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Lady of the Land
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Villains...


I have to admit to a flaw ... I have a hard time writing villains. Could you help me?

What does a villain need to be ... a real villain?



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- Firlefanz

Reading: "The Golem's Eye" by J. Stroud
Writing: Kiera and the Juggler Boy - YA

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Grand Master
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Re: Villains...


A purpose.

A villain has to have a goal that he works toward.

No matter how twisted their methods, a villains goal is important.

He could want world peace, but only see one way to achieve it.

He could want to personally slaughter all his enemies from elementary school for picking on him.

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Re: Villains...


Expanding on this idea, I'd like to add that the villian's character is just as important as the heroes and more important than his goal.

I like what Jet Li said about playing a Villian. Most who don't know, Jet Li was always the hero in movies back in China and then he became this American Sensation in Lethal Weapon 4 as a bad guy. Having had no experience being a bad guy he said he decided "The Bad Guy is played the same way as the good guy - because he doesn't know he's Bad!"

I play with this concept in all of my stories - I sometimes wonder what the whole plot would be like if the BAD guy was written as the GOOD guy and the Good guys were the bad guys. If I can't do this with my story I feel that the story is as deep as the paper it's written on. Thus I make a villian just like a hero - who simply has contrasting goals. I don't want my villians to be the Dark Wizard hellbent on destroying the world or a village because he can.

A Knoll Shaman who's trying to kill a villiage full of people - that's a villian. But a Knoll Shaman who's trying to keep these humans from taking the land that he feels should belong to his followers and thus is using resources to clear out the "invaders" - that's a story. And almost instantly your Villian should now be driven to fight the "heroes" who are trying to save the lives of the women and children the Knolls are threatening (contrasting goals). He's not just fighting for his own personal gain - he's fighting for a cause!

Stories where the Villian is after money, power and/or The Princess can only get you so far. Stories where the Villian might have been the good guy in another life - those give him depth.

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"No story that ever began 'So I was playing a Half-Elf, Chaotic-Neutral, Fighter/Thief/Mage' can ever end well." -The Bard Noir
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Re: Villains...


Bardnoir, I like your take on this.

It's true, villains are only people, after all. emoticon I think it makes sense to try to look at a story from their point of view. It should make as much sense as from the hero's point of view, or the villain is lacking.

Thanks, that helps already. Still, I'm not yet comfortable with villains.

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- Firlefanz

Reading: "The Golem's Eye" by J. Stroud
Writing: Kiera and the Juggler Boy - YA

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Journeyman
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Re: Villains...


I find it also helps if you go into the story without ever thinking of a villain. Instead, I allow the villian to emerge. In most stories my main character is a person who feels the status quo is unfair to them. They upset the status quo and the villian is just a regular person who wishes to restore it. Of course they never know they're trying to stop or help the status quo. They're just making "Their" life better.

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Re: Villains...


Well, that's why I don't think in terms of Villian and Heroes - in most of my stories I try to just write about characters. You can decide who the "villian" is.

I like the terms: Protagonist, Antagonist, Motivational Character and Obstical character.

In a story like "Superman" the Protagonist is Superman. The Motivational Character is Humanity as a whole (that's who he's defending) and somewhat - Lois Lane. The Antagonist AND obstical character would be Lex... but I've actually tried to write a story where my Protagonist's motivational character is also the Antagonist.

Take Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 1 for example. The Antagonist is Giles, the watcher. Buffy wants to be a normal girl, but Giles wants her to do her duty (this is contrary to her goal of being normal and left alone) but he's also the motivational character (telling her what event to stop or what demon to fight next) while the demons just serve as Opposition and little more. Later when Buffy does take up the mantel of Slayer we see Giles start to step out of the picture - her motive is now her friends and humanity and since her goals are now in line with his goals he litteraly has little use for the story. The villian meanwhile has to step up the game - but that's all mechanics.

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"No story that ever began 'So I was playing a Half-Elf, Chaotic-Neutral, Fighter/Thief/Mage' can ever end well." -The Bard Noir
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Initiate
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Re: Villains...


It's okay to have villains that are pure evil. The important thing is not to have VIEWPOINT villains that are pure evil.

Example:
In my fantasy world (shameless plug...) one of the two human villains is a self-taught shaman who was once a slave. Now he wants to unite the world and bring about peace and prosperity to all peoples. Why? Not simply out of his own mistreatment, but because the woman he loved (also a slave) died yearning for such a paradise. Since he can't bring her back, he can at least make her dream a reality. Thus he binds (enslaves) spirits to empower his magic and makes a pact with one of the Old Gods (my tribute to HP Lovecraft). He's become manipulative and cruel, but all out of his very human sense of loss and love.

And this man's "partner":

The Old God also shows up (though he isn't the other main villain), but "he" is completely alien compared to the human experience. Can an ant understand a nuclear reactor? No. And a human could not begin to comprehend "his" goals or state of existence. Can such a creature can be viewed as "pure evil" because the Old God has no relation to humanity? What is love to such a creature? What is hatred? These are human emotions. Thus while such a creature is alien and disturbing, it is also not relatable at all and is mostly a means of advancing the plot.

Which is ultimately more interesting to a reader. I take the stance that the human character is. Does that mean he isn't evil? No. He is putting his own goals ahead of the welfare of everyone else in the world, which is pretty much the simplest definition of evil. He's not trying to help the world, but simply trying to fill the void left in his own heart.

Of course the other main villain is the opposite. That one is out to protect his people, no matter the cost to other groups. He is the completely selfless (or at least that's how he sees it) form of evil that really is fighting for a cause. That villain actually doesn't pretend to be the "good guy". He admits to others quite readily that he is a monster, but a necessary one. He does the dirty work so the "good people" can kiss their children goodnight and sleep safely in their beds at night. What are the lives of one village of nonhumans compared to the welfare of the empire?

Not much...

My overall point is this, there is no absolute evil. That doesn't mean evil doesn't exist. Besides, absolute evil would get boring. FAST.

Last edited by mspatric, 12/24/2006, 10:16 pm
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Flasheart2006 Profile
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Grand Master
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Re: Villains...


Let's try another...

I'd take Bard's and Mspatric's (crikey, all these names I'd forgotten) points and follow them a bit further.

Fundamentally, I think there's a difference between an 'antagonist' and a 'villain'; and while this thread has been very vigilant on its exploration of what might constitute an antagonist, it feels like, in an attempt to move away from cliches, the actual villainy side of things got missed out.

So sure, a story's antagonist doesn't necessarily have to be evil, or even hostile; as long as their existence/behaviour interferes somehow with the protagonist's goals, they're doing their job. Mr. Darcy is a great antagonist, but he certainly wasn't a villain. And yes, an author can have a great deal of fun by exploring the psychology of "What exactly 'is' evil?" (also known as every-character-is-the-hero-of-their-own-story), turning traditionally heroic tropes and making them antagonistic; but I'd take issue with the notion that villains have an automatic right to be sympathetic. Just because an individual doesn't think they're evil doesn't mean they aren't evil.

There's also, of course, as Mspatric demonstrated, a huge call now for shades of grey (no, not that one): stories in which, essentially, everyone is as bad as everyone else. I've heard that Game of Thrones is the master of this form of storytelling. And sure, this take is truer to life, and allows readers to really explore the very questions this thread has raised. How would they feel/behave if confronted by a certain situation?

That said, I'm very much of the opinion that we're still allowed to write outright evil bad guys--just so long as we do it properly.

For a start, some people really are just nasty. It's a fact of the world. There are those (thankfully very few) who simply take pleasure out of the misery of others, because they feel it vindicates their own self-worth. "I'm in a better position than this person, so QED this means I'm a better person." (Who does that remind me of?)

I'm probably getting the etymology wrong here, but I've always equated villains to criminals (usually the higher-end ones like abusers, rapists and murderers--i.e. the ones whose victims don't come away without at least some level of personal injury). These are individuals who think nothing (or little) of treading on 'the little guy' to further their own ends, whatever those ends might be--from world domination to personal gratification. If anything or anyone stands in their way, it/they can and should be removed with the minimum of fuss. These people are evil, simple as. And yes, there's plenty of literary figures to choose from: Sauron, Voldemort, Zechs Merquise (cool as he was, he was still prepared to destroy the Earth). Sure, there's always the story of how they ended up the way they did; but as soon as they start actively hurting other people, they've crossed the line. So when we start talking about villains in fiction, I think more along the lines of warlords who have no compunction about raping and pillaging a village, or brutal dictators who dramatically overreact to the slightest infringements of their draconian laws, or simply straight-up criminals (without whom there'd be a significantly smaller selection of crime novels!). In the post-9/11 world, there are those (like certain individuals who have posted on this board lately) who think that it's only fair to use a terrorist's own methods against him/her; why should 'they' be allowed to act with impunity, but 'we' can't? Surely, to use Mspatric's terminology, some monsters are necessary?

Whatever happened to taking the moral high ground?

I suppose what I'm saying is: a cold-blooded murderer isn't an anti-hero. Nor is a druglord. Sure, they can be charming, even sympathetic (a 'lovable rogue')--but as soon as we make the mistake of thinking that their behaviour is all right, that they just need to be understood or even identified with, then that's where we start letting our own morals down.

Frankly, some people should be treated as the bad guy because they are the bad guy. Self-awareness doesn't invalidate monsterhood.

Now, after all [sign in to see URL]'t the question about how to actually write villains? emoticon

Last edited by Flasheart2006, 11/8/2018, 12:28 am
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Re: Villains...


 emoticon

Yes, the question was how to write villains.

And funny enough, reading through this thread gave me some awesome, insane inspiration for the villain in "Dragon Fire". It's a dragon, once again (I had a dragon villain in "Kraken War"), but she is more of the war-lord, empire building kind of villain. And she is manipulative.

Which changes the entire scene of her meeting one of my MCs. Instead of kidnapping and humiliating him, she will "rescue" him. And it'll take some experiences before he (and the reader, hopefully) will discover that she is, indeed, absolutely evil.

Ooooh, I can't WAIT to write that.

Of course, it's been several years since that question, and since then, I've learned a lot about humanity as a therapist in general, and read a lot about how villains see themselves (they never see themselves as criminal) specifically. And I use that to write them.

Of course, they need to be "people" as well. They need to have emotions and goals and reasons. That's why Daleks are not really good villains, they are just killers. The ones USING them are the villains.

Thanks for reviving another topic. Good thoughts! emoticon

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Re: Villains...


quote:

Firlefanz wrote:

Of course, it's been several years since that question, and since then, I've learned a lot about humanity...



I think that's been the best part of this refamiliarisationship process for me: seeing all these earnest debates we once had about topics we now simply take in our stride. It's great to see how much we've grown. But it's also an opportunity to step back and consider some of the nuances we might have forgotten/not considered quite enough (like the diversity issue).

In terms of actually writing the villain/antagonist, I think the main thing that's changed since the earlier generations of fantasy authors is that now we realise how much more fun it is to actually spend some time with characters rather than ideas. Earlier villains were very distant: not once, for example, did we get to see Sauron as anything more than a giant eye that represents evil. He's a symbol rather than a character. And because of that, he can only be so different from all of the other villains who play that role (any witch from any fairy tale, for example); there are only so many different ways you can spell 'evil'. Which of course is how cliches develop.

It's much more entertaining to actually spend some time with the character(s) against whom the protagonist is set. "Hi, I'm the bad guy," is much more engaging than being told that a faceless, voiceless character is the bad guy. But of course, if we're going to spend more time engaging with that character, that means we have to spend more time getting to know that character--which automatically requires the more nuanced/complex approach the other members mentioned.

I suppose the best demonstrations of this topic can be seen in the series Avatar: the Last Airbender, in which we have many, many different flavours of villain--including sympathetic antiheroes, reformed bad guys, outright nut jobs and, yes, the distant, largely faceless 'big bad' representation of evil whom we don't really get to know. And yes, because of that we experience him as being the least interesting of them. In a sense, though, for all its good writing, the series kind of proves my previous point: a lot of people's favourite character is Azula, who is cool and powerful and witty and confident and steals the show whenever she's onscreen; but she's also the most demonstrably evil character in the series--and she gets forgiven a hell of a lot, just because she has more time on screen than, say, her father. So her coolness serves to actively desensitize people to evil acts.

Last edited by Flasheart2006, 11/8/2018, 5:19 pm
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Re: Villains...


I agree, I also think that readers expect more depth to villains now.

It's not enough to be simply "evil" anymore. Sauron, or the typical Bond villain do not offer enough for a modern reader. Or maybe that's a part of my ideal reader - people who can go beyond simple black and white. People who enjoy the depth.

And I have to admit, it's also more fun to write and play with someone who has motivation, maybe good moments, maybe does some good, even, while still being completely amoral or racist or fascist or simply mostly interested in personal gain.

Maybe there are reasons - most obviously psychological ones - for the villain doing what they do. And I like that. It's more realistic, but it also might teach readers a little about how to recognize certain kinds of people.

I keep returning to my experience with Queeny. She's a friendly, kind, animal-loving person who doesn't come across as evil at all. And she probably isn't evil in an absolute evil overlord sense. Yet she has a clear racist mindset (quite possibly a fascist one), and she's the prototypical German "Mitläufer" - a Nazi follower who would defend the ideology instead of fighting it. In a story, she'd be a villain supporter, follower or cult member. And she'd be on evil's side.

This is a real person. And painting such people in our stories makes them more real, even if they are fantasy or any other kind of spec fiction.

I like this level of realism. emoticon

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Re: Villains...


And that brings us right the way back to where the conversation was, ten years ago: that now 'antagonist' is a much more inclusive term than 'villain'. Because as soon as you get any level of complexity, then we start seeing the goods, the bads, the uglies and, yes, the motivations. Even murderers are allowed to smile!

So yeah, there we go: full circle. And you got a dragon villain to boot emoticon

That said, one point you made got me thinking:

quote:

Firlefanz wrote:

It's not enough to be simply "evil" anymore.


You know, I don't think it ever was. All of the greatest 'big bads' were never 'just' evil; more than anything else, they were dangerous. And in those cases the story is less about understanding the villain than simply stopping them. Finding out what motivates them is merely a means to an end, rather than the end itself.

Which is why some genres/stories that still rely on unknown enemies--predominately mysteries and thrillers--continue to work with these very basic tropes who only become 'characters' when the protagonists finally figure out who they are. After all, who is Jack the Ripper but Sauron in a bowler hat?

Last edited by Flasheart2006, 11/9/2018, 8:49 pm
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