For those of you who are unfamiliar with TV Tropes lingo, a Complete Monster is the worst kind of villain imaginable: one that is evil to the core and has little to no redeeming traits whatsoever.

In order to qualify as a Complete Monster, a villain has to meet the following criteria:

  1. They are the vilest character in their respective universe and must stand out from the crowd of other villains.

  2. They are taken seriously, causing fear, revulsion, and hatred from other characters in the story.

  3. They are never presented in a positive way.

  4. They display no remorse towards those who they have hurt, nor do they express any empathy for others as well.

  5. The atrocities that they commit are shown to the audience or implied and must not be told.

  6. They must have performed an act that puts them beyond any chance of redemption.

I'm fully aware that it's quite easy for any writer to make a villain that is irredeemably terrible, bit it's hard to make such a villain come across as a believable character without making them into a one-dimensional caricature. One of the reasons I absolutely despise Sword Art Online is that every single Complete Monster in the series is a manic that is comically evil for the sake of being comically evil, who is either a megalomaniac, a rapist or an empty shell of a person with no motivation, except to kill. I've tried to avoid this problem by taking a page from Berserk and giving each Complete Monster in my series, The Ragnarǫk Cycle (which has no more than four CMs) their own distinct personalities and motives for villainy.

Would this be a good way to write a Complete Monster?


6 Answers 6


Your link gives many examples of such monsters, and I'm sure you'll be familiar with at least a few of them. In theory, you can take one you felt was especially interesting to watch/read/listen to depending on the medium, and list how they fit those six criteria.

But you can also list what else there is to them besides being CMs. When well-written, what makes someone a CM isn't what they want, but their willingness to do anything to get it and to Hell with the consequences. And even if they want something that can seem good, it's no problem; Davros thought the Daleks would achieve "peace" in the sense of destroying everyone else.

Decide what it is that your character wants. Money? Power? Revenge? To change the world as they see fit? They're likely to pretend they want A when they care at least as much about B, which further underscores their flaws.


their own distinct personalities and motives for villainy. Would this be a good way to write a Complete Monster?

It's a start. But there are only a few motives that really apply to a CM. Power, greed, pleasure in torture, killing and causing death. Perhaps misplaced vengeance.

To me, the way to make a plausible CM is to remove the insanity and build a simple genius psychopath, a person without a conscience or empathy and incapable of love that truly cares only for themselves, not even their own children or family, parents or spouses. To them everybody else is disposable worker ants to be used and discarded, including infants and children. Nobody else matters, except for their utility in accomplishing a goal.

To me, although "enjoying killing" is not a problem for the plausibility of a CM, irrational behavior ruins the plausibility. I don't think an irrational villain can rise to the level of being a worthy foe, irrationality makes them too easy to catch/stop and carries a high danger of resolving the plot by deus ex machina: "Oh, villain did something stupid." I find that to be disappointing even if the author telegraphs the ending by having the villain do the stupid irrational thing several times; if it is a habit it would have done him in long before the hero comes on the scene.

I would keep them rational and ruthless and quick to kill, and of course with a plan and goal to achieve it that must be stopped.


Look at RL complete monsters. They exist. What makes them complete monsters? What makes them who they are?

Hitler wanted to see his country return to its glory days. That goal is not deviant in itself. His racism wasn't uncommon at the time either, or he wouldn't have had such a following. He crossed the line into "complete monster" when he went from not liking certain groups, to being willing to systematically massacre people. Cold-blooded, thought-through, a well-oiled murder machine. And even that wouldn't have caused fear, had he not had the means - leadership, charisma, whatever it was, to make others follow his mad vision.

Stalin was a completely different kind of monster. He was the man who led the USSR into an industrial revolution, changed it from a backward agrarian state with a large percent of the population illiterate, into a strong entity that, for a while, could compete scientifically and militarily with the USA. So he had skill, and his motives weren't as simple as "personal power". At the same time, he was absolutely ruthless: from giving the order to kill the Tzar and his family, to the Holodomor, to the Shtrafbat (penal battalions) and more, nothing was "too cruel" for him. The end always justified any means. At the same time he was paranoid, fearing anyone who might pose a danger to his position, and taking down any person or group that were starting to get any power (before WWII, he had disposed of many high-ranking capable officers, for instance). I guess what makes him a monster is the absolute ruthlessness. (And yes, I am aware that there's more to say about him. He's a complicated character. And a monster, like you want.)

And then there's the one who gives me the shivers. Dr. Josef Mengele. He was a doctor - the profession that's supposed to be most humane, most about helping others. Instead, he was performing the most cruel human experiments in Auschwitz. He didn't appear like the complete monster:

He was capable of being so kind to the children, to have them become fond of him, to bring them sugar, to think of small details in their daily lives, and to do things we would genuinely admire ... And then, next to that, ... the crematoria smoke, and these children, tomorrow or in a half-hour, he is going to send them there.

And the human experiments:

Witness Vera Alexander described how he sewed two Romani twins together back to back in an attempt to create conjoined twins. The children died of gangrene after several days of suffering.


To write someone like that, I guess you write the contradiction: how he's nice one moment, and killing children the next. It's this crazy contradiction that makes him frightening.

  • 2
    Actually I've also heard about Stalin, that if you talked to him, he appeared to be a very nice person, of whom you wouldn't ever imagine that he would without hesitation order to kill lots of people.
    – celtschk
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 18:51
  • 3
    @celtschk The most scary monsters in literature aren't the ones that cackle and have an evil laugh - they're the ones who appear nice, rational, etc. They're both creepy and realistic. Commented May 11, 2018 at 19:05
  • Ugh. These things should not be forgotten, but I didn't expect to be reminded of them on a Tuesday morning. A good answer in any case, even if I was a happier person in general before I read it. Commented May 15, 2018 at 15:15
  • @celtschk in many ways, the Soviet camps were worse than those of the Nazi ones.
    – Baldrickk
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 at 14:15

Never let them give serious consideration to their own moral failings.

It's a common feature of the wickedest of people in real-life: It never occurs to them that they are the ones in the wrong.

  • Agree completely to this. The trait that most dictators, terrorists, fanatics and such share is that they are completely certain that they are right. You need that trait to be so ruthless and brutal. If you allow for the possibility that you could be wrong, you wouldn't kill for your (potentially wrong) belief. If you are completely, entirely, 101% certain that you are right, no problem doing to those wrong whatever you want.
    – Tom
    Commented May 25, 2018 at 12:13

I think the key hangup here is the "never presented in a positive way" part. In the real world, no matter how cruel, sadistic, and brutal a person was, there are likely to be some other people somewhere who benefit from their actions and at least some of the time see them in a positive light. That's because humans are very complicated, and we all have a tangled web of relationships, and those relationships "step on each other's toes". Say you have a brutal dictator. He may throw his enemies into gigantic paper shredders, but I'm sure his immediate family views the perks that come with his office in a positive light. Even an average citizen in his country (who has never had a personal run in with the secret police) might view him as mostly benign: he assures stability, law, and order, which are the basic requirements of any civilization. There are surely better rulers, but there are worse ones as well.

Stories that do the best job with a complete monster type character really bend that rule about "never presented in a positive way". This can be thought of as the central theme of Godfather: a fundamentally evil character who nonetheless has motives that make sense to the viewer and who we can root for. Breaking Bad is a good example as well. Take Walter White and if we "zoom out", taking into account everything he did and who he is in totality, he seems like a sociopathic monster, but if you zoom down and look at little details, things get more blurred and we can even sympathize with him. To me, the most successful "complete monster" character who remained true to the trope would probably be Darth Vader in the original Star Wars series, but he would not have remained interesting if his character hadn't been broadened significantly in the second film, and it was his character development, not Luke's upon which the entire emotional weight of the third film ultimately hangs. So in that case, while the character did follow the rules of the trope in the first film, it did so only based on the knowledge that we were not being presented with a complete picture. As soon as there is more information, his status as a "complete monster" gets fuzzy.

I think if you want to really stick to the trope, be prepared for a "cartoon bad guy" character who gets boring fast. You can play with the trope by presenting incomplete information to the reader, or play with the trope by presenting only selective viewpoints into the monster's behavior. You can hint that there is more to the story but just not show it, which would pique a reader's interest if done well. What I would not do is make it clear that this is the whole story and this character is a complete monster and that's just it. If you do that, then you have a "monster movie" plot, where the only way to keep up interest is not telling anything about the monster, because we know everything we need to. Instead, the plot revolves around hiding the monster so it can pop out at the most interesting time (think of Jaws or Friday the 13th or Scream). This can be done effectively in a book, you just have to be prepared for the kind of story it will be and work to scare and thrill readers instead of working to expose anything particularly deep or meaningful about human nature through character development.


I think that "belief" and "morality" should the core of a complete monster. Not to say that s/he follows the same beliefs and ideas that we do, no no no! A complete monster has their own ideas of belief and morality, much like many vampires of the Sabbat had did in Vampire: The Masquerade, which could range from dipping yourself into as much depravity as possible to becoming a saintly type of vampire -- a twisted take of what it means to be a saint, granted, but a saintly path you can follow.

What your monster believes in -- a cause, a notion, etc. -- gives him direction, where to proceed from here. The Operator from Serenity, though not listed as a Complete Monster by TV Tropes standards, refers to himself as a monster who would not be accepted into The Corporation's utopian paradise, but he believes in it so strongly that he will murder and destroy anyone that stands against that dream. In fact, it's because of the wiliness of Mal and his crew that he orders a Scorched Earth policy against them, and has every place they have ever taken shelter destroyed, every person they had connections with murdered, all so that they would have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. It is as horrific as it sounds, especially when they find that Shepard Book's haven has been wiped out, and everyone, including children, have been executed. The Operative's reason -- "You left me no choice." Not even a slightest bit of remorse because, to him, it's all just another part of the job.

If Belief is your complete monster's compass, then morality is how s/he applies his belief. The Joker, from The Killing Joke seeks to break Gotham PD Commissioner Jim Gordon to prove his thesis to Batman that anyone can be pushed to the depths of madness and become just like the Joker from One. Bad. Day. Because of his belief, he first goes to Gordon's house when he and his daughter are home, rings the doorbell, then shoot's Barbara through her spine, capture Gordon, then sets him up for the main event -- Gordon strapped to a Rollercoaster ride naked while being shown the various Polaroids Joker took of the crippled, bleeding Barbara before and after he strips her naked, all while taunted the helpless Commissioner. It's absolutely maddening, as Gordon has no idea if his daughter is even alive, and then faced with the possibility that Joker molested her body... or corpse. Wouldn't you beat Joker to death with your bare hands the moment you got free? Well, that's the whole point -- to break the Commissioner, strip away his self-righteousness as a police officer and a servant of the Law by robbing him and his family of dignity. mock his weakness, rile him up to the very brink of sanity, and give him that one tiny push over the edge by getting him to murder Joker in cold blood. Even if Gotham City forgave him unconditionally, there's no way Gordan will be able to live with himself, and thus, he'll destroy himself if not become like the Joker.

Overall, a complete monster isn't just a psychopath or an anarchist -- he's so much more. It should be terrifying if he smiles at you and offers you a nice hot bowl of chicken soup while you're worried about the girlfriend that hasn't been seen in the last week. Chances are, he's waving the answers you crave under your very nose, and you won't see it until you look twice.

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