Evil, Insane, Envious, and Ethical: The Four Major Types of Villain

Evil, Insane, Envious, and Ethical: The Four Major Types of Antagonists

Today, I’m guest posting over on Fiction Notes, with the post “Evil, Insane, Envious, and Ethical: The Four Major Types of Antagonists.” Here’s an excerpt:

Ooh, bad guys. Where would our stories be without their spine-tingling, indignation-rousing, hatred-flaring charm? It’s a legit question. Because, without antagonists to get in our heroes’ way and cause conflict, we quite literally have no story.

So write yourself a warty-nosed, slimy-handed dude with a creepy laugh. No problemo, right? Bad guys aren’t nearly as complicated as good guys. Or are they? I would argue they’re more complicated, if only because they’re harder for most of us to understand (or maybe just admit we understand).

The best antagonists in literature are those who are just as dimensional and unexpected as your protagonists. They’re not simple black-and-white caricatures trying to lure puppies to the dark side by promising cookies. They’re real people. They might be our neighbors. Gasp! They might even be us!

That raises some interesting possibilities, doesn’t it? It also helps us realize that antagonists can come in many different shapes and sizes. While studying Charlotte Brontë’s rightful classic Jane Eyre (which I analyze in-depth in my book Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic), I identified four major types of antagonists.

Keep reading!

Evil, Insane, Envious, and Ethical1

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. I’m sure you’ve heard the expressions “He was his own worst enemy?” Does this mean it’s possible for the Protagonist’s character to be a ‘hidden’ antagonist?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Definitely. “Man Against Himself” is a classic plot line. Indeed, it’s at the heart of all great character arcs. But *usually* there will also be an external, physical manifestation of the antagonistic force as well.

  2. Leto Kersten says

    When thinking about villains I have to remind myself that a villain doesn’t have to be the antagonist per sé since he doesn’t have to oppose the protagonist to be the villain per sé.
    Is that statement correct K.M. Weiland?
    The villain could be the protagist as well. I’m not talking about a suicidal protagonist here who is fighting against himself, but I’m thinking about Jigsaw while I type this. I can’t help but to find him one of the most interesting villains I have ever seen, simply because he is convinced he is doing good (healing through torture). In all the Saw films he plays a major role in the background and even as he is not fulltime on screen (and for most times mentioned only) I can’t help but doubt if these people who have to escape his torture devices truely are the protagonists, or that in fact Jigsaw, who was and always will be in control, is the true protagonist in this story, WHILE he is the villain.

    So unless I’m completely mistaken about my statement above: the villain who is convinced he does good is for me the most scary and equally deep villain that is out there. As if evil truely is in the eyes of the beholder. Aka Humbert Humbert from Lolita, aka all books written from the perspective of Hitler.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You’re spot on. Antagonist is a morally-neutral term that simply indicates a character who stands opposed to the protagonist (also a morally-neutral term). Villain, of course, is not morally neutral, but someone destructive.

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