Character Types: The Evil Overlord

Evil_Overlord_PinterestIt was only a matter of time before a video series on character stereotypes would get to the evil overlord character.

And so here we are.

The overlord character often struggles to be much more than a cheap Sauron rip-off.

And it often struggles to be more than a Sauron rip-off because readers assume that Sauron is the perfect villain.

Here’s the problem.

Sauron isn’t the perfect villain–he isn’t even a particularly interesting one.

“What?” all my fellow Tolkien-fans are now saying. “How can Sauron not be an interesting villain?”

Watch the video to understand why.

Previous Stereotypes:

The Strong Female Character (TM)

The Damsel in Distress

The Parents

The Comic Relief

The Mentor

The Henchman

The Herald

Profile photo of Josiah DeGraaf
Josiah DeGraaf is a high school English teacher and literature nerd who fell in love with stories when he was young and hasn’t fallen out of love ever since.
He writes because he’s fascinated by human motivations. What causes otherwise-good people to make really terrible decisions in their lives? Why do some people have the strength to withstand temptation when others don’t? How do people respond to periods of intense suffering? What does it mean to be a hero?
These questions drive him as a reader, and they drive him as a writer as well as he takes normal people, puts them in crazy situations (did he mention he writes fantasy?), and then forces them to make difficult choices with their lives.
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels with worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as entertaining as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. In the meantime, you can find him writing articles here or short stories at his website (link below) as he works toward achieving these goals.
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  1. Touching humanity there, Daniel. It’s adding to your complexity. You should pretend to be fasting next time.

  2. how stupid is Daniel,
    …no comment

  3. Okay so I have a question. A villain in one of my stories is the leader of a federation. As such, he spends the entire book sitting in his office sending out orders because a) he isn’t actually that good at fighting himself and b) he won’t risk himself and it just isn’t done. He has two chapters from his pov showing basically what he spends a lot of the book doing -hunting down the protagonist- but he never really comes into play very much, although he might in the final book of the trilogy (which I haven’t written yet so I don’t know :P). Is that okay or should I try work on getting him out there and active more?
    The more active villain could be his IT expert or his head agent that actually do come into contact with the main characters, but I’m not sure.

    • Hey Jane,
      If you are spending time with the villain in his POV, and he is actually making decisions that create a direct conflict with your character, AND the audience cares, then I think you are in good shape. In your particular situation, you probably need to take extra care to establish the human/evil paradigm. I’m not sure two chapters is enough to really thresh him out and make him interesting. If you want to make him interesting, you need to be able to show the actions and reactions he is taking against the protagonist. You may also want to consider what his mode of action implies about the overall story. For example, if the story is about the protagonist overcoming a powerful institution (the federation), then this villain’s mode of action (commanding from a high office) works well. It fits the story you are trying to tell. If that is not really what the story is about, you might want to consider some different options.
      One option would be to do what you mentioned and make the minions into the interesting villains and letting the federation leader hang back like Sauron.
      Another option that came into my head would be to flip this stereotype on its head. What I mean is, you make the federation leader the most interesting. You spend time with him, and get to see the struggles he faces in trying to hunt the hero from behind a desk. Then you could make the minions the less interesting. They become more like the pieces on a chess board. You don’t really care about loosing a pawn. You care more about how that sacrifice effects the game. Thus you would get a story something like the the main character being a piece on the board trying to figure out a way to defeat the player outside the board. This makes for some insurmountable odds and could create some good conflict.
      The third option could be to do a combination of the two. Thus you have interesting pieces (to follow the chess analogy) AND interesting players (the Fed Leader and the Main Character). That could create some powerful scenes as you see how the Fed Leader’s actions can negatively effect the other team, but also his own ‘pieces’.
      Those are some thoughts. Always keep writing! And maybe throw some of these questions on the forum. Feel free to tag me @michael-stanton

  4. *shakes head**smothers laughter* I think you’re both evil overlords. In different ways. You make a great pair. Someday you two should… I don’t know, take over the world or something.

    Great stuff, as always. I especially like the differentiation between the Sauron type and the Jadis type… I’d been lumping Jadis in with Sauron.

  5. Micaela M. says:

    Watch the video through again and tell me who said “eever overload” and how many times it was repeated, ’cause I don’t know about you, but it made my day. *falls on the floor laughing- again* I made a mistake and watched all of these in one sitting. *facepalm*

  6. Petition to make the credit scenes as long as the informational section. Love the information, but the credit it clips make me laugh so hard. And no, Daniel, it’s not all because of you. It’s because of the interaction between you three that is so close to what it would be like if I tried to get some of siblings to make a series like this. XD

  7. Yes!! Exactly, Hope! Seeing the interaction is half the fun. I keep telling my brother and sister, “This is us in a couple years! This is exactly what it would be like if we tried to make a YouTube series,”. I can see it now. Abby would man the camera and turn up every so often to slap Jacob. I would ‘try’ to keep us on topic, and Jac would be goofing off the whole time. Oh, wait. Abby said she’d elbow Jac in the stomach instead. Oh, dear. *sighs* Anyway! Great job as always, Josiah! Super helpful and super entertaining at the same time. Win, win, I say! I am eagerly awaiting the next one.

  8. “I’m like the SparkNotes of Kingdom Pen!” 😀 Hilarious!

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