Practical Villainous Archetypes

A reminder for new readers: When I say “Villain” I don’t mean low-end evil characters, mere villains. Around here we say Proper Villain, which is to say, heterodox… which is obscure enough a word that our phrase gives a better flavor of the thing to most. See, if you’re going to free yourself from the grand illusion and rebuild your life based on reality, you’re going to encounter resistance. You’re going to be called names, and almost certainly be attacked by those threatened by truth. They will call you a villain, so I will call you a Villain as well, with a wink and a nod and an approach to the unfortunate necessity of presenting yourself in a way that will let you survive until you rule your world.

Each Villain has his own approach to Villainy. The one thing they all have in common is that they know who they are and how they choose their methods. People like to categorize everything: points of view, methods of working, motivations, etc. This tends to make people limit their own options as they self-identify with one category or another. A better way of looking at things is archetypes. Very simply, an archetype describes an observable pattern, and people (or fictional characters) represent each to varying degrees. Thus the infinite variety of personalities which nonetheless can be handily described by the language of archetypes.

Bear with me for a few moments (3 short paragraphs) while I explain what I mean by this.

What, you ask, do archetypes have to do with being a Proper Villain, or for that matter anything “practical” as the title promised? A great many people have discovered that by looking at their own mental structuring they can make their place in the world more decisively and with fewer contradictions to weaken them. When applied to a given area – such as Villainy – we can also use it to decide exactly what we want to do and how to make the most of it.

Now, if you go to your favorite search engine and enter “villain archetypes” you will get a lot of information about how to write a story with an interesting villain. While that is arguably the meta-picture here, it won’t be very useful to you unless you are an author. It might discuss the way the villain uses motivation to structure an approach to the world, but it will still be probably working from the point of view of building an evil person who has major lack of self-control and a serious Achilles’ heel. Usually it will talk about little beyond the surface features of his personality.

Jungian archetypes will get you closer, in the emphasis on underlying mental structures and an understanding that they’re an abstraction and not an absolute, a scale and not a box. The Wikipedia article on the subject says, “Any attempt to give an exhaustive list of the archetypes… would be a largely futile exercise since the archetypes tend to combine with each other and interchange qualities making it difficult to decide where one archetype stops and another begins.” If we combine that with the more function-oriented character archetype concept, we’ll have something we can use in practice – a practical set of Villain archetypes.

To sum up the above: we aren’t using the usual literary or Jungian archetypes, no one is all one archetype or another, and archetypes themselves can overlap a bit.

Most Villain archetypes are more about the method of operations than the desired goal. This is partly because certain personalities are drawn more toward certain ways of doing things, but also because as a Villain your goals may or may not be anything like openly shown. Mix and match the motivation and modus operandi to get the unique combination you need. There may also be a public persona to either draw or deflect attention, and to advance one’s plans in a productive way. It is not only possible to be, for example, a bookish artist who quietly builds a financial empire, or a well-connected and suave corporate man who mentors young men in Villainous ways, it is very likely that such a combination will be useful.

Your Villainous persona, therefore, has 3 parts: The underlying goal, the general method of achieving the goal (Villainous archetype), and the style (outward persona, or alias). These may combine openly and clearly to the general public, may confuse and intrigue them, or may be deceptive, one or two covering the other(s).

We’ll soon begin discussing specific archetypes and how to make the most of them. Are you a spy or a buckaroo? Mad scientist, hacker or adventurer? Godfather? Subversive? Sabateur? Just some examples. Odds are you will see yourself in more than one of them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *