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 chaotic evil character will viciously pursue the thief with little regard for the safety of the rest of the public in the market–like throwing a grenade at your garden to uproot a weed. There’s also a chance she will ignore the thief, her reaction will depend on how badly she wants the stolen item back and her feelings toward the thief. If she sees the thief as a kindred spirit, she may invite him to join in on her anarchy.
Defining Chaotic Evil Characters
Loss of life and destruction of property mean nothing to the chaotic evil character. This disregard for any form of social contract usually springs from one of two poisoned wells: vendetta or insanity. Often time, the chaotic evil character is both–a psychotic bent on vengeance.
Sometimes, a chaotic evil character has an obsession, and their actions all serve to further their infatuation. Having an obsession is not enough though to make her chaotic evil, though; there’s always an element of derangement in these characters. Chaotic evil characters are rarely antagonists unless the story is a character study, and they are never heroes. Chaotic evil character types include terrorists, mad scientists, psychos, and sociopaths.
Chaotic Evil Character Development
A chaotic evil character will get more evil or more chaotic. If she tends toward chaos, her behavior will get increasingly erratic as she descends into homicidal mania. While these characters can do an impressive amount of damage in a short amount of time, they either burn out or are apprehended because of their sloppy methods and lack of planning.
On the other hand, the character might become more evil. Instead of merely being chaotic, she could learn to sew the seeds of mass chaos through scheming and underhanded dealings. While her personality will still be unstable, she’ll be able to see her nefarious plots through to the end.
Chaotic Evil Character Examples
Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello is the “sewing the seeds of chaos” character type. He’s a master manipulator who harnesses the power of chaos to reach his goal. Iago doesn’t have the instability often seen with chaotic evil characters, aside from when he alters his personality to suit his needs.
The Joker from the Batman franchise is the standard chaotic evil character who is wildly insane and bent on revenge. In many of his stories, the Joker becomes more villainous, starting out as petty and then moving on to enact more complex crimes.
Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is one of those rare chaotic evil characters who you might feel some sympathy for. Judge Turpin drove him to madness, and his reason for seeking vengeance is understandable. But, he kills people and eats them, so our understanding can only go so far.
Next week I’m discussing neutral good characters!