As I've been working on the edits for King's Folly, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about my bad guys (this is epic fantasy, so I have several, plus my story loosely parallels the chronicles of the kings in the Bible. Many of those kings did evil in the eyes of the Lord).
Any character can become an antagonist in the right situation, and that makes them a bad guy to the point of view character. Get in a fight with your sister? She is your antagonist! At least until you work things out. In my story, I'm writing the points of view from some of my bad guys, and they don't see themselves as bad. In their story, they're the hero and someone else is the villain.
So let's talk baddies. Troublemakers come in all shapes and sizes and personalities. Unless you are writing some form of satire, your goal should be to create characters who feel real, who do things that are believable, and who aren't cardboard archetypes. I'm not saying you can't write villains that fall into archetypal categories, nor am I saying that I don't love some classic villains that do. But as writers of new stories, we want to do our best to make our villains unique.
6 Villains Archetypes
The pure evil villain. This person is pure evil from page one. The supervillain Maybe he was born that way or maybe something happened that changed him. The point is, evil oozes from every pore. His character represents evil. Think Sauron, Lord Voldemort, or Ronan from Guardians of the Galaxy. There is no appealing to the good side of these folks anymore. They are too far gone!
The forced to be evil villain. This person is a puppet. They do horrible things because someone or something is forcing them. This could be a case of blackmail, like in the horror movie Saw or an affliction like in the TV show Haven. In Haven, these "Troubled" people kill in every episode, and our "Troubled-helping" cops ship them off to a safe house. But involuntary manslaughter is still a crime. And there was one episode where a woman used her trouble to murder someone in cold blood, and still they shipped her off to a safe house in the end. Whaaaaat? All that to say, these types of villains can sometimes get away with... murder.
The villain who is right. This is often a teacher, principal, or parent who the kids are hiding something from. Think of Ed Rooney in Ferris Bueller's Day Off or poor Dr. Leo Marvin in What About Bob? The Wicked Witch of the West also falls into this category. I mean, Dorothy did kill her sister and steal her sister's shoes. How is that fair?
The hero gone bad villain. We might see this type of villain’s transformation in the story. But sometimes not. This could be a jaded person who has set out to force things to go his way. Maybe he thinks his cause is the only way. Or that he (and his followers) are better than other people, like Magneto thinking mutants are better than humans. Or maybe he gave in to the dark side like Annakin Skywalker. This also might be a bitter soldier like rogue military general Frank Hummel in the movie The Rock or a disgruntled employee like Eliot Loudermilk in the movie Scrooged.
The villain turned good guy. Here we have the opposite. The bad guy is bad, but our heroes and/or the circumstances of the story help him change. Gru from Despicable Me got soft on some little kids. The Grinch's heart grew three sizes that day. The Beast fell in love with Belle. And friendship turned Emperor Kuzko into a kind-hearted ruler.
The dumb villain. These are often villains from the comedy genre. Think Mugatu from Zoolander, Dr. Evil from Austin Powers, Harry and Marv from Home Alone, and Lord Business from The Lego Movie.
Clichés to Avoid
It's so easy to let our villains become cliché. Here is a list of character traits that have been overused. If you have some of these in your story, make sure you balance them out with some unique traits as well.
Name- Is “dark,” “death,” “devil,” “Lord,” or “evil” part of your villain’s name?
Eyes- Does your villain have black eyes, red eyes, or glowing eyes? I did the black eyes thing in The New Recruit. Only now do I realize how cliché it was.
Relation to hero- Is your villain related in some way to the hero? Whether it's obvious or a secret, it's been done lots. Try and find a unique twist for this situation.
Maniacal laughter- Maybe just avoid the maniacal laugh altogether.Clothing- Does your villain wear all black or red? A cape? Does he wear a mask to hide his face? Does the mask have horns of any kind?
The sexy she-villain- If your villain is female, does she wear skin-tight clothing and flirt with her victims? Yeeah... I may have done this in The New Recruit as well. Rats!
Minions- Are your villain's minions beastly, short, ugly, or similar in any way to flying monkeys or orcs? Are they imbeciles? Afraid of their own shadow?
Murdering the minions- Is your villain always killing his help? Trained minions don't grow on trees, you know.
Day job- Is your villain a priest or advisor to the king? Is he king or emperor? An evil scientist? A bad cop? Or maybe an apprentice gone rogue? See if you can find him a more unique career.
Pets- Does your villain have a fearsome beast that probably would have eaten him by now? How about a snake, a spider, or a raven that sits on his shoulder?
Motivations- Is your villain motivated by revenge, insanity, thwarted love, or power? Is he pure evil?
Monologing- Does your villain explain his actions out loud?
What Matters Most?
Motivation. The best villains are the ones readers actually like. Think of ways to make that happen in your story. In King's Folly, I have a budding villain who's a petite, nineteen-year-old girl. She's been weak all her life, abused, taken advantage of. She just discovered magic. It gives her power, and she wants more. But she's afraid of just about everything---especially being touched---so she uses magic to trick herself into doing things she can't. I think this makes her interesting because, in a sad way, she's victimizing herself. But the readers can understand her logic, and that makes her sympathetic.
Make them Memorable
Look over that list of clichés. What can you twist on its head? What traits and tags can you give your villains to make them unique? Think physical traits, clothing, jobs, voice, catch phrases, hobbies.
In King's Folly, I have acliché prince. He's a jerk because he can be. He likes to use his power to tease and control others. We've seen this handsome, rich bully many times before. He's totally cliché. So I've given him the hobby of gardening. Not only that, but he has one favorite plant he takes with him everywhere. It seems totally against his character to care for little sprouts in the ground and coddle a plant, and I'm hoping this quirk will balance out his cliché qualities and make him more likable.
What traits and characteristics can you give your villain to make them memorable? Here is a list of famous villains. What do you instantly think of when you read the following names? Then invent a unique twist to make that villain your own and post your idea in the comments. My example? The Terminator in an R2D2-like body. Though that's sort of like a dalek, huh? I'll keep thinking. In the meantime, you give it a try.
Wicked Witch of the West
The Queen (from Disney's Snow White)
Mr. Potter (from It's a Wonderful Life)
Cruella DeVil (Nice play on words there, huh?)