The Dark Tetrad: 4 Qualities The Worst Villains Possess

The Dark Tetrad: 4 Qualities The Worst Villains Possess


If you want to create a diabolical character, read this post. We look at The Dark Tetrad, which includes the four qualities the worst villains possess.

In a post on Psychology Today, Romeo Vitelli talks about villains often possessing traits from the ‘Dark Triad’ of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.  He says that researchers have proposed a fourth trait, Sadism, which would create a ‘Dark Tetrad’.

What Is The Dark Tetrad?

These four traits make up The Dark Tetrad:

  1. Narcissism: This is pathological self-absorption. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica: ‘Narcissism is characterised by an inflated self-image and addiction to fantasy, by an unusual coolness and composure shaken only when the narcissistic confidence is threatened, and by the tendency to take others for granted or to exploit them. The disorder is named for the mythological figure Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection.’
  2. Psychopathy: According to Merriam-Webster: ‘A mental disorder especially when marked by egocentric and antisocial activity, a lack of remorse for one’s actions, an absence of empathy for others, and often criminal tendencies.’
  3. Machiavellianism: This is detached, calculating, manipulative behaviour where somebody is so focused on their own welfare that they will deceive and exploit others to achieve their goals. According to Wikipedia: ‘This is a psychological trait centred on interpersonal manipulation, unemotional coldness, and indifference to morality.’
  4. Sadism: Named for the Marquis de Sade, sadism means deriving pleasure from other people’s suffering. Sadists enjoy hurting others. According to Merriam Webster, sadism is: ‘1. the derivation of sexual gratification from the infliction of physical pain or humiliation on another person. 2a: delight in cruelty. 2b: excessive cruelty.’

Imagine creating antagonists with these four dark qualities?

Imagine somebody who meets all four criteria. You could call this person evil. You would have to create a formidable protagonist to counter this creature.

In Psychology Today, Travis Langley says: ‘Not every abuser, bomber, mass murderer, or other human monster will meet all four criteria, but when all four are present, persistent, and pervasive, their victims tend to suffer the worst. That, we name evil.’

If you are creating an antagonist, you may want to use all four, or some of these in their make-up. You could even include them in a protagonist, especially if you are creating an anti-hero. (Read The The Antihero in Popular Culture: A Life History Theory of the Dark Triad)

Examples Of Characters With Dark Triad / Dark Tetrad Qualities

  1. Hannibal Lecter
  2. Alex in A Clockwork Orange
  3. James Bond
  4. Ebenezer Scrooge
  5. Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men
  6. Mr Burns in The Simpsons
  7. Dexter Morgan in the Dexter series of novels
  8. Sherlock Holmes
  9. Patrick Bateman in American Psycho

Please add your suggestions with characters who have these traits in the comments section below.

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 by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson

More Posts On Antagonists:

  1. The Antagonist As A Literary Device
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  3. Use The 7 Deadly Sins To Strengthen Your Antagonist’s Motives
  4. The Least You Should Know About Your Protagonist And Antagonist
  5. Use Your Antagonist To Define Your Story Goal
  6. 7 Deadly Rules For Creating A Villain
  7. 10 Ways To Create Dangerously Nuanced Antagonists
  8. 10 Essential Tips for Writing Antagonists
  9. Why You Need An Antagonist In Your Story
  10. 3 Dastardly Different Villains & Why We Love To Hate Them

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This article has 3 comments

  1. Tanya

    The first character to come to mind when I read this list of traits is Donald Trump.

  2. Jessie Nekut

    ~ Lady Tremaine from Cinderella: she could have been a source of comfort and protection to Cinderella in her time of need. Instead the vulnerable, grieving orphan is victimized and betrayed in the place that used to mean safety, her family home.
    ~ Javert from Les Miserables: he is supposed to be a good guy. However, his cold devotion to what he sees as his duty has stripped him of his humanity and he no longer sees people, only their crimes.
    ~ Edward Fairfax Rochester from Jane Eyre: one of my favorite books, but Mr. Rochester is clearly another character who meets some, if not all of these criteria. He has what might be referred to as a “checkered past”, and because of his own misuse at the hands of his family marrying him off to someone with whom a happy and contented life was doubtful, he runs from it. Assuming all the bad habits of a prodigal, he finally returns to his homeland, full of bitterness and cynicism, with an insane wife in tow. Instead of dealing with her compassionately, he actually locks her in the attic and pretends she doesn’t exist. When Jane appears on the scene, he is armed with all of the self-absorption needed to justify (in his mind) his treatment of her. Making her jealous, coldly dismissing her, keeping his BIG secret from her as she happily plans the wedding, these are the actions of a villian. Only the last-minute intervention of others keeps him from carrying out his plan. Painted, as he is, in a romantic light, it’s difficult at times to see his behavior for what it is. From what I have observed, most of us, no selfish or heinous our actions, never realize that we are actually NOT the hero, but the villain.

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