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692 Villain Cliches to Avoid in Your Story

Number 1: Don't make them say there are 692 of something when there are really just 13

Little Timmy is about to face down Dr. Despicable because he is evil. The audience knows that Despicable is bad and has to be taken down because

  1. He eats kittens.
  2. He’s willing to do anything to get to his goal, even kill.
  3. He has an evil laugh and twirls his mustache.
  4. He wants to take over the world just ‘cuz.

If you have picked anything but 2 on the list, you need to rethink your antagonist. Here are other things you need to as well.

13. Calling Others Weak and Stupid

This is not as bad as others, it’s just that it happens too often for seemingly useless reasons. Don’t make your villain insult people for the sake of it.

12. Smoking

Virtually every villain in detective, fiction, and noir genres smokes. The hero doesn’t need to waste time bringing down a villain that’s gonna die of lung cancer soon.

All you have to do is get rid of the cigar (or pipe, or vape, or cigarette, or…) If it is central to your story, then keep it; this isn’t that big of a deal. It’s a deal though, so I’d advise you to avoid it.

11. Wearing Black

Villains supposedly wear black because it’s the color of death, and like to sneak around. However, this is also very overused. It has gotten to the point where you can tell if someone’s evil by seeing what color they wear, or the color of their swoosh-y cape. (Get rid of that too.)

At the very least make the hero wear black too. Better yet, have the villain wear light colors, like white and yellow, while your hero wears things on the darker spectrum. Just mix it up. The small dog on the other side of the street is not planning to destroy the world just because it has midnight-colored patches all over its fur. Your best friend is not more aggressive one day because they are wearing dark jeans.

10. Threatening Because Mysterious

You need to portray your villain as evil and threatening. What do you do? Dress them in a dark cloak hiding their face and put them in a shadowy castle of course. No. If they’re just hanging around in Fort Flagitious, why does the hero need to defeat them anyway? The hero will just come off as killing people for no reason.

The villain could send out minions to do their bidding, but that isn’t really the same. Show the devastation they’ve caused in the prologue or the beginning chapters. Don’t just hide them away underground.

9. Playing With Weapons

The phrase “…playing with the [insert weapon here]…” is commonly used for antagonists in every setting, especially detective stuff. Bad guys less commonly call them pet names, or “my pet”, but it’s still prevalent. Just get rid of this.

8. Ten Gazillion Incompetent Minions

I get it. You like your hero, and want to send them up against a powerful enemy without it being the main shebang. You want your hero to survive, even though the minions have a 256 to 1 advantage. Of course, this means they have to be really incompetent. The hero finally defeats them all, but oh no! They need to face another challenge! You need to top the old number with twice as many minions to keep the tension! But of course, these guys need to be twice as incompetent (or the number might not change) to compensate for numbers! You can see where this is going to end up. Where does Mrs. Mean-Girl get all these minions anyway? Walmart?

All you have to do is just have less, but smarter minions. That will probably be just as admirable in your reader’s eyes. Intelligence and physical prowess should make up for at least thirty incompetents, and anyway, once numbers get really big, there isn’t much of a difference. Nobody’s really going to care whether there is a googol or a googolplex of them. And your operative word is “Minion”, not “Cannon-fodder”.

7. Killing off Minions When They Fail

On the subject of minions… One of the minions from Sir Spiteful’s power circle has failed to kill the hero. What does Sir Spiteful do? Kill the minion and have one less powerful ally at his side, and have other minions start to question his motives (if it’s that kind of story)? Or does he punish the minion and give him a second chance, thus making more loyalty and more chances to win? Well duh, the first one. So why would Spiteful do something so pointless if he’s the main villain mastermind in the story? The answer is simple: To make him look more evil.

If you need to make your antagonist mastermind do this stupid un-strategic move to make them look evil, you need to add a little more devastation at the hands of them in a prologue or chapter.

6. Excessive Hero Obsession

Don’t make the villain obsess over the hero to the point that it disrupts their plans and puts them at a disadvantage. It just makes the hero that much more annoying and the villain that much more stupid, and takes the tension that much lower.

There is virtually no way make excessive hero obsession work.

5. Killing the Hero Slowly

I don’t mean slowly stabbing them with a sword, though that isn’t very smart either. How many times have you heard the phrase “They/You/He/She/It/Xe/etc. don’t deserve a quick/painless/etc. death.” Not very many? Good for you, because it’s used an awful lot. Any villain worth their salt will realize that when the protagonist is alive they’re trouble. If the villain has a gun pointed at the hero’s heart, why trap them in a chamber that slowly fills with water? They’re heroes, that increases their survival chance by 99.999999999999(etc.)%.

Have them try to shoot or stab or something the hero, but have them dodge or some other variable come in, like a sidekick.

4. Not Killing the Hero When They Can

Dame Destructive is fighting your protagonist and obviously has the upper hand. The good guy has ruined all her plans, killed her ten powerful allies, set back her plans at least a year, and sundered her fortress. She’s about to strike the final death blow and… doesn’t hit your protagonist. Common explanations include they think the hero is a weakling and no threat to them (If they’ve ruined the villain’s plans and killed minions, that is obviously not the case, and if your story is set in any place with books like ours, they will know not to leave them be), death is too good for the hero, or their spirit must be crushed (I mean seriously, if they don’t have a Spirit-Crush-o-Matic 3000, just give it up). The hero is eventually going to conquer the villain, the villain must know that, and if they refuse to kill them the tension just goes away.

Make the hero essential to the villain’s plan, or don’t make them face the villain until the very end. You could just not make them not fall into the villain’s power, though that reduces tension (unless, of course, the villain lets them go every time). If all else fails, just exercise the right of the author and slam them with a meteorite (no actually don’t).

3. Evil Laugh

Why? This used to be threatening, but now it’s so overused that it’s cheesy. If your villain has it, just delete it, it makes them seem silly and nonthreatening. Please. Pleeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaase!

2. Explaining the Master Plan

Really? This one? What self-respecting villain would do this? Only the most stupid one in the world, that’s for sure. Unless you’re writing a tension-less book where the villain doesn’t know how to count to three, do not use this if you value your readers’ enjoyment and your career.

If the hero has to find out the villain’s plan, have a third party ancient Sybil who doesn’t care anymore tell it to them after they complete a set of deadly trials, or have a friend infiltrate the enemy as a minion.

1. Eating Kittens and Puppies

No. Just… no.

Welp, that’s about it, and if you forget all this just remember one thing:

“Little Timmy” is a horrible psychopathic name for a hero.

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