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Dark, Malevolent Personality Traits

Let’s hope that you don’t know any of these “dark” types, unless you are a mystery/thriller author, in which case you need to get to know them intimately. You will need them to create fascinating, interesting antagonist – bad guys (“guy” being gender neutral in this case). The type of bad guys that you love to hate! You can’t look away from what they are doing.

Dark or malevolent personality refers to those with less empathic or more negative personalities perhaps even sociopathic behaviors.

The Dark Triad is made up of three negative traits, i.e., narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy.

  • Narcissists have exaggerated self-esteem. Everyone has self-esteem, but narcissists have more than needed. They tend to be “grandiose self-promoters who crave attention.”
  • Machiavellian personalities are extremely manipulative, but usually are not psychopathic, but some can be narcissistic. These tend to be “master manipulators”. Bernie Madoff, the confessed operator of the largest Ponzi scheme in world history, and the largest financial fraud in U.S. history, is a text book example of a Machiavellian.
  • Psychopaths display harmful behaviors towards others because they have distinct brain differences. Several studies show that a psychopath’s brain may show damage to the frontal lobe, which regulates a person’s ethics. Psychopaths are the most malevolent of this group. They show little concern for who gets hurt as they seek thrills. Their impulsiveness makes them less adept at white collar crime like Madoff, and more inclined towards violence – think Charles Manson and Whitey Bulger.

But there are numerous classifications of malevolent personalities.

  • Sociopaths are products of their environment. Perhaps they have gone through some kind of trauma and their sociopathic behavior serves as a coping mechanism.
  • Sadists display an enjoyment of inflicting cruelty on others.
  • Cynics have a jaded view of the world and tend to put down attempts at progress.


Now how to you create a realistic, believable bad guy? I like to create a villain that the reader will still care about what happens to them. Even if the antagonist is odious, they are still human. You will need to allow their human side to show.

  • Do a backstory on your antagonist. Allow their past to explain what motivates them. Very few people are evil just for the sake of being evil. Do they have a family? In real life many do.
  • Find a sympathy factor. If you can make the reader feel this, they will be hooked on finding out what happens to the antagonist. Make the character multi-dimensional.
  • Justify the bad guy’s position. Show his thinking. No matter how bad he or she seems to you, the bad guy thinks they are in the right. Let that thinking come out. You want the reader to be slightly conflicted about the antagonist.
  • In a mystery/thriller, you will likely want your villain to be a realistic and believable, yet darkly motivated character vs some sort of “super-villain”.
  • Dark personalities are not favorable, yet in real life these people often attract partners. Why do people with malevolent personalities seem to attract partners so easily? Studies suggest that dark personality traits are attractive because they are unconventional. A rebellious man or an impulsive, mysterious woman may seem sexy.

Keep all these malevolent, dark traits in mind when creating your antagonists – make them dark, yet alluring. You’ll get your reader hooked.