Being a villain is hard work. All that banter back and forth between the heroes, all the planning to take over the world, all intimidation of your lackeys and certainly all that planning of your secret underground lair.
So it's no wonder that we tend to turn to cliches when we write villains. It's something easy to fall on that people will recognize, so why not do it?
Well, if you don't want your villain to get picked on at the school playground for being unoriginal and boring, it's best if you avoid the following.
1 - Don't go around calling people "fools."
Literally EVERY CLICHE VILLAIN has done this. Disney is especially well known for this, though Draco Malfoy and even Lord Voldemort himself have defaulted to this somehow-more-evil-than-idiot label.
I don't know what makes the word "fool" somehow an evil thing, but it's so common that I tend to check out as a reader every time I see a villain use it.
Be creative. Use something other than fool. Better yet, make up your own banter rather than being bogged down by someone else's!
2 - Don't have your villain kill/maim/burn/rape/do some other horribly evil thing and say "This is the most fun I've had in years!" or something similar.
I don't know how many times I've seen this in fiction, but it's a disappointment every time I do.
This is an attempt at showing vs. telling. It's a way for an author to say, "Look at how evil my character is! They're ENJOYING being evil!"
First off, the "enjoying being evil" cliche is way overdone. This is old comic book and children's TV show villainy and not very believable for anyone writing to young adults or older.
If your villain DOES enjoy being evil, you need do to it right. Have them show pleasure with their evil deeds by actions. Maybe they have a sadistic smile, or they shake with a sensual pleasure, or they show a kind of fierce joy in tearing people down.
But having them shout out something a normal person might say while playing mini golf for the first time cheapens the moment.
3 - Don't make an entire race/species/religion/nation evil.
OMG IT'S THE EVIL PEOPLE THAT AREN'T YOU.
Let me make things clear. I'm not saying that you CAN'T make your evil people be a single race/religion/species/whatever. It works for a lot of things. War of the Worlds did it, Gears of War did it, and Assassin's Creed did it.
But they modified it.
War of the Worlds has a single race of evil aliens invading Earth. But we don't know anything about the race as a whole. In fact, we learn very little about the group, since they die to disease very early on. This only made the invading part of the race evil. For all we know, there were members of this race on their home planet that were advocating for peace rather than war.
Gears of War has a race of evil, but these were originally humans, grotesquely mutated due to issues created by humanity. Their minds aren't the same as they once were.
Assassin's Creed puts the entire Templar religion against the assassin. But this is an example of extremism. Templars were originally Christian warriors, but they devolved into essentially terrorists and extremists. This doesn't make Christians as a whole evil in this world.
But I have seen so many books where "OMG this race of anthropomorphic lizards are evil and the whole race is decrepit!" that it makes me groan every time I see it. It's a very rare instance that an entire group of people is evil.
On that note, don't make the mistake of trying to avoid this problem by making one person of this race/religion/whatever a good guy and a member of your main character gang, as if one person somehow negates the issue at hand. This is called the "Noble Savage" fallacy. It's a problem that books and movies like The Last of the Mohicans and Dances with Wolves face by trying to single out one small group or one individual as an example but making the whole rest of the race evil. This is the same kind of overgeneralization.
English professors love breaking down the Noble Savage Fallacy.
I should also note that you CAN have your wonderful protags BELIEVE that one race/religion/whatever is evil, since that's common and often expected. But hopefully your story will make it more nuanced than that.
4 - Your villain should have more than just grandiose plans to take over the world.
Notice I said JUST. It's perfectly fine to have someone that has plans to rule the world (or country, or religion, or culture, whatever). But you have to have a REASON.
Do they have a thirst for power? Think about WHY.
Do they have a hatred for a specific race or religion? Think about WHY.
Do they have some unexplored fear? Some ego problem? A desire to prove themselves?
All of these things are important. MOTIVATION.
But just some random idea that "Well I'm evil so therefore I must want to rule the world" doesn't hold water in a good story. People have villainous ways for a reason.
Before you dive into the whole "My villain wants to rule EVERYTHING" cliche, think about other motivations for the bad things they do.
Probably one of the biggest pieces of advice most writers hear, but often ignore, is "Villains are the hero of their own stories." Your villain's motivation and desires are a big part of your character's drive and story. It's crucial to work it out in a way that makes sense to your readers.
And not one that gets them kicked out of Villain School.
Do you have any other villain cliches that bother you in writing? Share them below!