1. Mikmaxs
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    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    Wait, My Villain Needs WHAT Now? (I need help fleshing out a character!)

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Mikmaxs, May 10, 2016.

    Recently while working on my story, I decided to introduce an entirely new set of characters with their own storyline, set elsewhere in my books world. There are a lot of benefits to this, but also lots of fun and interesting new complications that I'm having to deal with.

    Primarily what I want to talk about here, though, is my antagonist. In my original outline, he only showed up directly in the third act, and was mostly in the story to be a looming but unseen threat. (The original outline had a lot of parallels to True Grit, including the third-act conflict being the first time we meet any of our real bad guys.) However, with the addition of my new characters and plot, the villain is going to show up far earlier, and while my *original* characters still will not meet him for the first two-thirds of the story, my new characters will be interacting with him quite a bit.

    Since he's now going to be getting so much pagetime, he actually needs a personality, and at least a little bit of sympathy.

    In as much summary as I can give while still describing the problem: (Yes, this gets long, but I'm trying to convey all the important details.)
    My *original* protagonists are a young girl (14-15 years) named Adelyn who happens to be a sorceress, and the Sellsword named David whom she's hired to help her. Her family (As well as many other people from her town,) were attacked by a large group of bandits and kidnapped, and so she's going off with the David to hunt down the bandits and rescue her family.

    Unbeknownst to Adelyn, David is actually a powerful wizard himself, one who fought in a recent war and is considered by many to be a war criminal due to the high number of casualties he inflicted, among other things. However, he was never convicted (He fought for the winners of the war,) and he wore a mask and used a title (The Blue Flame) when he fought, so his identity was mostly concealed and he never faced judgement. Racked with guilt over his actions during the war, he now is trying to repay his debt to humanity by bringing criminals to justice, saving lives, etc. This is what motivates him to help the girl.

    The Villain is *also* a powerful sorcerer, (I haven't named him yet,) though he's not in the same league as the David. He leads a group of sixty or seventy men and women who are taking advantage of a very weak government presence and a high amount of political instability to make a seize at power. They've been kidnapping people to work them as slaves on a major mining excavation project. (Originally this was going to be a silver mine, though I've recently decided to change this. Now, they are excavating the partially collapsed ruins of a fortress which was built into a mountain, and is believed to be cursed.) He is *claiming* to be The Blue Flame, (David's title when he fought in the war,) in order to intimidate his soldiers into obedience. He may also have a second in command, but I haven't worked out his character yet.


    That's what I had *Before* I added the secondary plot.

    With the new plot, I added a character, Jason. Jason is Adelyn's brother, and is one of the people who were kidnapped by the Villain. He's got a mental handicap which makes speech and communication difficult. He and his best friend, Micheal, are struggling to keep up with the workload forced upon them while also planning an escape attempt. This escape will ultimately fail in the eleventh hour, but it'll set off some other events leading to the climax of the story.


    Currently, though, my Villain has very little personality. He's simply a 'Very bad person'. I mean, he kidnaps many dozens of people and forces them into slavery, has no qualms about killing people in his way, and he take on the name of a war criminal in order to appear more intimidating. That's fine for a one-off villain who doesn't show up much, but now that he's getting so much more appearance, I actually need to figure out why he *wants* power (Besides just 'Muahahahah POWER!'), and I want to give him at least a little personality. I'm trying to avoid cliches, but that mostly just leaves me stuck with either a boring character or a superficially interesting one who's been done before. I want something that complements the rest of the cast, but I don't know what that *something* should be.
     
  2. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Think about a person. It can be a really well-developed poignant character or yourself or someone you know well. Think about all the traits they have. Are they organised or not? What's their sense of humour like? What kinds of emotions do they normally have? What are they like under those emotions? What's their backstory? What are their mannerisms like? What are their ticks? What are their relationships with other people like? Do they have any in-jokes or nicknames or something? What are their best skills? What are their biggest weakness? What is their most sympathetic/admirable trait? What is their most dislikeable/immoral trait? The best way to write a realistic character, I think, is to think of them like a person, not a role. And care about them, even if they're not a good person.
     
  3. Pauline
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    Pauline Member

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    The best thing about bad guys, or more to the point, creating them, is that they don't see themselves as the villain. To them, they are the hero of the story. Even though he embraces his own noteriety. You have everything there all ready. Why is he a slave trader/killer? You don't need to know what is his favorite icecream is, but why he chose his path. It is what shaped his personality. Ask that question and go from there.
     
  4. Slemmen447
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    Slemmen447 Member

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    I would give him something to fight for. Villains tend to see themselves as heroes, or something along the lines of "The world's savior", so giving him noble ideals might be a good idea. Insane villains are always the most amusing; Give him a weird quirkiness that's unique to him.
     
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  5. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    You are right to want to make your villain more human. Villains need something to make their behavior comprehensible.

    My villain is a Phoenician shipping master in cahoots with a pirate to betray the wealthy convoy of which he is in charge. He fails in this endeavor (and the pirate actually becomes the hero - another rabbit-hole there!) After his failure, we get to know him as a despicable, almost psychopathic character. Though he has been responsible for killing many before, he has never personally killed anyone. His escape from a Roman jail involves killing the young soldier he seduced into helping him escape (bashing his brains in with a rock, not a quick or easy way to kill), and then the pilot of the boat the soldier procured for the escape. He is both terrified at the act of killing, and horrified how long it takes a person to die, but later found it pleasant. Later he kills several more, a thoroughly despicable person who has come to enjoy the feeling of power watching the lights fade in a victim's eyes. The readers are glad to see him killed off at the end.

    But he has a backstory. Very early in my WIP the centurion meets him (though not by name) in a dive in Alexandria, along with the pirate. This thread continues throughout the first few chapters, not entirely clear if the man with the pirate was Hasdrubal, it couldn't be, he was in Tyre procuring lumber for the ships under construction on the Red Sea at Myos Hormos. Anyway he could buy the dive and the whole surrounding neighborhood at a whim. Not a place one of the richest shipping masters in Alexandria would frequent.

    Not until the centurion boards the ship in Myos Hormos and meets him does it become clear they were one and the same. (about 10% through the book) The centurion doesn't connect him with Alexandria and the pirate, but Hasdrubal is horrified that he will... then he has a flashback, while giving the Romans a tour of the ship and trying to keep his composure, of watching his uncle being crucified for a crime he didn't commit, when Hasdrubal was 12 years old. He watched the whole process, from the initial nails to his uncle's death a day and a half later. You'll come along, sir, we have some questions for you, the soldiers had said. Not in Greek, not in Aramaic. In Latin.

    That is his backstory. Just enough, and early enough in the story, that you understand and almost sympathize with him as you watch his final descent into psychopathic behavior.
     
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  6. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Your villain is too weak if he isn't even in the same league as David. He needs to be stronger than your protagonists. That elevates tension and makes us fear for the 'good guys.' If david is stronger than the antagonist, then where is the tension?

    Also, and this is probably more personal preference, I don't like books that don't reveal the antagonist until late in the story. The Bourne Identity was like this (the book version). I didn't know who Jason Bourne was up against until well past halfway. Once I got to that point it was great, but until then I was just reading about some superguy running and shooting. There was no buy in until we meet Carlos.

    Of course, the book was crazy successful, so I guess it didn't hurt it all that bad. *shrug*

    ETA:

    It bears noting that if I achieve half the success of Robert Ludlum, I will have surpassed my wildest dreams.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2016
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  7. Mikmaxs
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    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    While he's not as powerful a sorcerer as David, he also has a small personal army with him, and is more than willing to kill indiscriminately in order to achieve victory. (Also, it's worth pointing out that the audience won't *know* that David is the better fighter until the end of the book, when they actually fight each other.)

    Really, though, just about every movie, book, or TV show where the good guys get into direct physical confrontation with the bad guys, the good guys *are* more powerful than the bad guys. Otherwise, they wouldn't inevitably win every final showdown.


    As for 'Revealing' the villain, while it's not relevant any more, I wasn't ever planning to keep his identity a secret, he just wasn't going to be present for a while because the story is about the good guys tracking him down.



    All that being said:
    I guess my problem is that I'm having to work his character backwards, since he originally started off as a one-dimensional stand in villain that didn't need much explaining since we never got to know him that well. It's my own damned fault, but it's a problem nonetheless.

    To go down your list, Oscar:
    Are they organised or not? Yes, because he has to be for the story to work.

    What's their sense of humour like? Minimal, if he has one at all. He's not in a position to be joking around.

    What kinds of emotions do they normally have? I have no clue. The problem is that, in order to maintain his 'Intimidating' aura which he uses to maintain authority, he's either got to be incredibly reserved with his emotions, or live in a permanent state of aloof condescension and anger, but those don't make for a very interesting character.

    What are they like under those emotions? As above, this one's tricky. They can't be obviously scared or intimidated, at least not frequently. Can't be cheerful. Can't be, can't be, can't be... It's tricky, is the point.

    What's their backstory, what are their mannerisms like, what are their ticks? I'm going to answer all of these at once, since they all have the same answer: I haven't worked these out yet. I feel like the Backstory would be pretty important, since it would fill in whatever his real motivation is, but the problem is that I'm drawing a blank on interesting backstories that both fulfill the story purpose I need, while also being at least slightly original.

    What are their relationships with other people like?
    If he does have a relationship with anyone else, it'd be just one or two people, his second and possibly third in command, or else his second in command and whomever his assistant is. Even then, it'd be a relationship between commander and subordinate, with any friendship being secondary.

    Do they have any in-jokes or nicknames or something?
    He goes by 'The Blue Flame', I suppose that counts as a nickname, but otherwise no. He can't really be a jokey kind of guy in order to function properly in the story.

    What are their best skills?
    Are we counting his pretty significant magical talent? If not, then he's well organized and pretty good at planning.

    What are their biggest weakness? The first thing that comes to mind, (And something that will eventually cause him to lose,) is his lack of diverse talent. He's really good at straightforward magic, direct manipulation of energy, but he can't manipulate the other elements very well. As a more broad note, he underestimates people who apparently seem to lack skills or talents, assuming that if they don't do something, they can't.

    What is their most dislikeable/immoral trait?
    Well, he's a murdering kidnapper who forces people into slavery and uses threats and intimidation to stay in command...

    What is their most sympathetic/admirable trait? This one is hard too, because all I can think of are things that he *doesn't* do. He's not a fan of unnecessary violence, he doesn't intentionally try and squash any small comforts that his prisoners have, that kind of stuff. There's nothing admirable in what he's doing, at least not that I can think of.




    With all this said, I have come up with something that *might* work, but I'd like a second opinion.

    For the villain's backstory, he could be descended from the family who, centuries before, were the rulers who lived in the castle he's excavating. He sees the political unrest as a chance to bring his family and family name back to power, and is starting by taking back the family castle.
    Problem is, it throws a monkey wrench in my plan. If he's *claiming* to be the Blue Flame, then at some point he's going to have to admit that he was lying if he cares at all about restoring his family name.

    There's also the possibility that his 'Second in command' (Who I have absolutely no characterization for yet,) is the one that Jason ends up interacting with the most. That way, the primary villain could still mostly hide in the shadows, and we could have a more personable bad guy for character interactions and stuff.


    Another problem is that I'm worried about a 'Secrets/reveals overload'. In the main plot, I've got the moment when David discovers that Adelyn is a sorceress, the moment when Adelyn discovers that David is a sorcerer, and the moment when Adelyn discovers that David is actually the Blue Flame, and that the bad guy was lying. I don't want the book to be a long string of reveals, which means that I can't hide *too* many secrets in the bad guys history.
     
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  8. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Mikmaxs 1) Have you decided what the Fake Flame is mining for?

    2) I've had good luck by coming up with ways, not for my characters to have a best trait and a worst trait, but for my characters' best and worst to be the same trait:

    In my Doctor Who fanfic, for example, Captain June Harper has judged 95% of the people in the universe to be "innocent," she cares about every one of these people, and she would be willing to die protecting any one of them ... and she is a bloodthirsty vigilante serial killer whose best friends are terrified of the cruelty that she inflicts on the people whom she discovers to be threatening the innocent. (Protective / Vindictive)

    Also on her team is a guy named Damien Mitchel who is very quick to come up with multiple ideas for what to do next ... but can't choose one from another easily and needs to tell the Captain his ideas so that she can make the decision for him. (Creative / Indecisive)

    Could any of your villain's negative traits be negative versions of traits that he could also show the positive versions at the same time (or vice versa)?
     
  9. Mikmaxs
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    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    To answer your first, I was originally thinking silver mine, but have recently come up with an idea that I like better: He's excavating the ruins of a collapsed fortress built into a mountainside, generations ago. It's mostly still intact, but has many damaged or caved in hallways and passages, and many of the lower floors were intentionally sealed off because they were believed to be cursed.

    To answer your second... I suppose it could. If anything, his strongest trait boils down to his resolve. There's not much that will stop him from trying to do what he wants, and if something *does* manage to stop him, it will only be a temporary roadblock on the path to success. This results in his apparent lack of empathy and willingness to kill, but is also what allows him to effectively lead an army of outlaw soldiers.
     
  10. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is he looking for an ancient weapon? A lost family heirloom?

    Sounds good. Sociopathic ruthlessness would certainly be a good negative aspect of "resolve," so maybe a good positive aspect would be his creativity in coming with with novel solutions to unexpected problems?
     
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  11. Mikmaxs
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    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    I was never a fan of the 'Lost relic of enormous power' trope. Old things *generally* aren't better than new things, and the older it is, the less likely it is to be better. Especially since my story is set at the beginning of a sort of industrial revolution, it doesn't seem to fit. (Besides, magical relics in my setting would be totally drained of power by the time anyone dug them up. At best, there could be some kind of intricately and expertly designed staff or wand, but that's about it.)

    Really, the biggest superweapon he's going to get is the fortress itself. As it happens, giant fortresses are great for winning battles.
     
  12. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I see ;) Does he already have the start of a "What Next?" in mind, or is he taking this one thing at a time?
     
  13. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    There was more to this point in your post and maybe I'm taking it a little out of context, but I just want to say:

    Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome Vs Middle Ages

    The mathematical knowledge the Europeans had during the middle ages along with engineering and such paled in comparison to some of the stuff the Greeks wrote. The Greeks and Romans were quite advanced in comparison with their working knowledge of mechanics for instance.

    Also? Greek fire.

    And Damascus steel.
     
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  14. Mikmaxs
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    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    That's a problem, I don't know his endgame. He can amass power, but not on an "Overthrow the kingdom" level. If he's politically savvy, I suppose he could claim the fortress and surrounding area as his by inheritance and become a lord or baron, but he could do that anyways if his claim of birthright is legit. He's also got no source of income now that it's not a silver mine, which raises even more problems.
     
  15. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    You know, 'just because moar power' isn't such a bad thing, Terry Pratchett engaged in villains who were like that. As for sources of wealth, his army could be the sort who rob bodies after a war for gear and surplus. Perhaps they fake attacks by other groups to cause engagements and then further loot the dead, it would be pretty easy to believe (for the guys who are getting fooled) the guys you hate (who hate you) would engage in sorties (hope I'm using this right) and then to want to engage them back. Perhaps their men even masquerade as tax collectors or kill local tax collectors, and then shift blame on to others. Perhaps they discovered fool's gold (and no one else has yet) and they're milking it before anyone else finds out.
     
  16. Mikmaxs
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    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    The problem here? Old things decay. Take your magic sword, leave it in a cave for a thousand years, and see if it's still as good as it was when it was made. Old things might have been better at the time of its creation, but by its very definition, it's gotten old since then.
    (Also, I wasn't counting knowledge, because no matter how much knowledge you have, the stuff you build with it will fall apart eventually.)

    Well, they are criminal kidnappers, I suppose that robberies could be added to the list. They're in a fairly isolated part of the world, but while that means fewer nearby victims, it also means fewer nearby authorities.
     
  17. CMastah
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    CMastah Active Member

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    Well, it does (the case of the magic sword) also depend on how the magic system in your world works. Maybe the magic works like old alcoholic drinks or cheese, maybe it gets stronger over the passage of time, perhaps the weapon corrodes away but the particles they leave behind are infused with power and can be reused for crafting purposes except they're more powerful than the ones made in the current age because they've had time to mature. Think of it like a seed turning into a tree, and the difference between the growth of one seed that's been given fifty years to grow and one that's been given just a single year.

    It comes back to how the magic in your world works.

    Also, as for isolated, I've been reading about how in general many lords and such could have difficulty policing their lands because of the size of what they had to be in charge of. The lands could be distant but in no way would have to be less populated, I remember reading that before the plague, 90% or higher of Europe's population were farmers, that would be huge ground to protect for any military (plus that's at least 9 farmers to every 1 non-farmer, and that 1 non-farmer isn't necessarily military), it would have been easy for bandits to prey upon them. Populations would be huge, but actual folks to protect the people would not be as large, so number of victims would not be lesser but protection is still difficult. You could expect armed farmers but no real military presence, not unless they're on the border to an enemy nation or the bandit raids are severely hampering the country's economy.
     
  18. JD Anders
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    JD Anders Member

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    One way to humanize him is to give him little quirks. They could be anything, but the first one that popped into my mind is to have him tell jokes that don't land, causing a brief awkward moment between him and whoever he's dealing with. It could annoy him that others don't get his jokes, or simply make everyone fidget uncomfortably.

    Slight tangent: I like when books don't make every character the wittiest character possible. I like my wit as much as the next guy, but sometimes humor can be derived in other ways :)
     
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  19. Mikmaxs
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    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    That's... Not going to work. Magic in my setting is very much an active entity. It loses power quickly unless set up just right, and loses power slowly even then. Magic is like electricity. You can recharge the batteries in your phone if it dies, but you can't keep a battery charged forever. (And the cell phone will fall apart and rust, eventually.)

    As for isolation... He's in a fortress in a mountain. He really is isolated, unless it's possible to farm on a mountainside.


    @JD Anders, I don't think I can make the Fake Flame a joker, but that might work for his second in command.
     
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  20. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Really you just need more anything to his character if he is as you describe him. Look at Loki in the Marvel movies. Or Al Capone in really life. Power motivations can come from sympathetic places. And beyond that, have different emotions and the ability to be likeable.
     
  21. Mocheo Timo
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    Mocheo Timo Active Member

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    I agree. That works pretty well in humanizing anyone. The villain so far seems like a general embodiment of evil and power. As some mentioned before, writing a background story is good so you can know his behavior and motivations. But giving him some quirks is also important.

    He could constantly carry and examine a silver pocket watch for example. So the reader would start to wonder why he does that, and create a certain interest in the villain's personality. Of course, that would tie to his background story. But the story is something you don't necessarily have to make clear to the reader. As long as you know it, it's fine.
     
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  22. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Little things like that are definitely great ways to add an extra layer of interest.
     
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  23. Caveriver
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    Caveriver Active Member

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    I think that is the base of it: simply knowing why the villian does what he/she does... i.e. the circumstances that shaped their personality and motivations in that way, is the basic jumping-off point for sympathy (or partial understanding... reasonable doubt, if you will).
     
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  24. LiamW
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    LiamW New Member

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    Reading through all this, what I think would be most fun would be some kind of subversion. In particular, what I really liked about your original description was that he was a slightly weaker sorcerer than the protagonists. So, going for a subversion of just a powerful evil person, I think it would be very interesting to have your villain be someone who is personally weak and feels vulnerable, and so surrounds himself with an army, puffs himself up by pretending to be the Blue Flame, and picks on those few people he mistakenly perceives as being weaker than himself, the disabled, ie Jason. So his quest for power would be to stop himself from being afraid all the time of people stronger than him. If he's the strongest, no one can touch him. Then the rest falls into place from there: in his history, give him someone who always made him feel weak. Or maybe he just always felt weak around this person and it was unintentional. In his quest in the novel, whatever it is he is digging away for in the fortress should be something to keep him safe. Maybe he wants to live there? A buried fortress sounds impenetrable. His personal relationships with people would be interesting, too. You mentioned a second in command, so maybe the villain wants to trust him but just can't because he thinks the second in command might take power (more fear of strength). Nice tragic situation, have the second in command be the only person really truly loyal to the villain, and the villain preventatively kills him out of false suspicion and fear. Sets up a fun type of conflict with the protagonists when the finally get to him in person. Not so much a swordfight or personal physical attack, but the villain throwing obstacles in their way (in the form of goons, locked doors - nothing but offensive defense). Then, when they finally cut through all his accumulated defense, and get just one-on-one with him, he can go out in a pathetic, whimpering fizzle. Breaks the norm, anyway.

    Well, that was a huge idea dump. Hope you use some of those suggestions, but that's all they are. Hope you get inspiration from them if you don't use them directly!
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2016
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  25. Mikmaxs
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    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    I wish I could like this more than once. I don't really have a reply to any of this, except that these are all really good ideas. Thanks!
     

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