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  1. #1
    Beausoleil Jabberwocky's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Villains

    "A hero is a hero, but everyone loves a good villain."

    I'm interested in how everyone feels about writing villains. What's your policy? Do you like writing villains with a backstory and complicated motivations for their actions, or are your bad guys evil for evil's sake? I've certainly heard enough arguments for either side to last a lifetime.

    As for me, I don't subscribe exclusively to either school. I prefer my antagonists have depth and complexity to them, and those sorts of characters are fascinating to write for, but I can certainly see the fun in a character who levels towns for no reason other than for the hell of it.

    Anyway, what's y'all's take?

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    Registered User PiccoloX83's Avatar
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    Default Re: Villains

    A villain has to fill the role of evil, otherwise they fall into the role of Anti-Hero. Evil itself is pretty cut and dry, but what the villain gains out of it may not be evil at all. How "evil" is an act if done for the greater good?

    Look at the Joker from various Batman stories. His most notable villainous acts involve him trying to make good people do bad things. In The Dark Knight the Joker tries to make the people of Gothem turn on themselves. In the game Injustice:Gods Among Us he tricks Super Man into killing Lois Lane. He wants to see madness in people by making them go against their nature or ideologies.

    In the end a villain is a person seeking personal gain at an unfavorable price to people other than themselves. This is done so out of greed, not to help someone else.
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    Brock's Pikachu LightningTopaz's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Villains

    Aika, the leader of Team Elegy, is a bit of a more developed (and female) Cyrus--In D/P/Pt, Cyrus just came off to me as the "lets push the self destruct button and see what happens" type. So with Aika, I gave her a reason--but I'm not going to reveal it quite yet--Brock and the girls will find clues as they explore Elegy Caverns, which holds the Night Onyx.
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    Default Re: Villains

    And, as Stephonika W. Kaye, author of the Twilight Princess novel, said in a video response to a question, if you go into a project thinking "I'm going to make this great villain," then you've already lost. During the writing process, it's best not to think of them as villains but as antagonists (sure, the two are usually the same, with the exception of the villain protagonist, but even then, still the antagonist if it's the same story from the villain's perspective, but the two still need to be used separately and excluding the term "villain" except if it comes up in the dialog or narration), or you fall right into that trap. It's pretty hard for me to explain it, so I'll just hand the reins over to her to simplify things (the portion I mentioned starts around 20 minutes into the video if you just want to skip right to there).
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    Default Re: Villains

    I think people forget the first rule of writing people--people are people.

    LOL GENERIC SOMEWHAT-MEANINGFUL-SOUNDING-CRAP.^

    Uh, basically, I'm in the school of thought that villains are people, too. They're "villains," sure, which basically only means that they're the group of people aligned against your designated "hero," but they are first and foremost people. They have dreams, motivations, fears, and even loves just like everyone else, surprise surprise. Granted, since they typically aren't viewpoint characters, a lot of the inner workings of a villain don't come across openly in the main narration, like the corresponding traits of a hero might (and this isn't necessary a flaw, but a by-product of the "if I describe absolutely everything I'll die" rule). Rule of limited space says that you can't delineate the villain's motivations forever (sadly), but I find it useful to keep in mind that they tend to have lives outside of stopping the hero, just like the heroes tend to have lives outside of stopping the villain.

    The "evil because I can lolz" villain is difficult to pull off (and difficult is probably too kind of a word to use). Most of the time, I see people try to do it and end up crashing and burning because you've got a character who just doesn't give a flying damn about anything that happens, and the unpredictability gets downright annoying. Shining example of this trope done well would probably be the previously-mentioned Joker from TDK; however, he's the literal manifestation of chaos in a comic-book world, and, even then, he still has his own reasons for doing things (and ends up being damned entertaining in the process).

    And then, because deconstruction is apparently my thing today, I find that the concept of "villain" is absurd. To quote from a (regretfully) terrible movie:

    The world isn't as black and white as we'd like to believe. Sure, those people are doing things that we think are awful, but unless they have absolutely zero followers, there's probably a good motivation behind what they do.
    Probably.
    ...goddammit George Lucas

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    Reader and Writer Legacy's Avatar
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    Default Re: Villains

    I firmly believe any antagonist that is "evil" without at least some defined reason isn't very believable, causing the story to suffer. The antagonist should be more than simply a character who does bad things simply to hold up the protagonist.

    I believe the strongest fictional villains are characters who believe their actions, which we perceive as evil, are justified and warranted. This makes the character 3-D and real, and in my opinion: better than simply some evil mad scientist-type who just wants to cause pain and heartache for poops and giggles. Make your reader understand why the antagonist acts the way he/she does.

    If a villain has no motivation except to be evil, there is no depth. Having a flat, depthless villain not only do you lose a whole emotional layer to the story and the protagonist's journey, but you also make the story predictable in my opinion because it is not likely that the reader will have any fear that such a flat character could ever triumph.

    With a protagonist, an author will usually give him depth: goals, motivation, quirks, personality... and above all, a reason for his/her actions. The antagonist should be the same, in my opinion. After all, the most compelling conflicts are the ones that matchup two equally strong and nuanced adversaries. Think about it, a basketball game featuring the Miami Heat vs. a high school team from Alaska wouldn't be very entertaining.

    Tl;dr - I'm firmly believe a strong villain should be a worthy opponent to the protagonist in terms of complexity and depth.

    Just out of curiosity though, I'd love to hear some arguments for the other side.

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    Default Re: Villains

    I always give my villains some sort of greater good they're working towards, even if they go to the ends of the earth in immorality and evil deeds to get there. As great as a quote it is, I don't subscribe to "some men just want to watch the world burn". Bad people, from the common crook to international terrorists always have some sort of motivation that can be understood on a most basic level.

    For some people, it is desperation. For others, it is control. Some have misguided views on liberty and oppression, while others do bad things for their families or their countries.

    "Because good is dumb" is an idea that just doesn't make sense and only seems to apply in movies or fiction.

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    Default Re: Villains

    Let's face it, a lot of the time, a hero is nothing without a villain. What would Harry Potter be without Lord Voldemort? Just one wizard among many, nothing special. What would Link be without Ganon/Vaati/Demise/whoever? Still a remarkably fast learner, to be sure, but not much else. What would Luke Skywalker be without Darth Vader? Unborn!

    As to the motivations of said villain: While I greatly enjoy a well-thought-out antagonist with complex thoughts and desires, sometimes there's nothing more fun to write than a character who wreaks havoc just because. Double points if said character is also hilariously hammy; triple points if they know it. I speak from experience when I say that writing such a character is incredibly stress-relieving.

    On the other hand, if you're trying to tell a serious story, it is much better to make your villain a real person and not just a lavish and fabulous plot device. In my case, I often don't even bother with heroes—I prefer to pit fully-developed villains against each other (even within the same organization!), as well as the resident government forces. By the end, you hopefully find yourself wondering who the real villains of the story were, or if there even were any.

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    Registered User PiccoloX83's Avatar
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    Default Re: Villains

    A villain isn't really a villain without a hero. Most stories involve the presence of a villain before the hero arrives. The viability of a hero "simply showing up for no reason", while still present in a comedic sense, died out in comics along with the "Super Friends". (Bank robbers you'll never see again don't cut it as villains.)

    I guess the best villain would be someone you could identify with. After getting to know them, would you do the same in their shoes? What justification does the hero have for being there?
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    Registered User reynard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Villains

    Quote Originally Posted by LightningTopaz View Post
    Aika, the leader of Team Elegy, is a bit of a more developed (and female) Cyrus--In D/P/Pt, Cyrus just came off to me as the "lets push the self destruct button and see what happens" type. So with Aika, I gave her a reason--but I'm not going to reveal it quite yet--Brock and the girls will find clues as they explore Elegy Caverns, which holds the Night Onyx.
    Did you really think Cyrus didn't have a reason to do what he did? I never saw the corresponding episodes of the anime, but from what I am reading, he doesn't come off that way to me.

    I think you can have both. Complexity is good for villains, and villains need a reason to do what they do. But fun villains can work too. Thinking back to DC's animated shows, I recall that Batman the Animated Series did a great job exploring the psychology of their villains. Superman did some of this too. But it had some exceptions with their villains. Livewire for example, was one they said was just fun to work with. She'd been rather mean-spirited before she got her powers, for whatever reason that was. But once she got them, she was just enjoying causing destruction, and reveling in her powers. Okay, so her motivation also turned to greed, but I think that was all part of her massive (no pun intended) power trip.

    Brainiac was another interesting villain. His purpose was to record data, that was it. It's his function, and he'll carry it out until he can no longer do so. The interesting twist was how he interpreted that to mean destroying the sources of that knowledge.

    I think even villains that do things to be evil still need a reason for why they do it. If they are getting joy out of causing destruction, that speaks to sadism. Something like that could have occured because of life events, like being powerless. And if they enjoy hurting people, then that IS a motivator for them to keep doing it. Though there's a balance between the villain doing what they find fun and what they need to do to fulfill whatever needs they have. Like "I need something from these people, but I think I'll mess with them just because it will be entertaining, and why not make it a challenge?"

    Even if you have gods of good and evil, the god of evil would attack the good either because that's what it's purpose is or because it hates the good.

    Does that make sense?

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    Brock's Pikachu LightningTopaz's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Villains

    That does make perfect sense--to use your gods analogy, in one of my fantastic Pokeworlds I had a good god of darkness (technically a god of night and dreams) and a bad god of darkness (your standard evil lord)--the problem of evil was explained in that world by the evil lord's anger over the goddess of light spurning him for the god of night and dreams, her true love.
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    Stupid Jerk Truly's Avatar
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    Default Re: Villains

    When I think of "writing villains," I always go to my D&D research. The lich, the fallen paladin, the misguided paladin (which is what I thought of when I read Piccolox83's line about antagonists working "for a greater good") set up to ultimately redeem himself or fall.
    What have I said about their characters? Nothing. Ok, let me start over.

    Right now, I'm writing (and hoping to put my players through) a dungeon with "a crazed old wizard". He's not evil, he's just reckless. He has hordes of monsters, of a sort, at his control, and has them placed throughout his magickal tower, from which he is releasing clouds of wild-magic, which is wreaking havoc on a nearby town. That's why the players are sent up to stop him.
    But now that I think about it, the town is one that hates magic, and lynches magic users, hanging them publicly, or burning them alive, or what-have-you. It'd be really interesting to see the players come down from the tower and raze the town, or to just let the two forces-- the impenetrable mage's tower vs the anti-magic town-- deal with each other.

    So now I have said nothing about villains.

    I may not get to run that-- the setting we're using is sort of tight-knit and I'm having trouble finding a place to put it in. Instead, the players are going to have to go back and forth in a place with an evil dragon-- in D&D, "evil" is objectified; it's evil because it's a green dragon, not because of it's motives or anything. This dragon is going to make a deal with the players, something along the lines of "go retrieve this item for me". The catch is, the item is in the possession of a good dragon, one that they've already met, and owe a soul-debt to. Either they go a-stealing from the friend-dragon, or they cross the enemy dragon. All of this is really only to raise tension for when they eventually worry about the great big evil King dragon, who the good-one is aligned with (because he's intimidated), but the evil one is not.

    So again, I've not said anything about villains.

    A good antagonist, I think, will become personal to your main-characters (and therefore your readers). Whether it's direct, like "he destroyed my birth-town", or more subtle, like "we fought together in the Great War", you pair the hero and the villain together. Anybody is a hero, or a villain, but like Piccolo and Glitchipedia said, hero and villain are best when they play foils to each other. Like Red and Blue starting from the same town.
    Eh.. I've lost my train of thought, nevermind.
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    Registered User reynard's Avatar
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    Default Re: Villains

    @LightningTopaz: Thank you. Actually, speaking of gods, light, darkness, and also thinking of what you said about Cyrus just makes me think of one of my favorite stories, Green Lantern, specifically Blackest Night. Cyrus and his plan was very much like Blackest Night, and one of their lead villains, Black Hand. It's because of these similarities that I find the descriptions of Cyrus interesting. Allow me to elaborate. Warning: The following is a spoiler for Blackest Night.

    So in the Green Lantern mythos established in the last few years, they created a contrast with light, color and emotion. The main villain of the Blackest Night story was Nekron, the universal personification of Death, also represented as emptiness, nonexistence, the absence of emotion, darkness, and the color black. Life by contrast, in it's purest form, is a white light, and the seven colors of the rainbow (the Emotional Spectrum), each represent a different emotion. All sentient life feels, and gives off light. Their origin story says that the universe was originally filled with nothing but darkness. Then the White entity came into being and spread light, life, and matter into the universe, and later the darkness broke this light into seven colors. Blackest Night is Nekron's return. His desire is to destroy the light because he feels the light is an invader, an unnatural thing. He wants to destroy it so the universe will return to "it's natural state", a state of silence and peace.

    Sound familiar? That's basically Cyrus's plan. He wanted to destroy all emotion and spirit (spirit being willpower, which Green Lantern classifies as an emotion), because he has come to believe that those are the heart of conflict. He wants a world of peace and order. Cyrus also interests me because of the similarities to Black Hand. William Hand/Black Hand was a minor villain from years past who got an upgrade in recent years. He is a nihilistic monster, and was destined to be the Avatar of Nekron, and basically become the Damien Thorn of a super-powered zombie apocalypse.

    He's emotionally dead inside, and more in love with death than with the living (comes from a family of morticians. Some of his first memories are of seeing his father working on a dead woman). He's more than happy to kill everything. The trade collections of the comics come with extra material, some of which are his personal journal. Those writings just further demonstrate how absolutely disturbing he is. He's a complete psycho, devoid of any feeling.

    Cyrus reminds me of him. If you played on his transition from weird to total insanity, it would make for a creepy and interesting story. His motivation is no different from Team Plasma, a strong desire to do what he sees as good. Although Cyrus does have some positives over Black Hand, that being:

    1. He does not dig up someone's skull and lick it.

    2. His happy place is not a freshly dug grave.

    3. He did not make his regular clothes from a body bag.

  14. #14
    Registered User PiccoloX83's Avatar
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    Default Re: Villains

    Quote Originally Posted by Truly View Post
    Instead, the players are going to have to go back and forth in a place with an evil dragon-- in D&D, "evil" is objectified; it's evil because it's a green dragon, not because of it's motives or anything. This dragon is going to make a deal with the players, something along the lines of "go retrieve this item for me". The catch is, the item is in the possession of a good dragon, one that they've already met, and owe a soul-debt to. Either they go a-stealing from the friend-dragon, or they cross the enemy dragon. All of this is really only to raise tension for when they eventually worry about the great big evil King dragon, who the good-one is aligned with (because he's intimidated), but the evil one is not.
    To quote Order of The Stick:

    "Dragons; color-coded for your convenience!" lol

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    Last edited by PiccoloX83; 22nd January 2014 at 05:17 PM.
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    J'ai Envie De Toi AetherX's Avatar Moderator
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    Default Re: Villains

    Quote Originally Posted by Elysia View Post
    And then, because deconstruction is apparently my thing today, I find that the concept of "villain" is absurd. To quote from a (regretfully) terrible movie:

    The world isn't as black and white as we'd like to believe. Sure, those people are doing things that we think are awful, but unless they have absolutely zero followers, there's probably a good motivation behind what they do.
    Probably.
    ...goddammit George Lucas
    Oh god you brought up Star Wars. I'll try to contain myself.

    To start, I don't think Revenge of the Sith was that bad, both because of the awesome as possible opening scene and the lightsaber fight that you are referencing (also Padme's quote: "So this is how democracy dies... to thunderous applause."). The banter between Anakin and Obi-Wan is a perfect example of just what we're talking about here. They argue about points of view and absolutism, hearkening to Obi-Wan's discussions with Luke in A New Hope and on Dagobah in Empire and Jedi.

    "Luke, you're going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." He clearly had a lot to think on while he was living as a hermit on Tatooine. I'll stop before I fanboy you to death.

    It all comes down to the fact that villains don't necessarily think that they are evil. Some of them might, but I find the ones who don't are the most fascinating. Villains don't necessarily have to have good intentions though. Villains can be evil without being evil for teh lulz. Take Voldemort for example. He's undeniably evil, but he does it because he's obsessed with power and the feeling of exercising that power over people that are weaker than him. He's also incredibly afraid of death and, in my opinion, loneliness.

    Good and evil are not necessarily as black and white as the alignments in D&D. Which brings me to this:

    Quote Originally Posted by Truly View Post
    Right now, I'm writing (and hoping to put my players through) a dungeon with "a crazed old wizard". He's not evil, he's just reckless. He has hordes of monsters, of a sort, at his control, and has them placed throughout his magickal tower, from which he is releasing clouds of wild-magic, which is wreaking havoc on a nearby town. That's why the players are sent up to stop him.
    But now that I think about it, the town is one that hates magic, and lynches magic users, hanging them publicly, or burning them alive, or what-have-you. It'd be really interesting to see the players come down from the tower and raze the town, or to just let the two forces-- the impenetrable mage's tower vs the anti-magic town-- deal with each other.
    This is a really cool idea, and kind of reminds me of something I played.

    My party was working for a crime lord to get in his good books. Our job was to fetch a magical amulet that had been lost in a shipwreck. When we got there, however, we found the amulet on the body of a dead girl. She came to life, as bodies tend to do in D&D, and we discovered that she was the crime lord's daughter. He had killed her for the amulet, I think (I can't remember the exact reason). She had come back to life because she had turned into a badass demon vampire (110% kill us in our sleep evil). Despite the fact that she could kill us all at any second, we pitied her and took her back to her father. As soon as she saw him, she immediately tried to kill him. She ended up succeeding and killing a couple of his bodyguards in the process. This fight took several combat turns to happen, and each time one began our DM asked us what we were doing. To his shock, every single time we said we were just waiting and watching. We had absolutely no idea which side to join. Do we fight the demon vampire that's going to murder a lot of people, or do we fight her asshole father who left her to die and is currently running a drug ring in the city? WHO IS MORE EVIL?

    If anyone's curious, this was the Ptolus campaign setting for 3.5e, it was my first campaign and a TON of fun.

    For the record we waited for her to wreak a ton of havoc and then proceeded to kill her and everyone else in the gang-owned cul-de-sac

    Okay, now personal examples.

    I've only written two different antagonists before. One of them is Giovanni. I'm painting him as the misled type of villain (misled by himself, though). He has reasons for everything that he is doing. Originally his primary motivation was greed, but it evolved into something more. He doesn't do a lot of killing, though he's mildly amused by cowardice and pleading for one's life, he's more behind the scenes, pulling strings and organizing Team Rocket.

    The other antagonist is Reese Walker, essentially Giovanni's lieutenant. He goes the other direction. He loves exerting power over weak people (who infuriate him) and people who don't respect him. He's quite selfish and lacks any real empathy. He also enjoys manipulating people. He's more sadistic than "VIOLENT MURDER MAKES ME LAUGH"

    That's more stuff that I haven't gotten a ton of feedback on, so I just assume that it works. I like writing both types of characters, and I think having both brings a lot to the story. The important part is that your reader can understand why the villain is doing what they are doing, otherwise they have no faith in them. And if they have no faith in them then the story is quite boring.

    Anything else I can think of has already been said so I'll shut up.

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