Six Common Villain Mistakes, and How to Avoid Them

A gimme is not making your villain sound like an immature child throwing a tantrum.

A good villain is critical for most stories. The villain is usually the second most important character, behind only the protagonist themself. If a villain goes wrong, they often drag the entire story down with them, and there are many ways for villains to go wrong. Since depicting villains can be especially difficult for new writers, I see a lot of these in my capacity as a content editor, and I’d like to share them with you. If you fix these issues early, you can save a lot of time and money when the hour for editing arrives.

1. Pointless Cruelty

King Pin from Netflix's Daredevil, in a black suit at a restaurant. Kingpin kills an underling he really should have left alive because he’s EVIL.

Villains are generally bad people – that’s part of the job – but sometimes they go to ridiculous extremes to show you just how bad they are. They’ll kick puppies, twirl their mustaches, and force prisoners to watch the odd-numbered Star Trek movies. It’s all truly horrific, but there doesn’t seem to be any purpose to it.

These villains are being pointlessly cruel. Not only is this clichéd, but in most stories it damages the audience’s suspension of disbelief. We know that most people don’t act like cartoon characters, and an over-the-top villain often makes a story seem far less credible. At the same time, being pointlessly cruel can actually reduce a villain’s threat level, as it makes them seem incompetent.

Why This Happens

The most common reason I’ve found is that authors believe they can actually increase the villain’s threat level by making them act cruelly, and there is a tiny bit of truth to that. If the heroes find out that the villain is going to kill them rather than imprison them, that raises the stakes. But this method has quickly diminishing returns. If the characters already think they’re going to die, finding out that the villain will desecrate their corpses afterward doesn’t raise the stakes; it just makes the villain seem like a dick.

Alternatively, villains will sometimes engage in pointless evil because the storyteller needs to communicate that the villain is bad, but there isn’t anything plot relevant for them to do yet. If the opening of a story is really slow, the villain might have to eat a kitten-soup instead of creating problems for the hero – otherwise you won’t know who the bad guy is!

A third justification storytellers often give is that real life is full of villains who are pointlessly cruel. They see bigoted politicians posting racist tweets without a thought and assume fictional villains should act that way too. What these storytellers miss is that such acts of cruelty are not pointless at all; they are performative. They are a bigot’s way of signaling to other bigots, intentionally or otherwise. Without that context, such behavior will seem wildly out of place.

How to Fix It

In most cases, the best antidote to pointless evil is to make it evil for a purpose. You must construct a plot where the villain acts cruelly in order to further their goals, not just because the mood takes them. That way your villain will still be evil, but it will feel like part of the story rather than an unpleasant detour.

If you want your villain to mirror far-right leaders who blame the victims of mass shootings for their own deaths, you have to set up the proper context. Remember, this isn’t something politicians do just for the heck of it. They do it because it gets them support from their bigoted constituency. Recreating that context might make your story a bit too dark for some audiences, but it will at least make sense.

2. Lacking Power

The New Salem cult from Fantastic Beasts. In Fantastic Beasts, muggles are supposed to threaten wizards even though wizards have all the power.

In this story, the hero has the powers of super strength, flight, and teleportation. They’re also a skilled veteran with a dozen years of fighting evil under their belt. Meanwhile, the villain has a natural talent for handing out parking tickets. They fight, and the results are predictably one sided.

When the villain doesn’t have the strength to threaten the hero, they lack power. Few things bring the story to a screeching halt like an underpowered villain, because if the villain isn’t a threat, then why is this story even being told? We all know the hero is going to win, so there’s no tension, and when they finally do win, there’s no satisfaction. At the same time, if we see the villain plotting and scheming to defeat a more powerful hero, we end up cheering for the bad guy instead.

Why This Happens

Often, storytellers simply miscalculate how powerful a villain is. This is particularly likely when the villain depends on minions for their muscle. Minions can be a powerful advantage, but only if they’re effective, and fiction has a tendency to treat them like a minor inconvenience. All the minions in the world can’t help a villain if the plot is clearly leading toward a climactic fistfight with the hero.

Just as often, authors get carried away with how cool their heroes are. We’ve all been tempted to give our protagonists too much candy, and extra badass powers are sweet indeed. By the time you start to wonder if the story’s gotten too sweet, the hero is a living god facing the purely mortal villain.

A less orthodox but just as damaging motive is when the villain represents something the author finds morally unpalatable, so they don’t want to make the villain seem cool. This issue crops up a lot in morality stories, where the villain is a stand-in for some political or ethical position the author disagrees with.

How to Fix It

When constructing a villain, always err on the side of making them more powerful. At the start of the story, they should be able to smite the hero in whatever contest is most relevant to the plot. That way, you get the most satisfaction when the hero overcomes this advantage and triumphs. It’s possible to go too far with this, but you have a fair amount of room before a villain becomes too powerful.

You can also make a villain more threatening by altering the type of conflict in play. If your story is a legal battle, it’s possible that a perfectly mundane human lawyer could be a deadly threat to your superpowered hero. However, you have to be careful that your hero’s skills actually aren’t applicable to the conflict. If your hero can intimidate the evil lawyer by super-flexing, then the hero isn’t really an underdog.

Finally, if you find your villain so morally repugnant that you’re underpowering them, it’s probably time to reframe your story. Use parallels and allegory to create some distance. Then, you’ll be able to create a serviceable villain without fear of empowering the thing you hate.

3. Unthreatening Goals

In Discovery, Captain Lorca is portrayed as evil for wanting better weapons to defend against space Nazis.

The villain of this story is a real jerk. They’re always saying rude things to the hero and implying they have sinister plans. Now the hero is set on stopping them from doing… something? It’s not actually clear, since the villain is never shown to be doing anything worse than a menacing cackle.

When a villain isn’t trying to do something that the hero needs to stop, that means they have unthreatening goals. Sometimes their goals are known and they’re completely mundane; other times, the goals remain a secret, but the hero decides they need to be stopped anyway. Either way, this robs the story of urgency and attachment. It’s hard to care if the heroes win when the villain doesn’t seem to be doing anything worth stopping.

Why This Happens

Most often, unthreatening goals are a result of poor plotting. It turns out the villain does have an evil plan that must be stopped, but it hasn’t been revealed yet. This is especially likely in mystery plots. To keep the story moving, the author has the hero act as if they already know what the villain is up to. Then they make the big reveal and hope no one noticed the timing. Sometimes this pattern plays out with the villain changing their goals rather than revealing what they were all along, but it has the same effect.

On occasions when the villain’s real goals are still unthreatening, it’s usually because the author hasn’t fully examined them. It might seem bad for the villain to take over the hero’s home planet, but if that planet is falling into a blackhole and needs to be evacuated anyway, nothing is really changed.

It’s also possible for this problem to be caused by a difference in values. If the author follows certain socialist traditions, they might see the opening of a private coffee franchise as inherently threatening because they see all private enterprise as a danger to the working class. Meanwhile, a fundamentalist Christian storyteller might think it’s a sin for the villain to work as a tattoo artist because tattoos are prohibited under certain biblical translations. Neither of these values is likely to click with the average reader.

How to Fix It

The first thing to remember is that a villain’s goals must be threatening throughout the entire story, both to the hero and to the audience. If those goals change later, that’s fine, but they should change to something even worse. If you want to keep those goals mysterious, that can work, but the villain still has to be doing something threatening. The hero might not know why the villain is killing cyborgs and harvesting their cortical stacks, but the murder alone is enough to provide plenty of urgency.

When deciding what the villain’s goals are in the first place, keep in mind how they affect the hero and the hero’s loved ones. A good standby is that the villain either wants to make the hero’s life notably worse or at least prevent it from getting better. This kind of goal fits nicely alongside more abstract options like ruling the galaxy, and it helps keep the story grounded.

Goals like these are also useful for avoiding problems from value clashes. While you can never be sure what values an average reader will have, most people will instinctively care about threats to the hero or people the hero cares about. If you want to use a more niche set of goals, you’ll need to find a way to make those goals matter to the average reader.*

4. Avoiding Comeuppance

Admiral Haftel from TNG's The Offspring In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Admiral Haftel gives Data’s daughter an anxiety attack so intense she dies. He feels a little bad about it.

By the end of this story, the villain’s killed a score of innocent people and harvested their spleens as part of a ritual for ultimate power. Finally, the heroes track this vile fiend down, and after a fierce battle they… let the villain go with a firm talking to? Don’t worry, the villain promises never to do it again!

When a story ends and it feels like the villain got off too easily, they’ve avoided their comeuppance. At best, this leaves the story with an unsatisfying karma imbalance. Audiences want bad things to happen to bad people, and when they don’t, it’s irritating. At worst, this sort of ending feels like the villain is just going to work their evil deeds somewhere else, so the heroes didn’t actually solve anything.

Why This Happens

By far the most common reason this happens is that the story takes place in a setting without a formal system of justice. There’s no jail for the villain to be sent to, and the author doesn’t want to kill them, so instead there’ll be a scene where the hero tries to intimidate the bad guy into giving up their evil ways. Even if this scene is somehow convincing, which it rarely is, the villain is still escaping consequence free.

I’ve also seen stories where the author grew to like the villain more than any other character and didn’t want anything bad to happen to them. This is a persistent problem because villains are often the most active character in a story, so it’s easy to fall for them and even start making excuses for them. This is especially common in redemption arc stories. Everyone loves a good redemption, but not everyone will agree on when the villain has actually made amends.

How to Fix It

If your story takes place in a setting without jails, or at least without jails that can hold the villain, you need to plan what happens to the bad guy in advance. The easiest solution is for the villain to die, probably in a climactic duel with the hero. However, if you’re willing to kill the villain, you probably don’t have this problem in the first place.

If you need to keep the villain alive, possibly to use them later, the most important thing is to make clear that they’re no longer a threat. This requires more than a lecture and a promise. They should lose their power, be stripped of their armies, or otherwise rendered impotent. If they’ve been particularly heinous, you’ll probably want to arrange some extra punishment for them, possibly stuck in a hell dimension for a few years or forced to deal with Seattle traffic for a few days.

Alternatively, you can simply have the villain escape punishment, so long as it’s treated like a problem in the story. The heroes can celebrate their victory, but they need to acknowledge that the villain is still out there, waiting to strike again. Depending on how threatening the villain is, this might make a great hook for the sequel.

In the event that you find you like a villain too much to let anything happen to them, that’s probably a sign that you need to revise the story so they’re the main character. You might be able to resolve the situation with a redemption arc for the villain, but consider if that’s really the best course. Is it feasible for this villain to make amends as part of their arc? If not, you’ll have the same problem with a lack of satisfaction.

5. Sympathy Mismatch

Lord Viren blocking Callum from going through a door in The Dragon Prince Sometimes Dragon Prince really wants us to care how Viren feels. Other times he tries to murder children.

The villain of this story is a terrible person. We’ve seen them feed innocent people to piranhas and also review bomb Captain Marvel without even seeing it. Clearly, this is the scum of humanity we’re dealing with here. But then the story starts dropping hints that maybe the villain was right all along. It asks us to think about how they see things. What the heck is going on here? Why would we care what this jerk thinks?

When storytellers try to humanize a character the audience can’t stand, that’s a sympathy mismatch. In order to care about a villain’s perspective, the audience needs to have at least some sympathy for them. If that sympathy isn’t present, then any attempts to present the villain in a positive light will fall completely flat. They might even make it seem like the author is intentionally endorsing the villain’s heinous actions.

Why This Happens

From what I can glean by talking to authors, one major contributor is the way sympathetic villains are practically worshipped in online discussions about storytelling. There’s a feeling that villains have to be sympathetic, so storytellers often try to force sympathy when there isn’t any.

At the same time, it’s easy for storytellers to forget that they probably know the villain better than their audience ever will. Readers have only the words on the page, while viewers have only dialogue and the actor’s body language. Storytellers, on the other hand, know their villain inside and out, understanding everything that goes into the character’s decisions. This makes it easy to overestimate how sympathetic audiences will find the villain.

Another big contributor is our old friend, differing values. Some people will care about certain things more than others, and it’s easy for storytellers to get that balance wrong. A storyteller might not think that their villain giving a surprise kiss is a big deal, but readers who’ve experienced them in real life may have very different ideas.

How to Fix It

The first step is understanding that not all villains have to be sympathetic. It’s fine if your bad guy is just bad, with no exploration of their deeper motives or consideration that they might be actually be right. If your villain is irredeemable, then your audience will happily bask in the satisfaction of their defeat.

If you’re set on giving your villain their sympathetic moment, you have to make sure they haven’t passed what I call the moral event horizon. This is the point from which there can be no return, even if the villain were to completely change their ways, since the audience no longer wants them to be redeemed.

The exact point of the moral event horizon varies from person to person, but there are a few things that will almost certainly put your character over it. Torture is a big one, along with the killing of animals or children. Killing innocent adults is questionable, but not a great sign. Sexual violence will almost certainly do it, along with most other hate crimes.

If you’re hoping for mitigating circumstances to keep your villain from going over the edge, they have to be really clear. Your villain’s internal grief over a lost loved one isn’t going to cut it. You’ll need to show how they were pressured into evil acts by a cult-like environment or manipulated by a supernatural force. Whatever the specifics, it should be something the audience can easily identify so you know they’re on the same page.

6. Insufficient Motivation

Sybok from Star Trek V. In Star Trek V, Sybok takes over an entire planet in order to get a ship, something that’s really easy to acquire in Star Trek.

Our final villain today has plans that are truly evil. They want to burn down the rainforests and crash the moon into the Earth! Why would they do that, you ask? I guess that’s a reasonable question. They live on the Earth too, and it’s not clear how their interests are served by turning it into an unlivable wasteland. I don’t suppose you’d accept that they’re just evil like that?

When it’s unclear why a villain is doing what they’re doing, they have insufficient motivation. This is an old cliché, but it’s still very relevant today. Audiences expect villains to have some semblance of a realistic motivation, and if they don’t, the story falls apart. Why should anyone take the story seriously when the villain acts like a caricature of humanity?

Why This Happens

The most common cause of insufficient motivation is that the author simply hasn’t fully thought through the villain’s plan. In the rush to make the bad guy evil and threatening, storytellers forget to examine what would happen if the villain actually won. This can also happen when the author is trying to be mysterious, the cause of so many other problems on this list. If the villain has a great motivation but it doesn’t seem like they do for most of the story, the audience will be rightfully frustrated.

A secondary cause of insufficient motivation is when authors try to create a villain who just wants to watch the world burn. Everyone loves The Dark Knight’s Joker, and it’s tempting to recreate the chaos clown even in stories where he doesn’t fit.

How to Fix It

In most cases, insufficient motivation can be fixed by examining the villain’s plan and making sure they’re getting something out of it that’s worth all the trouble. In most stories, you don’t even have to go into a lot of detail. It’s usually enough to say that the villain’s plan will make them more powerful and that they want power for power’s sake.

If the villain’s plan will cause problems for them and everyone else, possibly by blowing up the planet they live on, you’ll need to put in more work. What’s the villain’s plan for dealing with the problems caused by their original plan? Maybe they’ve got a secret Mars base where they plan to chill as Earth and the moon collide, or maybe they don’t care about their own safety and are motivated by revenge.

When the problem comes from keeping part of the villain’s plan secret, remember the advice we’ve already gone over: make it a deliberate mystery. If the villain’s plans seem to hurt them along with everyone else, have the heroes ask why that is. Let them investigate. This turns a story’s weakness into a strength.

Finally, if you’re thinking of making a Joker-type villain who just wants to watch the world burn, consider if that’s really what’s best for your story. The Joker works because Batman stories are heavily themed confrontations between order and chaos. If your story doesn’t have a similar context, that sort of stylized villain is likely to fall flat.

New stories can have a seemingly unlimited number of issues that require your attention, but it’s worth putting in special effort for the villain. A well-executed bad guy provides tension and satisfaction, but a flopped antagonist can easily take the story down with them. Your readers will thank you for putting in the extra work.

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  1. Dvärghundspossen

    Makes me glad my antagonists are more towards the monster end of the villain-monster scale…

    • Cay Reet

      Mosters are generally easier to deal with, I imagine. For me, the antagonists usually are leaning more towards the villain end (although one of my current project is a bit different). I always try to keep in mind that a good hero/villain balance is one where the villain is much more powerful and knows what they’re doing. It makes the hero look bad, if the villain isn’t up to their job.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Monsters do have some advantages, but a good villain can really elevate a story, so I wouldn’t advise fleeing from the concept. It all depends on what kind of story you’re creating.

        • Cay Reet

          In the story in question, I have a vampire-hunter-turned-vampire. The vampire part makes him monstrous, but it’s clear from the beginning he still has all of his knowledge, only his character has been twisted by the change, so I guess he still qualifies as a villain.

  2. Cay Reet

    An interesting example of how to avoid 2 for me are Superman and Lex Luthor. Luthor is not a negative of Superman, he has no powers above those of a human (specific comic plots notwithstanding). But he is an opposite. Where Superman is all good, bright, and full of his amazing physical powers, Lex Luthor is devious, evil, and has a very strong mind. He can outthink Superman, if not outrun him. He, as many evil geniuses, has backup plans for the backup plans of his backup plans. Having an evil Kryptonian as a counter to Superman wouldn’t really work – the world couldn’t withstand their fights in the long run, Superman alone is too much at times. Superman can’t be bested physically and, specific cases with specific equipment aside, Lex Luthor doesn’t try that. He manipulates the world, using skills which neither Clark nor Superman can match. That makes him dangerous and that keeps him in the game.

    Also, making people watch the odd-numbered Star Trek movies? That’s beyond evil.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      Luthor is a bit of an odd duck. At least in the good versions of Luthor I’ve seen, which is pretty much limited to the JLA show, part of his villainy was actually testing Superman’s moral convictions. There was an understanding that in a lot of situations, Supes *could* crush Luthor like a bug, but *should* he?

      • Cay Reet

        Due to his character, Superman wouldn’t do it, I guess, even though he could. Because let’s be honest, Superman could crush every human he meets – even Batman while he’s not in suit and with equipment. But the point about Superman is that he’s a good guy, an All-American boy scout. Thus he never would do it (unless you count “Injustice” – but there, it’s the Joker).

        Yes, getting Superman into situations where his morals are tested is an interesting way of using Lex who clearly doesn’t work by the same rules. He is, however, a good opposite for Superman, which makes him a good villain. Just as with Batman/Joker, which puts order against chaos.

        • SunlessNick

          Batman vs Superman had a lot of flaws, but one of the things I liked was that Superman’s two main antagonists both saw him as the chaos.

          Batman was flashing back to the mindset of the child whose parents had been killed by an unfathomably powerful force that could just take anything it wanted from his life. A giant Joe Chill.
          Lex’s characterisation was more inconsistent, but that part I really liked was where almost he loses it in his speech when he says that knowledge without power is a paradox – just by existing, Superman upends Lex’s idea of what power is and where it comes from. He’s acting like he’s seen Cthulhu.

          • Cay Reet

            Is he frothing at the mouth and dying of the sheer terror after his hair turned white?
            Well, we’re talking about Lex, so I guess the answer is ‘no.’

            It’s interesting to put Superman down as a source of chaos, although it can surely be twisted that way, if you do it right.

          • SunlessNick

            I don’t think Superman is a force of chaos, even in BvS – just that he’s powerful enough to seem like it to those whose power is based on the order of things prior to his appearance. That’s the part I find interesting.

  3. Innocent Bystander

    If the example from 1 was referring to Anatoly’s death, I’d have to disagree. While there was no logical reason for Fisk to kill him, it’s clear that Fisk wasn’t operating on logic beyond “this man embarrassed me in front of my date, so he has to die.” I feel that the scene was there to highlight Fisk’s flaws; he has a horrible temper, cares a lot about what people think of him (the ones that matter to him, anyways) and sees no problem in using violence against someone who slighted him. And there’s a real-life precedent in men attacking people who they feel have humiliated them (see: men attacking women for rejecting them).

    • Cay Reet

      Which still fits with #1. Being petty and cruel for no deeper reason than ‘I’m a villain, look how bad I am.’

      There are people in real life who are so petty, yes, but that doesn’t make a villain look any better by being like that. Remember, the better the villain, the more threatening (and not just petty and cruel), the better the hero. You diminish what the hero can accomplish by not giving them a villain who can really be feared.

      • Anonymouse

        Eh, I highly disagree with that. Fisk was terrifying precisely because of his moments of illogical violence. Being so volatile made every moment he was onscreen ten times tenser for me. I legitimately believed he would kill, for example, Karen or Matt if they said the wrong thing at any moment they were in a room with him. Without his volatility, that tension is gone. I’m not thinking “Jesus Christ, Karen, get out get out get out get out oh my god you’re gonna die”, I’m thinking “he won’t kill her here, there’s FBI literally right outside the door.” Based off of his popularity, I’m not the only one who found him terrifying to watch.

        • Rose Embolism

          I have to say I kind of envy anyone who finds Fisk’s violent outbursts inexplicable. In my experience with my brother and other people who have violent tempers, there doesnt need to be any grand scheme or epic villany. Just a failure, and someone or something to aim a loss of control at. I was lucky; I know quite a few people who weren’t.

          After all, its not as though Fisk is unusual; theres millions of men like him in America. Where it’s unusual, is how it’s both a fatal flaw, and motivation for him to destroy his old neighborhood by gentrifying it. His entire life is based around his rage.

          • Dvärghundspossen

            Yeah… I didn’t Fisk was a great example of 1 either, but it’s fine if the people in this thread disagree on that.

            If we elevate the discussion to a more general level, I think everyone should agree that there’s a difference between these two scenarios:

            1. There’s a villain with serious anger issues. Sometimes, this causes him to lose it and hurt or kill someone even though it would have been more advantageous for him to leave them alive. The author’s challenge here is to write a story where the hero can’t exploit this irrationality too much, the villain must still be a serious threat. In particular situations, though, this irrationality might make the villain MORE threatening to the hero; maybe the hero has something to bargain with, but they can’t be certain that the villain is gonna listen rather than kill them anyway, because he’s unpredictable like this.

            2. There’s a villain who’ll occasionally kill someone in cold blood, and commit other evil deeds, merely for The Evulz! You see this from time to time, with a villain who’s henchman disappointed him, for instance, and he just shoots the henchman in the face in cold blood because he’s EVIL and doesn’t tolerate failure. Stuff like that.

          • Cay Reet

            I agree that anger management issues are something which happens and which can take a violent turn. However, killing someone for “they made me look bad in front of my date” is very much up there with kicking puppies. That makes “I kill my henchmen for failing” look like good people management in comparison, because at least those henchmen caused problems for the villain’s plans.
            It’s completely exaggerated in case of the ‘made me look bad’ situation. Fisk is, among other things, also a mastermind-type guy. He’s not the loner who has clawed his way to the top of the gang scene by having a very violent temper. He’s a guy with a plan past ‘let’s lure in the hero and dismember him.’ He needs a minimum of control about his baser instincts. I’m not saying he needs to be cold-blooded, but he needs to be able to control himself to a certain degree.

            Anger issues are a good weakness for a villain (they can also be for heroes, but heroes aren’t supposed to attack harmless people) and it makes it a challenge to show those outburst of anger and violence, yet not make it the easiest thing for the hero to use. Yet, it’s also a matter of perspective and the time the story is set in. If we’re talking about a relatively uncivilized society (say the Good Old West), killing someone else for minor infraction, because you have anger issues seems plausible. If you’re also certified evil, it’s even more plausible. But we’re talking about a guy who at least pretends to be part of civilized society. Fisk is not a gang leader, but several levels above that. He has social standing. He wouldn’t have gained that without at least the skill to keep his anger in check out in the open, where there’s witnesses (especially as he wasn’t born rich and influential).

            And, yes, that ‘killing henchmen for failing’ thing has to go – henchmen are expensive and it’s hard to get new ones when you’re known for killing them. That’s not ‘being evil,’ but ‘being stupid.’

  4. Matt

    I don’t think Wilson Fisk is a good example for number one. He’s not cruel because the writer needs to show he’s evil. He’s cruel because he’s mentally unstable and has an extremely volatile temper. That is what makes him terrifying to be. His sudden violent acts make him so great for me.

    • Madmax

      Truth. I think many of the examples they give are not that good.

  5. Oren Ashkenazi

    Editor’s note: I’ve deleted a comment for defending bigotry in real life. SunlessNick had made a valiant attempt to explain why that was wrong, but allowing the comment to remain would have violated our policy.

  6. Richard

    I believe that the famous “The Top 100 Things I’d Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord” list may be of some help here.

    • Dvärghundspossen

      I read Le Morte d’Arthur a couple of years ago – fifteenth century collection of king Arthur legends, sort of woven together to form one single story, except it ends up being super anachronistic but whatever. Anyway, fun thing is how you realize certain movie tropes really date back at least THAT far!

      One example is how an evil knight at one point manages to imprison Sir Launcelot by giving him a tour of his castle, tricking him into walking over a hidden trap door, that drops him into a dungeon. However, the evil knight is also stupid enough to have henchWOMEN rather than henchmen guarding his dungeons, and it’s established over and over again in those stories that Launcelot is super hot and women just throw themselves at him wherever he goes, so obvs a love stricken henchwoman frees him in no time.
      I’m like WTF, I can’t believe this was written in medieval times!

      • Cay Reet

        Some tropes really are that old, yes. You can even find some in fairy tales.

        Also, having henchwomen (who aren’t gay) guard Sir Lancelot? You could just as well hand that guy the key, honestly.

    • Cay Reet

      TV-Tropes has them as well. And with the two addendums (cellblock A and cellblock B), you have even more than 100 points.

      It’s a very helpful list for the aspiring Evil Overlord.

  7. C

    Infinity War seemed to want us to feel bad for Thanos crying about Gamora. Then he killed her anyway. Is it to show he’s that big of a douchebag who deserves to have Ant Man expand up his butt, or are we supposed to feel bad for him that he actually loved Gamora enough to cry about her?

    Because the mixed signal really pissed me off in the theater. I really thought he was going to not do what he did…but he did it.

    • SunlessNick

      The Russos have talked like they want people to think he’s sympathetic and tragic and stuff, but I sure didn’t. (Athough I never had a moment’s doubt that he’d kill Gamora to get the stone).

      It is true that his reaction to killing her is framed much the same way as Wanda’s to killing Vision – but with Wanda we saw how it was her absolute last resort, while Thanos never even tried to find another way.

  8. Madmax

    Lorca had a much larger agenda than just wanting better weapons than to defend against space nazi’s. He was a bad guy for multiple reasons, so I do not think he’s a good example of what you don’t want in your villains….

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      It’s true he does have more going on, and once that’s revealed he does okay as a villain, but the other characters start reacting to him like he’s a villain way before we know any of that. That’s actually one of the causes I talk about in that section, treating a character like the villain before their secret villainy has actually been established.

  9. Bellis

    About violent outbursts by villains:
    I usually see them as making the villain less of a threat (especially Kylo Ren). But it really matters who they direct their outburst at and under what circumstances.

    It makes them more dangerous for anyone in their power, but less dangerous for anyone not in their power at that time. So in many cases, it gives the villain’s own minions more reason to fear (and desert or betray) them than it gives the hero a reason to fear them.

    This changes when the hero (or other character we care about) is under the villains power, maybe they’re captured or they start out as the villain’s underling or it’s a case of domestic abuse. In those cases outbursts are terrifying to the character and raise tension for the audience, regardless of how controlled they are or aren’t. (A calculating villain is terrifying because they are calculating, a villain who takes their temper out on beloved characters under their control is terrifying for their outbursts…)

    So I guess the best way to go here is to only (or at least mostly) show villains have outbursts when a character we care about is likely to suffer from that. I don’t think it usually needs to be established as a pattern of behaviour prior to that point, because it won’t be difficult to believe and it will raise tension.

    From what I can tell, this is also closer to how most “out of control” violent people in real life act. Yes, some may act out when they feel cornered (not very threatening, as merely giving them some space will often deescalate the situation), but genuinely losing all self-control is pretty rare. Most such people will direct their violence with self-preservation in mind (even if it’s only an afterthought), often targeting people who can’t fight back or hold them accountable. They might claim to have no control, but often they will miraculously gain control as soon as they might suffer actual consequences for harmful acts.
    Lets use swearing (insults) as an example for “verbal violence”: How many people who swear when they lose their temper do you know who would cuss out their boss? It’s by far less likely to happen than using insults and slurs against less powerful people or when protected from consequences (the dreaded comment sections).
    A friend our mine only found out that someone held all kinds of bigoted resentments against her AFTER she fired him (he even threatened to out her for something she’s not even ashamed of…)

    While it is realistic for a villain with that kind of temper to lash out at their minions, that still lowers tension in most cases (unless we care about the Minion). Tension is more important than realism.

  10. Julia M.

    Pointless cruelty makes since if the villain is a sadist and genuinely gets pleasure from inflicting pain. And as long as it doesn’t hamper the villain’s goals.

    • Cay Reet

      If the villain is a sadist and clearly gets satisfaction from inflicting pain and being cruel, it’s not pointless.

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