I adapted this blog series from a section of an online workshop I conducted for Writers & Books in March 2020.
Deciding a character’s alignment helps determine how they act during their adventures. I find it helpful to think about how each alignment would behave in the same circumstances because it highlights the differences between each alignment.
Here’s the scene:
A character is in a market and encounters a thief who has stolen from them in a previous incident. The thief doesn’t see the character yet, so they have time to react. How will they act?
A neutral evil character would discreetly follow the thief until they were in a private area, kill him, and rob his corpse. Unlike some of our other alignments, the value of the stolen item doesn’t matter to her, it could be a trinket or a treasure chest. The neutral evil character demands retribution for even the smallest infraction. The only thing stopping her is self-preservation. If the thief is likely to overpower her, or if he is part of a ruling social class, she may save her wrath for another day. But she will never forget.
Defining Neutral Evil Characters
Singularly concerned with themselves and their own agendas, neutral evil characters have no conscious and feel no guilt about ruthlessly pursuing objectives. The neutral evil character’s goals are usually selfish; if she’s working for an organization or is part of a family, she may appear to support them, but only if it suits her grand scheme.
However evil, she tends to be quiet about her malevolence. Neutral evil characters are long-con plotters, who may hide their true nature. They are often sophisticated, but when they’re not, they are brute bullies relishing in any suffering that isn’t their own. She may also be a malignant narcissist, believing that she is better than everyone and that the world owes her, and needs to pay up now.
Neutral Evil Character Development
These characters are often schemers, so one of the easiest ways to develop her would be to increase the complexity of her cons. Or she could start out at failing at her plots and then slowly get better at conspiracy. Often, her character development comes as a revelation to the other characters (or the readers) because she concealed her evil nature until her “good” persona outlived its usefulness.
Neutral Evil Character Examples
Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights cares only for himself and his love for Catherine. When he can’t marry her, he launches into a lifelong plot to destroy everyone who kept him from his love. His vengeance extends to the heirs of those who wronged him and lasts beyond the grave.
Senator Palpatine/ Darth Sidious /Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars franchise is the long-con type of neutral evil character whose evil nature is a revelation to those who trusted him. While he plays the helpful Senator, he’s secretly the manipulative Darth Sidious, gaining legions of followers. When he no longer needs his Senator persona, he becomes the evil emperor.
Dracula, in his many incarnations, and vampires in general, are neutral evil. Vampires (not as a rule, but usually) are consumed by hunger for blood and the need to kill for it. Their constant need for murder makes vampires schemers out of self-preservation. The vampires who survive are the ones who can plan and cover their tracks.
"There is a great disturbance in the Force."