I’ve seen way too many antagonists who are portrayed as evil geniuses, but then do something that the average fifth grader would realize is a bad idea. Writers need to create consistently intelligent villains because…
A. Readers won’t be afraid of someone who is dumber than they are. When I read a story, I instantly lose respect for a villain when he does something stupid for no good reason.
B. Even though the villain’s stupid mistake might allow the hero to save the day, would it really feel rewarding? If you have to dumb down your antagonist to find a way for your protagonist to succeed, your climax won’t be as compelling or your resolution as satisfying.
C. You don’t want people to make fun of your villain. Villains usually have low self esteem problems to begin with. No need to add to that.
Here’s a quiz to see if you are smarter than the average villain/henchman, just to point out some of the most common mistakes villains will make.
Note: If you stumbled on this blog post because you’re a megalomaniac dictator who wants to take over the world, oppress the innocent, etc., congratulations! You’ve come to the right place. Although this quiz is mainly for writers, you, too, can learn from the mistakes of other nefarious characters like yourself. Welcome.
- The upstart, handsome young general of the rebel force has attacked you and your minions. You approach the battle by….
- Leading the charge. With a really dramatic costume so everyone will know who you are and a helmet that doesn’t cover all of your face so that you can sneer/leer when appropriate.
- Being somewhere on the front lines so you can fight the hero in dramatic one-on-one combat near the end.
- Sending the expendable troops to face the rebels, while directing your more competent forces to attack from behind. You stay at the back of that group so you can personally give orders if something goes wrong.
- Trusting in your power-motivated hierarchy of competent military officials and locking yourself in your bunker/fortress to play chess until the battle is over.
- It’s time to pick a new chief minion. You choose someone who….
- Looks good in black, preferably someone really stupid and/or easily manipulated by crying women and children. It would be even better if he/she had a core of virtue and might possibly betray you and go to the good side.
- Shows ambition and flatters you a lot. And makes good coffee.
- Is completely motivated by power and money, but also too afraid of you to try to usurp you.
- Has blind loyalty to all that you value and is your intellectual equal. Then you immediately hire twelve spies to keep an eye on him/her.
- When you’ve come up with a brilliant plan, you feel the need to tell….
- Everyone, including the hero who you have tied up and at your mercy until he somehow manages to escape. And you give all of the details, maybe even passing out a handout with illustrations.
- Whatever minions are hanging around so they can cheer for you.
- Your trusted generals or cabinet (in a vague, general sense), or the people who need to perform a specific action in order for the plan to work.
- Most of your underlings…but you tell each person a different plan, none of which is the actual one.
- Your secret lab has an even secret-er entrance. How well is it guarded?
- Guarded? What would be the point of having a secret entrance if you had to guard it?
- There’s an alarm and a nice security system. Maybe a pit bull chained nearby.
- It’s well-monitored by technology (alarms and cameras) and actual guards. On the inside of the entrance, of course, so I don’t draw attention to it.
- The secret entrance is fake, to give the heroes false hope. I don’t have the personnel to monitor a secret entrance that no one has ever found.
- It’s time to make a speech to a large group of people you’re trying to control. Your speech is mostly full of….
- Evil laughter and witty, evil quips.
- Baseless threats that I couldn’t really pull off if the entire group decided to mob me.
- Carefully calculated fear tactics that I immediately back up with some kind of secret police, display of magic, or public execution.
- Rhetoric and subtle demonization of the opposing forces to get the people on my side.
Mostly a’s: Um…this villain had better give up now. He clearly isn’t thinking things through very well and will probably be dead before chapter 3.
Mostly b’s: The main problem with this guy is that he’s new at this. A little immature and insecure in his evilness. Give him an evil mentor, a few books on strategy, and a little time, and he might turn out all right.
Mostly c’s: This is probably the base level of intelligence for a villain: not brilliant, but still pretty sharp. A “Mostly d” villain has a superior intellect, but isn’t necessarily a better choice for every story. A “Mostly c” is especially good when the main focus of the story is the inner conflict that the hero is experiencing.
Mostly d’s: If you want to create a mastermind, this is the kind of villain you want. The hero won’t be able to defeat this one by outsmarting him. There must be some other weakness that the hero can exploit.
That’s it. Give your hero a challenge. Give your reader a character they can respect. And give your villain something to be proud of while he sits in jail, looking back on the “good ol’ days.”