Lecture Series~ Building Narrative with Oliver 101: The 3 Prime Evils and Their Sub-Types

Today’s lecture will deal with the 3 primary types of Evil you will encounter in fiction.

Now, when I say evil, I don’t mean in the abstract, difficult to define good and evil. For the sake of clarity, whenever I address good and evil, I am speaking specifically of it in regards to convenience (benefits the protagonist) and inconvenience (either harms or otherwise deters the protagonist in some way). Why? Because good and evil have less letters, that’s why!

There are three prime evils in fictional writing. Bear in mind, this doesn’t mean there aren’t MORE evils; It simply implies that these are the 3 you will MOST LIKELY ENCOUNTER in narrative:

  • The Rational Evil
  • The Active Evil
  • The Passive Evil

First, let’s start off with the big bad: The Rational Evil.

The following attributes tend to make up many Rational Evils:

  • They tend to be hyper intelligent, clever, or incredibly skilled characters.
  • At the beginning, they tend to have far more worldy or book knowledge than the protagonist and their entourage.
  • They tend to have a large amount of power or resources at their disposal to meet their ends.
  • The classic “Mastermind” is more often than not a Rational Evil.
  • Occasionally, they can be persuaded to give up their Dark Crusade or other nefarious plot, with enough evidence.
  • They make it a point to not incriminate themselves as much as possible, by having Active Evils perform tasks for them.
  • The removal of the Rational Evil is VERY OFTEN the primary goal of the Protagonist.

As stated above, Rational Evils more often than not have Active Evils in their employ.

The following attributes tend to make up many Active Evils:

  • They often times have a UNIFORM APPEARANCE.
  • They don’t necessarily lack intelligence, but they are often less intelligent in comparison to the Rational Evil, and lack the commitment or ability to grow into a Rational Evil of their own volition.
  • Without a Rational Evil to guide them, they will often give up their crusade without much hassle.
  • Like animals, they tend to travel in packs, but can act alone if given very specific instructions.
  • Usually is the one that commits a grievous error that is detrimental to the Rational Evil‘s plans, and ends up being very beneficial to the protagonist and entourage.
  • The Active Evil serves as the most numerously represented inconvenience for the protagonist.

The last of the Prime Evils is one that gets overlooked the MOST, but is arguably the most IMPORTANT of the 3 Evils: The Passive Evil. The Passive Evil is important because it ends up being the “flavor” of a world and making it more interesting. Without a passive evil, things tend to be VERY DULL.

The following attributes tend to make up many Passive Evils:

  • Passive Evils are usually very UNIQUE; You will find few of them in a given world.
  • Passive Evils usually are not bound to either good or evil; They merely exist.
  • The Passive Evil has no desire (unless against it’s own will) to actively seek out the protagonist OR the antagonist, it merely follows it’s own prime instincts.
  • Neither protagonist or antagonist will usually want to deal with an encounter of the Passive Evil. Often times, you will even see the Protagonist and Antagonist call a temporary truce in order to deal with it.
  • Passive Evils are dangerous because they can take on many forms; They can be sentient creatures, environmental hazards, non-corporeal beings, the protagonist themselves (such as a mental condition or other handicap), and more!
  • The Passive Evil comes and goes as it pleases if possible, and tends not to be bound by strict rules.
  • If a Rational Evil has managed to contain and control a Passive Evil, the Passive Evil will frequently struggle to not be bound by it, unless it is converted into an Active Passive (see below).

Sounds simple, right? But I’m sure you’re thinking, “Wait, that can’t possibly cover everything! My <x> character doesn’t fit into those!” Actually, this is because you can MIX AND MATCH these archetypes together to create NEW EVILS. In fact, it is NECESSARY to do so. Starting with the most COMMONLY VIEWED of these would be the Active Rational Evil.

The follow attributes often make-up Active Rational Evils:

  • Active Rationals tend to be SO smart, that they teeter on the very edge, or have completely fallen off, the cliff of insanity.
  • Active Rationals tend to be motivated by one or any combination of the following three things: Power, Vendetta, or Enlightenment.
  • Active Rationals tend to be very greedy, and will not employ Active Evils, but if they do, it is in a very limited capacity.
  • Active Rationals are, comically enough, very self-motivated go-getters!
  • Active Rationals tend to be very likely to lie, cheat, and perform other dishonorable actions to get their way.
  • Active Rationals on occasion can be bargained with. However, their motivation for Power, pursuit of Vendetta, or journey to Enlightenment can make them blind to reason.
  • Very often, an Active Rational is born from a SPURNED GOOD.
  • Active Rationals are smart enough to avoid the Passive Evil if possible, because they are aware of the danger that it represents. They will however attempt to put the protagonist in its path instead or otherwise inconvenience the protagonist with it.

However, no Rational Evil can get things done if he has to spend time rallying lackeys and micro-managing all day. This is where the Rational Active comes into play!

The following attributes tend to make up many Rational Active Evils:

  • Rational Actives tend to be very clever and even display an intelligence that isn’t necessarily as good as the Rational Evil, but they shine above and beyond most Active Evils.
  • Rational Actives are FREQUENTLY the colloquial “Henchman” and “Second-in-Command.”
  • Rational Actives tend to believe they are smarter than most, and if things are played correctly, would want to become the next Rational Evil.
  • Rational Actives provide a MUCH more immediate and dangerous threat to the protagonist.
  • The intelligence of the Rational Active can be the cause of much stress to the Rational Evil, simply because if there is a chance that the Rational Active can be turned to the side of good, their betrayal can be the cause of the entire downfall of the Rational Evil‘s plans.
  • The Rational Active is most likely to be the one to flee an encounter gone wrong, or to flee during the downfall of the Rational Evil‘s plan. The Rational Active considers his/herself to be “too good” or “too smart” to be caught/killed/captured in this situation.
  • Being able to REASON with the Rational Active is one of the most important tasks of the protagonist. If anyone has the ability to bring a stop to the Rational Evil‘s campaign, it is this character, and convincing him/her to do so is generally high on the list of the protagonist and entourage.
  • If you paid attention to my previous lecture, you’ll notice that the BLACK MAIDEN can (and often does) fall into the Rational Active category!

The final category, just as before, is INCREDIBLY dangerous. The Passive Active Evil.

The following behaviors make up a majority Active Passive Evils when they appear:

  • Most Active Passives tend to lack either a distinct intelligence OR independent thought.
  • Just like regular Passive Evils, they merely act, but with a specific goal in mind instead.
  • Most Active Passives are sentient creatures or otherwise have an ability to travel in order to achieve their goals; it is rare for an environmental Passive Evil to become an Active Passive.
  • It is not uncommon for the Rational Evil to take control of a Passive Evil and turn it into an Active Passive.
  • Active Passives act indiscriminately. Their lack of intelligence simplifies them down into a way of A-B-C thinking: a) If it is in my way, remove it. b) If it is not in my way, leave it. c) If I feel like it, do it.
  • Active Passives will continue on towards their goal unless incapacitated or removed.
  • All the other Evil types fear the Active Passive and, oddly enough, have a great deal of respect for its unrestricted power.
  • A Passive Active cannot be bargained with, merely because it only has one desire: Achieving the goal or task that has been laid before it.
  • As stated above, a rampaging Passive Active is often the cause of many truces.
  • Turning a Passive Active into an Accidental Ally by the protagonist can, and often does happen. Even better, turning two Passive Actives on each other is a tactic often employed by the protagonist, in order to cancel them out!

And that, class, was today’s lecture! And don’t forget, none of these are HARD, FAST RULES. They are flexible, bendable, and in some cases, flat out broken. But as you can see, especially from the examples above, there IS a formula. You just have to be able to see behind the veil, and all will become apparent!

Don’t forget, you can find the rest of the Lecture Series right here!

-Dr. Oliver, Professor of Nothing


  1. As mentioned by a reader elsewhere- Yes, Zombies = Active Passive. Any goal-driven hazard is an AP. It can’t just sit there, it must have some motivation of some kind, and be willing to really, really eff you up in order to achieve it.

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