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Depiction of the Dark Lord Morgoth (left) and Sauron (right)
Depiction of the Dark Lord Morgoth (left) and Sauron (right)

In fiction, Dark Lord (or Evil Overlord) is often used to refer to a powerful villain or antagonist with evil henchmen. In particular, it is used as a moniker in fictional worlds where it is thought that pronouncing the villain's real name will bring bad luck or represents a bad omen. Such a villain usually seeks to rule or destroy the people around them (such as Voldemort in Harry Potter, Sauron in Lord of the Rings etc).

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  • ✪ DARK LORDS - Terrible Writing Advice


This video is sponsored by Squarespace. Whether you need a domain, website, or online store, make it with Squarespace. During the ancient times, there were many villains forged with the pen. A mighty dragon for fairy tails. For science fiction there were evil aliens. Crime dramas had serial killers. With each of the villains was the power to provide a worthy antagonist for our main characters to overcome. Yet all of them were deceived. For another kind of villain was forged. Deep in the author’s creative bankruptcy a new villain was slapped together. Darkness spread over the land, but a last alliance of fans and writers created the Evil Overlord List to stop lazy authors once and for all. Victory was near. Destroy it, JP! It’s an overused archetype! No. One villain to rule them all. Or at least one villain that requires no thought! Dark Lords are perfect because their evil is so great that it fills the void where a writer’s creativity should have gone! If you can’t pull off substance then at least pull off style and Dark Lords are all about style. So let our Dark Lord’s reign of terror begin. Unlike a lot of villains, our Dark Lord needs a backstory. The audience should preferably be bludgeoned with this backstory in the prologue or at least in a massive info-dump a few chapters in. His rise to power should be near instantaneous. Unlike a lot evil regimes in the real world, the Dark Lord doesn't have to rely on things like political maneuvering, wealth, or infrastructure to build up his power base. Nope. All of those things are just handed to him. 1000 years of slumber? The Dark Lord should just wake up and need no refresher on the world’s political landscape or need to know who his greatest rivals or allies could be. Diplomacy? Ha. Dark Lords don’t need that. Having our dark lord take a dynamic approach in his grab for power might require actual effort on the writer’s part and that will just get in the way of what’s really important for the story and that’s designing the Dark Lord’s wardrobe! Our Dark Lord should always wear heavy armor for maximum intimidation. When in doubt, dress in black. Add some red in there for a splash of color or maybe some glowing orange for a fire and brimstone theme. Don’t forget the shoulder spikes that somehow never get caught on anything. Our Dark Lord needs either a face concealing helmet that permanently casts his visage in shadow or a deformed ugly face purchased directly from the uncanny valley. The Dark Lord’s exposed skin should be pale white like the color of a corpse. Death and darkness motifs are a must. Don’t forget to introduce his character by having him either kill one of his own loyal minions or have him commit a terrible atrocity. We want to make sure the audience knows he’s a bad guy just in case his outfit and deathly complexion are too subtle a clue. Once we’ve dressed up the Dark Lord and established that he’s evil, we are basically done. Good job, writer. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done. So long as he is sufficiently menacing and has a bunch of magic powers and minions to do his bidding, a writer has all of the resources needed to challenge the heroes indefinitely. Evil, menace, and minions, that’s what makes a good villain right? It can’t be characterization. Our Dark Lord may have escaped his 1000 year prison into an unfamiliar world so his first goal should be to conquer, enslave, and/or destroy it. It’s not like he’s had a 1000 years to be introspective and ask himself why exactly does he want to take over the world? I mean ruling the world is a big pain because you have to deal with everyone’s problems. Also destroying the world presents its own problems. But who cares? The only character trait he needs is that he loves power because he... loves power. Oh and he’s also evil. Did I establish that earlier? Better have the Dark Lord throw a couple more kittens into his morning omelette. Wait. What even is evil? Oh no. We can’t go there. Philosophy is the mortal enemy of shallow power fantasy and wish fulfillment. If we start exploring the very concept of evil, we might accidentally make the audience think and then they’ll start having actual expectations for our story. No. Our Dark Lord is evil because he is pure evil and probably made of evil, because evil is a substance now apparently. No other attempts should be made to characterize the Dark Lord. The last thing we want is to use the Dark Lord as a foil for the hero, using their differences to highlight character traits. Nor would you want to use their similarities to cast the hero into self doubt. Even worse, use their similarities to make the Dark Lord doubt himself by having him see the hero as someone he might have become if only he made a few different choices. That small difference in choices could nag at him, driving him to envy, jealousy, and ultimately regret that he found himself on such a dark path. These conflicting emotions could lead to his hyper focus on the hero to the point where he misses something essential that causes his ultimate downfall. Nope. That would never work. Our Dark Lord can’t be killed by weapons, magic, starvation, disease, or any other conventional method. Only our heroes can defeat the Dark Lord with… um… Whoops! We accidentally made our dark lord invincible. Oh crap! Better make up some macguffins for the heroes to find. The forces of good may have had a 1000 years to prepare for the Dark Lord’s return so they will naturally make it as difficult as possible for the good guys to collect the magical artifacts needed to stop the Dark Lord once and for all. In fact, why didn’t they just use those artifacts to permanently stop the Dark Lord the first time? Eh, who cares. If all else fails, just have the Dark Lord’s only weakness be a special magic sword that only the chosen one can wield. Keeping our Dark Lord’s weakness as vague as his personality is a must! It’s not like a well written villain is all that important or that a hero is only as good as the villain they overcome. Villains that truly challenge the heroes and cast their very ideals into doubt, forcing both internal and external conflict, are not nearly as interesting as bad guys who just hang out in their fortress for 10 books occasionally sending out progressively stronger minions to power level the heroes. Even Dark Lords presented more like forces of nature can never be used as a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, casting the heroes past the point of despair before they overcome their doubts and fight on against hopeless odds. Having a nuanced, powerful, competent, and charismatic Dark Lord who can only be defeated through a combination of cunning and heroic determination will never be as awesome as a Dark Lord the chosen one vaporizes in one blast from his super sword of evil smiting. Well after destroying the macguffin that was keeping the Dark Lord Immortal, of course. Many methods have been used over the centuries to combat evil; prayer, altruism, charity, piety. As it turns out, defeating the ultimate evil only requires breaking the right kind of jewelry. Just as Dark Lords need a fortress, writers and creators need a website. Build your own website to seize your creative ambitions with Squarespace. Terrible Writing Advice fans can jump over to Squarespace and use the offer code TWA to get 10% off their first purchase and create their own site. Squarespace makes it easy to set up an attention grabbing website with its user friendly all in one platform, beautiful templates, 24/7 customer support, and easy transfer of domains, all with no coding knowledge required. Just a canvas upon which to create everything from a writer’s website all the way to an online store with the ability to manage products, orders, and inventory with ease. So head over to and use the offer code twa to get 10% off your first purchase of a website or domain.


In religion

In a Christian context, Dark Lord usually means Satan or other similar entities who hold power over lesser fiendish creatures and seek to disrupt the comfort and lives of people.

In fiction


In fantasy novels, Dark Lords have become something of a cliché stemming from the success of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, in which the main antagonist, Sauron, is often referred to as the "Dark Lord". On occasion, the people of Gondor in Middle-earth refer to Sauron as "The Enemy" or "The Nameless Enemy" despite knowing his real name; arguably starting the practice of avoiding pronouncing a Dark Lord's actual name. In fact the name Sauron, meaning the Abhorred, itself is already a mockery of his actual name given him by his enemies, with his original name being Mairon, the Admirable. He was known by this name before joining Morgoth's forces, and continued calling himself Mairon. In Tolkien's legendarium, Sauron is the second Dark Lord; he was the lieutenant of the first Dark Lord, Morgoth (also a title or epithet meaning "dark enemy"), until the latter's defeat. Morgoth's original name was Melkor (he who arises in might).[1] Following the example of Sauron, Dark Lords in fantasy are always depicted as immensely powerful and implacably evil creatures with a great desire for power. One example of a powerful Dark Lord in the world of literature is the Dark Wizard Lord Voldemort from J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels, earning his place as a Dark Lord having surpassed the magical abilities of any other dark wizard before him, thus he is considered not a Dark Wizard but the first and only Dark Lord within the Harry Potter franchise, being so powerful and evil that his enemies even dreaded to speak his name. The Dark One in Robert Jordan's the wheel of time is a powerful being always existing and trying to shape the world in the shadows image. He has more goals than this though. Dark Lords have a negative effect in their worlds, throwing them into ruin and despair. Sauron, for example, turned Mordor into a "wasteland where the very air saps one's will". He planned to do the same to all of Middle-earth. Dark Lords have mostly been male, with few exceptions such as the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia, who casts the world into an eternal winter but never Christmas.


Dark Lord characters do not often engage in direct conflict with protagonists. They are dark gods, demons or rulers of lands who exist in other dimensions, and/or maintain a dark, inaccessible fortress. They rely on a vast network of minions, often with an extremely hierarchical structure. In Star Wars, "Dark Lord" is a rank achieved by those who become Sith Lords as in the "Dark Lord of the Sith". The most recognized Dark Lords of Star Wars are Darth Sidious, and Darth Vader.


The frequency in which the Dark Lord cliche occurs spawned the Evil Overlord List, a website satirizing the mistakes of Dark Lords and major villains. Frequently, antagonists in fiction will display numerous Dark Lord mannerisms while belonging to another genre of the fictional villain, and some pertain to more than one genre. An example is Davros from Doctor Who, whose position as the creator of the Daleks and later ruler of their empire marks him both as a Dark Lord and a mad scientist.


In comics, villains are usually considered Dark Lords either by the format of the story in which the villain appears or because of the villain’s modus operandi. For example, Ming the Merciless, Thanos and Darkseid are alien despots and could fall under the category of alien invaders. However, they exist within stories of such operatic nature, with elements of swashbuckling adventure and mythological analogy, that they are considered specifically to be Dark Lords. Alternatively, comic book villains The Kingpin and the 1990-era Lex Luthor could be considered modern-day versions of a Dark Lord, but more closely fall under the categories of a crime lord or a mad scientist, respectively. This is mostly due to these characters traditionally seeking a public identity as a businessman or a philanthropist, while keeping their criminal activities secret. This is at odds with one of the hallmarks of a Dark Lord, which is that they act from or deliberately seek out a position of legal authority, albeit often self-appointed, and even their most nefarious deeds are often performed publicly.


A recent example can be found on the television series Once Upon a Time, where the title "The Dark One" identifies someone with prolific magical powers whose life and powers are bound to a dagger bearing their name as an inscription. Whoever possesses the dagger can control the Dark One, but if they kill the Dark One with it, they become the new Dark One themselves. In this series, the first Dark One was Nimue the lover of Merlin. For 1000 years the Dark Ones have terrorized the people of the enchanted forest leading up to the current Dark One, Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold.

Video games

Many fantasy games, as well as some of the science fiction genre, feature a Dark Lord who rules over one faction in the game. While this character is often the antagonist and final boss, some RPGs, such as Dark Souls, allows the player to earn this title for themselves. As this would often make the player character be in-charge of the game's hordes of enemies the moniker is usually granted at one of multiple endings. In order to make sequel games, this is often considered the non-canon ending, as in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, but some games, like Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, use this ending to turn the powered up anti-hero into the series' new antagonist.

Notable examples


  1. ^ The Silmarillion, J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien.
This page was last edited on 28 October 2019, at 15:16
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