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canstockphoto4631531It’s said that for a hero to be truly good, his enemy must be even better. Thus, a gripping story must have a well-written, memorable villain; someone who really challenges the hero and earns the reader’s respect. I’ve been considering this for weeks as I start writing a new mystery novel, and was pleasantly surprised when I saw Entertainment Weekly had published a sidebar about Villainous Archetypes. 

In the article, they list the Archetypes as:

  • The Snubbed Sibling
  • The Femme Fatale
  • The Power Monger
  • The Lethal Frenemy
  • The Vengeful One
  • The Nemesis
  • The Psychotic  (Well, I added the last two….)

Obviously there are more archetypes than those listed, and I think the really well-written villains can cross over into multiple categories. Still, this makes for a descent start.


The Snubbed Sibling
Villains who are the older/younger brother or sister of the hero. They lash-out because of feelings of inadequacy, jealousy and entitlement toward their beloved sibling. In general, they feel less loved. Interesting to note, they are not always biologically related; some are half-, step- or adopted.

  • Cain, jealous of his brother Abel, Genesis, The Bible
  • Hades, angry at his brothers Zeus & Poseidon, Greek Mythology
  • Morgana le Fey, half-sister to King Arthur, The Knights of the Round Table
  • Prince John, resentful younger brother of King Richard the Lionhearted, Robin Hood
  • Edmund, illegitimate son of Gloucester, Shakespeare’s King Lear
  • Lore, evil twin brother of Data, Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Scar, Mufasa’s jealous & resentful younger brother, Disney’s The Lion King
  • Loki, Thor’s jealous & resentful adopted brother, Marvel Comics

The Femme Fatale
A beautiful, seductive, but ultimately villainous, woman who uses the malign power of her sexuality to ensnare the hapless hero into danger. They are sly, morally ambiguous, conflicted between their needs and doing what’s “right” and often have a love/hate relationship with the Protagonist.

  • Salome, the Christian icon of dangerous female seductiveness, The Gospels, The Bible
  • Delilah, Samson’s lover & ultimately his downfall, Judges, The Bible
  • Circe, dangerous sorceress who fell in love with Odysseus, Homer’s The Odyssey
  • Lady Macbeth, Ambitious wife of the general with her own designs on the throne, Shakespeare’s Macbeth
  • Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Sam Spade’s less than forthcoming client, Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon
  • Irene Adler – Sherlock Holmes’ romantic foil, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia
  • Cora Smith, Lana Turner’s unhappy housewife in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
  • Rose Loomis, Marilyn Monroe’s sad lover in Niagra (1953)
  • Breathless Mahoney, Madonna’s gangster moll playing Dick and Big Boy against each other in Dick Tracy (1990)
  • Catherine Trammel, Sharon Stone’s novelist with a murderous past in Basic Instinct (1992)
  • Selena Kyle, Anne Hathaway’s cat burglar in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Power Monger
Villains who seek to rule with sheer force or whose main goal is to obtain more power, any way possible. Nothing stands in their way. Above all else, they have a deep-seeded desire to surround themselves with control, authority, attention and self-imposed importance. Often this blinding, insatiable craving proves to be their downfall.

  • King Herod the Great, committed unspeakable crimes to gratify his ambition, Matthew, The Bible
  • King Richard the Third, the treacherous king who wasn’t very nice to his family – Shakespeare’s Richard III
  • Napoleon, the Stalin-esque Berkshire Boar who always gets his way, George Orwell’s Animal Farm
  • Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo,  the top narcotics man in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather
  • Professor James Moriarty – a mathematics professor turned the world’s only consulting criminal – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes
  • Sauron – the dark lord who sought to rule Middle Earth – Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
  • Lord Voldemort,  the dark lord who obsesses over conquering  both worlds, Muggle and Wizarding, to achieve pure blood dominance – JK Rowling’s Harry Potter
  • Jafar, the Grand Vizier who plots to possess the Genie’s lamp and rule all of Agrabah – Disney’s Aladdin
  • General Zod, after a failed attempt to take over his homeworld, this Kryptonian super villain tries to take over earth – Superman (1978), Superman II (1980), Man of Steel (2013)
  • Emperor Palpatine –  the aged, wrinkled-faced dictator of the Galactic Empire – Star Wars, the original trilogy (1977 – 1983)

The Lethal Frenemy
Frenemies are fun to write, because they are an enemy disguised as a friend. They lead the plot to the inevitable dramatic betrayal. He or she is friendly toward the Protagonist because the relationship brings benefits, but harbors feelings of resentment, rivalry or entitlement. Sometimes the Reader knows this, which creates tension and suspense as the hero stumbles dumbfounded into the Frenemy’s web. Sometimes neither the reader nor the hero realize the frenemy’s treachery, and then it’s the book’s big plot twist.

  • Haman the Agagite, trusted ally to the King & Queen, he plots a secret massacre – Book of Esther, The Bible
  • Judas, loved Apostle, he sells Jesus’ whereabouts to the Romans – New Testament, The Bible
  • Brutus, Julius Caesar’s friend and confident and most famous assassin – Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar
  • Macbeth, King Duncan’s general who plots to take the the throne for himself – Shakespeare’s Macbeth
  • George Wickham – Mr. Darcy’s childhood friend who is actually spreading gossip – Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
  • Annie Wilkes, Author Paul Sheldon’s #1 fan – Stephen King’s Misery
  • Dennis Nedry, John Hammond’s computer programmer who was secretly paid to steal dinosaur embryos, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park
  • Lucy Van Pelt, the crabby, cynical eight year old who bullies Linus and Charlie Brown – Peanuts
  • Alexandra Forrest, Glenn Close’s blackmailing, stalking and obsessive Other Woman – Fatal Attraction (1987)
  • Miranda Tate, A member of the Wayne Enterprises executive board who harbors a deep resentment toward Batman for killing her father – The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
  • Senator Palpatine – the middle-aged politician of the Galactic Republic who plays both the Jedi and the Separatist Movement to rise to power – Star Wars, the Prequel Trilogy (1999 – 2005)

The Vengeful One
Villains who commit their crimes under the premise of vengeance, whether it be for a wrong committed against them or their people. The Vengeful One is similar to a nemesis, but with a few differences:  the villain may be misinformed and only think the hero has wronged him or her, or the wrong was committed by someone entirely separate from the Hero, but the Hero must still deal with the villain’s wrath.

  • Hera – Greek goddess known for her jealous and vengeful nature, most notably against Zeus’s lovers and offspring – Greek Mythology
  • Iago, passed over for a promotion, he makes Othello believe his wife Desdemona has been unfaithful, Shakespeare’s Othello
  • Abigail Williams, teenage maid who accuses her lover’s wife of being a witch so she can have him all to herself – Arthur Millers The Crucible
  • Michael Corleone – Mob boss who puts a hit on the abusive husband of his godson and makes a reputation for himself as being even more cunning and ruthless than his father – Mario Puzo’s The Godfather
  • Kissin’ Kate Barlow, Devastated by her black lover’s death at the hands of racists, she becomes the most feared outlaw in the west – Louis Sachar’s Holes
    Max Cady, a sadistic genius seeks vengeance against a former public defender whom he blames for his 14-year imprisonment  – Cape Fear (1960, 1991)
  • Pennywise the Dancing Clown, A monster that preys on the kids of Derry targets the adults who banished it twenty years ago as children – Stephen King’s It
  • Carrie White, an outcast, loathed and taunted by her fellow students, gets even at the school prom – Stephen King’s Carrie
  • Maleficent, after not being invited to a royal christening by the parents, she curses the infant Princess Aurora – Disney’s Sleeping Beauty
  • Lady Walthum – an aristocrat who wants revenge on Tarzan for killing her brother (at least, in her own mind) – Disney’s The Legend of Tarzan
  • Khan, a super-human madman who was exiled by Captain Kirk – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1981)
  • Freddy Krueger – a razor-fingered spirit attacks the teen children of the parents who burned him alive – Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elmstreet (2010)
  • Two-Face, insane district attorney who blames Batman for killing his love, Rachel Dawes – The Dark Knight (2008)

The Nemesis
A Nemesis is an enemy that was created by the Hero’s own actions. In other words, if it wasn’t for the hero, this villain wouldn’t even exist (or at least wouldn’t be an evil do’er.) The nemesis is often the mirror opposite of the hero, and a representation of how the Hero could’ve turned out under different pressures, environment or circumstances.

  • Grendel’s Mother, the angry monster that destroyed the hall and pursued Beowulf after the hero killed her son – Beowulf
  • Draco Malfoy,Harry rejects his offer of friendship and their mutual antagonism is born – JK Rowling’s Harry Potter
  • Gollum, Bilbo Baggins finds the Ring and takes it for his own, and Gollum afterwards pursues it for the rest of his life – Tolkein’s The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings
  • Sheriff of Nottingham, the heroic outlaw steals from the rich and gives to the poor; the unscrupulous sheriff is in assiduous pursuit – Robin Hood
  • Lex Luthor – a young Clark Kent attempts to save his friend from a laboratory explosion, but the chemicals create power-mad evil genius – Superman Comics

The Psychotic
Villains who have no clear motivation, other than they are just deranged, insane or mentally ill, can be especially frightening. Their violent actions are written off to a psychotic nature, meaning there’s no rhyme or reason for the chaos they create. This unpredictable behavior creates chilling suspense. And, of course, a back story will reveal a more sophisticated character,

  • Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist who leads a double life as a cannibalistic serial killer – Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon & Silence of the Lambs
  • Norman Bates, a mild mannered motel clerk who stabs women to death while wearing his mother’s clothing – Robert Bloch’s Psycho (and of course Hitchock’s classic movie)
  • Bob Ewell, drunkard, abusive father who accuses Tom Robinson of raping his daughter – Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (and of course the classic movie)
  • Frank Booth, a sociopathic gangster with split personalities who begs to be gagged with a piece of blue velvet cloth – Blue Velvet (1986)
  • Anton Chigurh, a psychopathic hitman who gives his victims a second chance by flipping a coin and letting fate decide if he should spare them or not – Cormac McCarthey’s No Country for Old Man
  • Alex, a sociopath who thoroughly enjoys robbing, raping, and murdering, and is puzzled by those who want to reform him  – Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange
  • Jack Torrence, An alocholic with anger issues becomes possessed and terrorizes his family – Stephen King’s The Shining
  • John Doe, Serial killer who chooses victims according to the Seven Deadly Sins – Se7en (1995)
  • John Ryder, a hitchhiker with a sadistic drive for killing everyone and anyone he comes across in his ultimate quest to find the right person to murder him – The Hitcher (1986)
  • The Joker, maniacal, clown faced psychopath with a warped, sadistic sense of humor – Batman comics & films

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