1. para_noir
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    para_noir Member

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    How much is too much?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by para_noir, Aug 5, 2008.

    My villain is....very....very...disturbing. There are several murder scenes I've written thus far.

    The thing is, when I read them to myself, I feel as though the methods he uses to kill are a bit....over the top.

    I mean, is there a limit to how cruel and inhumane someone can be, in terms of writing about villains? Does it ever get to a point where it becomes a bit unbelievable? Or can the villain really do what ever he wants to, without the reader going, "Oh yeah, no way. Even Satan wouldn't do that!"

    ?
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    In my opinion, that's why we have phrases like "over the top." For every exceptional level of cruelty you write for your character, you probably need to build up a corresponding level of depth, and even humanity, in your character to "anchor" him in reality and keep him from being a slavering cartoon monster.

    I doubt it is at all easy to round out a shockingly despicable character like that to make him believable. Even Hannibal Lecter, as well written as he was, does not seem adequately real to me.
     
  3. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think there is a limit on how much you can make believable because humans have done some pretty unbelievable things in the past all the way up to things "even Satan wouldn't do." The real problem is are you good enough at writing to make him believable, and how much are your readers willing to stand? There will come a point where they won't want to read it because it's just too disturbing.
     
  4. That Guy From That Place
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    That Guy From That Place New Member

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    As long as he has a suitable reason for what he is doing (even if it may just be 'for the thrill') it can be made believable. Write, and write well; thats the way to make readers believe. Also all actions lead to consequence... If your villain does inhumane things, make his punishment have the readers saying, 'he deserves this'. On the other hand, if your villain lives to see another day, make it so your readers are saying, 'I knew he would be able to get out of that situation'. In other words, make it convincing and the only way to do that is to write, and write well.
     
  5. Last1Left
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    Last1Left Active Member

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    I'm going to be honest, if you're talking Saw levels of violence here, you might turn off half your readers. It's not that it's unrealistic; who knows what a psychotic killer is capable of, and what (if any) his/her justification might be. But, depending on your audience, they might not agree when the violence crosses a certain line. My own mother, for example, had to stop reading one of her favorite series because the violence reached a level beyond her comfort level.
     
  6. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    The only limit is imagination and availability of "tools" required to perform the act. If the previous isn't a problem, then your only problem is to write believable support for the act.
     
  7. Chef Dave
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    Chef Dave Member

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    It depends. Is this person insane? If so, we can't use the conventional yardstick of morality as a measure of understanding whether this person is "over the top" or not because people who are insane are outside the parameters of our understanding.

    Are you going for a caricature?

    In the movie, Sweeny Todd, the murderous barber was definitely "over the top." Not only did he slit the throats of his innocent customers but he'd then tilt his barber chair and send the bodies down a hidden chute to the basement. His partner in crime, Mrs. Lovett, would dispose of the bodies by chopping them up to use for meat pies.

    Sweeny Todd is an example of extremely dark humor.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Some have claimed that Sweeney Todd was based on a real person, although that point is rather heavily debated. Even if that is true, he may have been greatly exaggerated from his putative predecessor.
     
  9. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have to seen The Dark Knight? Alfred had a line in there to help Bruce understand him. Some people just want to watch the world burn. And Alfred wasn't just talking about the Joker. He was talking about a Burmese soldier. As rare as they are, there are people like that. You have to portray it in a way that is grounded in reality, but it can be real
     
  10. illuminati
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    illuminati Member

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    Para_noir, I have something for you to consider...

    Sometimes NOT showing something is more disturbing than actually showing it. If left up to the reader's own imagination, a villain can be more ruthless than you could ever describe him yourself. Because the reader fills in the blanks, he/she will be more likely to believe it.

    Imagine a frightened child of no older than 13 shivering in the corner of a room. The villain enters the room and says, "Suffer the little children" before closing the door behind him.

    Now I jump to the scene where they fish out the body of a boy in a lake. I didn't tell you what happened between the door closing and the body being found, but your own imagination will do the job WAY better than I ever could have.


    Like I said... it's just something to consider.
     
  11. Chef Dave
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    Chef Dave Member

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    Good point!

    This was used to good effect in the movie, "Con Air." One of the characters in this movie is a serial killer named Garland 'The Marietta Mangler' Greene. At one point this character talks about how he drove through town wearing the head of a woman he had killed. Later on in the movie, he comes across a little girl playing tea with her dolls. He sits down and smiles at her.

    The scene shifts and the audience is left wondering. What did this killer do to the girl?

    As the plane that was hijacked by the convicts later flies overhead, we see that the girl is alive and well. She is looking overhead at the plane.
     
  12. Ungood
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    Ungood Contributing Member

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    I used to think so,

    Until I read "real crime stories"

    The truth of human depravity left me speechless.
     
  13. Lillias
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    Lillias Member

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    I don't think there is a limit to cruelty except for what is possible for a human being to do. All you have to do is watch the news for a while and realize that there are some truly evil humans out there.
    A killer can be insane and barely control his urges or he can seem to be the perfect family man.

    What is the motive for this villain's actions , is one thing that I wonder.

    Hatred of women , sexual urges etc.

    And I agree that putting some of the violence "off-camera" is really a good idea. Implying is important. Sometimes showing it graphically on every other page can be a bit too much for some people.
     
  14. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    My MC is like this. Okay, not a mass-murderer who's insane, but a normal person who never says or does a thing pleasant. Near to being a psychopath, he does many things one would consider "why, that...oh-so-evil...". I used one technique to find out how evil people can be within the range of sanity. When writing dialogues, I pick up the nastiest things I've heard, or imagined could be said, yet not to nasty to sound unrealistic. A little reference to crime magazines and psychiatry books can help.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The problem is not the degree of cruelty and depravity per se, but rather keeping the perpetrator believable at the same time. Sure, you can have him staggering about the woods with a skin mask and carrying a chainsaw, but without glimpses of the human and his pain beneath all that, your character is not a character at all, simply the Boogeyman.

    As I unsderstood the original question, it was how far can you take it without losing credibility.
     
  16. para_noir
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    para_noir Member

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    Yes, exactly. :)

    Thanks for all your help guys! The "imply, don't describe" thing was a pretty good idea, so I'll try using that.

    However, I'm still having difficulty in deciding where to draw the line. Or is there any line at all? I know humans can and have been extremely violent, but can that same depravity be translated into a book?

    For example. There was one scene where the villain makes an 8 year old boy kill his own mother using a gun. I spent weeks on that scene, and in the end, I cut it out. All in all, there were 6 different scenes that I decided to cut out.

    That is the question. How deranged, how psychotic, how evil can I make a person without losing credibility? Even if I show a very vulnerable human side to him, will it still be believable?
     
  17. TheFedoraPirate
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    Making a kid kill his mother doesn't seem "over the top" to me ... just standard issue human depravity.
     
  18. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    From what I've researched he did exist, and so did Ms. Lovett. The differences were used by Sondheim to make him "avenging" his trip to Australia. In real life, he was simply a serial killer with a equally crazy lady assisting him.
     

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