1. NoItsBecky

    NoItsBecky Active Member

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    How to create a good villain?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by NoItsBecky, Mar 25, 2020.

    Hi. So, if you’ve seen me on the character chatroom, you know I’ve come back from the void with a new story. If not, hi! Anyways, basic premise: a bunch of superpowered teenagers get whisked away to a magical realm (which is also very difficult to flesh out, but this isn’t the place for that) to fight the villain. For some reason the people of the realm need them to do it.

    The problem: I don’t know much of anything about the villain. It’s some sort of dark force that threatens to take over the realm via possession, but I don’t know any specifics, and I don’t know why the protags need to be there and the people of the realm can’t just do it themselves.

    In short: I can’t make a villain. Please help.
     
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  2. JimS

    JimS Banned

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    Is there anything that the protagonists have that the villain could have in common with them, any character traits?
     
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  3. Storysmith

    Storysmith Active Member

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    Is the villain sentient? I can't tell when you say that it's a dark force, but villains whose motivations we understand make the best antagonists. So there needs to be a reason behind its actions (neither of wanting to do evil and driving the plot forwards count as reasons). I like to think of well-written villains as the heroes in their own heads. Even Thanos, killing half of the population of the universe, thought he was doing good and being merciful.
     
  4. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    The best villains are the ones that feel realistic and we can in some way relate to. If you figured out more of your plot then that might help you create a villains.
     
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  5. Fervidor

    Fervidor Member

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    First step is figuring our what your villain wants. That is to say, their motivations. Heroes tend to be reactive, whereas villains tend to be active. (Put another way, villains are offenders whereas heroes are defenders.)

    Basically, a villain typically has a specific goal (whether extremely basic or very lofty) which they will usually prioritize above all other concerns, including moral considerations like laws or the well-being of others. Whether sympathetic and complex or simple and monstrous, villains tend to be extremists: There is something they want, they're willing do anything to get it, and they will not compromise. The degree to which committing evil deeds in pursuit of that goal bother them may vary from "none" to "considerably"- that's really a just a matter of style, taste and the characterization of the individual villain. I don't that part is especially important.

    Next, figure out why whatever the villain is doing makes sense to them. This somewhat ties into the first point: It's important that the readers can understand the reasoning behind your villain's action. Notably, they don't have to agree with them, but they do need to understand. This is basically the difference between a fairly realistic "evil person" and a mustache-twirling cartoon bad guy who does evil things "just because."

    Some say good villains simply see themselves as the heroes of their own stories, that what they're doing is their idea of "good." I think that is certainly a valid approach, but I don't think it should be thought of as a universal rule. It's just as likely the villain simply doesn't care about good or evil, because what they seek to achieve seems far more important to them. Hence, the important thing is that it makes sense from their perspective; whether that be because they are incapable of compassion and sympathy, or their goal is just that important to them, or a combination thereof.

    Finally, make your villain interesting and entertaining. This is just my personal philosophy, but I think it's a mistake to deliberately create a wholly unlikable villain. After all, if the reader really wants to see the villain defeated, that's sort of the same thing as wanting the story to end. You want your readers to get excited when the bad guy shows up and look forward to seeing more of them.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2020 at 2:07 AM
  6. J.D. Ray

    J.D. Ray Member Supporter

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    Pretty much everything @Fervidor said, plus what @Storysmith said. Don't think of them as a "villain", but rather as an "antagonist". Consider this: to the supporters of this character you're trying to create, some countervening force has reached into another realm to bring a band of super-powered rogues into this world to do bad things. What motivates those people (the supporters) to fight for their guy?
     
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  7. Thorn Cylenchar

    Thorn Cylenchar Active Member

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    I agree with Fervidor, but sometimes, if a villain is well written, he doesn't need a reason beyond 'he can do this' or 'he wants to do this'. Look at the Joker as the iconic example, he does what he does for shits and giggles, because it amuses him. He also doesn't have a back story(I am pointedly ignoring the crap 'Joker' film that just came out because it cheapens the Joker as a character so much). Having this psychopath appear out of nowhere makes him scarier. Having a threat that you know nothing about and have no clue what they want is absolutely terrifying. How do you work to stop someone from achieving their goals when you have no idea what the hell they want?
     
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  8. J.T. Woody

    J.T. Woody Amateur Human Contributor

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    I feel that there can be multiple kinds of villain (if this was mention above, i apologize for repeating).
    • Ideology
      • I love Sharon Shin's work. In her book, Angel Seeker, the "villain" was ideology/religion. the MC was really devoted to her family and her religion. It tore her up inside to go against it, and when it was found out that she had gone against it, everyone in her life became the "villain" because they were personifications of that ideology.
    • Physical/human
      • the most common is obvious "this guy/girl is evil and wants to kill/hurt/one-up me" type of thing. Example: Voldemort
    • Personal
      • The MC is the villain, as in the MC is their own worst enemy. Example, in the YA novel, Letting Go of Bobby James or How I Found My Self Of Steam, the MC starts off with a very negative outlook of herself. She runs away from her small Texas town with her boyfriend, who leaves her at a gas station in Florida. Stranded, and living out of a movie theater, she struggles with herself. One could say the Bobby James is the villain for leaving her stranded, but he is only the character that lets you know how much the MC has overcome (he comes back in the end, and the MC's strength comes through because she'd fought those inner demons)
    • Situational
      • the situation is the villain. Maybe your MC finds theirselves in a seemingly impossible situation and the whole story is them trying to overcome this situation. I think this is more indicative of adventure stories. As the MC sets off on their heroes' journey, the situations they get into become the villain. In Allison Croggin's The Riddle, the MC finds herself in a frozen realm with the Ice King (who, in my opinion, is a neutral character). The situation she finds herself in is the problem and she gets out of it but loses a few fingers trying. In the book after that, The Crow, her brother is in the midst of a war and the war and battles become the villain of that book. I also want to include Lord of the Rings (sorry, haven't read it... going from the movies, so correct me if I'm wrong), there are a bunch of villains (personal, physical, ideological), but once could say the situation- Frodo destroying the ring- is a villain because it puts in him dangerous situations that see him nearly killed countless times.
    Think about your protags. What do they need to overcome? why do they have powers? are there downsides to having powers? why or how did they get transported to the other place? what are their goals/needs/wants? figure out your protags then think about the various was those wants/needs/goals/powers etc. can possibly be undone. THEN start thinking about the different types of villains and which one(s) naturally occur in your story
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2020
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  9. Oscar Leigh

    Oscar Leigh Contributor Contributor

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    I think the first priority of good villain writing is good character writing. Don't define them by being a villain: don't define them by being evil or sympathetic. Think of a character; neutrally, who is this character? Define their role after you have that.

    That's not always the exact process, but I think the best most interesting villains are written more like that. They are characters properly and in their own right not merely foils for the protag. Think of Kingpin in S1 of Daredevil, for those of you have seen it, he has a character arc in his own right and takes a considerable amount of attention for himself. We don't just see him oppose the protag or do evil, he also has a love story, a career and professional relationships that we see. Something like that I think elevates villain portrayals above being The Villain to to a truly genuine character.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2020 at 12:29 AM
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  10. Fervidor

    Fervidor Member

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    Well, kinda. It's just... MCU Thanos always struck me as a deeply messed up individual who'd become utterly fixated on this insane, completely unrealistic idea he had regarding resource management. Like it was less about doing good for the universe and more about proving that he was right, ultimately making his actions selfish. So, it kinda unnerves me that a lot of people seem to genuinely view him as a legit anti-villain with an extreme yet sound and rational ideology, rather than an exceptionally dangerous lunatic cult leader with a massive Messiah complex, which is what I saw in him.

    One scene that really got to me was when he used his ruined homeworld as an example, basically going: "See, for some reason they rejected my absurd plan to genocide our own people, and now the planet is dead, which means I was right." Which... isn't how logic works: The fact that what he warned against came to pass doesn't prove that his solution would have worked, or that it wasn't something a crazy person would have suggested. But that's clearly how Thanos thought about it.

    Basically, this is as if Jonathan Swift had been totally serious about his Modest Proposal and then started cannibalizing Irish children to prove his point.

    Don't get me wrong, it's totally fine to have a villain motivated by beliefs that only make sense in his own head, but then your narrative needs to acknowledge that, at least implicitly. I still can't believe none of the Avengers called Thanos out on just how flawed his reasoning was, even the smart ones like Strange or Stark.

    Not sure you're using those terms the way I would. Most villains are also antagonists by definition, and even villains who aren't antagonists can work very well. "Antagonist" is really less a characterization thing and more a descriptor of their basic role. I don't know if you meant to, but your wording kinda made it sound like you believe villains lack motivations? :confused:
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2020 at 3:11 AM
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  11. J.D. Ray

    J.D. Ray Member Supporter

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    Not what I meant. To me, a villain describes someone who is evil (or maybe just a "bad guy") independent of the story at hand. Dr. Evil was evil, and did evil things whether there was a story being told involving him or not. Throw in Austin Powers, tell a story about how the two oppose each other, and Dr. Evil becomes the antagonist. But what about people who don't necessarily have evil intent, but just happen to oppose the story protagonists? What if the protagonists aren't necessarily "good", but are just focused on what they want to accomplish, and fight back against the opposition?

    Just a thought on my part. Take it for what you will.
     
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  12. Xoic

    Xoic Active Member

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    All you really have now is a basic idea that could become a story. You don't really have story, protagonist or antagonist until you figure out what the conflict is about. That's the central issue that your MC and antag will be at odds over, and every other character should relate to the main conflict in some way as well. Until you get that part figured out there's no focus.
     
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  13. Storysmith

    Storysmith Active Member

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    Agreed, Thanos is clearly mad. My point is that, though we can see that he has a messiah complex and his plan is nonsense, he thinks that he's the only being in the universe with the foresight, power and will to solve the problem. In his mind, he is the hero.

    Of course, it begs the question of what he'd do when the population doubled again in future. Another snap? Reducing fertility would have been more merciful and have kept down future populations.

    And you're right, people like Stark should have been able to point out the problem with his reasoning, or even that people are having fewer and fewer babies each on Earth. But then again, I think that Thanos was too far gone to accept facts and statistics and admit he was wrong.
     
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  14. Cdn Writer

    Cdn Writer Senior Member

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    I'd point out that movie "Thanos" and comic book "Thanos" were different in how they were portrayed.

    In the comic book universe, Thanos was in love with Mistress Death and she was the one who believed that there were now more people living (universe-wide) than had died, and furthermore believed this was an injustice. Thanos wiping out 50% of all life in the universe was his "gift" to Mistress Death to prove himself worthy of her love.

    In the comic book universe, he didn't wipe out 50% of the universe's population because he was concerned about his world running out of resources to feed/house its population. No.....he did it for love!

    I can relate to doing it for love (concrete reason) more than I can relate to something being done to preserve resources (abstract reason).
     
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  15. Oscar Leigh

    Oscar Leigh Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah plus as has been pointed to Thanos' movie plan isn't as efficient as he makes it out. Why doesn't he make more resources or more space with the Infinity Stones? Or as mentioned above, reduce fertility? Him being more straightforwardly mad and evil makes sense because the movies' attempt to make him more sympathetic doesn't quite work. Like, the movies are still watchable, and he's crazy, it's not supposed to be a great plan, but it kinda feels like it's supposed to make you think and the more you think about it the less sense it makes.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2020 at 8:01 AM
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  16. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Contributor Contributor

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    "Interesting" and "likable" don't strike me as the same thing, yet you appear to use them interchangeably here. For example, I consider the xenomorph in the film Alien interesting and unlikable. The T1000 in Terminator 2: Judgement Day is another good example.

    Also, do you have the same personal philosophy about the antagonist/villains of the horror genre? Because I can think of lots of "villains" in that genre that I would describe as both amazing and utterly unlikable. Though that might be explained by you and I using different definitions of "villain."
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2020 at 9:42 PM
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  17. al-khataei

    al-khataei New Member

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    In my opinion don't show the history of the villian in the beginning. Go from present to history. Readers would feel the desire to understand the character.
     
  18. Fervidor

    Fervidor Member

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    I would define a villain as a character whose role in the narrative is being in the wrong, morally speaking. Put another way, their job is being examples of how not to act. Heroes are of course the opposite, serving as more or less idealized examples of moral excellence and what one might strive to be. (At least after sufficient character development, anyway.)

    I don't think you should think of villains as characters who do evil things for no particular reason, because that only applies to bad ones, or the ones who are written that way on purpose for comedic or stylistic reasons. (See: Doctor Evil.)

    And I'm honestly not sure a character really can be anything independent of the story. To clarify: Whatever your character is, that is a choice you made for the sake of storytelling, assuming you're doing it right.

    Well, yeah, but he was also a parody character. He's not supposed to be a "good villain", so to speak, he's a caricature of a stereotype. I get the point you were making but he's not the best example.

    Well, that's what I was trying to clarify: You can have antagonists who aren't villains and protagonists who aren't heroes. But heroes and villains are usually protagonists and antagonists, respectively. They're complimentary functions. It's worth remembering that they mean different things, but it's also wrong to speak of them as unrelated or mutually exclusive. Again, I don't think you meant to, but your original post sorta made it sound like that.

    And, well, there is this sentiment floating around that sympathetic anti-villainesque antagonists with complex, justifiable motivations are superior to traditional villains. As in, objectively better writing. I dunno, maybe it's because simplified and abstracted villains have always been a staple of children's entertainment we all grew up with, so the concept of villainy is viewed as infantile by some?

    At any rate, I don't agree with that view. Even a very "pure" villain can be written to have sophisticated characterization, with motivations and values the reader can comprehend.

    Understood. Thanos is just a bit of a pet peeve of mine because he was so... weirdly written. Not even badly written, not quite, just weirdly.

    I think they were actually trying to make him come off as an anti-villain, hence why nobody in those movies ever draw attention to how actually wrong Thanos was about everything he said, instead just objecting because killing people is bad. It kinda sucks because I wanted to like Thanos, and I think he would have been fine if they'd emphasized that he was in fact delusional and not very smart. As it stands, he's kinda the major MCU villain I like the least.

    See, it's stuff like that. If you do a bit of research, you'll find that halving the population of Earth would bring us down to the numbers we were at around 1973. Yeah. He'd set us back about fifty years, and we'd bounce back to our present day population within a normal human lifespan. That's the thing about exponential growth.

    And then we find out that the idiot destroyed the Infinity Stones afterwards. He didn't even consider it a temporary stopgap he'd have to repeat down the line: He actually thought he was finished, job done, the universe saved forever. Thanos was a dumb, dumb person.

    You know, I kinda think I would have preferred his comic motivations. Because being in love with the personification of death and killing half the universe just to impress her is pretty silly, but it's also a simple and straightforward motivation that does make sense in a twisted way. It's a bad thing to do but it's not wrong, in the logical sense.

    And at least then I wouldn't have had to put up with idiots going: "Okay, I know genocide is bad, but Thanos did make a good point."

    Because while those are solutions to the problem, they aren't the solution Thanos came up with and then became obsessed with. Again, I'm pretty sure he just wanted to prove that his idea would have worked.

    See, it does make sense if you just keep in mind that the guy was bona fide messed up in the head.

    Thank you, that's exactly how I feel about it. He'd work fine as a villain, but the way the movie seems to try to portray him makes it weird.

    I think what I was going for was that "interesting" and "entertaining" tends to sorta combine into "likable."

    Also, I may have been drunk when I wrote that, I can't recall. It's hard to tell because alcohol apparently has no effect on my spelling.

    Dude, you don't like those guys? They're awesome.

    I dunno, we may be using the words differently here. When I use "likable" in this context, I mean a villain that I like reading about, or watching, etc. That doesn't mean I'd want to spend time with them, or be anywhere near them for that matter. It just means I like it when they show up in the narrative.

    An unlikable villain would be one I basically can't stand and would like to be rid of, because they're annoying, boring or aggravating. You know, the type where I just wish the hero would stab him already, or for a more likable villain to show up and kick him into a volcano or something.

    Hm, it's difficult for me to answer because firstly I don't write horror, nor am I a huge fan of the genre in general, so I don't spend a lot of time thinking about how it functions.

    Secondly, horror is such a large, vague genre with lots of quite different types of stories falling under it. I honestly don't really know how it's supposed to be defined or if it can even properly be called a genre in the first place.

    In general, though, I would say yes. I can't imagine a horror story where an enjoyable villain or monster wouldn't be a boon for me, nor one where actively disliking the antagonist wouldn't be a drawback.
     
    Last edited: Apr 8, 2020 at 6:28 AM
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  19. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Contributor Contributor

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    Well, I would think the value and reasoning of not having your villain be boring is self-evident. At least I can't remember ever reading or hearing anyone argue in favor of a boring villain.
    I still disagree with you here. I think it's perfectly fine if the audience really wants to see the villain defeated. In many cases it's desirable. That's precisely how I felt about the xenomorph the moment it came bursting out a man's chest in Alien, and that's one of my favorite films of all time.
     
  20. More

    More Active Member

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    I can't add much that has not already been said . but, most of the villains I have met don't consider themselves to be villains. So you need to understand who believes they are and why . The Kray twins , Robin Hood and Hitler were seen by some to be villains and heroes to others . A lot of Villains see themselves as a business , drug dealers , pimps and people traffickers often don't consider the consequences of their actions . Some violent villains just consider their actions as self defence .
     
  21. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    Your problem isn't the villain. Your problem is highlighted in bold up there. Figure that out and you'll know who your villain is. Do you even know what they're supposed to do? Are your protags trying to save a potato patch, revive the next undead, find a powerful crystal?
     
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