March 17, 2023

The Nature of Evil characters

The Nature of Evil characters

I have only met a few really evil people in my life. One of them was a superior at a Fortune 500 company… a VP who was ruthless and cutthroat.

  • He lied to people,
  • He managed to set up and blame others for his mistakes, sabotaged competing projects, and manipulated all those around him.
  • He would have one meeting promising customers what they asked for and would then have a secret team meeting where he would explain why they would never get what they were just promised.
  • He literally had henchmen that did his dirty work, informants, people he would assign to other projects to report on what people said or thought privately (and those who did not like him or his projects or his tactics quietly and promptly got fired).
  • He took credit for the work of others (often after firing them).
  • He faked numbers on reports to make him look good and when caught, blamed underlings and terminated them for cause.
  • He had a trophy wife that he thought would make him look impressive and help his career. But she developed a neurological problem that made her hands shake, so he divorced her faster that you can sneeze.

I decided he was the epitome of evil.

But in my dealings with this man, I discovered something about evil people.  They always think they are the good guys. They sincerely believe that they are not doing anything wrong.


  • When he lied to others, he did so sincerely believing that others would not understand the truth anyway (so he would simply tell them what they wanted to hear and no one ever questions that)
  • When he sabotaged other projects that were competing with his own, he sincerely believed they would have failed anyway and he was just hastening things along.
  • When he manipulated people or threatened them, he sincerely believed it was the only way to get things done promptly and they were, after all, weaklings or morons compared to him.
  • When he destroyed the careers of others, it was not with malice. It was with a sense of indifference and absence of compassion based on the belief that their problems did not belong to him.

Such villains are, by nature, able to rationalize almost any action… but while they do things that are wrong, they are very sincerely wrong but they do not see anything wrong with what they do, because they are serving a higher purpose… one that is more important than the goals of those around them.

Thieves justify their crimes but telling themselves that the items they steal should belong to them, or they need them more, or the owners don't really need them or deserve them or appreciate them.

At the root level, all evil deeds are somehow rationalized or dismissed.


Thus, when I create characters that are evil… I fill them with passion (in their own ideas), pride and arrogance (in themselves), and confidence (that they are the only ones who understand what is really going on and what really needs to happen), but I also remove any sense of compassion or empathy for others.

Evil is, in the truest sense of the word… ruthless.

(Please note that ‘ruth’ means compassion… ‘ruthful’ means full of caring…  and ‘ruthless’ is simply the absence of compassion. It’s being completely devoid of empathy, sympathy, or concern for others. The essence of evil is not malice. It’s indifference.)

New writers often portray evil characters as malicious and cruel, mad scientists who want to destroy the world. Such renditions are crude, simplistic stereotypes. They have no depth and lack any semblance of real villains.

Realistic evil charters should be self-consistent and likely self absorbed with their desires or goals.

Evil people can be polite and likable and have a good sense of humor. They very often care a lot for things, but they almost never care about people. (Indeed, most are true sociopaths)

When confronted with their misdeeds, they are often surprised that others consider them evil or that the things that they do might be wrong. They rationalize to themselves that what they are doing is noble, courageous, virtuous, and right… even if those of weaker natures or lesser intelligence fail to understand. In their minds, they are really the victims, if only because they are so misunderstood.

Now, if you can create such a character and fold in rationalizations, like those lesser ones we make to ourselves every day, the reader can identify with the antagonist and still dislike him. This can cause actual discomfort in a reader who can feel for the villain and yet understand his twisted nature while seeing the wrongness in his actions that the villain himself does not.

I don’t always try to make my bad guys likable, but I do try to make them as consistently sincere as possible.... even if. or rather especially if, they are wrong.

The perfect portrayal of evil is... “It’s nothing personal…. It’s just business”.