First, what are villain tropes?
Tropes are easily recognisable story elements, such as heroes, damsels in distress, and so on. Villain tropes are the tropes that, well, relate to villains, such as the chessmaster, the villain with good intentions, and so on.
(If you love villains, you might also like my previous post on the 7 types of villain deaths.)
For those with no childhood, Pokemon are a very, very, very large group of fictional wildlife that fight each other. Pokemon moves are the specific kinds of attacks that these wildlife use.
Psst, grab the statistical breakdown of how villains are most often killed off in the takeout army library:
Find out how villains die in bestselling books
This post operates on the assumption that villain = antagonist = generally unsavoury. Some of these, of course, apply equally well to anti-villains or even anti-heroes.
11 super common villain tropes + examples:
1. Evil Cackle
This is one of the most "I'm the Villain" signs. In almost every story, there's a point when the villain has (nearly) succeeded. It's time to celebrate with tea and takeout and terrifying laughter!
Often, this cackle precedes a beatdown by the protagonists:
20. Despite its proven stress-relieving effect, I will not indulge in maniacal laughter. When so occupied, it's too easy to miss unexpected developments that a more attentive individual could adjust to accordingly. (Evil Overlord List)Type: Psychic.
Effect: May be humiliating to more self-conscious protagonists. More often exasperates protagonists (and readers!) because of how clichéd it is. I kinda dislike it in everything except the most classic video games. Like, I don't know, Pokemon? *shrugs*
2. Acid MonologueIt often goes with the evil cackle. The villain has succeeded! They've taken over the world! All the takeout is theirs! Mwahahaha!
Now is clearly the perfect time to lord it over the helpless protagonists and/or explain the entire evil plan. After the monologue, failure of said evil plan is almost inevitable.
Effect: May make you feel good for 0.4 seconds and paralyse the protagonists for 0.25 seconds. May also give them the information needed to utterly destroy you.
However, I do enjoy it when these monologues start off gloat-y and end up revealing the villain's less evil motivations. Morally complex villains FTW!
3. Random Wrath
This villain is a loose cannon. He's just evil for the sake of it! They will for no apparent reason steal children's cake, kick random kittens down wells, and shoot their trusted lieutenant for something that is not his fault and/or plot convenience. They have a terrible reputation and their allies tremble in fear.
Effect: Strikes fear into the hearts of your enemies. May also give them the resolve to fight and defeat you. I like my villains clever, not just ruthless.
4. Minion Attack
Therefore, while the protagonists may only be the hero and his plucky sidekicks, the villain often has armies at his disposal. Many villains will deploy these minions to vastly outnumber the protagonists ... because "we have resources".
The consequences are either (a) their troops turning on them or (b) the protagonists succeeding despite all odds.
Effect: Unfortunately, minions never seem to leave a real scratch on the protagonists. (Although they may provide some comic relief to the novel.) Minions are seriously ineffective. The only way to make it worse would be to send out your minions and then say "Leave him to ME!"
5. Shadow Sneer
Unlike the evil cackle, this is when villains appear all simpering in front of the protagonists, hiding their world domination plans with good manners and hot chocolate. Bonus points if the villain-in-hiding steeples their fingers.
I actually adore it when villains in disguise act the hero's allies. But I'm less on board with it when the book then shows me their SECRET smile and tell me, "this guy is SECRETLY evil."
Effect: May confuse your opponent and cause them to hurt themselves. Recoil damage is also caused to the Fourth Wall.
6. Royal Disdain
As explained above, we tend to root for the underdogs. So powerful royal figures are the domain of many villains instead. Some monarchs may slip into Random Wrath as explained above. Others might simply not care about the peasants they trample on.
Effect: Makes for dramatic entrances. That said, that's all it really does. Most attempts to destroy the protagonist via a casual royal command don't work. (When it succeeds, though, you can bet I'll be on board for that.)
Chances are, said villain will lose their royal authority fairly soon ... unless you happen to be reading somewhat accurate historical fiction, where there's a decent chance the "villains" make it out.
7. Kiss n' Kill
There are two sides to this. First, evil overlords tend to keep around a harem (or at least a very attractive consort). Unfortunately, villains are also paranoid, so they also tend to kill off their consorts, if they're secondary/tertiary characters, quite liberally. Look, they're evil!
That said, I genuinely don't like treating love interests as disposable plot objects.
But you know what is cool? When villains try this on less savvy protagonists and distract them to carry out their schemes. And maybe even fall for the protagonist for real.
You know what is even cooler? Savvy heroes trying it on villains.
Effect: Causes confusion to the opponent, as well as to the reader. Also muddles up feelings and murder and basically flailing all around.
I adore this trope and it's one of my favourite ways for a villain to go out as well.
Effect: Creates a NEW villain for the protagonists to fight. *happydance* Unfortunately, it does very little actual harm to the protagonists.
9. Crimson Wash
While I hold the best entrance is having a signature villain song (Imperial March for the win!), books don't play music. While we wait for this momentary oversight to be corrected, giving villains a signature colour is the next best bet.
So when the villain enters and/or takes over, a shift in colour can instantly signify that victory. Red may not always be the villain colour of choice, although ... *looks around blog* Hmmm
Effect: Creates fabulous tension + atmosphere—colours are one of my favourite literary elements. However, not very effective for anti-villains or disguised villains, for obvious reasons.
10. Evil Scar
Effect: Handy label for a villainous appearance. But personally, I feel this trope could be very problematic in propagating ideals of beauty and/or ableist ideas, so I'm a little dubious unless it's well justified.
11. Thousand Stories
I've talked about villains and the potential problem about their troubled backstories, but villains with complex motivations are still fantastic. Here's why it might just be my favourite trope here:
- heartbreak all around
- characters being vulnerable
- moral ambiguity
- just emotions, okay? I might not be able to handle them in real life, but emotions in fiction = the most important
Effect: Earth-shattering destruction on everything you thought you knew.
Oh, and don't forget to check out everyone else on the Nefarious Tales trail (ahaha, I rhymed):
Sophia @ Bookwyrming Thoughts - Awesome Villain Powers
Nova @ Out of Time - The Darkling Formula
There's also a giveaway for the event I'm super excited to share! Thank you so much, Mishma!
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Oh, and another cool thing in case you're new here from other Nefarious Tales posts *waves* I'd like to share a bunch of cool bookish resources with you, including interesting stats about fictional villains and
Get access to the takeout army library
Which of these tropes do you like/dislike? Who's a villain you really love? And comment with a Pokemon move-version of a trope yourself! I will feature the best ones :D
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PS: In case you love villains (of course you do) and have read Harry Potter / The Hunger Games / A Song of Ice and Fire / A Darker Shade of Magic (c'mon, one of these at least), you may be interested in how villains tend to die in these books. Get the stats here.