I’m trying to make my character be perceived as a villainess, but I don’t really know what kind of atrocities she would do to be called one. I thought about it a lot, she has a line that she can’t cross of course such as r***. But murder or something can be justified since my world is in a fantasy settings. I thought about a rebellion, but I don’t think that would make her a villainess in the commoners’ eyes. And if I make her a childish villainess like someone who throws tantrum, it would be too mainstream and boring I guess. Murder is to common for someone to be called evil in a fantasy world, rebellion or such will probably only affects nobles more. Pls help me, would destruction of property suffice? I feel like I need more. And of course it has to be so worst that it results in execution.

  • $\begingroup$ Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. $\endgroup$
    – Community Bot
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 4:18
  • $\begingroup$ We can't give you anything except opinions to the answer as written - which would be off-topic. Please tell us about the culture and give us enough to work on so that a definite "best answer" can be identified. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 5:21
  • $\begingroup$ A 'villein' was historically a person who lived in a village, and implied a person of common birth... and that it became the modern term 'villain' also spoke to the disrespectful attitude that the nobility had toward the common folk. This question doesn't have enough information for us to come up with an objective answer. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 7:27
  • $\begingroup$ I am sorry, are we supposed to explore the definition of the word "villainess" by coming up with examples? $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 7:44
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The word "villain" refers to "the character in a story whose evil actions motivate the plot" (OED). It is a word used when speaking about the story, not a word used by the characters in the story. The point being, nobody will be called a villain in the story, unless it is a comical story which mocks itself. If you mean an evil woman, say so. If you mean a mass murderer, say so. If you mean a wicked witch, say so. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 26, 2022 at 9:55

1 Answer 1


Some people questioned if this is properly a worldbuilding question. This board is for the construction of coherent fictional worlds. But I think it is:

Morals are culturally dependent. They are not only culturally dependent.

There is a concept called a meme. This has been mutated in pop culture to mean a GIF with a snarky caption, but originally it described a bit of thought, an idea or habit, that could be transmitted from person to person, recombined and mutated. Societies and subgroups whose habits are fit for the environment will prosper and get copied, societies whose habits are unfit will fade away. Much like the transmission of genes in populations.

So what about villainy?

Successful societies tend to agree that some things are wrong, or the society splinters. This trends to include murder (within the group), theft (within the group), often disrespect of elders (within the group). The nature of this wrongness can differ. Murder might be seen as an offense against society or a divine order, or as an offense against the clan of the victim -- leaving clanless outcasts in the lurch.

You have to consider what your fictional society values.

  • A society with sudden environmental dangers (fishermen, mountaineers) might hold hospitality in emergencies sacred. Failing to rescue a drowning man or closing the door during a snow storm could be as reprehensible as, say, theft. Almost as bad as murder, because it is effectively murder by neglect. Different rules would apply on good days ...
  • You mentioned rape, I presume. (No need to bleep that out, as long as the descriptions are not gross.) That's evil in many real-world societies, for several reasons. The dignitiy and self-determination of the woman were historically not the main reasons:
    • Rape damages the virginity of the woman and hence her relatives' prospects for bride price. That's an economic offense against the clan.
    • Rape puts the woman at risk of maternal death. Again an offense against the clan or the husband.
    • Rape puts the legitimacy of any heir born during the next year (give or take) into question. With limited scientific knowledge, they might not be too firm on the 9-month timeframe.
      (I agree with avoiding rape as the crime of your villainess, BTW. Women can be guilty of rape, but often the situation is less clear-cut than with men and requires tact to make the point clear.)
  • There could be a society where failing to maintain a culvert is worse than murder. (Imagine a society always on the brink of famine, as many pre-modern societies were, and with terrain and rain patters which make culverts necessary.)
  • Or a society where lying under oath is one of the worst crimes. (Imagine a society which assumes that all men a free, subject to no king or queen unless they voluntarily swear fealty to a feudal leader.)
  • Where people have strong religious convictions, going against them is not allowed to prosper since that could set an example for others.

Does your society have magic? Summoning a demon outside a proper protective pentagram could be bad, even if nothing happened this time. Cursing crops and lifestock could sentence an entire village to a slow death. "Burn the witch at a stake!"

And notice the qualifier within the group in some of my examples. Societies can be quite callous about who is protected and who is outlaw. Imagine a barbarian raider who has no problem torturing the child of an outsider, to make the parents reveal the location of a few coins. Yet the same barbarian might willingly risk his own life to save a child of the clan.

So what can you do?

  • She is an oathbreaker. Feels right for a Viking-style society or medieval nobility.
  • She is a deserter. She ran and other fighters died. Feels right for a classic Greek- or Roman-style society.
  • She is an outspoken apostate. Feels right for a medieval city-dweller or scholar. Making that villainy could clash with modern sensibilities.
  • She is a tax-farmer. Read up on that.
  • Or a loan shark, giving the equivalent of payday loans. Be careful to stay clear of anti-semitic tropes if you do that.

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