1. Backbiter
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    Backbiter Contributing Member

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    A Purely Evil Villain

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Backbiter, Aug 28, 2011.

    Hey guys, Backbiter here.

    I'll get straight to the point.

    In the novel I'm writing, one of the antagonists is purely evil. I mean absolutely, 100%, cold, hard, evil. No good qualities whatsoever.

    I've read around that creating a villain like this is a big no-no, as all characters should have some good quality, but I feel like I need one absolute villain. I feel like this cruel, cold individual is the perfect character to provide opposition for the protagonists.

    And, I have another antagonist who does have some good qualities, so I believe that this makes up for my usage of this 100% evil villain.

    Ultimately, I just want to know what all you people think.

    Let the discussion begin!
     
  2. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    That's fine... if you want the novel to come off as cartoonish. People aren't ever 100% good or 100% evil. There's a reason why the saying, "Hitler had a dog and shaved, that doesn't mean we shouldn't do the same," exists.
    Again though, depending on the mood of the book, that may be completely fine.
     
  3. Irontrousers
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    Irontrousers Member

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    How do you quantify evil? How do you define it? Isn't evil relative? Does the antagonist think he's evil? What do the motivations of a 100% evil character look like?

    Also, remember that the function of an antagonist isn't to be a "bad guy". An antagonist need only provide a source of resistance to the protagonist. Personally, I think the idea of evil for the sake of evil is tacky, trite, and absurd. I'm guessing you're probably writing fantasy, though, so tacky, trite, and absurd are probably things you can get away with.
     
  4. Backbiter
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    Backbiter Contributing Member

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    He's a demon, so I'm more or less using him as a pure symbol of unquestioned evil.

    The motivations of this 100% evil character are simply the enjoyment he finds in causing havoc, killing people, and being the strongest creature alive.

    And ultimately, he is evil for the sake of evil. He's a demon, and that's all he knows. I feel like maybe that's the kind of line I'm trying to draw. The main antagonist of the novel is human, and he does have some good qualities. His motives are understandable given the way that he feels. It's possible that I'm simply using this demon character to provide contrast, to show that while the other antagonist may seem evil, and his motives may not seem to be all that great, there is always something worse.
     
  5. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Okay, that is frankly weak writing. So what if he's a demon? There are many stories that cast demons as morally grey, or even good characters. Also, that's awfully deterministic to say the least.
    If you want a contrast, what would be much better is to show how fanatical each character is. The villain you want to be more sympathetic you could show questioning the ideal, and not going all the way, while the main villain is totally fanatical. The latter would give you Stalin and Hitler territory, to say the least.
     
  6. StrangerWithNoName
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    StrangerWithNoName Longobard duke

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    Ok he's a boring demon then...
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It won't necessarily result in weak writing or cartoonish writing in and of itself. It all depends on how you implement it.
     
  8. Backbiter
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    Backbiter Contributing Member

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    I know that some people use demons as either good or simply neutral, but the way that I portray it, the way I see it, is that demons are evil. And it's all about the writer's ideas and his overall message, right?

    Also I'm not really sure you understand what I'm going for. I'm using the main antagonist as a human, and this antagonist as a demon. The human has something of a conscience, while the demon is a pure evil machine of destruction.

    I'm trying to show that all humans, every last one of them, have some kind of good quality. That's why I'm using something completely inhuman to show that the human antagonist does have a good quality somewhere in him. These two villains, one a demon that needs no reason more than "I got bored" to justify him causing destruction, the other a human who's motives can be understood - despite his actions being "wrong" - help to demonstrate this idea.

    Agreed.
     
  9. Xyphon
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    People just don't like villains who are evil just for the sake of being evil. All characters should have at least some depth to them. Pure evil and pure good characters are quite frankly, boring characters. The only time I have ever seen this pulled off is with Kefka from Final Fantasy 6, but at the very least he had a reason why he was so evil(he was insane due to an experiment).
     
  10. Backbiter
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    Backbiter Contributing Member

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    That's understandable. I think that my character's reason to why he's evil is simply that he enjoys it. He enjoys the fact that he's so powerful and he can use it any way that he wants.
     
  11. Show
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    I think you have reasons for the character's evilness. The problem with the idea of "100% Pure Evil" is that it's a fairly vague notion. It sounds like your antagonist need not be a cartoon. I think the idea is that you're using "evil" as a quality when you should probably be focused more on why he does what he does without really weighing it on the "evil" scale.

    So he likes power, and he likes destruction. It gives him pleasure. That right there makes him have motive for his evil, albeit a common one. So perhaps the insistence on the terms "100% evil" is making people seem a bit more repelled by the idea than need be. He enjoys what he does so he does it. It's a simple motive but sometimes absurd motives drag down the story a lot more than having a character simply do something because they want to. It's really all in the writing.
     
  12. Killer300
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    Okay, he gets pleasure off of it is a reason, hence no 100% evil term, and more importantly, could perhaps mean something like mental illness and/or being trapped in the species.
    Basically, GET OUT of the black and white morality system. With some exceptions, that others will note, that style of morality in fiction is dead, along with in mainstream morality actually.
    Also, creating a character to show off another character is a horrible idea. It robs the first character of all depth, and causes them to become nothing more than a shallow plot device at best. Every character in the book has to have a good reason for being there.
    Going back to your evil human, there is a much better way of showing he's not 100% evil. Show his depth! Show his grey side, don't just make another character to show him off.
     
  13. Holo
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    Holo Senior Member

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    If you are going to make him purely evil, at least let him have a good reason for being so. Flesh him out a little and figure out why the villain became to evil. Personally, I try to avoid making a villain purely evil because it is so rare to find someone with no good qualities unless they are a complete sociopath. But if you are set on making the antagonist completely sinister, then make them appear good to the hero. They should be suave and calm and collected so their evil core is not so apparent at first.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would say, then, that the demon is not a character, he's a machine or a force of nature. You wouldn't be criticized for not giving a conscience to a tornado, or a rattlesnake.

    But if he's not a character, then _he's not a character_. He's not going to be interesting in any character-like way. Arguing with him, negotiating with him, trying to strategize against him, in general conflict with him, won't be appreciably more interesting than trying to survive that tornado, or trying to puzzle out a riddle.

    But even then, I still think that there are some issues - I'm not sure if you can comprehend evil without also comprehending good, and I'm not sure if you can comprehend good without having some good in you. I could see him being destructive in a mindless "Hulk smash" sort of way, but committing real, detailed, finely-drawn evil requires some comprehension of good.

    ChickenFreak
     
  15. Mitchell Nelson
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    If all he knows is evil, and he views it as right to be evil, doesn't your demon--philosophically speaking--consider evil good?

    I'm not sure it's possible to have a purely evil character. You can have one who never does anything nice or kind or decent for other characters, but he still has to have a reason for behaving that way.

    A character without reason is a human-shaped animal.
     
  16. Show
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    From what the OP has said, he/she is clearly not writing a character without reasons for being evil. IMO, there's just some harping on the terms.
     
  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    The advice to get out of the black and white morality system is bad advice. Contrary to what has been said, there is plenty of fiction published where such a system exists. It is difficult to find in certain type of fiction where it is trendy to avoid it, but it isn't a problem in and of itself. It comes down, as you hear often repeated, to the execution of it. You shouldn't feel compelled to adopt such a morality system, but neither should you avoid it. You decide what kind of story you want to write and stick to it.

    ChickenFreak makes a good point that at some point you are dealing less with a "character," as one might think of that word, and more with some sort of force that moves through the story.

    Keep in mind that from the time stories were first told, the notions of good and evil have been in them. The advent of stories that eliminate these ideas or try to blur them is relatively recent, and a perfectly valid approach - but not the only one, and not a necessary one.

    If you look at two modern film franchises - Star Wars and Lord of the Rings - it is no coincidence that both rely heavily on absolute notions of good and evil, and that both resonated so strongly with so many people. It is no more a coincidence than it is coincidence that stories throughout human history have done so. There is something ingrained within the human psyche that responds to this; that resonates with it.

    And again, you will find that sort of work on the shelves at the bookstore. You'l also find plenty of the "grey" morality systems where good and evil are blurred. This is a trend in Fantasy right now, for example, but the other style remains as well.

    It comes down to the kind of story you want to tell. If, in your story, there is a solid line of demarcation between good and evil, then so be it. You can write a great story using those themes. If, on the other hand, everything is blurred and in shades of grey, then again so be it. You can also write a great story that way.

    Do not heed advice that says "cannot" or "should not." Follow your story instead.
     
  18. Radrook
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    Radrook Contributing Member

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    You don't consider Backbiter's villain insane? What's the difference between being insane due to an experiment and being insane because of congenital or nature-of-the-beast reasons? What makes those reasons non-reasons?
     
  19. Hawwyboo
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    It just depends on what message you're trying to get across. But of the two antagonists, I'd focus more on the morally grey human, because a pure evil character is by definition pretty one-dimensional.

    Also I wouldn't use the word 'evil' when describing the demon, except in dialogue, as there doesn't seem to be any consensus on what it actually means. Words like 'homicidal,' 'sadistic,' 'malicious,' etc, are much less ambiguous. You need to make it clear what spectrum of morality you are placing these characters on, because there is no universal agreement about what is right and wrong.
     
  20. TobiasJames
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    I echo Steerpike. People who have leapt in and said, "Give him some humanity!" are giving bad advice - and also missing the point.

    It is possible to deliberately write a character who is evil for evil's sake, and it's not "weak" or "unimaginative" writing. Shame on you, for giving such comments!

    I think for the sake of validity, there has to be some reason why this person or creature is pure evil, but this doesn't need to be explored in-depth and it certainly doesn't need balancing out by any arbitrary 'good qualities'.

    To the OP, much of the advice you have been given in this thread is garbage from people who have a debilitatingly narrow view of morality.

    My best advice? Do a google search for "Kefka Palazzo" and read up on his backstory. His malicious nature was caused by an event, that's true enough, but it doesn't mean he can ever go back to a normal view of right and wrong.
     
  21. The-Joker
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    Purely evil antagonists can be very entertaining. They don't need a shred of good. Just ask my avatar.
     
  22. Show
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    Sometimes contriving some silly motive makes the audience roll their eyes more than just coming outright and saying that your guy is an evil nutcase.
     
  23. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl Contributing Member

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    Or just write him as an evil monster and give no reason for his actions. It'll make an intriguing character for you and for your readers - make it up as you go along.

    Don't worry about planning your writing. The best novels are those that are spontaneous - the kind in which both the author and the reader are confused about what the book is talking about. The more you try to stick to your original plan, the staler and less enthused you become. Just experiment. Countless breakthroughs in science have occurred by accident.
     
  24. Radrook
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    I disagree that a character can't be referred to as evil because there is no universal agreement as to what is morally right and wrong.


    The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights is based on what is considered to be universally accepted as right and wrong and all deviations from that are considered crimes against humanity.

    The pre- Socratic sophist position that there is no right or wrong has long since ethically been discarded as morally bankrupt.

    The European Age of Enlightenment is recognized as having provided us with guidelines that are considered morally universally applicable such as the condemnation of burning people alive at the stake or torturing confessions out of them, or skinning them alive, or ripping out tongues and gauging out eyes prior to execution. Such things are considered evil and there is absolutely no confusion whatsoever that such things are evil. So tagging a mc as evil because he or she takes pleasure in such things is by no means undeserved.
     
  25. ChickenFreak
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    I don't mean that he has to _be_ good, or wish to be good, or pine for goodness, ever. I mean that to know what evil is, you have to know what good is. And to choose between kinds of evil, you have to choose between the kinds of good that you're undermining.

    What makes it worse to kill a baby than to break that baby's toy? A feel for good, for values that are based on good. The evil is tied up in the value of life, of the innocence of children, the love of parents for their child - the evil is tied up in understanding of _good_.

    What makes it worse to burn the only copy of an author's manuscript than to burn an unopened ream of paper? A feel for good, for the labor and thought that went into that manuscript.

    Try saying that he's just into destruction - Hulk smash! Even there, what do you destroy? Heck, destroying a mountain is the biggest kind of destruction. But destroying a city seems more evil, doesn't it?

    And I'd argue that that's because the city comes from the labor of people, and the city is filled with living people. The labor, the accomplishment, the people, their lives, their families, those are all things that are related to good. So to "feel" that destroying a city is more evil than destroying some mountain out in the middle of nowhere, you have to have a feel for good.

    To "feel" that destroying life is more evil than destroying objects, you have to feel that life is good. To "feel" that forcing a character to betray his principles and, oh, destroy a city _for_ you, you have to feel that both the city and the character's principles are good.

    You don't have to admire or pine for good, you just have to understand it or feel it. So how does he feel it or understand it, if he doesn't have any of it and never did? Does he have a sensor that feels people's emotional pain and allows him to learn what causes the most pain? That could be a way to do the most evil without understanding good, though its predictive power may be limited - what hurt Person A may not hurt Person B the same way.

    And doesn't that mean that if he sees a baby without a handy parent to feel pain, he won't harm that baby, because there's no payoff? In fact, that baby would be precious, for the sake of the pain that he can cause with it later. And doesn't it mean that he'll want the planet to have lots of people that are healthy enough and sane enough to feel emotional pain? Someone who never feels happiness is probably also dulled to pain. He'll need some people to be happy; he'll need to regularly raise a "crop" of sane people that he can "harvest" by tormenting them when he needs a fix of pain.

    That gives him a detailed motivation, while "he's just evil", with no explanation, doesn't.

    On the other hand, maybe he just wants to be evil, in the abstract. If so, then without an understanding of good, he'll need to research evil. Heck, he'll need to read books to determine what's evil. And sometimes he may get it wrong and actually do good, by accident.

    On the other other hand, maybe your world has some cosmic definition of evil and good, and he can detect the evil that he does like the rest of us can detect the temperature. Is that definition one that humans would agree with? And what does he get out of being evil - is he just a perfectionist, trying to achieve the very most in that area, or does he become more powerful somehow?

    But I think that these are all a little mechanical. I think that you'd do better for him to understand good, if only to thwart it. I think that without a point of view and a motivation, he's going to be boring.

    I'm going to look at... Buffy. Yes, mock me.

    Buffy had different kinds of evil, with different motivations. Spike killed and tortured and, of course, drank people's blood. But, as I recall, he didn't want to destroy the planet; he liked all those people wandering around "like Happy Meals on legs." Angel just wanted to destroy it all. Does your demon take pleasure in the nuances of committing evil on humanity, like Spike, or does he just want to destroy, like Angel?

    The inhuman demon that came to burn the humanity out of the world was "just evil", and he was pretty boring. He was interesting in the way that he revealed things about other characters - he couldn't burn Angel, for example, because Angel was so totally lacking in humanity. But in general, he was just a machine. He lasted for two (three?) episodes, because he wasn't interesting enough to last any longer.

    The Mayor planned to destroy darn near everything, but he loved Faith like a daughter. ("No Slayer of mine is gonna live in a fleabag hotel.... Let's kill your little friend.") Does your demon pick an occasional favorite while he's on his evil rampages? Does he, like the Mayor, object to profanity and dirty shoes on the furniture? Does he, like Spike, enjoy soap operas?

    Glory was two people in one body - one evil and one good. But those two personalities were entirely separate, so for most of her reign she didn't seem to really understand good, and therefore her evil wasn't all that evil - not like the evil of Angel, who had the memory of being human and therefore understood what evil really is.

    Glory wanted pleasure (bubble baths and mimosas!) and world domination and destruction and she didn't hesitate for a heartbeat to hurt anyone that got in her way, but she wasn't really pursuing the pleasure of _evil_; she pursued other pleasures and did evil along the way. Only when the personalities started to bleed together was there really a sense of evil, rather than merely danger - and that sense of evil came from the _good_ personality, when he reached the point where he still understood good but he chose to do evil.

    In general, without some plot device like the "pain sensor" that I mention above, I argue that you cannot be evil without _understanding_ good. Whether understanding good means that you have "some good in you" is an argument that I won't go into. But to be accomplished at evil, you cannot be entirely ignorant of good.

    ChickenFreak
     

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