?

should my antagonist have an awareness of his malignancy?

  1. He should think he is doing the right thing (maybe he is corrupted or delluded)

    78.6%
  2. He should know he is doing wrong but shouldn't care (general lack of morality)

    21.4%
  1. Sumarian
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    Sumarian New Member

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    antagonist 'motiveless malignancy'

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Sumarian, Feb 21, 2015.

    An antagonist generally is in need of a convincing motive, however, should they always be aware of the fact that they are 'in the wrong', or can they simply believe that they are doing the right thing despite its obvious 'wrongness'? would his allow for the reader to sympathise too much?
     
  2. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    I don't think it's possible for any human behavior to be 'motiveless', but I don't see any reason your antagonist couldn't believe that his 'wrong' behavior is 'right'. The readers' sympathy would, I think, depend mostly on how you wrote the character.
     
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  3. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that they'd usually believe that they're right. They may know that what they're doing is illegal, or against societal custom, but the vast majority of the time they'll still think they're right.
     
  4. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Agreed, an antagonist should never know that they are in the wrong.
     
  5. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    It would depend very much upon the kind of story you are telling, including the nature of the hero of the piece. Is it a very nuanced kind of story where there are many shades of grey, or is it a black and white good vs evil fight.

    It is quite possible, for instance, for the villain to be a generally good man who decides to undertake an act of evil because he sees it as necessary. Or he could be really just an opportunist or mercenary who might do good or evil depending on what is expedient or profitable.
     
  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    A bad character could deliberately want to be bad. Either because he's taking revenge, or because he feels being bad is the only thing he's good at. In other words, he could be competitively bad. Well ...some psychopaths and sociopaths do this, anyway. It's a game to them.

    If characters are unaware of the real consequences of their actions, then that's a different story. Or if their motives are good but their actions are totally out there—like a guy I read about who went around killing little boys because he wanted to save them from the horror of being sexually abused, as he was as a child. That's a 'bad' action done for motives the character would see as good. He's not on the same planet as the rest of us, but it would be possible to create sympathy for him as a character.

    However, if a character enjoys being bad and hurting other people, and sees it as him winning some sort of game, or getting to the top of the heap? That's another thing altogether. This kind of character is very unlikely to draw sympathy of any sort from the reader.
     
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2015
  7. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    MY advice is to get concepts like "right" "wrong" "bad" "good" out of your head when you're writing. When that homeless guy on the street asked you for money and you looked away, were you bad, were good, were you right, were you wrong? Or did you just just feel uncomfortable and ignore him cause that''s what everyone else does?

    If I wrote a story about a low life alcoholic who is violent towards his family, even then I'd stay away from some vague words like "bad" or "wrong." Well, he's a drunk, and he was abused as a kid as well. He doesn't understand violence is wrong. He's probably stupid. Definitely uneducated. Grew up thinking violence is normal. Is probably mentally disturbed. Prone to rages. He's an alcoholic. See? I don't need to ever delve into the realm of right or wrong, bad or good, with this guy.
     
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  8. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that very few people act when they are aware that such an act places them in the wrong. Think of Walter White in Breaking Bad; he knew that making drugs was illegal, he knew that it wasn't right, but his need for money to provide for his family made even a bad act good and right, so he was NOT in the wrong - not in his head. And once he'd started, worse things became essential and justified by his instinct for self-preservation.
    It's rare enough that we go against our instincts for self-preservation to put somebody else ahead of ourselves that it usually gets rewarded with some kind of medal.
     
  9. Sundowner
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    Sundowner Member

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    I agree with 123456789 about just getting rid of the idea of morality when writing. In real life there isn't such things as right or wrong, just one action that conflicts with another, it's up to the flip of a coin on which one is "good" and "bad".
    However, I think it's perfectly possible to write a character that's actively "evil". They would indeed need a reason for it, they can't be motiveless, but they can be nothing more than a cruel, jaded person that only wants to hurt people. For instance, maybe a scientist knew of an impending doom was approaching, but nobody did anything about it, whether they believed him or not. And when it came, he decided not to help anyone, rather, he enjoyed seeing them all suffer. He knew what he was doing was outright wrong, but he didn't care, he cared more about being right than helping people. For some people, malice is the only thing they can feel anymore. How that happened is up to you, but if they became like that for no reason at all, I can't see that working out well outside of a children's fantasy.
     
  10. RachHP
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    RachHP Contributing Member

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    Personally, I don't like characters who are bad for the sake of being bad. I prefer the mixed-up guys and gals who think they're doing the right thing, but are going about it in terrible ways or just don't realise how 'bad' they're being.
    However, I see the point of the whole morality debate. In many ways good and bad are subjective, but from a writing perspective I'd lean more towards the deluded 'I'm doing the best I can but somehow I'm still evil' types.
     
  11. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    There is no incorrect way to write an antagonist. Both of these are options, and it really depends on what the story is about and who the story is for. There will be plenty of people who want pure good vs evil, and plenty who don't.

    But speaking as someone who is very firmly within the moral ambiguity camp, I tend to find that antagonists who are evil for the sake of evil (aka, evil for the sake of driving the plot) just bore me to the point that I'll likely just put the book down. It doesn't mean there really has to be any ambiguity as to which side is in the right. After all ("Godwin's law! Godwin's law!"), Hitler didn't just crown himself "The dark lord of evil, misery and despair", he thought himself to be doing good, even though most would agree that he wasn't. So even if you aren't aiming for grey on grey morality, you should probably still at least give the antagonist a plausible motive, rather than making them knowingly pure evil.

    The only people who really knowingly do evil things for the sake of being evil, are certain serial killers. But even within the realm of serial killers, there are still those that try to excuse their behaviour.
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2015
  12. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    If you don't edit the poll we can't see the totals. You should see the option to 'edit poll', click on that. Uncheck the box that says people can change their vote.
     
  13. ChaosReigns
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    ChaosReigns Be Still and Know Contributor

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    Most of the time, the antagonist would believe that what they are fighting for is the right thing to be doing, despite the fact that it is illegal/immoral, real life example is probably Hitler and what he was doing, he believed that what he was doing was correct, despite the fact that it was unethical, immoral and killed millions of people who probably had never even heard of the guy until his men came knocking on their doors. Look where that landed us, a huge world war and more deaths than probably was needed, but did change the flow of history in quite a significant manner.

    I'm not saying that all countries learnt from that massive change in the customary norms, but it changed how most modern societies views on how things should be dealt with.
     
  14. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your survey leaves out a very significant option:

    He is doing what he sees as necessary, regardless of the negative effects on others.
     
  15. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Bryan Romer That sounds a lot like the first one to me.
     
  16. Dunning Kruger
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    Dunning Kruger Active Member

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    I think a great story is an antagonist who does wrong things, knows they are wrong, and goes to great lengths to rationalize them. Note, rationalizing things is not the same as believing it right. It's more an excuse. "I know its wrong but I couldnt help it..."

    Let's say your antagonist is a pedophile priest. They have to know they are wrong but do it anyway. The best you can offer is rationalization - they lack self control, their victim is promiscuous, etc. In this example you cant say they believe they are right but they dont need to completely lack empathy either.

    IIRC there were elements of this in the movie Insomnia, although its been a while so my memory may be incorrect.
     
  17. Frankovitch
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    Frankovitch Member

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    "Why... So... SERIOUS?!?!?!"
     
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  18. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Heath Ledger's Joker is obviously the model here, but he's not ENTIRELY motiveless. He's motivated by the desire to show the world it's own futility. He enjoys chaos and sees it as a perverse good in that it's more "real" than altruism. He's conscious of the fact that he is "evil" as defined by society, but he thinks societal definitions of good and evil are garbage, and that really there is no good or evil, just self-interest.
     
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  19. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    About the only totally motiveless antagonist would be a bureaucrat or similar carrying out his or her job which results in harm to the MC only as a by product. Such an antagonist would only be aware of the MC to the degree that the MC interferes with or obstructs the antagonist's duties or may never be aware of the MC at all.
     
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  20. Frankovitch
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    Frankovitch Member

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    A really great antagonist, in my unhumble opinion, is Hrathen from the book Elantris. Hrathen is a priest from a very insistant religion. He gets sent to heathen areas around the world, to see if he can convert them. If he doesn't meet his deadline, his brothers in faith will invade. Using his own common sense, it is obvious that he is allowed to commit any act to prevent the bloodshed that will ensue if war does break out. Lying, threatening, assassinating political dissenters, anything is fair game if you're doing it to prevent a war, right?
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2015
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  21. Skaruts
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    Skaruts Member

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    I've always found the D&D alignments to be somwhat inspiring for imagining certain types of characters.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alignment_%28Dungeons_%26_Dragons%29#Chaotic_Evil

    Not sure if it's helpful, just thought I'd share the thought.

    Anyway, I don't think anyone can ever be motiveless. I think you can alsways trace actions back to some root. Even if it's merely complete dementia.

    I find it an interesting proposition to think about, though.
     
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  22. Auratus
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    Auratus Member

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    or maybe, you can make a character who do (anything evil) because it's fun, or he get uncanny pleasure from doing it. Maybe in a point of a story, he might ask the protagonist/reader if he honestly never smile while watching misfortune of others.
     
  23. A Fellow Stalker
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    A Fellow Stalker Member

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    I'm sorry but I can't really agree.

    The D&D alignment system should never be used to make an interesting character off of. In real life, nobody fits into those, even the worst Humans we can think of generally won't fall into chaotic evil or anything like that. Likewise, the best Humans will very commonly do shitty things for their own, selfish reasons. People are very complicated, and if you can fit them into the alignment spectrum then you're not making them deep enough imho.

    If your villain has no motivation besides 'for deh evuls' or what have you, I don't think you can really make a good story about that (unless it's intentionally so. Like you want a stereotypical villain in a super hero parody.) Trying to play a completely evil and motiveless villain straight just doesn't really make for good and organic characters.
     
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  24. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Humans regularly do things we know are wrong, not because we want to be evil, but because we care more about what we gain than we care about doing the right thing. And when pressed, those of us who are not hypocrites will readily admit that we were wrong. And if we are not honestly sorry, then those of us who are really not hypocrites will not even apologize.

    A villain who unapologetically admits wrongdoing makes more sense to me (and is probably more likable) than a villain who is deluded into a false sense of righteousness, and is much more likable to me than a hypocrite who rationalizes evil.
     
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2015
  25. Auratus
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    Auratus Member

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    He could have noble agenda of his own. But no one on the "good" side (including the reader) know it until well after his death or something that make him not able to return to his old position.
     

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