The Generic Villain on Being Intimidating Despite Your Species

I’d had my own ideas for this week, but the Management said something about a panda, went haring off after a white peacock, and came back with an editorial mandate. She might have the right idea, though. For most of us, “peacock” and “intimidating” don’t seem to belong anywhere near the same sentence, but that Shen bird has presence. For many of the nonhumans among us, the same problem comes up—how do you do scary with a species that just doesn’t have the looks or the reputation to do intimidating on its own? (Okay, quick disclaimer: I’m evil. I engage in indiscriminate spoilers of three-days-prior-released movies. Read at your own risk.)

The first thing anyone needs is attitude. I firmly believe that it’s possible, if difficult, to strike fear into the hearts of the masses even if you’re a foot-long mustelid with big eyes and a helium voice, but it’s not going to happen if you act small and cute. That doesn’t mean displaying a world-shattering case of Small Dog Syndrome either; if you’re constantly shouting about how you can take creatures several times your size, and in general going on like Scrappy Doo with a vocabulary upgrade—no. If you’re worth your salt as a Hand of Darkness, you have what it takes. The image you want to give off is “card-carrying badass who happens to be wearing the form of a [fill in the blank].”

Step 2, style. The attitude’s going to help, of course, but you’ll also want to take a look at your own appearance. Sure, you may not be able to change your features, but you can at least change the message they put across. Go for sleek, where possible; emphasize both whatever natural weapons you have and whatever features you have that have parallelism with something that does have a reputation for being dangerous. The peacock illustrates that bird feet, the kind with the slender talons, can look almost killer-cyborg-like with the right angle. Creepy. (Voice doesn’t hurt, if you can get it; it’s hard to go wrong with an evil British accent.)

Speaking of which, if your current shape gives you anything that might even remotely be an advantage, use it. Our friend the white peacock is a perfect example—nature gave him a whole lot of seemingly excessive plumage, so he used it for parrying, visual distraction, and times when he needed to hit something but both ha—er, wings were busy. For small creatures, the world is a hiding place. Slender arms and legs are very good for getting around enemies hiding in small spaces. Eyestalks, properly armored… well, you get the idea.

Don’t forget to be competent. You know why the peacock does as well as he does? He gets stuff done. Takes a nifty concept, implements it, and scares people out of their hides with it—and then makes a point of having spares and putting them to proper use. And while he has a ridiculously large army to hide behind, he’s not afraid of getting his feathers dirty. Be the same: even if you’re six inches long with eyes half the size of your head, if you can pull off a controlled disaster, execute a coup, demonstrate the efficacy of your doomsday weapon, or do something equally splashy, people will take notice.

Last, don’t be afraid to be bloodthirsty. I’m not saying go omnicidal, and I do entreat you to keep in mind that sadism after a certain point starts rapidly cutting into your lifespan, but people will take you more seriously if you’re willing to engage in your own violence. (This goes double if your primary color is white—the cognitive dissonance from people’s association with purity gives it a little added oomph.)

Don’t limit yourself; you can still scare the whey out of them.


  1. Shinali says:

    Lan (orchid mantis familiar) has a few comments she would like to share…
    I don’t really want to be evil (unless eating hummingbirds and dragonflies is evil, then I’m all for it), but I do want to learn to be intimidating. I have read over your advice, and I have some of the same problems as the ferret and the peacock – I’m 3 inches long and I look like a pink flower. Everyone knows the more stick-like praying mantises and the devil’s mantises are courageous and fierce for their size (I have heard of cats being afraid of them, and there are legends of them taking on chariots!), but they are bigger and less frilly looking. I try to act tough, I comment on my provable conquests, and I use my abilities to hide and to do martial arts to my advantage. I ally myself with the biggest and fiercest apex predators I can find and try to learn their secrets of success. But still, people look at me and say I’m pretty or cute. They try to protect me from danger I could handle on my own, and they get mad when I try to eat the sparrows and lizards (or even cactus wrens and snakes, and no one likes them. weird people). Part of my problem is my super-human is writing my copy and she makes me come across as cute, even though she knows I could so take on the local cats. How do I come across as more than a hair accessory? How can I get people to see me as a stealthy chariot-fighting apex predator in my own right? At least my threat display isn’t shiny elbows. Man, that species needs a PR boost.

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