Friday, June 14, 2019

What Makes a Villain? (Favorite Villain Tropes!)

Villains. You can't have a story without one . . . Well, not if you're writing fantasy or speculative fiction, anyway. I talked a long time ago about my favorite villains (though I'm not linking the post; my opinions have changed somewhat since then). Today, however, I'm talking about the things that make me like a villain — in the as a villain sense; not in the 2012-Loki-fangirls sense. In short, I'm discussing my favorite villain tropes. (Many thanks to my sister for requesting the topic!)

Links go to the appropriate page on the TV Tropes site, though some of the tropes here are actually combinations of multiple tropes. Be warned, it's a bit of a black hole over there.

 Favorite Villain Tropes

  1. The Gentleman Villain. Ok, so this actually encompasses multiple tropes, but the point is: this is a villain with class. He has a charismatic personality, impeccable manners, excellent taste, and an excellent education— or, at the very least, a well-trained mind. However, he also has a mind so devious he can outthink anyone and anything, a healthy dose of common sense, and the nerve to take on enormous challenges and go toe to toe with the hero when the situation demands it. He’s also completely unapologetic about his villainy. Sometimes that’s because he really believes that his goal is just and good— and, in those cases, he often does have a good point, just a poor execution. But in other cases— the ones I enjoy more— he genuinely enjoys his villainy, and he does it with such style and nerve that you can’t help but enjoy him as a character, and even, in some odd way, respect him despite his lack of morals.
  2. The Faux Affably Evil Villain. This is connected to the Gentleman Villain, but slightly different. Basically, this is the villain who greets the hero cheerfully and politely while attempting to kill him, who insists that the captured hero join him for dinner (before said hero is to be interrogated, tortured, and/or killed), and who is quite likely to give the hero advice while they're fighting. The niceness is an act, and both hero and villain know it — but, done right, it can make the villain so much fun to read, especially when they're doing it out of a sense of strange personal morals or because they find it more satisfying or interesting than just acting straight-up villainous. It shows they've thought about their identity and their villainous image (which I appreciate; building your brand and sticking with it is important, even if you're evil). Plus, a faux affably evil villain is rarely angsty, and angsty villains are often the worst unless the angst is setting them up for a heel-face turn.
  3. The villain complimenting the hero and the hero being offended. This kind of goes with the previous trope, but a villain who compliments the hero while in combat (whether physical, verbal, or other)? Delightful. If it's genuine, it builds up the idea that the villain is highly competent, since he doesn't feel the need to attack the hero's self-confidence. If it's sarcastic, it can be either a wonderfully humorous exchange or a stunningly dramatic blow to the hero's internal state that will trigger new steps in the hero's character arc. Basically, no matter how you do it, as long as you do it well, this trope is a winner.
  4. Evil has standards and the hero-enemy teamup. Preferably when the latter results from the former (though the latter doesn't have to involve an outright villain all the time; it can just be a rival of the hero). When you have this situation, it means two things. First, you have a villain with standards, which is typically more interesting than a villain with no morals at all. Second, it means that there's a bigger, badder villain in the book who's powerful and maniacal enough to force the hero and the villain to call a temporary truce and work together in some fashion. Bonus points if the temporary team-up leads to a reasonable heel-face turn for the villain and the team-up becomes permanent . . . but even if it doesn't, watching the hero and villain try to interact and work together is sure to be gold.
  5. Genre-savvy villains. Again, not sure if this is actually a trope, but this is a villain who's read the Evil Overlord List (or who's intelligent enough to know what to avoid) and has made very conscious decisions about what to do and not to do. Bonus points if the villain uses his genre-savvy-ness to lure the heroes (and readers) into a trap — if he seems to be making all the classic blunders, but is instead using those "blunders" to make sure the heroes make exactly the choices he wants them to and play right into his hands. Then, when the time comes, he provides himself dazzlingly competent, which makes his defeat or the heroes' narrow escape (whichever one is appropriate) all the more amazing and thrilling.
What are your favorite villain tropes? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah (Leilani Sunblade)

P.S. Sorry about the missing post last week. We went to Hershey Park on Thursday, and then I spent all Friday catching up on the stuff I intended to do in the car but didn't get done. Thanks for understanding!


  1. These are all excellent, but I think I love 1 and 4 the most.

    1. I'm not surprised. They are pretty awesome. :) Thanks for commenting!


I'd love to hear your thoughts! But remember: it pays to be polite to dragons.