1. embsidney20
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    embsidney20 New Member

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    How can you pull off having an "evil" character as a main?

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by embsidney20, Jun 18, 2014.

    As in, Demon kinda evil. I always find when I read, that the more evil, and usually demonic kind of characters are my favourites. If written well I become fascinated with them and wish there would be another book with these characters as the main ones.

    These sorta guys aren't the type to have a dramatic moment that changes their ways forever, they continue being bad until they die, usually.

    I'd really like to try a new take on writing and see if I can do better with these darker characters that I am so entertained by. But thinking of the right plot that doesn't give off the "Rehab Hero" vibe is so difficult. Maybe its just me, but I love an unhappy ending. I don't crave soppy love for entertainment and I especially love it when the good guy dies or whatever. (The Song of Ice and Fire series is definitely a favourite of mine, ha!)

    Basically, I'd rather the chosen character didn't die, due to dead ends and such, but somehow manages to carry on in their scheming, devious and blood thirsty ways without becoming too "good" in their adventures and misfortunes. I'll allow them friends, maybe. But whether those people can be friends 'til the end is yet to be decided.

    I literally go brain dead when I think on it too hard, so if anyone has ever had any success with this and can throw a few tips my way, that'd be nice.

    Cheers!
     
  2. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Just remember that everyone is the "hero" of their own story. If you have a dark, villainous character doing dark and villainous things, or attempting to, then you must develop a plot in which he has to really strain to do so. The conflict should include obstacles that make us want the protag. to succeed. More importantly, you have to really nail the character motivation so readers can understand (if not sympathize with) the protag.'s reasons.

    If not, then you want the character and their quest interesting enough that we, the readers, want to read about them trying and continually failing at their mission--or having minor victories, but ultimate failure. In which case you may want to focus on the protag.'s mental and emotional arc. How does he or she change throughout the story? What kind of emotional states (highs and lows and such) do they go through? What kind of internal (man vs self) conflict does he or she face in trying to reach the objective

    Consider a story about a hit-man going after the young daughter, and heir to the immense wealth, of a man already on his death bed. We should understand that the hit-man is just doing his job so he can get paid. It might be interesting to give him a family of his own, maybe a young daughter. That would provide some conflict as he might see his own daughter in the face of the girl he's trying to kill. Or perhaps he's hired by someone more dangerous than himself and he can't get out of it. In which case, he might not want to do it and has to come up with a way to convince his boss he's done the job without compromising himself. Or maybe there is a rival trying to do the same job. No one wants the innocent little girl to die, but the story is about the hit-man and his journey trying to complete the mission. Either he does or he doesn't, but we should feel all the elements of conflict, tension, suspense, and so on throughout said journey.

    In every other way, you would/could/should conceivably treat them like any other main character. They need depth, motivations, desires, lives outside of the story action, fears, flaws, and so on. They should be shown as people with their own complexities.
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2014
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  3. embsidney20
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    embsidney20 New Member

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    Thanks! Reading that actually makes it sound like a pretty obvious thing to do, and now I've got something in mind that should be workable!
     
  4. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Glad I could help. :agreed:
     
  5. Devlin Blake
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    Devlin Blake Member

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    No villain actually thinks he's a villain. Even truly despicable people like Hitler didn't think they were villains. In their minds, they were doing what needed to be done to benefit the group they wanted to survive.
    That's exactly what makes them so scary, they are fanatics. And fanatics are always scary.

    So if your demon is destroying the human race, it's got a be for a reason he believes is a good reason.
    For example
    1. Do his actions allow demons to rule the earth? If so, then he thinks he's the savior of his people.
    2. Does he have a family that he wants a better life for? And how does annihilating the humans accomplish this?
    3. Is this his job? Is he hoping for a promotion if he succeeds in ruining some human lives?
    4. Perhaps he just wants revenge on some humans that mistreated him, so now he thinks all humans are rotten to the core
    There are so many popular antiheroes out there (just look at Dexter)

    A villain is a person. He might have started out good, but as the ideology got more twisted, he became more twisted. Show us the transformation, show us the reasons, and show us an evil character we can relate to, or at least enjoy watching.
     
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  6. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well... generally I suppose that's true, but there are exceptions to every rule. For instance, to give you a non-famous example, in one of @KaTrian's and my WIPs we have an MC who knows she's essentially a villain:
    She's a psychopath, like a real one, i.e. if she went to see a shrink, that'd be the diagnosis (or whatever it is they call that condition). She's incapable of feeling love, compassion, empathy, embarrassment, shame etc. She is self-aware enough to know that when she decides to apply her formidable hunting skills (having hunted all her life with a .308 rifle) to kill people for money (i.e. she'd work as a sniper for hire), she knows she's doing something bad, something evil, she knows she's a villain. It's just that she doesn't care, she's literally unable to care because of her psychological disorder.

    To the OP, villains can be sympathetic even when they're bad and they know it. In the aforementioned WIP, the MC seems to be an example like that. Like everyone else, she has her reasons: she's on the brink of losing her home and everything due to being so poor, so when she sees an opportunity to benefit from the hostilities between a neo-nazi city state and their leftist equivalent, she jumps at the chance to work both sides, killing whomever they pay her to kill, and making a neat sum of money doing that. She can shoot someone's brains out and then go for a meal, no worries, no conscience knocking, no nothing.

    Even though some of the ways she kills her victims are quite gruesome and her fascination with death can be a bit disturbing, those few people who have read the story have actually sympathized with her for the most part because we tried to ensure her behavior is justified in her own mind, even in that of others because she's a regular jane who's mostly killing politicians, big name CEOs of multinational corporations, mob bosses etc, i.e. people most readers would dislike, making their deaths seem like less evil deeds (but evil deeds nonetheless).

    We do try to show the other side too, how she has killed several people who are fathers, mothers, someone's husband, wife, son, daughter etc, not just some faceless rich bastards. Regardless, we see the MCs trials and tribulations, feel her pain and joy during her ups and downs.
    Even the three other MCs could be seen as villains: one of them is a neo-nazi mercenary who's starting to lose faith in her beliefs, but still remains loyal to her nazi superiors and does everything in her power to complete her mission of retrieving a lost WMD, and the two others are the scientists who are paid a great deal of money to make that WMD even though they know full well it will be used in a war, racking up the body count like nothing else.

    That makes me believe that sympathetic villains who know and admit they are villains do exist. Out of famous examples, Dexter comes to mind. Members of organized crime and gangs could also fall into that category, and yes, I do think they can be made sympathetic without sacrificing their "evilness."

    Just my $0,02.
     
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  7. Devlin Blake
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    Devlin Blake Member

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    I'm going to nitpick here.
    I don't think Dexter sees himself as a villain. Yes, he knows killing is wrong on some intellectual level. But he also feels he's 'superior' than your average psycho because he doesn't rape, hurt children or family, and only kills people who 'deserve it.'

    In this way, he doesn't see himself as a 'villain' at all, though he knows others will.

    (I'm going to admit, I read the books, but didn't watch the series. I didn't want it to ruin the books for me. Was it very different?)

    Organized crime is the same thing. They are selectively choosing who they want to survive (them.) On some intellectual level, they know it's wrong. However, they don't feel it's really wrong, because their family will survive while the others are crushed. And that's their goal.
     
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  8. Robert Klein II
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    Robert Klein II Member

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    You'd enjoy the novel I'm writing. The protagonist starts off good although after getting wounded by an enchanted blade he is infected by a psychopathic version of himself who will do whatever he can to take over his body. Although now that I phrase it that way... he's more insane than evil.

    Anyways, as for what you're saying, what's your character's goal? What causes him to be evil? Evil characters are always better when they have a reason for what they're doing, so think on that.
     
  9. Mangyhyena
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    Mangyhyena Member

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    To do this well, you need to know your character as completely as possible. How does your character view his/her actions? What drives your character and why? How does your character react to others and why?

    Then, you write the story, exploring the character as the plot moves forward. If you know your character well, just let your character tell his/her story without apology, revealing ever more of him/herself as the story unfolds. Do not censor your character, especially when that character says or does something that disturbs you. That there be pure gold and to edit it out until the shine is gone is to dishonor both your character and your reader. (That was important, so read that last line again, if needed.)

    For an example of a story like this where the main character is not a good guy, I'll suggest 2 of my stories that you can read for free. If interested, go to Wattpad (A site that hosts free fiction) and type 'A Perfect Family Dinner' (under 1,500 words) and/or 'A Scale Of One To Ten' (5,700 words) into their search engine. My pen name is Eva Reigns. There is no charge, I receive nothing if you read it, and these two stories are very much what the OP's question was about, so I don't feel I'm spamming in this instance.
     
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  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Start by discarding adjectives like evil. Main characters have to be relatable to the reader on some level. Show the reader the world as your character sees it. Perhaps he destroys certain people because they deserve annihilation, and does so in a gruesome manner to deter others from deserving a similar fate.
     
  11. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't go that far: some of the greatest fictional villain protagonists of all time were popular because of - not in spite of - the story acknowledging them as the villains: MacBeth, Brutus, Dorian Gray, Lucifer (specifically Paradise Lost), Sweeney Todd, Humbert Humbert, Tom Ripley, Michael Corleone, Light Yagami, Tony Soprano, Dexter Morgan, Walter White...

    I've never believed that fictional characters can EITHER be 3-dimensional OR villainous, I've always loved the potential for both. I'm even writing a villain protagonist in my own WIP, and so far neither of my beta-readers have accused me of making her 2-dimensional.
     
  12. Christine Ralston
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    Christine Ralston Active Member

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    A villain can be the main character of a story or novel. I'm sure if you review the literature, you can find plenty of examples. What's most important is making this villain 3-dimensional. No one is all good or all evil and you need to find the right balance to make your villain seem real. You also want to create a character that people will love to hate. Otherwise, they won't want to finish your story.
     
  13. Mangyhyena
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    Mangyhyena Member

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    Don't forget the 'when good people do bad things' angle. It can be an interesting journey to watch a decent person go to the dark side, Darth Vader being one such character, though by no means the most interesting.

    Stephen King's short story, Roadwork, is a pretty good example of this. The story centers on the main character's preparations for murder.

    I like to "go dark" at times in my writing. You all have me thinking. I now have a dark erotic story that involves 2 monsters (lovers) going after (antagonist) another monster, rattling around my twisted little brain. :). Thanks for that. We'll see if anything comes of it.

    The question for me as a writer is, how far can I take a reader into darkness? How far is too far? How can I coax them farther than too far?

    For me, it all comes down to the character, how well the author knows them, the honesty of that portrayal, and the courage to NOT censor the character in order to sway or soften the reader's opinion. Also, crafting a story to specifically allow the "bad guy or gal" to be as bad as he/she needs to be is helpful.

    In the end, I don't really care what moral conclusions the reader draws about the characters. It's not my job to care about that. My job is to honor my character by telling his/her story as honestly as possible without censorship or apologies and to honor my readers by bringing to bear all my writing and editing and storytelling skills to tell my characters' stories as professionally as I am capable at the time I write it. (And make damn sure I learn to tell a story better each and every time I start a new story.) If I do my job well, the readers are free to judge as they see fit. That's their business.
     
  14. Fitzroy Zeph
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    Fitzroy Zeph Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that Marie Lu does this in her new book The Young Elites. I haven't read it but saw a talk by her a while ago and I think it involves a Darth Vader type character, i.e. grows villianous through circumstance.
     
  15. Chiv
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    Chiv Active Member

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    My villain is evil and he knows it. His motives are purely for self entertainment and revenge, with no real justification to his actions. He thrives on chaos, he's a psychopath, he wants to watch the world burn, and he loves it. Yet at the same time, he is incredibly spontaneous and unpredictable. One moment he might be helping an old lady cross the street, and the next he could be manipulating someone to commit murder just for fun. I find it hard to categorise this. While he is on the verge of pure evil, that does not prevent him from doing good things. But if you help an old lady cross the street, only to decide you want to murder her afterwards, was helping her in the first place still a good act?
     
  16. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    On Dexter I agree with you.

    Though it reminds me of an OC from WIP. She is doing something similar to Dexter but she didn't have a trauma or compulsion. She actually calls herself evil or a villain. I think she does think her effects are god but she doesn't call herself hero. She sort would say it like this. "I am no hero, I am a villain but as such I will not be bound by the heroes code. I will stain my hands with blood so others don't have too. I will continue to destroy larger and larger evils. I will do this until I die, whether it is by a stronger evil or because I became the larger evil and destroyed myself"

    I wonder what you think of that?

    And at the OP, the trick here as I think you realize is that it can be hard to relate to a truly bad character. If we don't relate to them, then we don't care. There are ways around this, one could be showing him as a hero and revealing he was the villain(I am Legend I think did that) or you could give him a relatable reason. I think most villains are at there core relatable but if you show him as too relatable I suppose you might not think of him as a villain anymore. It is tricky but can be done, it isn't an easy project I think, for sure.
     
  17. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    There was American Psycho, if that counts for anything.

    All you're doing is changing the medium for the telling of the story.

    But from my perspective, for starters, you could stop thinking in terms of good and evil. Good and evil have no meaning. They are a means of categorizing in terms of the divine (heaven and hell, god and satan) and being the agnostic I am, none of that stuff has any evidence to support or refute its existence.

    Rather, think of it as degrees of mental illness or lack empathy.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2014
  18. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you're actually agreeing with Cogito's comment that the concept of 'evil' isn't useful. Evil is mindless and is its own motivation. The characters you mention, at least those with which I'm familiar, aren't evil according to that understanding. They're villains, and they do horrible things, but they're too complex to be simplistically labelled as evil.

    Like, Macbeth is tortured by his decisions, manipulated by the witches and his wife (no misogyny there, Will!), tries to get out of the murder, gets carried away, fights on because of courage, etc. He's not just 'evil' and doesn't care. Humbert Humbert actually sees himself as being under Lolita's power. He thinks she's manipulating him, etc. He's delusional, of course, but not simply 'evil'. Michael Corleone repeatedly tries to escape the gangster life, but just when he thinks he's out... etc. They're not 'evil'. Nothing so simple.
     
  19. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Bear in mind that even villainous characters do not think of themselves as evil. Few people would do something if they genuinely believed it to be bad, or that it mattered.

    A good example of a cold murderer as a main character is the guy from the book Perfume - the story starts from his birth and life has not been particularly cruel to him, but he's a murderer and doesn't feel any remorse over it.

    Maybe you should read American Psycho and Lolita?

    CS Lewis wrot Screwtape Letters, I think it's called, which is a series of letters written by the devil himself about how to harm mankind, if I remember correctly.

    Maybe those books can teach you :)
     
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  20. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Actually, no, I am explicitly disagreeing with the notion that "if you have a motivation and don't see yourself as evil, then others shouldn't see you as evil either."

    So you acknowledge that villains exist, but you say that evil doesn't exist because evil can only refer to "mindless" villainy?

    I understand your logic as a process (IF "mindless characters don't exist" AND "evil is mindless" THEN "evil characters don't exist"), I just don't understand why your starting point would be the assumption that "evil is mindless."
     
  21. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, how do you define 'evil'? As a sort of force? Or something inherent in the character that just has to be expressed? Why did X do Y? - Oh, X is an evil person, and Y is an evil thing, so... that's why! It's simplistic, to my mind. It doesn't actually tell us why anything is happening.

    I guess there are definitions of 'evil' that just mean 'very bad', but if you're using those definitions, then using 'evil' as a explanation is just circular. Why is X evil? - Oh, he's evil because he's very bad!

    So, if evil is used as a motivator in and of itself, I think it's simplistic, and if it's used as a descriptor, it's just a descriptor, not a reason for anything.

    You seem to be thinking of 'evil' as a synonym for 'villain'? (Your post didn't use the word 'evil', except in the line you were disagreeing with, so obviously I'm guessing!) If that's how you're using the word, I guess it makes sense, but again, it doesn't add any real explanation to the character's actions. Why is X a villain? Oh, because he's evil! - if villain is a synonym for evil, then... that doesn't help.

    I like your list of villains, and I agree that they're multi-dimensional characters. But I wouldn't call any of them 'evil', according to my understanding of the word.

    How are you using the word?
     
  22. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's actually my point exactly. I see the word "evil" as just descriptive (really bad, synonym for villainous), rather than prescriptive. Trying to use the same word prescriptively ("The person is bad because he's evil") that you have already used descriptively ("Evil means very bad") creates tautologies and circular arguments (The person is bad because he's bad), but not because of the specific word you used.

    You could say exactly the same about the descriptor "villainous." If you use it descriptively to mean "really bad" but then also try to use the same word prescriptively as an explanation for WHY the character is really bad, then you run into more tautologies and circular arguments because of the process, not the word "villainous".

    Saying that the problem is with the word "villainous" would mean "defining X as a descriptor makes it useless as a prescriptor, therefor it's useless as a descriptor."

    If you accept that "villainous" can be a descriptor without causing problems for the word "villainous," then using "evil" as a synonym - as most people do - won't cause problems for the word "evil" as a descriptor either.
     
  23. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    So, fair enough, you use it as a descriptor. But then it's not really too useful in understanding characters, right?
     
  24. qp83
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    I finished reading the first book of the Artemis Fowl series last night, and its main character is "evil", or at least he's a villain.

    It was a rather quick read, so if you haven't read it already, maybe you could find some inspiration? :)
     
  25. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @BayView No descriptor is supposed to cover 100% of a character on it's own. If you can say "my villainous character is 3-dimensional because I explore why he's a villain and how his villainy is different from that of other villains," then you can say exactly the same with the word "evil" instead of the word "villainy."

    @qp83 Also a great example :)
     

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