1. Dagolas
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    Dagolas Banned

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    Ominous Villain

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Dagolas, Jul 19, 2012.

    In my story there will be a ersatz villain, with a much darker and ominous villain in the backround, who will only appear late in the series.
    The problem is, I can't seem to make him ominous. Either he's too damn powerful to the point of being a god (Sauron), or either he's not ominous and scary and powerful enough. I don't want him to kill 60 soldiers with a swipe of his mace, I want him to be more like Voldemort, who inspires terror but appears in 2 out of 7 books only (in physical form as himself, that is)
     
  2. jane elliot
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    jane elliot Member

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    I think part of what made Voldemort so ominous, even in the background, is that you knew that he had some horrifying and unprecedented powers that were, in the meantime, being held in check basically by luck. The characters knew that a reversal of that luck would mean the possible end of everything; one foul move, one mistake on the hero's part, and it's all over. There was a lot of uncertainty with what Voldemort really did. You could speculate, but until a certain point in the books, you had no idea that he can split his soul into pieces, etc. He was on people's minds because people were worried about him, because he was a mysterious and ultimate threat to the main character, but touched other people's lives in mysterious and horrible ways, as well.

    But in that way, Voldemort was kind of like a Sauron figure, with the exception that Sauron is more omniscient than Voldemort ever was. Even if you don't want readers to see him kill 60 dudes with a swipe of his mace, let them know that he could, but for some reason isn't. At least, not yet. Kind of like a nuclear bomb that you know is there, but you don't know who exactly it will be launched against, or when. That kind of psychology.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If he isn't part of the story (i.e. THAT book), leave him out.

    Don't even THINK series at this stage. Think stand alone book.

    Series thinking is warping your writing process.
     
  4. Jamie Senopole
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    Jamie Senopole Member

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    AGH! I have this problem, Cogito! I am so concerned with "behind the scenes" or the history of my characters and their world, that I end up with so much I want to write about "eventually", to where it feels like I am going to end up with a series and a "prologue series". I want to scream! AGGHH!!
     
  5. Morkonan
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    Morkonan Senior Member

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    Here's the problem - You're not thinking about all the tools you have at hand. You're simply thinking about scene and action. You have completely forgotten about setting, exposition, characters, etc..

    This is a common problem with many new writers. It's also one that you can see evident in books by new authors that are published in order to take advantage of marketing opportunities and fads. They simply do not use all the tools at their disposal. So, I will reveal something magical, mystical and, possibly, some of the most amazing, yet completely transparent, tricks of the trade... and I'm giving them away for free! (I'm humble, ain't I?)

    Your reader only knows what you tell him. However, you don't have to tell him directly. You also don't have to show him directly by immediate events in the story, either. Instead, you can have your characters and setting do the work for you. I dislike too much exposition as I see it as lazy, but it can save wordcount, so we'll cover that last as a very useful component of crafting as well.

    Characters -

    How to accomplish your goal of making your antagonist seem "ominous" to the reader without much fuss using characters is very easy. All the reader has to do is "see" how your characters react to the the antagonist. For instance, if the antagonist is known, your characters could have conversations that revolve around the antagonist and how afraid they are of him. Other "walk on" characters could mention how "ominous" he is. People could flee a city, simply because the antagonist decided to stop there for a beer. Armies could be raised and they could retreat in terror, with soldiers telling the protagonist "The Antagonist is coming! Run for your lives!" The characters themselves may have even been threatened as children by their parents. "If you don't eat your vegetables, the Antagonist will steal you away and feed you to his legion of rabid weasels!"

    In other words, you don't have to worry about bringing the Antagonist onto the stage too early. You simply let everyone else do the work of making your antagonist "ominous" for you. There is absolutely no need for you to reveal the man behind the curtain in order to build up his reputation to the reader. The antagonist does not even have to be seen by the reader.

    You used an example of "Sauron" as an ominous character. Do you realize that the reader never saw Sauron, never read any dialogue from him and never witnessed any direct action committed by him over the course of three books? Yet, Sauron's name evoked terror for all of Middle Earth. Everything that built up the Sauron character was done through other characters and events - Tolkien never touched him. (Except through exposition.)

    Setting -

    OK, so, now you have all the characters running around screaming bloody murder anytime your antagonist's name is mentioned. Entire nations of people slit their own wrists, rather than suffer his attention. Kittens explode whenever his name is used within a hundred feet of them. This guy is obviously a badass... But, you need to pile it on. If this guy is so darn awesome, what would be the result of his power being felt by the world your characters live within? That's where setting comes into play.

    The Antagonist is so full of absolute baddassedness that religions have been created that philosophically oppose him, specifically. There are secret brotherhoods that try to work against his minions. Trade Guilds guard their most precious secrets in fear he may learn them and reduce their members to scrabbling for a living, instead of being rich jerks. Cities and towns have strung up lines of belladonna, everywhere, in hopes it will keep him at bay. Frauds claim they can weave spells to keep away his unholy influence and Kings sign treaties to defend each other against a possible attack by his dark empire. Treaties they have no intention of ever fulfilling...

    The world has been altered. The very land has responded to the overwhelming badasssitude of your antagonist. In the East, a mountain in the shape of giant penis spews fire every time your antagonist thinks of his own name. He's_just_that_darn_awesome. Legend say's that the swamp to the West was caused by the antagonist pissing on the heads of thirty-thousand virgins he had slaughtered in honor of his new shoelaces. Legend has it that to the South, an entire race of people developed a giant wart in the center of their foreheads because he thought their hats looked stupid. The center of every forest has a small stone alter where fairies sacrifice the first rays of a the New Moon in hopes at keeping his influence from their most sacred groves.

    In short, your antagonist is so ominous that his influence has effected the entire world your characters inhabit. Everywhere they look, they see the results of his overpowering powerful power...

    Exposition and other mechanics -

    Exposition is a quick way to give your reader a wealth of information without having to devote several chapters to "showing" them the same information. Exposition is generally frowned upon, but every novel contains a good bit of it. The secret is that in order to keep the reader interested in the story, exposition should be kept at a minimum. That means that instead of revealing all the expository material in one spot, you need to spread it out or use other means to give the same information to the reader. So, for instance, you might include brief passages of exposition that detail events or relationships in the world in response to something that has happened or something that one of the characters has said.

    Generally, this is done by the "narrarator." But, in the case of another point of view, it can be done by another character. A character could explain something to another character, which helps do away with a traditional exposition paragraph and transfers the duty to dialogue. Or, a character could think about the subject at hand and that could be relayed through introspection to the reader in the case of an omniscient narrator or first-person point of view novel. In absence of contrivances to get around exposition, you can just do it directly.

    For instance, in "The Lord of the Rings", Tolkien gave a lot of backstory and setting information in his Forward. That preface related the races, the supernatural powers that influenced the world and, basically, detailed the setting and the major events that shaped the story you were about to read. This is entirely appropriate, but had better be darn good. If it's not done well, the reader will get bored with it very quickly. It's almost always best to throw the reader right into the story, instead of using a Forward/Preface. But, when it can't be avoided, then you have no other choice, do you? Tolkien used it because it was necessary to set the pace of his story, develop the setting for his "tour book" and give you an idea of the habits and character of Hobbits, before introducing you to their furry feet.

    Other mechanics that can be used like exposition pieces are poetry, legends, chapter quotes and the like that the reader is presented with in such a way that it demonstrates they are significant. But, not all of the must be. For instance, in Brust's "Vlad Taltos" books, each chapter typically begins with a portion of a humorous story or series of funny quotes. Sometimes they are relevant to the events in the chapter, sometimes not. But, you can use such mechanics to convey very meaningful information. For instance, if each chapter starts with an excerpt from an ominous legend that discusses just how ominous the antagonist is, your reader will probably get the idea that your antagonist is pretty darn ominous.

    Note - I used an example of the techniques above to infer that the "secrets" I was giving you were very valuable and.. secret. I also implied I was a pompous jerk coming down from my lofty place at the top of the mountain. But, these are not secrets. They're well used mechanisms that you can use to accomplish your task. It's only that they are often overlooked because they are so ubiquitous, new writers don't even consider them. New writers are so worried about "Showing" and not "Telling" that they focus only on action and current events in the story instead of using the other tools that are sitting right in front of them. I'm also not a pompous know-it-all that came down from their lofty mountain in order to instruct the ignorant in this thread. I'm really a nice guy who is trying to point out that there are tools available to you that are often overlooked. :) (I also used a smiley to ensure that you read this "Note.")

    Added Note - I didn't include examples from Harry Potter, as you mentioned, because I dislike the series. But, you can easily see where the above mechanics were used to build up the "heavy" antagonist in the form of Voldemort.
     
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  6. Britannica
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    Britannica Member

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    same here!!
     
  7. Gonissa
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    Gonissa Contributing Member

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    As for an ominous villain, this does need to be thought out. While thinking too much about worlds and settings can distract you from your plot, thinking about your characters tends to make you want to write. I'm not sure why. And in any case, you're not going to go forward if you don't figure out your characters anyway.

    So, let's get back to the ominous part. Basically, true fear derives from what is unknown. Particularly, unknown potential. You'll have to find a way to make your villain strike out at your MCs and yet leave the reader with the impression that he can do more. Sometimes you don't even have to have the villain do much. In Starcraft, a character named Duran is pretty much submissive to the two groups he joins -- and then he ends up being more powerful than both, and betrays them in turn. He is then shown to be not only not a human, but involved in really disturbing experiments. So basically, one idea you can go with is to make your villain look one way, and then WHAM! He's evil! Or something like that.
     
  8. Morkonan
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    Morkonan Senior Member

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    You can't have unknown potential if you have a known act. The assumption there is that there is always a known component because it has been witnessed. The characters will know that the antagonist has struck at them in a certain way, so that is no longer an unknown. An assassin sent against them, a magical plague, a cadre of warriors, a mythical beast sent to destroy them, these will become "knowns" and the characters would logically assume the antagonist can do the same thing again. So will the reader and that reduces, somewhat, the expectant dread a writer may be trying to conjure of a direct action against the characters on the part of the "ominous" antagonist.

    Ominous = being or exhibiting an omen : portentous; especially : foreboding or foreshadowing evil :

    There is nothing at all "ominous" about being bludgeoned to death by the giant tentacle of a demon summoned by the antagonist. That's real and immediate.

    However, if you have a lot of very nasty things happening to other characters and very clear demonstrations of the power of a dangerous opponent, then you can successfully craft "ominous" without ever having to personally introduce the antagonist.
     
  9. Gonissa
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    Gonissa Contributing Member

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    I think you're being a bit nitpicky with my phrasing. I was saying exactly what you describe ominous as: you know something about a character, and you know he could do much worse, but you're not quite sure what that is.

    Well, I guess I could find a better example than Duran, but he's ominous simply in the fact that you know he's a liar, and you don't know what the consequences of that will be until much later, and they are much worse than the audience imagined.
     
  10. Complex
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    Complex Senior Member

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    I always like having the main visible villain being political or militarily powerful and the second one behind the strings being a cunning devious little sneak that barters and makes deals as an adjutant on behalf of the main villain. Visibility is a bad thing when you have people trying to stop or kill you at every turn, best to play it safe with a trusted adviser role. Besides the main villain may have different roles from this secondary villain. Who wants the trouble of running a nation when you are able to relax is luxury and get anything you want with a mere suggestion?
     
  11. Exclusive
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    I really enjoyed reading this post. Really, this comment presents a taste of the many ways one can make their "villain" into an "ominous character".
     
  12. Morkonan
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    Morkonan Senior Member

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    Understand, I'm not trying to be nitpicky or argue your point, but I do want to demonstrate something so that my own point is as clear as I can make it.

    You wrote:

    Now, specifically, you mentioned "unknown potential." You get it. You understand what you, as the writer, must create in order for the antagonist to seem "ominous." Obviously, the fear here must be that the "unknown potential" may be applied in a negative way towards the goals of the main character(s). It is very clear that you know that.

    But, you then wrote:

    See the disconnect, here? You have moved from "unknown potential" to a "definite" and a personally immediate impact on the characters, without addressing the more appropriate avenues that would work towards maintaining that "unknown potential." I do understand what you are trying to say. I'm just trying to point out that the more appropriate avenue to create "ominous" is not by allowing the characters to be directly effected by the antagonist.

    For instance:

    Cancer is "ominous." Cancer is a very personal thing even though it not only effects individuals, but groups of people that are close to them, as well. My mother died of a particularly nasty form of cancer. It's enough to say that it turned her into a monster. I witnessed it. I helped care for her. It demonstrated its power. It broke her. I know what it can do.

    So, in one aspect, I have seen the elephant. Once seen, you can never unsee the elephant. That part of Cancer's "ominous" nature is one that I have already experienced and witnessed. I know its face, so to speak. So, that part of Cancer's potential to effect people other than the victim is now known by me. It's pain has been felt. I have been experienced it. It is no longer as ominous for me. I have seen that particular elephant and it has lost its potential to inspire dread.

    However, I have not personally experienced Cancer. That portion of Cancer's power has yet to have been revealed to me. The ability for it to personally cripple you, to destroy your body, to savage your mind and transform you into a monster is something I have not yet experienced. But, I have seen it happen. I know it can be done. I know it is terrible, frightening and loathsome. But, while I have seen it, I have not experienced it in that direct way, therefore it retains that portion of its "ominous" nature. In fact, it is now enhanced by my prior experience. Though I have not experienced the personal and immediate impact of Cancer, I have seen its face and it is terrible.

    Whenever the elephant is revealed, whenever we are allowed to see the man behind the curtain, whenever the smoke clears, the attribute of "ominous" is reduced. How is an antagonist "ominous?" An antagonist is ominous because of the antagonist's power to effect the goals of the protagonist. When we see that happening directly, when the antagonist directly impacts the characters, the ominous nature of the antagonist is revealed and their capabilities to effect the goals of the protagonist are now known and whatever capabilities that have been witnessed are no longer quite as "ominous." Demonstrated, yes. But, the fear of that unknown potential has been reduced.

    Sorry for being pedantic. I'm not arguing with you or anything of the sort. I'm just trying to be sure the point is fully understood within the context of mutual learning. I know you understand the principle of building up an ominous character. You wrote it yourself - "unknown potential." But, you have to keep going with that and not resort to immediate and known potential in order to preserve the nature of the "ominous antagonist." Yes, the antagonist must be seen to act in some way, in order to establish its ability to effect the goals of the characters. But, it shouldn't be first directed at the main characters and their goals if one wishes to continue to build up the quality of "ominousness" in the antagonist.
     

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