Villains. Bad Guys. Baddies. Antagonists. Call them what you want but in many ways the villain defines a story in more ways, and in some ways, better than your hero could on his or her best day. Villains come in all shapes and sizes. From fantasy villains like Sauron to science fiction villains like Darth Vader to hard-to-place villains like Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter. A villain does more than give your hero something to fight against. It gives your readers someone to root against as well.
Great writers can not only make a villain seem terrifying but compassionate, which in a way, makes them even more terrifying. A villain that only has one goal can and may be powerful but have a bad habit of being flatter than cardboard. Villains need to be more than murdering psychopaths. They need to be murdering psychopaths with goals that make sense to them, even if they make sense to no one else. Keep in mind, money and power is not always what a villain is after. Sometimes it’s just power.
There are many different types of villains like there are many different types of people. They all have different goals, hail from different backgrounds, have different levels of strength, knowledge, education, wealth and an entire slew of both pros and cons of what makes them tick. Rather than focus on them all I think I’ll stick with my favorite ten with this week being (1-5) and next week will be (6-10). Why? Cause it’s my blog and I’m a sucker for trends. Let’s begin.
1. The Machiavellian – “The end always justifies the means.”
Since this list is in no particular order, like any grocery list I happen to write, I’m going to start off with my absolute favorite type of villain: The Machiavellian. The Machiavellian is of course named after Niccoló Machiavelli who famously wrote “The Prince” and “The Art of War” (The non-Sun Tzu version of the Art of War) as well as other famous works. This used to be in my top 3 but it wasn’t until I read Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart that it shot straight to number one and have stayed there ever since. That was 5 years ago! Nothing, not even my favorite books and movies stay number 1 for more than a month, let alone 5 friggin years!
This dramatic power shift came from my favorite literary villain, Melisande Shahrizai. As beautiful and intelligent as she is ruthless, Jacqueline Carey could’ve made her into some American soap opera cliché. But she didn’t. Soap opera villains always have some useless goal to keep the show going on and on. Melisande wanted power, plain and simple. And in order to reach her goal she was willing to sacrifice, her family, her very few friends, her lovers, her people and her country to achieve her goal.
The Machiavellian is one type of villain that some writers, even seasoned pros, have a bad habit of doing wrong. Not that they don’t create interesting villains, not at all. It’s just that they claim to have a villain who believes in the end justifying the means only to have something like their occupation get in their way. You can’t claim that the end justifies the means if something like your job or your research for you mad scientists out there, get in the way.
A Machiavellian’s only true loyalty is to their goal. And as long as that goal is out of reach, they will do whatever it takes to reach it. And a true Machiavellian villain will not let anything like, family ties, their job, their family, their subordinates and especially the hero get in their way.
2. The Joker – “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
My second favorite, and no this not in order of my favorites: The Joker. I’m guessing you already know where I got the name. The Joker is what I call the social anarchist. Unlike the Machiavellian and the others on this list who all have goals the Jokers don’t really have goals…at all. At least not goals that most normal go after. And what little goals they do have is always very short term. To the Jokers, goals are a joke. Their rational is: You’re gonna die anyway. There’s nothing you can do about it. Your goals are nothing more than you killing time until your inevitable demise.
So these pessimists use that rational to inflict terror in almost wonderfully cartoonish ways. Christopher Nolan’s Joker subjects Gotham to a serious of life threatening and a little annoying social experiments. My favorite is Project Mayhem from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. For the sake of simplicity I’m assuming more of you saw the movie than read the book. In Fight Club, the movie and in some parts of the book as well, Project Mayhem, the domestic ‘terrorist’ organization that ‘Tyler Durtan’ started. The organization performs assignments like blowing out windows on a high rise buildings and setting the offices on fire so it looks like a smiley face. Or setting off all the airbags in parked cars. Or picking a fight with someone and intentionally lose. Some or most of these things don’t make sense because it’s not supposed to make sense. Remember, they think living is a waste of time. What makes these villains so wonderful is that they’re really unpredictable. The hero and especially the reader, never know where they’re going to strike or when or how. All you know is who and there is no why. They’re also not afraid to die which makes them especially dangerous and all the more fun to write.
3. The Collector – “Quit touching my stuff!”
This type of villain is mostly associated with thrillers but they have a place in sci-fi and fantasy as well. Look at Superman’s Brainiac. His objective is to collect all the information on a planet and the civilization that happens to inhabit it, and when he’s done, he destroys the planet and its civilizations so the information he gathers is more rare.
The Collector is, as the name suggests, collects things. Obviously. In thrillers it’s usually a serial killer who collects things like a victim’s body part, or jewelry or some item as a trophy of their conquest. In science fiction and fantasy it gets more interesting. Brainiac collects planet info before destroying them, Mortal Kombat’s Shang Tsung collects souls, Shao Kahn collects souls and realms, The Hobbit’s Smaug the Dragon collects gold and jewels.
The Collector is interesting because you can understand his motivations but at the same time, not. They collect things as a prize for their conquests, whatever those conquests might be. Believe it or not it’s human nature. You go to school and collect grades, whether you want to or not. You go to work and collect pay checks. You play a game to collect points. I myself collect movie tickets.
You can give a reason for a Collector’s collection or you can choose not to give one. Either way, I advise you to be careful about how you approach using this villain.
4. The Dictator
The Dictator is one of the simplest villains ever conceived. Even simpler than the Businessman. Why? Because they’re objectives are annoyingly simple. Whether it’s Cobra Commander or General Zodd or General Thaddeus E. “Thunderbolt” Ross (the U.S. Army General who keeps spending billions of American taxpayer dollars failing to catch the Hulk) or Admiral-General Aladeen, the Dictator’s first and most times, only loyalty is to their own power and the people they have power over. They don’t have friends, they have subordinates. They don’t want love or even loyalty, just obedience. Why work for respect when fear is far easier and more useful.
People tend to confuse The Dictator with the Machiavellian and for good reason. While it is true some Dictators tend to have Machiavellian philosophies, their weakness is that they care too much about the power they have. They almost always give in to any greater power that can threaten to take their power away. And worse, they depend pretty much entirely on their own army for both their offense and defense. A weakness that their mistreated, power hungry subordinates tend to exploit when they decide to start a coup.
If you do decide to use a Dictator I have one piece of advice. Give both your hero and the Dictator’s subordinates a reason to fear him or her. Street Fighter’s M. Bison, my favorite fictional dictator, has his psycho-power which gives his subordinates more than enough reason to fear him. The Lord Ruler in Brandon Sanderson’s Mist Born novel is the only immortal in the world and he is a very powerful Mistborn. Meaning his ‘magic’ (if you can call it magic) is more than enough to keep all of his subordinates in line and all of his enemies at bay for well over a thousand years. Now that’s power! If your Dictator doesn’t have any special abilities use a tried and true favorite; secret police. Secret police work as spies and enforcers who take their orders directly from the Dictator, which means that they are pretty much above the law. And scarier still, the good guys never know exactly who they are and how many of them are out there.
5. The Businessman – “Greed is good.”
Whether you’re Lex Luthor or Wilson Fisk or Gordon Gecko, the businessman is a classic modern villain. And why not? The Businessman is by far the easiest to write because their motives are easiest to relate to. They want money and are willing to do anything to get it. A sentiment shared by almost everyone in the world.
Certain businessmen, like Lex Luthor for example, want something specific; like Superman’s powers. Either that or kill Superman. He never seems to succeed at either but you gotta love his ‘never-give-up’ attitude. The Businessman, and in some cases Businesswoman, care about their business first and everything, including and/or especially their family, second. The ends always justify the means, when it comes to saving their business, and they will break as many laws as it takes to win.
My advice when it comes to the Businessman is to have fun with them. Remember, more than likely they’re rich. And if they’re not then that’s just sad. Unlike Dictators, money is what keeps their apes in line. In fact, more often than not, the Businessman has better control over their cronies than the Dictator. Being paid money is a much better than incentive than say, not being killed. The threat of death can only be used so far. Money on the other hand, can last generations. I mean look at Lionel Luthor.
Next week I shall have the remaining list (6-10) but until then let me leave you with this.
It seems the fates have been kind to yours truly. Isn’t it beautiful. I would like to thank Alexandria at Curiosity Quills for this awesome cover! Thank you Alex! 😉
I will be sure to give you updates as they come and I will give out the release date when I’m certain it is set in stone. Until then I shall you next week.