagonist (actually Lady Macbeth), the hero and antagonist is Macduff. You can find this in many gangster or criminal movies, such as Thelma and Louise where the main characters are the protagonists and villains, while the antagonist and hero is the police officer chasing after them trying to get them to come in alive, risking his career because he doesn't want to see them end up dead. 

You can also have a story where the viewpoint character isn't the main character, hero, protagonist, villain, or antagonist. Just look at Watson in the original Sherlock Holmes stories. Many early adaptations completely ruined Watson's character because they misunderstood his role in the story, making him fat and/or lazy when in the original stories he's described as lean and fit, with a military bearing, even more a man of action than Sherlock. The only reasons Sherlock seems more action-oriented are that first, Watson is telling Sherlock's story, not his own; and second, because Sherlock thinks faster and so comes to decisions more rapidly than Watson. 

These six roles (main character, viewpoint character, protagonist, antagonist, hero, and villain) are usually the only types you have to pay attention to, and usually characters occupy more than one role. There are a lot of other character types, though. I've got a chart of every single unique character type I was able to find, which is mostly useful in analysis rather than writing but my students seem to love it. 

Re: The Three Types of Villains

#6


NovelNinja Wrote: I've got a chart of every single unique character type I was able to find, which is mostly useful in analysis rather than writing but my students seem to love it.





Any chance I can get you to share it? 

If I understood you correctly and hero and villain are purely moral positions that don't pertain to protagonism at all, then villain classifications are really evil classifications.  Evil for its own sake, evil for a cause, evil by inertia, etc. 

Re: The Three Types of Villains

#7

NovelNinja Wrote: In my Villains lecture, I break them down as the Superior Villain (believing himself above others), the Extreme Villain (treating the means as its own goal), the Lost Villain (doesn't know how to stop), and the Honorable Villain (who lives by a firm code).



What do you mean by the Extreme Villain treating the means as its own goal? Like he believes the ends justify the means?

Re: The Three Types of Villains

#8

Elecham Wrote: With this in mind, and purely for the purpose of discussion, I'd like to know what you think about villains that don't practice evil, and instead are simply a force that opposes the hero. This is common in stories with complex moral systems where the hero doesn't occupy a place of moral superiority and villains, if they can be found, are often just the most obvious obstacle in the way.



Like Novel Ninja said, what you described here is an antagonist. An antagonist doesn't need to be a villain.

Re: The Three Types of Villains

#9

DarthKirby Wrote:
NovelNinja Wrote: In my Villains lecture, I break them down as the Superior Villain (believing himself above others), the Extreme Villain (treating the means as its own goal), the Lost Villain (doesn't know how to stop), and the Honorable Villain (who lives by a firm code).



What do you mean by the Extreme Villain treating the means as its own goal? Like he believes the ends justify the means?

I think it would describe a serial killer that does it because he enjoys the thrill of the killing. He will never stop, unless stopped by force.

Re: The Three Types of Villains

#10
Elecham Wrote:
NovelNinja Wrote: I've got a chart of every single unique character type I was able to find, which is mostly useful in analysis rather than writing but my students seem to love it.

Any chance I can get you to share it?

Sure, I'll get it in a bit. I'll have to write out short descriptions for each type. Normally I just splash it up on a projector and talk about it off the top of my head.

Elecham Wrote: If I understood you correctly and hero and villain are purely moral positions that don't pertain to protagonism at all, then villain classifications are really evil classifications.  Evil for its own sake, evil for a cause, evil by inertia, etc.

That's correct.

In every one of my lectures, I ask the students to try to come up with a definition for the topic. I find it helps cement the ideas rather than just let them sit there and passively accept knowledge that won't necessarily stick. When I do a convention presentation (usually with the exact same slides or just a few edits), I don't make the audience play the guessing game, since those are fifty-minute presentations rather than a two-hour lecture/seminar hybrid.

In the villain lecture, I ask them to come up with a definition for a villain. This always stumps them (unless I've got a repeat attendee, which happens sometimes in a free extracurricular series; they usually stay silent and enjoy watching the new students squirm), but the point is to make them realize that they can't start with a villain. I then ask them to define a hero.

- Hero: A character that performs selfless acts for a moral goal.
- Villain: A character that performs selfish acts for an immoral goal.

As we walk through it, we have definitions for anti-hero and anti-villain as well. Now, there are at least two other fairly common definitions of "anti-hero" out there, but this set of definitions focuses on the character motivations, rather than what they do in the story. "Anti-villain" isn't as well defined that I've seen online, but you can see how this set helps solidify the basics of these character types, and the anti-villain just falls into place alongside the other three.

- Anti-Hero: A character that performs selfish acts for a moral goal.
- Anti-Villain: A character that performs selfless acts for an immoral goal.

I came up with these definitions because while it's apparent that you can have stories without villains (my go-to example always being My Side of the Mountain, since usually there are enough people who've read it to have a discussion; but you can also go with Moby Dick or Pride and Prejudice, though the latter needs a caveat about Wickham), I needed a way to explain the difference in an easy-to-deliver format I could splash up on a screen. I focused on a bit of linguistic evidence: we refer to many people as heroes without there being any kind of villain attached, such as firefighters who don't in any way fight evil but are still seen as heroic. Once I had the definition of "hero," the rest fell into place.

Now, this presupposes a universal moral standard. I personally believe there is a universal moral standard, but I've been on the Internet for some time now and have gotten the suspicion that a lot of people disagree on exactly what that is. :) But this doesn't have to be a universal moral standard outside the novel for these definitions to be applicable. It doesn't even have to be a standard that the author him- or herself believes in, or else you would have to assume the author of The Godfather was advocating for mob warfare. What you need is simply some standard that the audience is expected to sympathize with; which is why in The Godfather you're not led to be sympathetic to anything but the honor code of the old guard, now swept away by the end of the book.

The villain need not believe in the same moral standard the audience is expected to sympathize with, unless you have a Godfather situation where the "good guys" are just other bad guys that aren't as bad as the other bad guys (which works in a tragedy like this); and many villain-focused stories still let the audience contrast the villain main character's actions with the objective standard presented by the story, the most obvious and famous being Macbeth.

One that a lot of people here are probably familiar with is Gentleman Johnny Marcone, from Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files. Over the course of the series, Marcone becomes the undisputed underworld ruler of Chicago, owns a lot of the government and police, and becomes the freeholding Baron of Chicago under the laws of the supernatural world. If you've read the most recent book, you know just how far he's willing to go; but without giving away spoilers, I'll use a different example from the same book. When Dresden brings refugees caught in supernatural crossfire to Marcone's stronghold and demands the latter take them in, Marcone retorts that he's not running a charity; but Dresden plays to Marcone's own desires by pointing out that if he wants to be the Baron of Chicago, then these are his people, and Marcone is therefore obligated to defend them. Marcone accepts the argument and lets the refugees in.

This works because while Marcone is going to perform selfish acts for an immoral goal, Dresden frames the situation in a way that shows Marcone that this benefits him according to his own goal. Dresden thinks Marcone is evil, but he knows Marcone can be trusted as long as it is in the latter's best interests. Marcone is one of my three examples of the Honorable Villain, the other two being Vito Corleone (The Godfather) and the Operative (from the movie Serenity).

arashifufu Wrote:
DarthKirby Wrote:
NovelNinja Wrote: In my Villains lecture, I break them down as the Superior Villain (believing himself above others), the Extreme Villain (treating the means as its own goal), the Lost Villain (doesn't know how to stop), and the Honorable Villain (who lives by a firm code).

What do you mean by the Extreme Villain treating the means as its own goal? Like he believes the ends justify the means?

I think it would describe a serial killer that does it because he enjoys the thrill of the killing. He will never stop, unless stopped by force.

Correct. The villain makes selfish acts for an immoral goal, but that goal need not be different from the acts themselves. As Roger LePue (the first head of the Behavioral Sciences unit at the FBI, the "serial killer" unit featured in Mindhunter) put it, these particular villains have "anti-Commandments"; he lists them as:

- Life is as meaningless as death.
- People die too easily. It should be more painful and take longer.
- That which you love is what I most seek to destroy.
- There are few things more pleasurable than hurting someone who is trying to help me.

The people he dealt with in his career tended to be what I label as Extreme Villains; the Extremes allow you to see evil in a pure and spectacular human form. That doesn't mean that all villains are so extreme; in fact, most forms of evil are quiet and easily overlooked. I personally boil it down to the following:

How does a villain think?
- I require power and control.
- Morality is merely a construct.
- Fear is better than love.
- It is better to take than make.

We also frequently portray evil in frankly odd ways in fiction. Evil is more interesting than good; evil wears black, good wears white; evil is complex, good is simple; it's difficult to be good, easy to be evil; evil is active and unpredictable, while good is reactive and predictable. So on, so forth.

The reality is not so neat. In the real world, evil always reacts to good. I'll invoke Godwin and jump right to Nazi Germany. Hitler's rise was reactive, taking advantage of something already there and exploiting good people, both in and outside Germany, to seize power before anyone realized the threat being built up. Good people are always more interesting than evil people; if we study evil people, it's more like studying non-human behavior. Even other people steeped in evil themselves rarely relate to evil people; a neo-Nazi today might claim to revere Hitler, but they don't really know anything about him as a person. Evil removes the very concept of "person" from the equation. If you ever meet someone who prefers to treat people as things, you know you're encountering evil. I've met people like that. I've met people harmed by them. I've been the first person someone called at 1:30 AM because of that.

I could go on, but I've basically given half of my Villains lecture already in abridged form. :p

Re: The Three Types of Villains

#11
Okay, here's the list of every unique character type I've encountered before. Some of these are known by other names. 

I stress again that when you're writing you mostly only need the six I named above, possibly bringing it up to eight with anti-hero and anti-villain depending on the story. The full list is mostly useful in literary analysis. Don't get bogged down in all the different terms unless you're trying to impress a professor; if you are, then don't go overboard. 

Sympathetic Characters:
  • POV Character: The one whose viewpoint we follow. A story can have multiple viewpoint characters. 
  • Main Character: The one who the story is about, even if we don't spend much time with that character. A story with more than three main characters is usually referred to as an ensemble
  • Protagonist: A character that drives the story forward, often but not always setting the goal in the first place. 
  • Deuterotagonist: A character that assists the protagonist actively and independently. Primarily found in Ancient Greek plays, but still a useful concept. 
  • Hero: A character that performs selfless acts for a moral goal. 
  • Anti-Hero: A character that performs selfish acts for a moral goal. 
  • Sidekick: A character that carries out the instructions of another character, and does not typically take independent action other than to follow that character's lead. 
  • The Love Interest: A character that exists to provide a romantic motivation. This is typically more than a sexual relationship, and helps provide either a primary or secondary goal of "normalcy" beyond the current troubles of the plot. 
-----

Antithetic Characters:
  • Antagonist: A character that opposes the goal of the protagonist. 
  • Contagonist: A character that frustrates the goal of the protagonist, but isn't directly opposed; for example, in a children's book, a bully might be the antagonist, but parents and teachers might be contagonists just because they frustrate the children's goals. Usually folded into the antagonist character type, but occasionally useful to separate out for analysis. 
  • Heckler: A character that doesn't stand in the way of the protagonist, but may cause a distraction or cause the protagonist or hero to doubt themselves. 
  • Villain: A character that performs selfish acts for an immoral goal. 
  • Anti-Villain: A character that performs selfless acts for an immoral goal. 
  • BBEG: "Big Bad Evil Guy." A character that represents a massive opposing force, usually a villain but not always (for example, Cthulhu is a BBEG without being a villain because he just doesn't care enough about humans to bother being a villain). Appropriated from gaming, where the BBEG represents the ultimate bad guy of the game. 
  • Mook: A character that carries out the instructions of an antagonist or contagonist. The equivalent of a sidekick, but with less face-time and frequently intended to be speedbumps for the protagonist. 
  • The Tempter: A character that distracts a protagonist or hero from a goal or cause by offering something easy and obtainable in exchange for giving up something larger. Frequently used as a sexual threat of some kind, but can be money, power, etc. The character who offers to buy your protagonist's invention so that he won't have to go through the effort of marketing it, but requiring your protagonist to give up control over it, is a tempter. 
-----

Neutral:
  • Narrator: A character that is telling the story. This differs from POV characters in that narrators do not need to be active in the story itself. The narrator in The Heart of Darkness is narrating a story he heard but did not experience, as one example. (Note, I hated that book, but it stuck in my head as a perfect example of a narrator who wasn't a POV character.) Another is the narrator in The Princess Bride
  • Tritagonist: A character that is important to the story but is neither directly for or against the protagonist. The best and most well-known example of a tritagonist is Miracle Max in The Princess Bride. Another term lifted from Greek plays that remains useful today. 
  • Secondary Character: A character that has a noticeable but passive effect on a story. A police captain assigning cases to a couple of detectives is a secondary character. 
  • Supporting Character: A character that mostly serves as a means for other characters to do things, but still important enough to be named. 
  • Background Character: A character who has no real purpose in the story except to populate the world. They might have spoken lines and might be named, but if they're interchangeable then they're background characters. 

Re: The Three Types of Villains

#12

NovelNinja Wrote: - Hero: A character that performs selfless acts for a moral goal.
- Villain: A character that performs selfish acts for an immoral goal.
...
- Anti-Hero: A character that performs selfish acts for an immoral goal.
- Anti-Villain: A character that performs selfless acts for a moral goal.

This doesn't quite sound right. I'd reverse the immoral/moral for Anti-Hero and Anti-Villain, no?

Re: The Three Types of Villains

#13

arashifufu Wrote:
NovelNinja Wrote: - Hero: A character that performs selfless acts for a moral goal.
- Villain: A character that performs selfish acts for an immoral goal.
...
- Anti-Hero: A character that performs selfish acts for an immoral goal.
- Anti-Villain: A character that performs selfless acts for a moral goal.

This doesn't quite sound right. I'd reverse the immoral/moral for Anti-Hero and Anti-Villain, no?

Oops! Fixed. That's what I get for typing stuff on my lunch break. Note to self: learn to chew and type at the same time. :p At least I got it right on the big list of characters. 

Ah, well, even editors need editors. :) 

Re: The Three Types of Villains

#14


NovelNinja Wrote: In my Villains lecture, I break them down as the Superior Villain (believing himself above others), the Extreme Villain (treating the means as its own goal), the Lost Villain (doesn't know how to stop), and the Honorable Villain (who lives by a firm code).



This makes more sense for what I'm doing. I have an antagonist who is morally ambiguous, and seems to be committing crimes against nature for the sheer thrill of discovery. He's not evil purely for the sake of being destructive, but rather, he is on a mission to find the answers to life's biggest questions and is in over his head. That would put him in the Lost Villain category, yes? Maybe a mix of Extreme and Lost?

I can't really identify him as a Misguided Idealogue simply because he really has no perception of good or bad. It's all just research to him.
Think "Mad Scientist who still has his composure to some degree". I don't want to be too abstract but my whole story's premise is abstract, so...lol

Re: The Three Types of Villains

#15

Dan Wrote: This makes more sense for what I'm doing. I have an antagonist who is morally ambiguous, and seems to be committing crimes against nature for the sheer thrill of discovery. He's not evil purely for the sake of being destructive, but rather, he is on a mission to find the answers to life's biggest questions and is in over his head. That would put him in the Lost Villain category, yes? Maybe a mix of Extreme and Lost?

I can't really identify him as a Misguided Idealogue simply because he really has no perception of good or bad. It's all just research to him.
Think "Mad Scientist who still has his composure to some degree". I don't want to be too abstract but my whole story's premise is abstract, so...lol



In the system I created, your villain would be very low on the spectrum of evil sue. He enjoys evil for the sake of doing it. It's not necessarily his goal, but he has come to enjoy it.