1. !ndigo

    !ndigo Member

    May 26, 2014
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    boring bad guys

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by !ndigo, Dec 31, 2014.

    My story is set in a rather old fashioned alternate universe. Sort of midevial/fudal but with some other stuff thrown in. Imagine Tamora Pierce's Tortall but minus the magic.
    There are three kingdoms, a few scattered democratic city-states that don't exactly get along with the kingdoms, and a group of native nomadic people who look quite different and are therefore strongly discriminated against to the point of murder.

    A very main part of my plot involves the disappearance of a number of people (children and/or adults) I'm having a lot of trouble coming up with a culprit who doesn't seem like a cookie cutter bad guy. The protagonist spends the first part of the book convinced it was traders from the city-states (which i don't think it is) and goes off to avenge/rescue them.

    I don't really know whats happening to these people yet. There is no magic or advanced technology so unfortunately there aren't a whole lot of options. I could have them be sold into slavery somewhere, I could have them be part of an army but that seems a bit illogical, or I could go darker and have them be murdered for something. I can make it the city-state traders, the monarchy, a rival kingdom or some other random bad guy...

    But no matter who did it and no matter their motives it feels like a flat, boring, cliched, antagonist. I can't come up with a way to make them sympathetic, or a way to make it morally ambiguous as to who's good and who's bad.

    Does anyone have any insight on how I can fix this? or ideas in general on the plot??
    Thank you!
  2. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

    Mar 3, 2013
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    Ralph's side of the island.
    Bad guy is lonely, and somewhat sympathetic, but exploits the kids he's kidnapping once he passes the honeymoon phase. Meaning as soon as the kids aren't perfect he exploits them and looks for another one to soothe his psychotic reaction to rejection.
  3. Wynter

    Wynter Active Member

    Aug 12, 2014
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    I think the problem isn't your character but there needs to be a way to find a motivation for them which works.

    Any Cliche if well written will still be a great piece of storytelling and disappearing civilians sounds intriguing to me, so if you're writing the suspense the mystery in a great way then you can hide the flaws of your antagonist by wrapping the weakness of your Antagonist around the strong storytelling.

    THrough that a small, basic reason if left to grow can create a great if cliched villain.
  4. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

    Mar 7, 2013
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    Okay, time to step back from your story. Start playing with ideas. Turn things on their heads.

    Think family or other connections. If the bad guy (or guys) is related or connected in some way to the protagonists, that will make an emotional connection, and open up lots of areas of conflict. It can provide conflict for the bad guy, and certainly can provide conflict for the protatonists. Remember Darth Vader in Star Wars? ...I AM your father. Yikes. I still remember the shock of that movie moment. It really really upped the ante, didn't it? (Pity the possibilities kind of fizzled out in the third episode, but never mind. That was a stunner.)

    Maybe one of the protagonists was in love with the main bad guy's son, who died as a result of his interaction with 'forbidden people.' Either side could have had him killed. How does she feel now? What do you think the father feels like? Make them have a history here. A personal history.

    Mess around with connections, and for a while, forget about plot. See if you can kick-start a gut reaction here.

    Do some what-if exercises.

    What if the bad guy is the son of one of the good guys, related to the people he's kidnapped? He's been thrown out of the family for some transgression, and has moved to the bad side. His motivation for stealing people LOOKS as if he's simply interested in gathering slaves for sale, but in fact, he's actually targetted these particular people because they will hurt his ex-family. Maybe his ex-family knows it's 'him' doing this. Maybe they don't, yet. Of course the bad guy may well get himself into trouble here, because his motivations are different from those of his overlords who are giving him the means and permission to enslave these people. All sorts of stuff can happen.

    Personalise your story's conflict as much as you possibly can. You're not wargaming here, you're writing a story that has to appeal to people's emotions. All great stories do, at some level.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2014
    !ndigo likes this.
  5. Void

    Void Senior Member

    Dec 28, 2014
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    Slavery seems the most logical option, since it is evil by today's standards, but it isn't Saturday morning cartoon blow-up-the-world-just-for-laughs level of villainous. What ever people my think of slavery it does come from certain philosophical and practical places, not just evil for the sake of there being an antagonist. Or maybe some kind of religious/occultic purposes (maybe they were sacrificed to a god/ritual? Maybe they are just indoctrinating them?). While kidnapping and indoctrinating people sounds evil enough for a villain, there is still a decent rationale behind it (after all, if not indoctrinating them would have them sent to some kind of hell you could argue that you're doing them a favor.)

    Speaking as a novice writer, I'm aware that everyone has a different way of writing, but why have you gone with people being kidnapped before you have figured out who is taking them, why they are taking them and where they are taking them?

    Edit: You seem to already have an idea of the setting, so I would say the best thing for you to do would be to properly work on the dynamics between the various factions, cultures and ideologies to come up with a basic idea of what the conflict is before you begin figuring out how it manifests. The best and most believable conflicts come naturally as a result of the setting, themes and the characters, not by tailoring the characters, dynamics and themes around the conflict.
    This doesn't so much sound like you are working backwards as you are working from somewhere in the middle.

    Double Edit: Upon re-reading the OP, I would have to say that the reason the motivations seem so token is because they are token. Without a motivation or theme for the conflict then by definition it exists only to move the plot along.
    You've got to ask yourself, when people sat down to write the first Star Wars film, did they begin by saying "some people are trapped in a garbage compacter, now who is in there and why?" I have my doubts.
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2014
  6. Chinspinner

    Chinspinner Contributor Contributor

    Oct 15, 2011
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    London, now Auckland
    How about this. The guy is stealing street-children and vagrants. There is a lot of supposition as to his motives; he is killing them, experimenting on them, selling them into slavery etc.

    When they are finally found it transpires that the antagonist is a kind hearted philanthropist, who has set up an orphanage and is schooling the children so that they can contribute to society. Or perhaps he is bending their minds to undertake his nefarious deeds?
  7. Gawler

    Gawler Senior Member

    Aug 31, 2014
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    Australia via Hawaii via Australia via England
    The key to me is the 3 kingdoms. Basic premise is that kingdoms 1 & 2 have a close alliance freezing kingdom 3 out and limiting required resources. Kingdom 3 starts kidnapping/killing people from kingdom 2 that live in the region of kingdom 1 in an attempt to provoke a war between kingdoms 1 & 2. The killers agree to the killings to try and bring relief to their own families. By dividing kingdoms 1 & 2 opens up the opportunity for kingdom 3 to open trade and get needed food during a drought for its people.

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