Am I the only one sick of the 'villain with tragic backstory' shtick?

Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Link the Writer, Dec 15, 2015.

  1. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I like the idea that nobody actually thinks of themselves as being a villain. All "bad guys" think they have good reasons for what they're doing.

    I don't think it's an accident that a lot of the characters being mentioned in this thread are from comic books - the idea of "cartoon villainy" has been around for a while, and it's not a term that's usually used as a compliment.

    Do the villain's reasons have to be tragic? Not necessarily. But I think stories have a lot more depth when the villain's reasons are compelling, rather than just being evil-for-the-sake-of-evil.
     
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  2. Lewdog

    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Maybe I'm missing the point of this thread, but life events are what make us who we are, so why should it be any different for a bad guy to have a reason for the evil acts they commit? It's realistic, what's wrong with that?
     
  3. Acanthophis

    Acanthophis ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Contributor

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    The key to this conundrum is to not write villains and heroes, but to write people instead. Hitler, Mussolini, Kim Jon Il, George Bush Jr., Obama are both heroes and villains depending on who you ask - but ultimately they are all people who have justifications for every single thing they do. It doesn't have to be tragic, sometimes people 'snap' from the slightest thing that the rest of us might see as pathetic.

    Think about all the wrong choices you've made in life, my guess is that you didn't do them because "fuck people" (Sauron, Voldemort, etc.), but because your brain deemed it the right decision to make. When we can find relation to even the most heinous acts, we discover what humanity is all about.
     
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  4. BrianIff

    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Let's not over-simplify Link's view, though. I believe society has a threshold for how many Lex Luthers and Mean Girls characters society can bear. "No Marxist-inspired games for Christmas, kids" "Aww, but daaad, the villains remind me of the spoiled kids at school!" "You should be trying to be their friends. Don't worry, I'll tell you their backstory for a bedtime tale tonight."
     
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  5. Lewdog

    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Take for example the back story of Hannibal Lecter.

    http://hannibal.wikia.com/wiki/Hannibal_Lecter

    His sister was cannibalized. Do you think that it might have led to his later choices in life? Knowing his back story of his childhood and the horrible things that happened to him through WWII, is he not as interesting character as he has been all these years BEFORE his backstory came out?
     
  6. Lewdog

    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    I just think it is silly to say, "Hey look at that guy, what a jerk he created an organization called Hydra for absolutely no reason, and now he has recruited hundreds of thousands of people to follow his unknown non-purpose."

    I'm sorry, but the number of villains and real life bad guys out there that have a reason for what they do given their past, is going to overwhelmingly out number the guys that are just psychopathic assholes who do harmful things without reason.
     
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  7. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I DO get tired of characters with too clear of a "cause and effect" link for other character issues, though. I mean, pure villainy is sort of a cartoony trait to begin with, so having a cartoony reason for it seems to fit.

    But at least in some genres, there seems to be a trend to link everything to a simple cause, often in childhood. Adult character is afraid of commitment? Ah, that's because his dad left when he was eight. Disregard all the people whose dads left and who didn't become afraid of commitment - in this character's case, it was inevitable. And, conveniently, once the character realizes the root cause, the whole thing will go away. 'Cause that's how psychology works.

    So I can definitely see a complaint about simplistic characterization. A because B, ignoring all the other letters and letter combinations and probably damn numbers that go into human behaviour. That annoys me, for sure.
     
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  8. Lewdog

    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    That's why we have so many options out there to read. Read the back cover, get a review from a friend, read a review in the newspaper, heck read part of the book, if you don't like it, chuck it.

    Psychology and childhood history are real and they are here to stay. You can close your eyes and cover your ears and say, "Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah!" as you shake your head, then when you finally stop, it's all still going to be here.

    I had a piece of shit mom when I was a kid. She is still a piss of shit today. I'm positive that's why I have the relationship problems I have today. I couldn't trust someone that was supposed to love me unconditionally to do so, so why should I be so confident that I am going to find a woman that is going to love me for who I am?

    That's real. It's the kind of thing that some people in society go through. Not everyone grows up in a home with mommy and daddy, family dinners, family vacations, family holidays...family support and unconditional love. It effects different people in different ways. Mine is my problem, not anyone else's, and it's not the type of problem that is going to be a violent harmful to others, but that doesn't mean that for someone else it couldn't be a kicking off point for villainous behavior.

    Let's just be real, every action has an equal and opposite reaction (Newton). :superthink:
     
  9. Acanthophis

    Acanthophis ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Contributor

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    To add to that, not only childhood history, but adulthood as well. We're defined by all life experiences, not just by those which happen in childhood as people like to think (due to the media). A Hannibal Lector is equally as possible for someone whose spouse gets cannibalized at an adult age. It's not common, but I really enjoy when we get antagonists/villains who are the way they are because of a recent event, not something from their childhood.
     
  10. Lewdog

    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Remember the movie Law Abiding Citizen? That is a perfect example.
     
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  11. NeighborVoid

    NeighborVoid Active Member

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    I often find a humorous and/or affable villain easier to sympathize with than a tragic one, especially if their tragedy is disproportionate to their angst. Reading about villains who try to justify mindless evil with sob stories reminds me of the Tumblr snowstorm of special snowflakes. Villains who are only villains by name often have "evil plans" that do more good than the protagonist ever will.

    I'm actually starting to get sick of the word villain.
     
  12. BrianIff

    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    When I was younger, I was motivated to understand how divorce affects kids and why couples divorce due to my experience of it. Some people thought I was doing so out of some sort of a traditional-values agenda because they themselves -- or saw or believed of others -- weren't affected, in their own words. Without getting into worldviews that motivate people to see it one way or the other, I think it's fair to say some kids experience their parents' divorce worse than others, so for a story to leave it simplistic, in this phenomenon or any other, is worse than the evil-nature narrative or bad-choices evolution. I'm not sure if this is how Link sees it, but from that standpoint, the OP makes more sense to me.
     
  13. Ryan Elder

    Ryan Elder Banned

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    I don't think that adding that backstory to Lecter really did anything for me. I think that him not been given a backstory was just fine. I think that maybe the thing is, is that backstory only is good, if it adds to a strong theme in the premise maybe.
     
  14. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    I like the 'Absolute power corrupts absolutely', type of evil. Sure you can say the 'badguy' is doing what he believes is good. The same and opposite can be said about the 'good guy'. Perhaps taking on the task of writing a military style work of Sci-fi, I have made the Protagonists out to be of both camps. Though it can be controversial to put down a mortally wounded enemy(s), when they could just of easily have been saved with emergency medical treatment. You could say it was in cold blood, or out of mercy. The bottom line is black and white are to easy to paint characters. To effectively write good and bad IMO, is to consider the circumstances (emotional state, goals out on mission, etc.). To put yourself in the shoes of the character, and try to understand the effects of your actions in the situation. Just a little mental experiment to test drive when writing a moral/ethical dilemma or choice for the character to face. It will probably surprise you that good and evil are not effective terms, as both are capable of both.

    Tragic story or not, evil doesn't need a reason to do harm, it simply does. So ask yourself: What would I do in this particular situation?
     
  15. No-Name Slob

    No-Name Slob Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'm not with you on this one, simply because I think it makes the villain more realistic and relatable, two things that are always important to a story. It also speaks to the villain within us all, when you think about it. It interesting to reflect on the terrible experiences many of us have gone through, and how easily one could succumb to that villain. I think Darth Vader is a great example of this, actually, and Luke is all of us who overcome the resting evils within, in favor of using that darkness to motivate us to instead do good.
     
  16. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    Well lets not jump the shark. From all the rumors on Episode VII are saying Luke is turning to the Dark side. The evidence is in the lather rinse repeat nature of how the series works. Though there is only a few days left until we find out if he does turn bad or not. :p
     
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  17. tasjess

    tasjess Active Member

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    Does giving a back story always justify and create sympathy or sometimes just create a more rounded character? It's not uncommon for the protaganist to have an equally tragic past and for the defining element between good and evil be the choices they made in the face of hardship. The Netflix series Jessica Jones plays with this concept having episodes that create a sympathetic backstory for the antagonist which he believes then further uncovers more backstory which gives a different slant. A disturbing picture of a manipulative, evil character. Most antagonists are the hero of their own story and many evil, manipulative abusers in real life convince their victims that they (the antagonist) are the victim.
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2015
  18. psychotick

    psychotick Contributor Contributor

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    Hi,

    I'll just add to what I said before. Look as part of my work I used to enter prisons and talk to criminals among others. And while there seems to be a strong push towards wanting to believe that bad people have real reasons for doing bad things, in a lot of cases they don't.

    Mostly what they have is a very poor ability to make good choices. They make bad choices. Sometimes very bad choices. And it's only in the aftermath that they get to understand that, if at all.

    You want to guess how many youngsters get into burgling and drugs etc simply because their friends were doing it and it seemed cool? And then guess where that leads to. Criminal convictions, juvie if you're in the US, failed education, miserable job prospects, poverty, a feeling of being hard done by, and then of course, more and worse crime.

    They also have an excuse system. Robbed a house? Well yeah, I knew it was wrong but it wasn't THAT bad! Took a car? Well it was just sitting there unlocked! Honestly if he didn't want it stolen he should have locked it! Hit an old lady to take her purse? Well she wouldn't let go! If she'd just let go I wouldn't have hit her!

    Honestly you guys, go and sit in on a few trials. Do some jury service. It's mostly depressing seeing how bad and utterly stupid these acts are.

    To add to the problem there's the penal system itself. I have long said it fails dreadfully on one single point. Those who commit these crimes get to talk to others who have done similar things. They don't just get to commiserate, they start to normalise their behaviour. Hey it's normal to steal. Its normal to fight. The pigs and the lawyers don't understand.

    As I say the view that all these terrible criminals have some dark and tragic past that makes them as they are is usually not true. And even the idea that they justify their actions in some way is false. They know they did wrong, they just trivialise the severity of what they did with excuses.

    But again the truth doesn't make for a compelling story.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  19. No-Name Slob

    No-Name Slob Member Supporter Contributor

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    Touche.
     
  20. Kingtype

    Kingtype Banned Contributor

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    I think it all really depends on the story being told.

    Sometimes people are just psycho and some times they have clear goals that they believe will is noble and will better lives plus tons of things in between that you can, it just all depends how you write your story and characters.

    In my current WIP which is set in the 70s there are three POV characters

    One is an older enforcer for a criminal organization who has not so nice views on people of color, gay people and is just generally displeased with the changing culture dynamics of the world but certainly doesn't like himself, very old and tired of the life he lives plus holds to the belief that killing is wrong. (Despite his line of work he seeks to avoid violence such as that). He just wants something....he doesn't know what though, hell I don't know yet.

    The other is a much younger man who is coming up in the criminal world he is much more quick to violence, abusive towards his girlfriend, narcisstic but holds very little interest for the color you are or your personal life as you as you do what he says and when he says it but also despite the toxic relationship he has.....he wants to do right by her (in his head he thinks he is). He just wants to be the biggest man in the room and wants to be heard when he speaks.

    And the last is a woman who is only slightly older then the above and I'm writing her as very much exercising her 70s independent woman kinda thing going on and by that I mean if she wants something she goes and gets it.....she ain't no housewife but she isn't truly on her own she. She is very codependent on her sister in terms of things money, support, reassurance in an unhealthy life style which is still forming in my head, she can also be very spiteful and jealous I feel when she feels have taken something of hers.

    Now note these are just outlines based on in my head and what's written so far. I have no idea where these characters will go or how they will develop, I only have the first page written (will do more right after I'm done with this)

    With the first character's employer being involved in a 'business' disagreement with the second character and third's sister is the woman involved with the second. Sooooooo none of these people are exactly good at least as I'm currently writing them they all have their clear flaws and no clear villian in this particular story I'm telling.

    I gotta find away to make these people relatable, realistic and likable in spite of their obvious flaws while also writing an era I didn't live in while also making sure its written well and hopefully doesn't seem to much like an overly cheesy crime story.

    Which is so exciting and scary but the story concept speaks to me so it has to be done no matter how it turns out.

    Tis me first book.

    Welp I rambled again but yeah just let your emotions and feelings about the characters guide you to figure out who they are. :)
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2015
  21. Lewdog

    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    I worked at a prison for five years, I didn't just visit. So I was around these guys eight or more hours a day for five years, and I'll tell you that I disagree with what you are saying. Sure they made bad choices, but most of them also came from broken homes, bad neighborhoods, surrounded by criminals and drug users, and were raised dirt poor. All things that effect their decisions. Peer pressure is a real thing, as a person's Prefrontal Cortex, where the ability to choose between right and wrong comes from, isn't fully developed until age 23. So therefore a youngster's decision making when it comes to peer pressure is a viable reason, even though it may not always be an excuse. It is up to the parents to realize how certain friends effect the attitude and actions of their children, and then try to steer them away from the types of people that cause them to do bad things, and into experiences like sports or other extracurricular activities that give them a positive life experience. I also disagree with everything else you have to say, but I'm not going to argue with you about it, because by the sounds of the emotions you've expressed, you've made up your mind and any further discussion would be futile.

    Let me throw a few quick stats out there to you from an article from 2009 following the U.S. Census.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/etan-thomas/single-parent-households_b_1616509.html

    Oh, these stats are just about mostly children from fatherless homes, not counting what children who don't have a mother, or children who have become orphans, or children from drug infest homes, or children who come from poverty, or black children who face the incarceration rate of almost one out of every three.

    I'm sorry but your argument that most people in prison have no excuse for the crimes they commit is just untrue.

    And to add from a 2010 article:

    http://www.casacolumbia.org/newsroom/press-releases/2010-behind-bars-II

    So what do you think the odds are that a black drug user or addict from a broken home, is going to spend time behind bars at some point in their life?

    You know I could go on and on and on showing you stats for reasons people are behind bars, none of which are going to include, "Just because they made a bad decision and that was it."
     
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2015
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  22. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributor Contributor

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    I take your point, but evil doesn't pop out of thin air. There is no devil (as in "The devil made me do it" as Flip Wilson used to say) and so evil only comes into existence because someone did evil to the (now) evil-doer. Sure, there's a choice each evil-doer must make, to do evil or to reform.

    But you gotta give props to those who lovingly stroke animals while plotting the downfall of all that is good. Of course, one person's good is another's evil, otherwise there would be only one religion, so whadda ya gonna do?
     
  23. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    We've seen the actor playing Kylo Ren, though, and it's not Luke.
     
  24. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    I never said Luke was Kylo Ren. Luke could be playing the gradual shift to the dark side, like Anikan did. Do try to keep up with the storyline and how they are basically rehashing it to loop back around to where it all began. Though it is still to early to call since the movie isn't even out yet, so this is all just theories and speculation. The main reason for the theory that Luke goes bad, is that he is not in any of the Trailers. Kind of suspect to hide the 'hero' and showboat the 'villain', don't you think? :p
     
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  25. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Luke is old guard: all of the old cast is being phased out. One of them is probably going to die. And Luke is in several of the trailers. The scene is pretty obvious.

    We know Andy Serkis is playing Supeme Leader Snoke, and the character is supposed to be CGI. Again, unlikely to be Luke.
     

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