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Pure Evil

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, April 20, 2019

I've talked about villains before and how they can be very nuanced in their motivations (without those motivations being redeeming) but today, thanks to Emma Clare's Friday post, I became inspired to talk about abject, absolute, abominable villainy! The twirling mustache type, the one that is so pure that nowdays it is considered cartoony and inappropriate to use in a story if a story is to have good writing.

While nuanced villains that toy with the idea of redemption are insanely fun, so are those that seem to have been born devils!

The classic Disney villains, from Maleficent to Hades represent this latter kind: villains that bask in their villainy, are in no self-deception that they are not being villains and boisterously and buoyantly advertise the fact that they are, indeed, the worst of the worst, and that's exactly where their talent lies.

These villains can be incredibly fun, and not only in fairy tales. King Joffrey from Game of Thrones and Moriarty from …well, most… iterations of Sherlock Holmes are also excellent examples of that sort of villain.

What makes for a fun, pure evil character then, that doesn't follow the now-popular way of nuanced layers that provide motivation for the villainy they do?

General consensus seems to be that they all tend to share these traits:

1. They have little or no background story

The audience doesn't know where Maleficent comes from or why she is the way she is.

(and when they did, they didn't like it…)

At best, they get a simple background about what they're trying to achieve within the particular story's plot rather an existential explanation about who they are and why they are the way they are.

2. They love doing what they do

These types of villains aren't reluctantly committing their crimes. They're flamboyantly doing so, they exalt in the very essence of causing harm or devastation and they show it. They thrive in what they do, so much so that the very act of villainy is its own motivation to a big extent, even if they didn't have some kind of plan or goal. They, in a sense, wear their miserably black heart on their sleeve.

3. They have simple and self-serving goals

While it can be (validly) argued that all villains have self-serving goals, the pure evil character's self-serving goal doesn't bother with pretense. They are doing what they're doing to serve their own selves, from getting power (“Rule the world!”) to simply being amused by feeling smarter than anyone else because the heroes can't touch them.

4. They have flamboyant, high-relief personalities imbued with complete confidence in themselves

The pure evil villain has a big, larger-than-life personality, from calm and suave to tacky and burlesque to grim and intimidating (or even icky).

Whatever their personality, it's one that stays with the audience- and often one we love to hate.

5. When they lose, they lose it

The pure evil villain's confidence is built on the very precarious impression that they are invincible. If this impression that they have about their own self and their capacities is shattered, then they shatter with it, acting out in a sort of mega tantrum. It's extremely satisfying to the audience to see, and it signals that the villain's demise is near.

Have you ever written a purely evil character? Was it fun for you, the audience, or both?

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Chickfighter at 5:39PM, April 20, 2019

In superhero fiction I actually prefer purely evil villains because it results in a greater sense of satisfaction when they are defeated. If the villain is nuanced and one begins to feel for him or her then it's not nearly as much fun to see them defeated. You run the risk of feeling sad for them, particularly if the hero is a Mary Sue type. This would be a potential problem for the next Star Wars movie in my mind. If Kylo Ren is supposed to be the villain and Rey defeats him people may more feel sorry for him than excited that the heroine won. Classic pure villains are aliens, monsters, nazis, slavers and the like. I have a lot of them in my comics as one-offs. The nuanced ones tend to get to hang around. Hmm, that's interesting. Guess I feel sorry for them and want to see them redeemed or succeed at some level. ;)

ShaRose49 at 10:45AM, April 20, 2019

(Continued from first comment) are shown throughout the story, we realize not that he is really human and sympathetic—but that he is truly despicable, and in fact, probably the worst dude I’ve ever written. (And I mean worst as in, like, “ew, this guy’s completely heartless”).

ShaRose49 at 10:43AM, April 20, 2019

While sympathetic villains with realistic motivations are important—I find the pure, disgustingly evil ones—when done right, are even more impacting. I think this is because we see the former villains more as just another character, (still an important one though) where as these abominations—are less of a character and more of an insanely powerful force that so happens to have some charming personality. I found the female Dock Ock on Into the Spider Verse to be something of a more impacting villain than the Kingpin, because she was just so...gleefully evil. She just oozed with personality. Maybe some motivation would be good for later instalments, but for now, I’m honestly just surprised that she didn’t end up usurping Kingpin. Then again, maybe she was just waiting for her moment. My current villain (who has yet to make much of an appearance) kind of fits into this purely evil category. I plan to have him at first come across as someone who isn’t so bad, but as his true colours

IronHorseComics at 7:02AM, April 20, 2019

you've been watching the Overly Sarcastic Productions, haven't you? they just did a trope talk about pure eeeeeviiiiiiiillllll

Banes at 6:52AM, April 20, 2019

p.s. Dormammu. xD

Banes at 6:51AM, April 20, 2019

The movie version of Thanos has been praised for having a somewhat "noble" and relatable goal. The comic book version it seems was more the "pure evil" guy. He was obsessed with the personification of Death and killed half the Universe to impress her. I'm torn on which is better; part of me would have like to see Infinity War with the crazy, Death-obsessed Thanos.

KAM at 6:49AM, April 20, 2019

"5. When they lose, they lose it" I'm not a big fan of this one. It's basically villain kryptonite. A flaw they have to have so the heroes can defeat them easier. It can work, but it can also be a writer's crutch.

Banes at 6:48AM, April 20, 2019

I recognized most of the characters you pictured and they ALL made a big impression on me. The "pure evil" villains are fantastic and memorable. Can't forget the Emperor from old Star Wars. Just this old, evil, monster-man (he got a backstory later...but even back then, he was pure evil. The backstory was about his rise to political power). Awesome post!

KAM at 6:47AM, April 20, 2019

"2. They love doing what they do" Can you imagine a villain who doesn't? "Oh, man, all the pieces are in place. I've accounted for the heroes trying to stop me and the incompetence of my minions. I'll be ruler of the world by three pm at the latest. *sigh* And dad will still think I'm a slacker because I didn't do it 5 years ago! *sigh*" ;-)

KAM at 6:39AM, April 20, 2019

"1. They have little or no background story" Darth Vader was so much cooler before they turned him into a whiny mama's boy. ;-)

usedbooks at 4:58AM, April 20, 2019

I have a couple "baddies" that are particularly nasty/"evil." Valentine might be the worst. He's extra confident and brutal with no apparent humanity. He has a backstory (untold so far) but it doesn't explain his behavior. I have a worse baddie than Valentine, Dirk. He encourages the former's violence. Mostly hands-off, power-drunk, and ordered the murder of his own son (by another son).

Ozoneocean at 3:13AM, April 20, 2019

Hans Gruber in Die Hard was great because he was a simple baddie :)

Gunwallace at 2:32AM, April 20, 2019

Hmm, this almost seems like an autobiographical piece ;-)

bravo1102 at 2:30AM, April 20, 2019

The Falasnorians and Glorreaka. Glorreaka had a backstory but she was always self serving before becoming pure flamboyant Ee-vel. The Falasnorians are "other" . Darth Theda came close to pure evil because she was supposed to be cartoony as if Alyson Hannigan was given a chance to chew some scenery as a larger than life villain.

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