Why Narcissism Matters . . . or Making a Great Villain

Adron J. Smitley
11 min readAug 6, 2022

Every great hero is defined by an even greater villain.

Whereas good protagonist heroes tend toward modesty and compassionate morality, evil antagonist villains tend toward narcissistic psychopathy and dispassionate apathy disguised as false empathy. And there are two classic types: grandiose narcissist, and vulnerable narcissist.

Grandiose narcissism is defined by self-entitlement, a sense of superiority, and a need for admiration. They are characterized by extraversion, high self–esteem, interpersonal dominance and a tendency to overestimate one’s capabilities.

Vulnerable narcissism is defined by a sense of entitlement but also an anxious and avoidant nature. They are characterized by introversion, are defensive, avoidant and present a hypersensitive attitude in interpersonal relations.

The grandiose narcissist genuinely believes they are better than everybody else and they are constantly proving this to everyone, whereas the vulnerable narcissist manifests their narcissism in a similar way but it’s to try to hide the fact that deep down they don’t believe they’re anything. They desperately seek approval and need people to tell them they’ve done well, whereas the grandiose narcissist continues believing their skewed perception of reality no matter what truths are presented them.

The grandiose narcissist represents order, is detached, calculating and compulsive. They believe they are unique or “special” and can only be understood by other special people. What’s more, they are too good for anything average or ordinary. They only want to associate and be associated with other high-status people, places, and things.

The vulnerable narcissist represents chaos, is temperamental, manipulative and impulsive. They feel inadequate or inferior to others deep down inside, and this is the reason why they’re constantly seeking reassurance. A vulnerable narcissist wants to be able to validate themselves so that they can feel protected, and they need that armor of feeling superior to protect them from the past or their insecurities. They are just as convinced that they’re better than others as does the egomaniacal grandiose narcissist, but they fear criticism so viscerally that they shy away from, and even seem panicked by, people and attention.

Vulnerable narcissism is associated with dissociation of the self-image into an explicit, positive self-image and an implicit, negative self-image. The positive self-image is associated with excessive pride, whereas the negative self-image is associated with shame and humiliation. When receiving only positive feedback, this narcissist is able to keep the negative shame-filled self-image hidden below the level of conscious awareness. But when they experience external feedback as criticism, they are forced to confront their negative self-image and feel deeply ashamed.

Whereas the vulnerable narcissist is struggling with internally conflicting self-images, no hidden negative self-representation is threatening to make a dent in the grandiose narcissist’s positive self-image. Negative feedback, therefore, does not have as profound an impact on the grandiose narcissist. But the deep shame this brings upon the vulnerable narcissist turns them into a combustible compound destined to explode in a frightening outburst of anger or all-consuming fit of hatred. This hostile reaction to insinuations of imperfection is also known as “narcissistic rage.”

The two forms of narcissism share several characteristics such as self-centeredness, exaggerated sense of self-importance and entitlement, disagreeableness, and a tendency to interact with others in an antagonistic manner. Most often, narcissists live unaware of their narcissism and react poorly to being told or confronted because they possess no insight and self-awareness, so their ability to recognize that they are a problem is beyond them.

A perfect example of the grandiose narcissist is Emperor Palpatine in the Star Wars franchise.

A perfect example of the vulnerable narcissist is Arthur Fleck in the movie Joker.

A plethora of villain archetypes exist: the smothering mother, the restrictive father, the evil sage, the genius philosopher, the arrogant tyrant, the scorned societal outcast, the mad scientist, the neglected psychopath, the power-hungry warlord, the fanatical hater, the envious trickster, the misunderstood hero, the crazed madman, the manipulative seducer, the entitled brat, the angry bully, the covetous traitor, the unwanted child, the leper beast, the born-evil . . . et cetera, with too many to list and all of them dependent upon their particular Wound which scarred them into who they are.

Typically villains view themselves the heroes, and this skewed point of view provides them plenty of what they believe as justifiable reasons to excuse their evil schemes. They believe it better that ten innocent people suffer than one guilty person escape. To them, the end justifies all necessary means so long as it gets them what they want which, they often believe, is for the betterment of all but for that they are the only one who possesses the honest scope of this true vision.

Villains are a conglomeration of the seven deadly sins (defined as perverse or corrupt versions of love: lust, gluttony, and greed are all excessive or disordered love of good things; wrath, envy, and pride are perverted love directed toward others’ harm; and sloth is the negligent love of self while disregarding what is good and virtuous) and most often proves the personification of one above the others as their dominant character flaw they eventually fully embrace before succumbing to as their downfall.

Usually the Villain gains access to or possession of some hidden or forbidden knowledge via their greed and lust for power to gratify their insatiable gluttony. They envy its promising capability, and their pride convinces them that they alone can harness its potential while staying immune to its corruptive influence. So in their pursuit to obtain it they unleash their wrath upon all those in their way, but in the end their sloth of virtuous character ultimately condemns them to failure and defeat.

Villains embody the proof that power corrupts, and are driven by a fascination turned obsession.

And it should always be clear that the villain will win if the hero does nothing!

-Triumphant Protagonist Hero vs. Tragic Antagonist Villain-

The two classic character plot paths of Hero vs. Villain:



1. Old World Stasis.

2. New World Flux.


3. Things Come Together.

4. False Victory.


5. Things Fall Apart.

6. False Defeat.


7. False Solution.

8. True Resolution.




1. Old World Focus.

2. New World Shift.


3. Things Fall Apart.

4. False Defeat.


5. Things Come Together.

6. False Victory.


7. False Solution.

8. True Resolution.

The underlying theme of every classic Hero vs. Villain story is always Good vs. Evil. It may be phrased differently and cover many different battle grounds, but it is always the titanic struggle between what is right and just, represented by the good protagonist hero, and what is wrong and unjust, represented by the evil antagonist villain.

When comparing the triumphant protagonist hero and tragic antagonist villain plot charts, take note of the only real difference between them being their Acts 2A & 2B having their orders switched with each other, though there exists other subtleties as follows:

-ACT 1-

1 vs. 1: The difference here between Old World Stasis and Old World Focus is that the antagonist’s evil plans are already in motion . . . whereas the good though ignorant protagonist is living their normal slice of life and absent any true knowledge of these plans that will soon force them involved. The protagonist may be aware of the antagonist’s existence, and that they are ‘up to something bad’ via rumors or gossip, but most typically they know not what that something is if they know anything about it at all, as well the antagonist usually has no idea the protagonist even exists.

2 vs. 2: The difference here between New World Flux and New World Shift is that the antagonist’s plans achieve them some kind of success toward achieving their end goal so that those plans shift with forward focus via continued momentum . . . whereas the protagonist’s life is now disturbed by the Inciting Incident’s influence upon their ordinary world no longer ordinary which is linked to the antagonist’s ongoing plans.

-ACT 2A-

3 vs. 3: The difference here between Things Come Together and Things Fall Apart is that the antagonist’s plans become disturbed by the meddling protagonist now striving to resolve the story’s central conflict, but for now they are just a fly in the ointment needing plucked so that the preoccupied antagonist may take only slight notice from afar and order their minions to deal with the nuisance because they deem themselves above being involved directly . . . for now. As well often someone trusted by though jealous of the protagonist plots their betrayal behind the scenes.

4 vs. 4: The difference here between False Victory and False Defeat is that the antagonist’s plans are disrupted to the point that they must now take full and direct notice of the meddling protagonist mucking them up . . . whereas the protagonist achieves a big success toward resolving the story’s central conflict which interferes with the antagonist’s arrested plans. At this point they both recognize each other as the main obstacle blocking their way to achieving their competing goals, as well that one of them needs be removed in order for the other to succeed. From here on in the protagonist and antagonist are in direct, open opposition. As well the betrayer’s plans in the shadows continue to develop against the protagonist. Most important, a key revelation happens that raises the stakes for all involved while causing a reversal of circumstances, shifting the protagonist from reaction (not in control of the conflict) to proaction (taking control of the conflict).

-ACT 2B-

5 vs. 5: The difference here between Things Fall Apart and Things Come Together is that the antagonist now focuses their full attentions upon eliminating the protagonist so they can continue their plans unhindered . . . whereas the protagonist cannot yet equally compete against such odds and suffers the effects of the antagonist’s direct focus of attacks because of it. And it doesn’t help that they cling to their dominant character flaw by instinctual response which only adds to the troubles that they themselves also have a hand in causing. Minions of the Antagonist, more powerful and better suited to the task than those from before, close in round the struggling protagonist while internal dissension develops among the frustrated protagonist and their arguing allies because of it. As well the betrayer, working in the shadows, continues taking steps to undermine the protagonist’s efforts, adding to the internal strife.

6 vs. 6: The difference here between False Defeat and False Victory is that the antagonist achieves a big success in beating down the protagonist while possibly killing or capturing their allies and stealing or breaking their precious tools so that now they shift their focus back upon what seems their imminent victory . . . whereas the protagonist flounders in this their lowest moment so far where all seems lost because they are farthest away from achieving their goal after such a tremendous defeat, worse off than when they started, and are usually condemned alone because of it. As well the betrayer makes their ulterior motives known and stabs the vulnerable protagonist in the back at the worst moment of opportunity. But this all leads the protagonist to a defining moment of inspirational epiphany where they realize their dominant character flaw has been hindering them the entire journey and only by replacing it with its opposite virtue do they stand a chance of success however insurmountable the odds have become so that they decide on one last, and almost always suicidal, try against the antagonist.

-ACT 3-

7 vs. 7: The difference here between False Solutions is that the antagonist is verging triumph of their evil schemes through its final stages before the actual accomplishment of the victory itself . . . whereas the protagonist, now working against this ‘ticking time-clock’ after exchanging their dominant character flaw for its opposite virtue, has their attentions divided between stopping the antagonist as well rescuing their kidnapped love interest who will most likely die during the accomplishment of the antagonist’s plans if the protagonist fails on both fronts. Here is also where all subplots outside the protagonist are resolved so that the main story can take precedence once more before its resolution. Remaining minions of the antagonist and surviving allies of the protagonist are dispatched or killed.

8 vs. 8: The difference here between True Resolutions is that the antagonist, either moments from achieving their ultimate success or because their plans have been destroyed beyond repair, is willing to sacrifice everything and everyone but himself to obtain victory or revenge at all costs . . . whereas the protagonist is only willing to sacrifice himself while still protecting others. The two forces collide as promised by the Inciting Incident in an epic showdown of Good vs. Evil, but more importantly (and the key ingredient) protagonist virtue vs. antagonist flaw where virtue triumphs. After which the victorious protagonist enjoys the spoils of the antagonist’s defeat or demise while celebrating and reflecting as the changed and wiser person their journey has made of them, the protagonist having surpassed the mentor . . . and possibly to become the new mentor figure to another flawed and untested protagonist in future stories.

-Christopher Vogler’s simplified Hero’s Journey-

1. Ordinary World: The hero protagonist is introduced in their everyday slice-of-life.

2. Call to Adventure: Something happens to shake up the hero’s normal world.

3. Refusal of the Call: The hero often has doubts, and wants to stay in their safe existence.

4. Meeting the Mentor: The hero meets someone who gives them advice that will be useful for the coming challenges.

5. Crossing the Threshold: The hero changes location or burns bridges in a metaphorical sense, meaning they cannot simply return to their old life as if nothing has happened.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies: The hero faces various challenges upon their road of trials while making new friends and enemies.

7. Approach the Innermost Cave: The hero prepares to battle terrible danger or inner conflict.

8. The Ordeal: The hero must face great demons, which could be internal or external, or both.

9. Reward: The hero receives some kind of reward for facing their demons.

10. Road Back: The hero begins their journey back to everyday life.

11. Resurrection: The hero faces their greatest battle and most dangerous encounter.

12. Return with Elixir: The hero returns home triumphant.

The villain also walks a similar path to the Hero’s Journey, though the biggest difference being that the hero may fall victim to but ultimately rejects temptation during their Road of Trials (#6) whereas the villain succumbs to it thus twisting the remainder of their journey into embracing the ‘dark side’ instead of rallying against and rejecting it. Though this version is usually a part of the antagonist villain’s backstory since their existence in the protagonist hero’s world is that their ‘dark’ power is already established or verging so.

And remember it is equally important to provide the tragic antagonist villain with a Wound (scar), Shield (flaw), and Sword (virtue) while knowing during their Rubicon (Spiritual Crossing), opposite the triumphant protagonist hero’s decision, they choose their flaw magnified over virtue . . . which provides their inevitable downfall.

Because every great hero is defined by an even greater villain.


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Adron J. Smitley

Blog for writers on everything plot, character, and story structure architecture at: adronjsmitley.blogspot.com