When I started out to write my next novel, I began by trying to deciding who the antagonist would be. After several minutes of thinking about it, I decided to go back to the most basic level possible. Not motivation, not personality… Rather, the different types of villain available. From a Disney-esque obvious antagonist to an Ender’s Game ‘we are the villain,’ I tried to think of every different kind available to authors. The following is the list I came up with.
- Obvious villain. This is common in novels for younger audiences. The antagonist is easy to spot, and his/her motivations are clearly evil (ie: Cruella Deville and her fur coat).
- Hidden villain. A step away from type 1, this type of villain is discovered late into a novel, sometimes at the very end. While it can be fun for the audience to guess at who the antagonist might be, once he/she is found out their motivations are revealed to be quite terrible, or at least definitely evil. Common in mysteries and detective novels.
- Anti-villain. A villain with heroic qualities, most often a desire to help people.
- Hero-turned-villain. This type of antagonist starts out good, but becomes evil (ie: Saruman in Lord of the Rings). If the turn is part of their backstory, they’re one of the other types. If it occurs during the story, then they fall into this group.
- The psychotic. Can’t be placed on any spectrums of morality, because he/she has none. This type of villain tends to be more ruthless, and less predictable… Although I don’t believe a crazy antagonist works for every novel (for example, YA fiction doesn’t seem to have very many). When done right, a psychotic villain is the scariest of all, due to unfathomable motives and the sort of twisted logic that tends to be the hallmark of insanity. I’ve never used a villain of this type personally, but there are several good examples (like ‘A’ in Pretty Little Liars 1-4).
So if I were to boil this down, it seems to come out to two spectrums: morality, and perception. If a villain is evil and perceived as evil, then they’re a type one. If they’re the exact opposite—good and perceived as good—then they could be either type three or four. If they’re in the middle things get a little more complicated, and I think most antagonists tend towards that center area on the spectrums (neither absolutely immoral nor perceived that way), which is a good thing. In my opinion, the more complex the villain, the better.