There are antagonists, and then?
There are big bads.
Antagonists exist in books where there are philosophical discussions over fancy dinners. Big bads (as in the big bad wolf) are for action-adventure and fantasy stories. After publishing 26 fantasy books, it’s safe to say that big bads are my thing. In this post, I’ll list my six main types. Fun!
In my writing process, I define my protagonist (hero/heroine) first, so that’s what I’ll do here as well…
ABOUT THE HERO/HEROINE
For me, I can’t decide what kind of big bad I want until I settle on the type of hero/heroine that I can write. And yes, I mean can write. There are types that I want to write, but they just don’t flow.
First, heroes. For many folks, anti-heroes are the bomb, especially when it came to love interests. I’ve tried to write one or twenty. Nope. Wasn’t working. Turns out, my inner muse wants my good guys to be GOOD.
Second, heroines. I write strong heroines, but there’s a lot of wiggle room on that definition. For me, strength doesn’t mean attacking without provocation, treating other people poorly, and-or acting like a douchebag in general. Not that it isn’t a valid kind of character to write! I just can’t write it. PRO TIP: there’s a thin line between someone who is suffering and asking for help… and a heroine who WHINES.
Fuck, I hate whining.
ABOUT BIG BADS
In any story, the hero/heorine is only as strong as what they have to face/overcome. For the fantasy stuff I write, that means creating big bads who are indeed BIG and BAD.
Which brings us to the six types!
CATEGORY ONE – FEELING NO PAIN
I’ve divided my six big bads into two categories. The first three have ZERO inner emotional life. It’s like they’re stuffed with cotton instead of empathy.
Type number one is what I call burn baby burn…
This pic reminds me of the eye of Sauron burning. Good times.
Type One. Burn Baby Burn
These characters just like to destroy stuff. This is Bat Man’s Joker character when he just wants to watch the world burn, that kind of thing. Internally, I think of these folks as sealed off from any feeling. LOTR Fans: I’d put Sauron in this category.
With that done, let’s on to type number two. The predator!
Any excuse for a wolf pic is a good one in my book.
Type Two. The Predator
These folks do feel, but they only sense the rush of power from hurting/controlling others. For instance, take Gordon Gecko from the movie Wall Street. Does the guy have enough stuff to last forever? Sure. It’s not about actually needing cash, it’s about taking down the so-called lesser people and their money. Chimera from my Angelbound Offspring series is like this, too.
Moving on to our next big bad, the fighter!
Pow! Punch on, big bad.
Type Three. The Fighter
This type doesn’t have an inner life either… unless they’re actively fighting someone else. These big bads hold onto real or imagined slights and then go make things right (in their minds, of course.) The character of Armageddon in my Angelbound series is like this. Growing up, Armie felt demeaned because his mother Onyx, the one-time Queen of Hell, didn’t see little Armie as fit to run the place some day. So Armageddon went after the job and how. If Onyx had told Armgageddon that he couldn’t knit, then little Armie might have chosen a career in competitive sweater-making.
With these three done, let’s move to category number two.
CATEGORY TWO – OWIE OW OW
There big bads have an inner emotional life and truly feel pain. However, that inner reality is mostly a shit show, otherwise they wouldn’t be big bads. There are three types here.
First, there’s the relatable guy or gal.
I’m not evil … so much as colorful.
Type Four. The relatable bad guy or gal
From a writing perspective, this one can be a dangerous choice. If your audience sympathizes with your big bad, then tension might fizzle out. You want a big bad who faces pain, sure, but then that character somehow deals with their hurt in a crappy way.
Here are a few examples of a big bad who (for me!) seemed far too relatable for the story line.
***WARNING: Star Trek spoiler alert***
In the recent reboot of the Star Trek character, Khan, the big bad’s motivation was to free his old crew. I was so rooting for the guy. Plus, Benedict Cumberbatch played the role and YAY!
***WARNING: The Shining spoiler alert***
Sorry to any big Shelley Duvall fans out there, but I found her performance in Kubrick’s The Shining to be annoying as fuck. I cheered for Jack Nicholson’s character to take her down.
Next up? The big bad narcissist.
Let me tell you more about me! And I’m not yelling, you’re not listening!
Type Five. Big Bad Narcissists
These are some of my favorite big bads to write. They have inner pain and self-doubt, but they blame everyone else for their problems. My character of Marchesa in Slippers and Thieves is like this.
Now, on to the final type, the big bad egotist.
I shall hypnotize you with my lovely and colorful con artistry.
Type Six. Big Bad Egotists
Behind the scenes, this is also a type of narcissism, but the person in question is an extrovert. These are your classic con men and women, charming others into dedicating their lives to someone who (let’s face it) doesn’t deserve the attention. The character of Ethan from my book Thrax was like this.
So there you have it — my six types of big bads! This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list, so if you have a character type you don’t see above, please add it to the comments below. I look forward to hearing what you have to say!