1. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Non-evil antagonist

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by King Arthur, Jan 25, 2016.

    In my story, the main antagonist (there are four or five, two of those minor) is a German King who has come to Britain to invade. This sounds quite evil, but the reason is understandable: back in Germany, violent and severe floods were destroying his people's farms and they could no longer eat or live properly. So he set out to find the land other Germans had travelled to recently.
    He landed on the beach with his three sons and about fifty men (which was a medium-sized army in those days), and was met by a resistance, so he was forced to fight the locals. He then went around taking more land for his rapidly expanding people.

    I'm having trouble showing how he's really not a bad person since the POV characters are all Britons and they feel like he's stealing their land. And to be fair, he has killed a lot of Britons.
     
  2. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    So, what's the questions? I get the impression you want advice on making him sympathetic? Well, first of all, what time period is this? I get the impression it's quite old, maybe even Saxon times. The funny(actually scary) thing about human history is for most of it national welfare, even when you are prospering, is all the excuse you need to attack whoever you want. nobody would be surprised by this except after World War II when things changed and "for king and country" was becoming less of an excuse. I think if you want to represent him as sympathetic explore the old harsher morality.Have you seen the The Last Kingdom? Notice how nobody is shocked by the invasion and execution is a common place punishment? I would advise having dialogue that shows his goals and depiction of his struggling homeland. Give him admirable characteristics., he already needs to be good at what he does, maybe give him some humour, comradery, a beloved wife, and/or a sense of weariness to his violence? The simple truth is making a sympathetic and/or likeable character revolves around what would make them so in real life. What would make you sympathise with him? What qualities would you find good about this character? Depict them and make them strong if you want him to be particularly sympathetic.
     
  3. X Equestris
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    X Equestris Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it wouldn't be too disruptive to your story, you could try making him or someone close to him a POV character. Seeing through another side's eyes can do wonders for the audience's perception of the conflict.

    If things are so bad back home, they almost certainly brought their women and children along. Show that, that they aren't simply invaders, but men desperate to provide a somewhat stable life for their families.
     
  4. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    It's already a very lengthy story, so I'm not sure if it's a good idea to have their POV's.

    And yes, almost all the "invaders" were farmers. They immediately started cultivating the lands they took over, the King's only goal is to get Lebensraum for his people.
     
  5. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Then make that goal clear. If he finds himself offended by notions he is plainly evil, have him defend his name. Have him talk about his land and his emotions with his comrades. Give him positive relationships with some of those comrades. However much you need to make him as sympathetic as you want.
     
  6. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Good ideas, thanks!
     
  7. obi-sem kenobi
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    obi-sem kenobi Contributing Member

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    What I personally find a verys trong approach is the one they did in the movie "The Rock" (1996). You don't have to include the character's point of view throughout the entire story, just start out with it. If you begin with the antagonist starting out to do what he has to do along with a strong impression of his reasons (in your case, for example, his people dying) the audience will be able to relate immediately and even if he becomes the antagonist throughout the rest of the story, the audience will understand that it is not just a bad person doing bad stuff. It makes for a pretty strong introduction to your story too. I always find it interesting to discover that a character you've begun to invest in and understand is not, actually, the main character, but (in this case) the antagonist.
    It will make it a bit lengthier, but not as much as when you would have to have their POV throughout the story.
    Of course, Oscar Leigh's argument is alway a good way to go about it, with or without this kind of intro. Still, thought I'd mention it :)
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well...to me, a sentiment of "If I really need something, it's OK to kill you and take it" is not really a non-evil sentiment.

    Edited to add: Which is not to say that you can't try to make him sympathetic--there are plenty of dark-gray sympathetic characters in fiction. But you can't expect:

    Horrified Reader: "He murdered all those people!"
    Author: "But he needed what they had."
    Reader: "Oh. Well, that's all right, then."

    MOST villains do what they do for a reason, not just for fun.
     
  9. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you are dealing with the Anglo-Saxon invasion, I ran into an interesting theory/supposition in a book on language history, to explain why Anglo-Saxon German so totally displaced Celtic Brythonic which has left hardly a trace in modern English. That is that there was a plague in about the early 400s that decimated the urbanized Celts and the farmers that supported the cities with frequent contact. The Germans, basically non-urban subsistence farmers, would not have suffered as much from the disease, whatever it was, due to their more dispersed population. So much of the expansion may have been into a vacuum left by disease. Note that St Patrick, when he returned from his first time in Ireland @425, had to walk 30 days past abandoned towns and villages, before he could find people living.

    Let's face it, the fall of Rome was not a pretty time with hundreds of thousands of semi-barbaric tribes on the move into civilized Europe, taking what they get off the Roman carcass. And "barbaric" probably aptly describes how these intruders dealt with what they saw as a rich but weak citified population, inviting outsiders to do what they were unable to do for themselves. That doesn't keep many of them from having high individual standards of morality. So go for it, I think you are on good footing historically.

    Suggest you read Gildas and the Venerable Bede for near contemporary (within a century or so) accounts of the Anglo-Saxon takeover. Both seemed to think it was some well-deserved punishment from God. The Anglo-Saxons were brought in as foederati, treaty people, who were supposed to get land and food in exchange for helping the British defend against Irish and Pictish incursions... maybe the Celtic Brits didn't keep their end of the bargain. That happened in 375 with the Goths which started the whole Roman collapse: they got unfarmable land in a massive 20-40K person unlivable refugee camp in what is now Serbia. The food the Romans gave them was dog meat, slave traders kidnapped their children, and eventually, they went on raids to fight back. Ultimately, Rome turned out to be a hollow shell, living on its legend. Something like that might have happened in Britain also.

    We are fortunate to live in age when most of us never experience violence, and believe that non-violence is a viable alternative because dedicated professionals (police and soldiers)exercise violence in our behalf. In the 400s there were two words for non-violent people: corpses and slaves.
     
  10. King Arthur
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    The full-scale invasion started in the 470's. The first "Saxons" (actually Jutes) arrived in late 420 at the request of a King called Vitalinus the Vortigern, who they blackmailed into giving them all his lands. Vitalinus and his neighbouring Kingdoms' highest ranking officials were invited to a meeting with the Saxons, who all pulled out theirs knives and slaughtered every single Briton, who had been requested to come unarmed. Vortigern was spared since he had married Hengest's only child Rowena. This was called the Knight of Long Knives, which is a term later reused in WW2. Gildas and Bede are good enough, but Bede was born three hundred years after this all happened, and Gildas, though more recent, wrote with christian-tinted glasses and a very distorted and biased view of everything. If there was a King Arthur, he omitted him out of his works out of spite since Arthur killed his brother Hueil.
    Britain treated it's foreigners very well. The Sarmatians had fully integrated society, and Vortigern paid Hengest and Horsa and their mercenaries handsomely. Even before the betrayal.

    I've also found that a lot of the people who were later made saints were anti-christian Pagans, which is rather ironic.
     
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  11. King Arthur
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    A bad historical author applies today's morality and ideas to his novel. A good one gives the reader contemporary thoughts and ideas from his characters.

    It was totally fine in the attackers' eyes to take things from people. The Britons didn't have any clear borders, and many Rulers weren't too bothered by Aelle landing.

    Arthur owns a lot of slaves, which most people would find apalling today but was commonplace back then.
     
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  12. Oscar Leigh
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    Exactly. As I said before, in this context invading someone for your country's interest, even when you weren't depserate, was totally normal. What your character does here is more justified that many actual wars. When the Vikings sacked half of Europe, or Rome's conquests, or Genghis Khan's, Atilla's or the Otttoman's, they didn't really need what they took. It helped them sustain and grow their people, but they weren't desperate. And besides, I'm a pacifist and I''m pretty strongly against war, but if you're entire country is suffering, and nobody is helping you, well, what are you going to do? Peaceful solutions only work in a world with an accepted system of peaceful solution. It's always been a more convenient solution to fight for what you want or believe in and it's our instinct.
     
  13. BoddaGetta
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    It slightly relates to your subject, but in Vikings the History Channel TV show, the Vikings are cast in a similar light to your king character.

    They invade the UK not just for plundering, but also for better farmland than what was in Scandinavia. They even kidnap and keep a Christian monk as a slave in it.

    But the show is from the vikings' POV and doesn't cast them as evil at all, or maniacal antagonists even though they invade.

    My point is that it's been successful before, and if you keep your characters' motivations clear, then the reader will empathize with them.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm confused as to what your question is, then. Your post above seems to argue that your character's behavior would be fine in the eyes of the characters in your novel, and that therefore there is no issue. So it feels as if you're scolding yourself for asking your original question.

    But I thought that the question was about him not looking evil in the eyes of the readers. Few to none of your readers grew up in medieval Germany or Briton. (If any did, they are no doubt hiding from the top secret government agencies that want to analyze them, possibly with Scully and Mulder's help.)

    So my theoretical conversation would change to:

    Horrified Reader: "He murdered all those people!"
    Author: "Historically, murder was just ducky, if you needed the murdered people's stuff."
    Reader: "Oh. Well, that's all right, then."

    I don't think it's going to be that simple. And I don't really think that the Britons would be likely to say, "Well, they were hungry, so it's OK that I'm dead now."

    Your readers will likely approach this book from the Britons' point of view, within which your character will be seen as evil. That's an issue that will need a lot of work; it can't be eliminated by the fact that your villain antagonist and his friends wouldn't see him as evil.

    And, really, was war justified with "We need their stuff."? Or was it just motivated by "We need their stuff," which inspired the conjuring up of other grievances to actually justify the war?

    That is, instead of

    "They've got potatoes! Kill 'em!"

    wasn't it more likely to be

    "They worship an evil God that wants to destroy all our morals and traditions! Kill 'em! Oh, hey, I am shocked, shocked to discover that there are potatoes in this establishment. Let's take some home."
     
  15. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Of course, the historical context doesn't entirely change our reaction. But it would be unfair of the reader not to consider it. In the same way as you might consider the context of a rape victim as an explanation for why they're very nervous about relationships. Context changes behaviour. Our right and wrong are relative and subjective. Furthermore, there's a difference between wanting a sympathetic antagonist and wanting a character to be completely excusable. You're not supposed to be okay with what the character does you're just supposed to sympathise. Think of Ra's-Al-Ghul in Batman Begins, he's quite likeable and he has very understandable motives, but the audience sides with Batman because Ra's-Al-Ghul is an extremist and Batman is who the story attaches us to.
     
  16. King Arthur
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    You're putting words into my mouth, I never said that. What I specifically said was
    It was totally fine in the attackers' eyes to take things from people.
    Meaning they had no objection to it since they did the same themselves anyway. If it were done to them, they'd fight back.
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know who "you" is. In any case, your original question was, I thought, about the opinions of the readers, not the opinions of the attackers. Can you clarify what your question is?
     
  18. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Please read my comment up above in response to your comment you were confused. I think it's quite clear the difference between what he's saying and what he's asking.
     
  19. Feo Takahari
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    If this character isn't bad according to the standards of the time, then what would your Briton characters recognize as good according to the standards of the time? Is there anything he can do that the Briton characters would consider honorable and good form from an enemy? (For instance, if both cultures think sneak attacks are dishonorable, you could emphasize that he doesn't rely on stealth.)
     
  20. GuardianWynn
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    My two cents.

    Short answer: I don't see the problem. You have a clear/non-evil-for-the-sake-of-being-evil motive. Part of the story is going to be expressing that. I mean the hero/villain interact right? Just express the intentions there.

    Long Answer: I think the underline premise is flawed, as if you can decide how a reader will precieve a character. You can't. You might have given them the most pure motives ever. If the reader sympathizes with the hero and the actions of the villain seem unjustified, they are going to think the villain is evil(most likely.) Even if you express that the villain is justified in his actions, if the reader likes the hero that much, they are going to think the villain is evil(again, most likely). It is just part of the how people think.

    Let me give a good real life example. I was once in a park. It had a bike track lane. So some bike riders were having a race. This was plain as day to see. Now a mother was talking with her friends. Her infant(age 4, maybe 5) walks into the track. The bike rider swirved and fell, but still hit the child. The mother saw this an attacked the injured bike rider. Even though SHE was the one not watching her kid well enough to prevent him from walking into a bike track lane. Even though by all accounts she should noticed that the bike rider tried to avoid the situation. To me? The mom was at fault. To the mom, the bike rider was at fault. Some times even if the situation has an objective truth to it, a person's bias can color it in all sorts of weird ways.

    Another example. In my own writing, I once had a crazy character, she murdered people and well... lets just stick to murdered people, but she was the pov character and the reader sympathized with her. So she never considered her evil. To the point a chat about the situation went much like this.

    Reader: I liked her, she was a nice hero.

    Me: She was the villain though?

    Reader: Huh? How do you figure?

    Me: She murdered people in cold blood.

    Reader: They deserved it!

    Me: Uh... how? What did they do.

    Reader: They... thinking(flips though book) huh, your right. Well, don't care. I still like her.

    Interesting right? And there are TV shows based on this premise. Dexter on Showtime being a prime example. The fact of the mater is, a reader is often going to relate someone they like as being good. Just as someone is often going to relate something they enjoy as being a good piece of material. In spite of the fact from an objective story building aspect, what they like may in fact suck. I have a prime example of that when I let people read some of my work. I realize now, that some of it sucked a lot, yet at the time people liked it. People can enjoy bad material. So I think people often mislabel the term "enjoy" with "good material."

    At heart it goes back to the same point as before though. If you want them to look sympathetic, you just need to show them in that light. Sympathetic is probably the easiest way you can get a viewer to like them, and if they like them, they are more inclinded to look at this less as evil. Which seems to be your goal.
     
  21. King Arthur
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    Good form would have been ransoming captured prisoners rather than executing them, which both sides of the conflict did and didn't do. Assassination was considered dishonourable and weak. One of the Kings of the Saxons is himself impressed by some of the Brythonic armies: despite his own army consisting of different cultures, they were all Germanic. The Britons, on the other hand, often fought alongside Romans (however mixed with Celtic blood they were) and Sarmatians.

    The treatment of slavery would probably also influence the reader's opinion. The Britons treated their slaves quite horribly, whereas the Saxons' slaves had far more rights.
     

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