How to make a villain sympathetic?

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

  1. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    Yes. Better an orphan than a corpse.
    Besides which, orphans grow up and often lead normal, productive lives. If your villain is a serial killer I can't imagine how you'll make her sympathetic to the average healthy reader. Unlike some, I don't at all warm up to the likes of Hannibal Lecter, Dexter, or Tony Soprano, or whomever else. No matter how their creators romanticize their evil or if from time to time they murder someone as unsavory as themselves, I'm revolted by them and wish nothing less than they be snuffed out of existence.

    The villain in my historical fiction is taken from history. Louis Antoine de Saint-Just is young and handsome when he finds his true calling, and becomes a rising star in the French Revolution. Some historians would later call him, "The Angel of Death". I do give him some backstory, not to elicit warm and fuzzy feelings from the reader, but so his actions can be better understood.
    I dedicate one even-handed paragraph to Saint-Just, as spoken by Valerie, a courtesan who'll soon find out just how misguided she is about the man.
    My advice, don't romanticize evil.

    Valerie shook the memory off. Jean-Paul had not guessed the true nature of the bloody mess she had left in her wake. She ignored his wryly cocked brow, and changed the subject. “That isn’t why Saint-Just wears the cravat high on his neck. He was betrothed to a woman from a wealthy family in the same county as his mother’s estate. He’d been gone for some months, making a name for himself and finding his way in the world. When he returned, he found his true love had married another man, probably at the behest of her father. That night he slipped away and departed for Paris, but not before gathering up a good quantity of his mother’s silverware. Not to be outdone, his mother had him promptly arrested and thrown into a reformatory. I can imagine what followed; he was released, heartbroken and I dare say humiliated by his turn of fortune, and succumbed to the temptation of suicide. The man tried to hang himself. Whether by luck or the devil’s intercession, the noose came untied or the rope broke, and he survived. The scars about his neck are a constant reminder of the injustices shown him. He wears the cravat to hide his shame.”
     
  2. LordWarGod

    LordWarGod Banned

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    I think I could sympathize with Chris Walker from Outlast because even though he was a giant, deranged psychopath, he did what he did to prevent the main villain of the story from taking a mortal body to escape the mental institution with. He went around literally ripping peoples' heads off and storing them on shelves so the Walrider couldn't take their bodies to use for itself. That's why Chris hunted the main character down relentlessly, he was obsessed with military protocol due to his military/police background and wanted to establish order and quarantine in the institution.

    It's not exactly a sob story like you want to avoid and it's actually quite commendable even though the guy was fucking nuts. Just some advice for you! :]

    [​IMG]
     
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  3. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Contributor Contributor

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    I suspect you're in the minority if you can't invest in those types of villains. A better way of framing it would be: there is a substantial portion of readers who will invest in villains like those.
     
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  4. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    Just what I was thinking.
    Orphans may go on to lead productive lives in our world but this is a fantasy story, the world I've created is quite different. Just odd that it's acceptable to kill the parents but not the children in some people's minds.
     
  5. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    The problem being, the villains they invest in are safe, comic book villains.
     
  6. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm confused about your confusion. The adults are fully embedded in the cult. The children are not. And that's ignoring the general societal view of children as innocent creatures to be protected.
     
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  7. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    Hannibal isn't a safe comic book villain. He scared the crap outta me when I was a teenager but I was oddly drawn to him.
     
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  8. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    What's so odd about it? We hold children in a different light than we do grownups. And what's so different about the parent-child relationship in your fantasy story from that of our own world?
    Children have very little in the way of freewill. There is some chance they can be saved from following in their parent's footsteps. After all, we separate children from bad parents all the time in hopes they'll go on and have a decent life.
     
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  9. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    I'm not confused at all, just found that interesting. Why do you think the children are not just as embedded in the cult? Like is someone innocent was burned at the stake and adults are cheering as well as children, do you think the children are still innocent? I know it's all they know and may not have been brought up to think differently but then you could say that about the adults as well. Also on a personal thing I don't understand why children should be protected more than anyone else in our society. Always bothered me a bit. Shouldn't old people be just as protected and treated special? The children may be the future but old people are the past. And why do people always assume children are innocent. Or do they mean innocent minded rather than good (because I know some children who are far from innocent when behaviour is concerned).

    I'm not being confrontational by the way, but this conversation is helping me with my book. Maybe in my world children aren't seen as innocent and worth protecting, I could reverse that. Maybe in my society children are something to be suspicious off. What do you think?
    Don't know if I mentioned this but this is a fantasy book, not based on planet earth.
     
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  10. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    Well, that says volumes about your penchant for bad people.;)
    Personally, I thought Hannibal was almost as ridiculous as the Joker in the Batman movies. In real life, these guys would come to a swift, and violent end. But to each his own.
     
  11. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    Because to me a life is a life. Age. Gender. None of that too me makes anyone else's life more precious than anyone else's.
     
  12. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I think that you're mixing up two issues here.

    The original issue was, I think, about making a villain that your readers could have sympathy for. The vast majority of your readers are going to be more protective of children than adults--even those readers who, like me, don't really like children much. Even if your fictional society doesn't agree with that, your readers are going to be part of this society, and they're going to have trouble sympathizing with someone who murders children.
     
  13. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    Oh, I see where you're coming from. But if my readers become a part of the society I create that treats children as say, a sub-class of citizen do you think they'd still react badly?
    I mean, kids today are made to feel very important. But there was a time kids weren't. My father once told his mum a police officer clipped him across the lug. She clipped him across the lug herself because he was obviously doing something naughty. (he was painting a neighbours cabbages red ha). Today that police man would have been reported.
     
  14. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    I don't know. Most killers very really get caught, there are tons of unsolved murders where no one met their end. I didn't like the Joker, I couldn't take him seriously. But I like Antony Hopkins.
     
  15. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Benevolent Ochlocrat Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Slapping a kid (I assume that's what "clipping across the lug" is) is a far cry from murdering them though. I'd have a hard time rooting for someone who intentionally killed multiple children under the age of 12 (to pull a number out) unless there was no other alternative (i.e. the bomber pilots in WWII were unable to discriminate between hardcore Nazis and babies in the crib, but I don't hold the killings of the children specially against them). Darth Vader, as mentioned above, became a beloved villain before he was shown as targeting children in the sixth installment, but no one really cared about the children on Leia's home planet.
     
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  16. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I don't follow. Your readers are your readers. They can't step into your book. They will remain part of our society.

    Sure, you can depict a society where children are less important. But making your readers content with the murder of children is a stretch. I don't think you can plan on it. And striking children is not the same as murdering them.
     
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  17. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    I don't think it is the same, I was merely pointing out how our society has changed.
    Sorry, I miss read your last post. I thought you meant your readers will step into your society when you actually meant they'll always be a part of ours.
     
  18. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    The first three Star Wars films were the only ones worth watching in my opinion, and even they were a slog for me to get through. Never really liked Darth Vader. But as a kid I was more a fan of books and found it harder to get into movies.
     
  19. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I don't think our society has had a time when murdering children was a dandy thing. Plenty of children have been murdered through history, but the reaction of history is rarely a shrug.

    Henry V, written in 1599:

    FLUELLEN
    Kill the poys and the luggage! 'tis expressly
    against the law of arms: 'tis as arrant a piece of
    knavery, mark you now, as can be offer't; in your
    conscience, now, is it not?
    GOWER
    'Tis certain there's not a boy left alive; and the
    cowardly rascals that ran from the battle ha' done
    this slaughter
     
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  20. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Contributor Contributor

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    None of your examples were comic book villains. And of those three only Dexter could be reasonably considered safe. But I think a lot of us are talking past one another though, because we're using different terms. I don't need to "root" for a villain in order to invest in them. I merely need to find them interesting - aka, worthy of my time.

    Here's a good example: I love the villain Stansfield from the film The Professional. In case you're unfamiliar with him he's as evil as they come. Should he feel slighted he won't hesitate to destroy the family of whoever offended him, children and all, and revel in the bloodshed.

    Despite how utterly heartless and savage he is, loads of people appreciate Stansfield as a character. Imo he's one of the brightest spots of the film.

     
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2018
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  21. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    Has there ever been a time when murdering innocent people was a dandy thing to our society?
     
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  22. LordWarGod

    LordWarGod Banned

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    Did we forget the Japanese in WW2? They were stabbing babies with bayonets and swinging them around wildly like it was a sport during the rape of Nanking. Saw some pictures of it too and even some footage.
     
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  23. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    I'm not sure any of the villains mentioned in this thread can be considered "safe" by any reasonable standard.

    And most of the rest of the world was suitably outraged by that atrocity.
     
  24. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    It increasingly feels as if you consider answers to your question to be an offense.
     
  25. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    Not at all. I was agreeing.
     
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