1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Empathy for your villains

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Link the Writer, Feb 18, 2011.

    This isn't about how you can make your villains empathetic, but how you yourself could feel empathy for your own villain.

    Let me use an example from my Colonial Detective series. Let's say that during the course of the series, Amos is harrassed, picked on, mocked, even physically assaulted by an elite, snobby anti-French kid his age. I make this kid as hateful as I can, make the readers pray for karma biting him in the ass.

    Then, in a later book, the kid and his family are in mortal peril. They have been accused of spying for the Colonial army and have been sentenced to hang. Everyone must die. The kid, his mother, and his father. Everyone.

    Knowing dear Amos, he'd put his prejudices aside and try to help save his arch-rival. But I have other ideas.

    Basically, I'd just let them die. Make Amos fail in his mission. No matter how much he begs me, no matter how much potential they have, I would not hesitate to let this fictional kid and his family perish.

    I've noticed this and it's...terrifying. What if said kid wanted to redeem himself? Wanted to make amends? Instead, I have this childish thought of just getting rid of him (and his family) just because I can do it.

    How can I change this? How can I have empathy for my own villains and not just kill them off the chance I get? Tips?
     
  2. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Stop seeing them as villains. Just see them as antagonist. As soon as you start dividing the world into black and white, you lose the fantastic world of color.

    Refuse from the start to see it as a hero and a villain, force you brain to let go of that perspective.
     
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  3. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    It's difficult.

    As a newbie writer, I still hold some of that childishness of creating straw villians for me to viciously bash with a bat.
     
  4. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Find the same childishness that rejoice in being the villain, or a dark hero. Enjoy it, with every inch of the more twisted corner of your mind.
     
  5. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    That's what scares me. The worst villian I could think of has the potential to be just as bad if not WORSE than Hitler and Stalin put together.

    Doesn't it...doesn't it make me a monster if I'm capable of thinking such atrocities for my villian to do? Atrocities that could potentially make Hitler seem like the local neighborhood bully? I mean, we're talking evil like:

    #1- Forcing children of nobles (that belong to rival factions) to dance in loincloths on a hot platform in front of their parents.

    #2- Giving slaves mechanical jaws and flashlight eyes (inserted into sockets) so they can dig like a mole through the mines.

    #3- Committing a genocide where the villain systematically slaughters an entire race because of preconcieved beliefs.

    #4-Creating entire ghettos.

    #5- "Land of the blind". LITERALLY!! He blinds his enemies and ports them to a remote island. Children included!!

    This is just the beginning of his list of atrocities...

    See? What does it make me...if I'm able to think this??
     
  6. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    No not at all. It like an old couple often quoted. The interviewer asked the old lady celebrating their 50 year wedding day.

    "Have you every considered divorce?"
    "Divorce, never. Murder, often."

    Every one got that side.

    Your hurting no one, is a sympathetic and is an empathic human being. But you have so knowledge about human evil, and fantasy enough to spin it into a story.
    Empathy is the sign of you being a decent human being, even if it means having empathy even with the worst of humanity and what might motivate them.

    It just like enjoying a good horror movie. You don't actually enjoy seeing fellow humans killed, you enjoy a thrill you know is fictional.
     
  7. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    So, it's not a sign of mental issues if I created a monster that was capable of all that stuff I just listed?
     
  8. ScaryMonster
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    ScaryMonster Active Member

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    I can't make any suggestion about the plot of your story but I can cite an example of a likable but totally amoral character.

    That's Harry Lime from the director Carol Reeds film "The 3rd man", the screen play was written by Graham Greene.

    Here's a sample of the sort of thinking this character engages in.

    Harry Lime: (Opens door of Ferris Wheel compartment) Look Down there, would you feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you 20 thousand pounds for every dot that stopped would you really, old man tell me to keep my money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spend? Free of income tax old man, free of income tax!……

    Harry Lime: Nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don't. Why should we? They talk about the people and the proletariat, I talk about the suckers and the mugs - it's the same thing. They have their five-year plans, so have I.

    Martins: You used to believe in God.

    Harry Lime: Oh, I still do believe in God, old man. I believe in God and Mercy and all that. But the dead are happier dead. They don't miss much here, poor devils.

    Harry Lime: In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they have brotherly love. They had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? - The cuckoo clock!
     
  9. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Nope. You an ordinary human being. You can separate fact and fiction. You know what your values are in real life, you would never do anything to anyone, etc.

    All kids in all cultures play role games. And it basically what you will be doing. Most actor thinks it amazing opportunity to play bad character, and it is. It is a refile and can feel therapeutic to let you be a kid, plat cops and police in you heads and be a bad guy for once in you while. Playing role games are something very basic to human nature, or to any mammals. Even antelopes, or wolf cubs play pray and hunter with their siblings.

    We as humans are mentally equipped to play role games, as kids and as adults, and stepping into the role of a bad, good, weird, or stupid person isn't dangerous. You just play around and step out of it. Even if literature is a serious type of play. Bad characters isn't different from anything else.
     
  10. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why must your idea mean your villain cannot be redeemed? He can still hang and want to make ammends. Maybe your hero cannot save him but is present at the hanging and the boy apologizes as his last words and laments that he'll never be given the chance to make ammends. Having him executed and denied his desire to make things right sounds like some intense material. I know I'd read. Make him remorseful before he dies and then his death can be tragic. Making the reader mourn for somebody they've just the first half of the book praying for the death of can be a powerful thing if done right.

    Hey dude, if you wanna commiserate about creating monsters, talk to me. I got that feeling as nauseam and would be glad to have somebody else to talk to about it who gets it. In my one novel alone I came up with a list of twisted things I think can probably match yours there. Maybe we can talk each other off the ledge. ;) But seriously, unless your books PROMOTE the behavior of these villains, I don't see a problem.
     
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  11. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Trust me, if you look through history you will find real people that make Stalin and Hitler looks like babies. People have done far worse than the things you have listed.

    Do we need to send the thought police after you? :( Thinking and doing are two different actions. Just because you have a thought doesn't mean you are going to do it. Furthermore, if you are troubled about having an 'evil' thought, where do you draw the line between good and evil? If you are driving home one day and someone abruptly cuts you off, and you get angry over it, does that mean you are evil?

    You are looking too much into it.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I realize that this isn't your point, but I think that Hitler did plenty of things as bad as, or worse than, the ones that you describe.

    Getting back to your point, no, I don't think that the ability to conceive of or understand evil has anything to do with _being_ evil. Pretty much every human mind has the ability to conceive of incredibly evil thoughts; the thing that makes you decent is not an inability to think of evil, but the ability to reject it, to refuse to take action based on it, when you do think of it. (And writing fiction is not "taking action" in the sense that I mean.)

    ChickenFreak
     
  13. Silver_Dragon
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    Silver_Dragon Senior Member

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    It's all about context. Most villains embody qualities that the writer does not aspire to possess, and the story as a whole will therefore not condone the actions of such characters.
     
  14. Tessie
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    Tessie Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're a writer. That doesn't reflect who you are internally. Plus, don't overthink it too much. Worrying about it probably balks your inspiration and creativity as a writer.

    I have two villians in my WIP, one who repents later on of his deeds, and one who is quite cold. I tried thinking of all these reasons to justify the really awful one and his treachery and then decided that is probably best left as is. I use to not feel comfortable about making him evil, but now am not so timid about it. It has nothing to do with me, more to do with the setting of the book. Characters are characters, not people you most probably like in real life.
     
  15. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Good points everyone, and thank you. :)

    Plus, if a villain was that evil, it would make his/her defeat just that more powerful. The dictator has fallen, his/her horrors have ended and the healing of a people can begin.

    As much as that villain terrifies me, it makes me intrigued as to just what happened to make this person so twisted.
     

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