1. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    How to make a villain sympathetic?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by cosmic lights, Nov 11, 2018.

    She does have a dark past that explains her actions but I don't want it to be all she has that makes her sympathetic. I want people to understand why she feels the way she does, although they'd not agree with what she does. I don't want to rely on a sob story for her because I feel too many people do. They give their villain a horrific past then feel that's enough. Is there more you can add or do I simply need to just make her feel human? Build her the same way I built my main character with good and bad points?

    Thanks
     
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  2. mrieder79

    mrieder79 Probably not a ground squirrel Contributor

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    you could give her principles and a code of honor. Demonstrate her rationalization for her motivation. We don't have to like her, but we should respect her. Give her strong character qualities. make her excellent at what she does.
     
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  3. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Hitler was good with dogs and children. Or you could show genuine remorse at the death of a henchman/minion, show that she's someone who cares for her troops, even as she's willing to massacre every man, woman, child, and hamster (or whatever) on the opposing side.
     
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  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Are you comfortable with telling us what kind of villain she is?
     
  5. Odile_Blud

    Odile_Blud Active Member

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    Show what makes her human. Give her a motivation that, while we may not agree with it, we can empathize with her on a human level. She cries, she fears, she hurts, and she probably cares about someone. There is a faulty side to all of humanity. Show that the cruel decisions she makes come from that faulty side. She is the kind of character that any of us could be because we all have faults, we've all been selfish, and we all have committed wrongful acts. We could all commit the crimes she commits.

    I think the key is getting people to understand that, though she commits immoral acts, her immoral acts are human. I don't know what your story is or what "evil deeds" your villain does, but make sure the motivation behind those deeds is completely human. It doesn't necessarily mean she has to have a traumatic backstory. I'll give an example:

    She has a friend she wants to protect, but in order to protect that friend, she has to massacre a whole village.

    Another example:

    She's afraid of death. She commits acts of violence in order to guarantee her own survival

    Another example:

    She is getting ill and deteriorating, she is promised another day of health and a normal life if she commits a horrible act.

    Another example:

    A friend or something she cares about is taken away from her. She is promised to be able to see them again if she commits a horrible act.

    You could also go the route of her seeing the ugliness of humanity but going about justice the wrong way. An example:

    She sees the ugliness of greed and what atrocities it brings about, so she tries to punish greed with violence or another horrible act.

    Again, I am not sure what your villain's goal is, but I think the main key to getting people to sympathize with her is looking at her motivations and being able to understand why she wants what she wants on a human level.
     
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  6. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Depends on what works best for your story. There are a lot of potential avenues you could take, and some can be combined.

    First is an understandable, perhaps even heroic, motive or goal. Everything Cersei Lannister does is to keep herself and her children alive in the cutthroat world of Westerosi politics. Poison Ivy is basically a superpowered ecoterrorist, dedicated to protecting nature from human pollution. The antagonist of my current work in progress, the Heart, is focused on smashing the crime families plaguing the city; he'd be a hero if he weren't willing to do whatever it takes to destroy those crime families.

    Alternatively, they could use good means to try and achieve a terrible end. Not many fictional examples come to mind, but you could look at someone like Erwin Rommel. Sure, he advanced Nazi Germany's war effort, but the actions he took (ignoring the Commando Order, treating POWs well, not targeting civilian populations and the like) made him far more moral than most of his peers.

    Giving them someone to love and care about can be a powerful reminder of a villain's humanity. Seeing Wilson Fisk try to woo the curator of an art gallery, even as he ruthlessly advances the interests of the crime syndicate he leads, really humanized him and enriched the first season of Daredevil. Or you could look at Mr. Freeze, who only turned to supervillainy so he could obtain the resources to try and cure his terminally ill wife. And I already mentioned Cersei, though one could make the argument she only cares about her children as extensions of herself.

    Now, on the love angle, it works best when paired with other things. Otherwise it may pale in comparison to whatever they do that makes them a villain. Nobody would say Hitler's love for his mother or fondness for dogs makes him especially sympathetic, though it does serve as a reminder of his humanity.

    Charisma, a sense of humor, physical attractiveness (not as useful when dealing with prose), and skill/competency can also make an audience more willing to view a character as a whole human being.

    In my opinion, the first two (motive or means) are the most effective at making a villain sympathetic to mainstream audiences.
     
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  7. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Contributor Contributor

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    Charisma goes a long way with me. Many of my favorite villains don't have a virtuous bone in their body, nor do they pretend to. But they're interesting.
     
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  8. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Is she identified as a villain at the start? If you conceal that fact and show her as overworked and stressed by her job, worried about her team, and it's only later on that you realize that the things that she's doing are horrible.

    [​IMG]

    Just a group of coworkers having a good time when not busied with administering the Holocaust.
     
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  9. AbyssalJoey

    AbyssalJoey Member

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    Everyone else already said what I would say so I'll just add this: Usually bad people don't think of themselves as bad people, I'm quite sure that Hitler thought of himself as a virtuous man.
     
  10. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    Well, she was part of a fanatically religious cult that were from a long like of witch and demon hunters. Her aunt has become obsessed and paranoid that evil will come to them in the form of a child and since she was born through an affair, her aunt saw her as something evil and punished her for it. She was abused and pushed out by her community. Her aunt has killed many innocent people just because she perceived them as being bad. My Villain's goal is to end this cult because their beliefs bring death. So she is killing the members of this cult and anyone seen to help them. She is being ruthless in her annihilation of this cult even the children as she sees them as brain-washed, and she sees it as saving people from their torture. Just as her aunt saw it as saving people from evil and temptation.

    She's only a new concept so not incredibly detailed yet I'm still working on her
     
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  11. Oscar Leigh

    Oscar Leigh Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah in relation to that, regardless of whether you conceal things, I would argue being able to portray any and every character with some sense of being normal and interacting with more mundane things is important. One of the reasons that Lena Headey works so well as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones is that she's not just a powerhungry narcissistic queen. Nor is she just a protective mother. She's both and she's capable of being a normal person, having conversations with people where she shows other sides and deals with issues other than simply ambition and her children.
     
  12. Foxxx

    Foxxx The Debonair Contributor

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    The villain could be misguided, which creates a possibility for redemption. Like, his / her goals are good but the means aren't justified. Depends on the story though.
     
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  13. LastMindToSanity

    LastMindToSanity Contributor Contributor

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    Building off this, a good way to gain sympathy is to make the villain the same as one of the heroes, except they went down a darker path.

    The hero could a victim of war. As a result of this, they seek to deepen political relations with the society that they warred with, thus lowering the chance of war breaking out between them again. The villain, also a victim of that war, could instead lash out at the other society and try to insight another war in hopes of ending the society that hurt them and people they cared about.

    You can understand the motivations of the both of them, because they're the same motivations. The villain is just a hero that went down a darker path. You can see where their motivation turned down a darker path, and can empathize with their struggle.
     
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  14. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Well, you're going to have your work cut out for you there. Child killing is an act likely to destroy a good chunk of whatever sympathy you've managed to build up.
     
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  15. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Does she have to kill the kids? If she kills their parents and then, I dunno, dumps the kids at the police station, the reader's likely to have more sympathy for her.
     
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  16. DeeDee

    DeeDee Contributor Contributor

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    Think of other villains that are popular with the public: vampired are handsome, Hannibal was really clever etc. They all had some qualities that we all like. If your villain has a beer belly, no manners and is really dumb, nobody would like them regardless of their sob-story past. Being a villain means they are doing bad things but they can't be all bad, there has to be something goodish that they do. Vampires are awesome lovers, Hannibal killed bad people, those are all commendable things.
     
  17. Leo Flammarione

    Leo Flammarione New Member

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    As @X Equestris already pointed out, killing children is quite irremediable, and from my point of view it would be even contradictory, given her past: if she was able to overcome the "brain-washing", why would she consider it impossible for others, and why would she agree with the vision of her aunt (salvation from evil and temptation), if she thinks that the cult (and by extension their philosophy) is depraved?
     
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  18. DeeDee

    DeeDee Contributor Contributor

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    An yet Darth Vader is everybody's favourite villain. (Spoilers? Ooops. :D)
     
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  19. SolZephyr

    SolZephyr Member Supporter

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    It sounds like she has a solid motivation, and if it's shown that she's correct about the children also being fanatic in the cult's beliefs (maybe show the children being cruel or taking part in a witch's execution), I think it would justify her position dramatically. Most people won't be able to look past the "killing children" thing, though, no matter how cruel they're shown to be, so it might not be possible to make many people sympathize with her very strongly.

    What might help though, is if she has a cutoff for how old kids need to be before she thinks they're irredeemable. Showing that she does have enough compassion to falter in her beliefs, if even for a moment, would certainly humanize her a bit. If she's killing babies, though, then making her sympathetic might be a pipe dream. The best you could do in that case might be to show that she hates what she's doing, or else feels remorse for it later on when she looks back on her carnage.
     
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  20. Leo Flammarione

    Leo Flammarione New Member

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    To be fair, the Anakin of the prequels wasn't that likable.
     
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  21. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Not in the sense of my liking him even a tiny little bit.
     
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  22. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    I thought the same thing about the children after I wrote that. Maybe she tries to help them instead.

    So killing the kids is wrong but making them permanent orphans is acceptable? The parents maybe brain-washing the children but they are normal parents in other ways. Just interesting to me how different people draw the line at what is redeemable and what isn't. Like it's very easy to have a set of morals in an easy environment. It's easy to say 'I'd never steal' when you're in a fairly comfortable situation but when when your starving hungry and could die if you didn't steal.
     
  23. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    In HER mind, yes. Remember, her thought process doesn't need to make sense. The reader just needs to be able to have a bit of understanding of it. From her point of view, she'd be protecting those children from horrible people, giving them some hope of a decent life.

    Edited to add: She might have a lot of sympathy for their grief. She might go out of her way to make sure the kids never have to see their parents' deaths or their parents' bodies.
     
  24. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Liking a villain as a character is much different from sympathizing with their plight as a person. Many people appreciate Darth Vader or the Joker or Ramsay Bolton as good villains, but few actually sympathize with them.
     
  25. Leo Flammarione

    Leo Flammarione New Member

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    If their parents are homicidal monsters... why not?
     

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