1. Marthix2016

    Marthix2016 Active Member

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    Writing an Intimidating Female Villain

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Marthix2016, Aug 4, 2019.

    To you, what makes a female villain feel intimidating? Feel free to comment/critique my female villain I describe below.

    I take great care in making the villainess to my story feel human yet make her feel very intimidating at the same time. I think a lot about showing and not telling. I think how does my villainess dress and how does she present herself to others? She is a businesswoman, tends to wear suits, tucks in her shirts, and wears flat shoes (she doesn't wear high heels as she knows they'd kill her feet). I think women who wear suits look really nice and appear to be taken very seriously.

    She has a very sharp/strong jawline. Partially from genetics (her parents) and partially from staying fit/healthy, I think her having a sharp jawline will make her feel more powerful. Men and women who have distinctive jawlines catch my eye in the public, lots more than people who have flat/round faces. She takes really good care of herself, very physically fit and can easily match a male in strength if it comes to a fight. More like an MMA fighter style body like Gina Carano. Maybe a battle scar or two hidden on her body from her past.

    She's around 35 years old, never married, no kids/never having any. From my experience, female villains who are childfree are a lot more sinister as they have more time and resources to commit to themselves and their mission. They just grip me more. And it's not that she makes a big deal about being childfree or never being married...she doesn't have to talk about that stuff at all...she doesn't go on a rant about it. Just part of who she is and the reader will see that thru showing, not telling.

    She is by no means a perfect human, perfect fighter, or anything like that. She carries many flaws. She is a nice person to some and she does have a big heart for those in her family and those she loves. At the same time, her intentions and her mission are very dark. I want to make a female villain who will grip readers...I want them to have some sympathy for her, make her easy to connect to, yet still have a very dark edge to her. I know I'm just describing some of her characteristics here but am I along the right path in thinking about her design/creation? I mean characters...heroes and villains...come in all different shapes, sizes, etc. I suppose anything can go but the most important part about this is I want to make my female villain feel human and easy to connect to. Any suggestions/advice/comments would be greatly appreciated!
     
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  2. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    Sounds like your version of an intimidating woman is a woman with predominately manly qualities.
     
  3. Alan Aspie

    Alan Aspie Contributor Contributor

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    I speak only in general & personal level and from real life perspective. I don't comment your villain:

    Projections, projective thinking and projective identification are alarms I pay very much attention in real life.

    Drive to power without personal responsibility is another alarm clock I listen very carefully. (Sadism is one form of this.)

    Using flying monkeys is one trait to pay attention.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flying_monkeys_(popular_psychology)

    This might give you something:

     
  4. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    In what way 'intimidating?' Does she physically threaten people? Is she more talented that the people around her, so folks know they are probably being judged and found wanting? Does she hold power over people because she's their boss and could fire them on a whim? Does she stick to something till she gets it done, no matter what? Is she ruthless, in that she'll use or step on anybody? And does she feel any remorse if she does? What form does that remorse take?

    Intimidation can be intentional, or inadvertent.

    You've described what she looks like and how she dresses and the fact that she doesn't have a family of her own. And the fact that she's physically fit. But you don't really get into what makes her tick. Get to the bottom of that, and you'll probably find her easier to write. In every scene, what is her purpose? Make her purposeful. That's intimidating, even if it's for a good purpose. A person who won't be diverted from her purpose will be intimidating to some.

    Also, is her manner toward others devious, or straightforward? Does she get what she wants by manipulating (flattery, flirting, pretenses, double-crossing) or does she go straight for the jugular? I wouldn't worry so much about her 'flaws' but more about what her weaknesses are. What makes her vulnerable? What's the bottom line for her? What scares her the most?

    What does she want? Superficially and also deeply? She might want to rule the world (superficial) ...but why? (deep)

    This is just a personal observation, but I notice you refer to her as a 'villain.' That's kind of comic booky, isn't it? It's going to be difficult to present her as a human being, if she's been labeled a 'villain' in your head. You may get farther with her character if you start to think of her as a 'very difficult person' rather than 'a villain.' That's like calling a tiger a 'monster.' There's a lot more to being a tiger than simply scary teeth.
     
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2019
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  5. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Hi floor, make me a sammich. :P Supporter Contributor

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    :superidea:
    Army Woman.jpg
    You gotta have more than some muscles, to make a good villain. :)
    You have to figure out why they are the way they are, why they do what
    they do. Wearing a suit is not going to make them more 'baddy', than one
    that wears leather lace up pants a latex tube top. You need to explore their
    motivations, and how they see them as justifiable in their eyes. Just slapping
    'baddy' on someone won't make them scary or intimidating. Personality,
    actions, and how they speak will help to make them imposing. Though I
    don't know how to make them more than just what you described, and others
    have pointed out : A woman with the traits of a man.

    Good luck, and hope you get it sorted. :)
    (Mustache, monocle, and top hat are the uniform of the best Baddies.) :rofl:
     
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  6. suddenly BANSHEES

    suddenly BANSHEES Senior Member

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    The traits that make a woman villainous are the same traits that make a man villainous. It's not in appearance, it's in their character. How they treat those around them, and what lengths they're willing to go through to get what they want.

    Just making a woman beefy and child-free doesn't make her suddenly "scary," just like making a male character with those traits wouldn't automatically label him a villain. It's hard to give a critique of a character without knowing what it is they're doing that's so evil. What are her goals? Why is she going about them in such a way? How much leverage does she have over the protagonists, and how big of an obstacle is she? Those are the questions you need to pin down to make an engaging villain.
     
  7. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Senior Member

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    I think you're main problem is how your approaching this. You can make a child or a baby intimidating and terrifying if you do it correctly, and it's all in their personality, not their appearance. Some people feel women tend to have certain personality traits more commonly than men. Example: men tend to be more physically abusive and women more mental and emotional, they tend to be manipulators. That's not to say roles can't be reversed and not everyone agrees with male and female attributes, and I don't completely. But women do tend to handle things differently to men.
     
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  8. Katibel

    Katibel Member

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    This type of female villain is common in movies / TV / books today and, honestly, I find them cringey. That's strictly an opinion about the character type, we all have our own preferences.

    Why do I cringe? Well, for starters, the selected stereotype originates with male characters, so all that has been done is the transfer of a historically masculine stereotype (which is pretty cringey to begin with) onto a female figure.

    Secondarily, what makes men intimidating does not necessarily transmit over to a woman. Squared jaws, slight hips, bands of muscle, aloofness...these are all utilitarian features, which are most often associated with masculinity, meaning the cliché bad guy is just an exaggeration of traditionally masculine features, which then makes a woman in that role appear extremely pandering to feminist audiences (or, perhaps worse, makes the writers seem lazy).

    Women have their own set of unique traits that could be exaggerated but, instead, they're given exaggerated masculine traits. That obliterates my suspension of disbelief and, for some reason, feels a bit insulting.

    All that nonsense spewed, my idea of an intimidating (and cliché) female villain is one that is manipulative and seductive. She's intelligent, a believable actress, uses the weaknesses of others against them, and doesn't pretend to be more than she is. She uses tactful analysis and critical thought to clear the way to her end goal. For instance, the witch in Tangled or the queen in MirrorMask--frighteningly intelligent, keen, despairing individuals and suffocating mothers. When I look at them I see a specialized female form perverted by a bent on evil and am both intimidated as well as sympathetic.

    Another great female villain, in my mind, is the Maleficent from Disney's Sleeping Beauty. She looks and acts sinister, yes, but she has the motivators too (desiring acclaim to the point of senseless and vindictive tormenting of others). It's the motivators that really drive the "sinister" aspect home.

    (Edit: Since I'm on a "female villains" roll, I might as well mention my personal favorite: Ursula. Ursula from The Little Mermaid is conniving, sharp, charismatic, sensible, and unremittingly malicious (without challenging Triton to an arm wrestle). The strength of her belief in her aim for power is apparent enough to make her feel utterly dangerous (all while being distinctly feminine). I personally use her as a role model for my female villains, haha.)
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2019
  9. Gallogladh

    Gallogladh Member

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    Being intimidating comes from a known or suspected record of destructive competence, and is amplified by mystery, unease, or increasing stakes. It is often offloaded onto appearance but isn't a product of it. People from history who 'look intimidating' (for instance, Rodrigo Borgia) are actually just intimidating people who look like themselves. They'd look like kindly grandpas or ditsy store clerks, in another life.

    I think this is a good call, but not for that reason. It may be old-fashioned (or evolutionarily-hardwired), but people still see childless women as contrary to the Life Script - the natural order of things. Many might have a preconception of your character are selfish or immensely driven ticking over in the back of their minds.
     
  10. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Supporter Contributor

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    As someone who chose to be child-free because I knew I'd have to take care of my parents, I'd really like to see an end to that perpetuated myth. Those preconceptions make it kind of lazy thinking, and boring.

    I'd make the character just old enough to have a child who left the nest.

    The female antagonist in my novel is a seemingly well-put together grandmotherly type in a prominent social circle. Her appearance has nothing to do with her actions. ETA (premature post): In the first draft her appearance was considerably different, but having her blend in with the social norm of the other characters gave her actions a lot more impact.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2019
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  11. EFMingo

    EFMingo A Nefarious Flamingo Contributor

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    This nicely sums up everything I feel about this subject.
     
  12. DeathandGrim

    DeathandGrim Senior Member

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    If you wanna intimidate your reader there's no gender barrier. A lot of what intimidates me about villains is knowledge about them. What do I know that they're capable of? How aware am I of just how far they're willing to go to achieve their goals?

    This, in my opinion, is what made Cersei Lannister such an effective villain because I was aware of both. She was capable of mass murder and planning high schemes for her goals and man oh man was she willing to execute them. That left open a world of possibility for my mind to anticipate every time the story called on her to act.
     
  13. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    I honestly didn't find Cersei intimidating. She was more like a spoiled brat who was doing things out of a fear of losing her privilege and was under the assumption she was untouchable and far smarter than she was. She was an antagonist, but I never wanted her to succeed, and with a proper villain, you always want them to succeed just a little.
     
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  14. DeathandGrim

    DeathandGrim Senior Member

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    I found Cersei intimidating because the woman would do literally anything in the name of being vindictive and smile while doing it, but I feel the same as you in always wanting her to fail.

    I have to admit I do think about what would happen if some villains succeed but mostly outta curiosity. Interesting point there though that maybe we want them to succeed
     
  15. StoryForest

    StoryForest Active Member

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    Are you struggling to make your villain feel intimidating in general or do you find yourself struggling to make a female character feel intimidating? These could be two different things and, depending on which one, there are different solutions.

    I’m in agreement that if you know how to make a character feel intimidating, it doesn’t matter if it is male or female. Just write the character as you would any other villain. Being female shouldn’t lessen her character because, as you stressed, it’s her actions that shows who she is.

    But if you find yourself having difficulty envisioning an intimidating female character, then it’s more about how to shift your perception on what a female character is capable of.
    What you described sounds like taking intimidating characteristics that happen to be masculine and putting it into a female character. It’s perfectly okay to have a female character exhibit masculine characteristics and vice versa, just know that you are not limited to leveraging masculine characteristics to make someone intimidating.

    Feminine characteristics can be equally intimidating, it’s all about deciding who your characters are and what you want them to do.
     
  16. Baeraad

    Baeraad Member

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    I'd say menace is very simple. Just show that she is willing and able to cause harm to characters that we care about. If our sympathetic POV is one of the schlubs working for her company and she gets him fired and blacklisted because he spoke out of turn or something, and we get to follow his struggles to avoid destitution, then she's going to be plenty intimidating regardless of how she dresses.

    Actually, are you sure you don't mean, what makes a cool female villain? Because a lot of the things you list seem to be coolness things, not intimidation things.

    I don't know, I would have said the same thing once, but that was before Cercei Lannister (who I see has already come up). :p A mother protecting her young is supposed to be the most terrifying thing in nature. How far will a woman who already has no morals go, if she can rationalise it as protecting her children's interests?

    Aw, come on. End of season six, you're telling me you didn't cheer for her just a little? ;)

    And aside from that, I always thought that one of the accomplishments of the series was to show that even a complete loser could make a scary villain, as long as they had power and were just smart enough to use it to hurt others. The idea of being beaten by a loser is even worse than the idea of being beaten by a mastermind, because it adds humiliation on top of everything else.
     
  17. new_disaster2

    new_disaster2 Banned

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    I think one way you can make her intimidating would be to give her some special power. Whether that's a superpower, or some kind of massive authority over people to do the intimidation.

    If the former, give her a Brightburn complex where she basically says "Do as I say, or I will kill you." And she sticks with it.

    If the former, I would make her act like Darth Vader but without the force or suit if you catch my drift. Watch how he walks and interacts with imperial officers. Try to mimic that but for a 35 year old woman. Make her clothes all black, as that is the power of authority, or whatever clothing represents authority in your world.
     
  18. AnimalAsLeader

    AnimalAsLeader Member

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    When I think of intimidating, Hannibal Lecter is the first thing that comes into mind. A person who is highly intellegent and has the will and ability to execute their plans. Someone, who even imprisoned, gives off the impression that he/she is in control, that he/she has an ace up their sleeve, maybe even that he/she is imprisoned at least partially because of their own choice ...

    Physical appearance is intimidating when you're wandering alone at night and a big, menacing thug approaches you. The same person is not intimidating if it's broad daylight and lots of people around you.

    That being said, adding physical appearance to the mix can make things even better. But, keep in mind, that a woman will never have a frame as big as a man.

    I think the most intimidating thing about any person is the knowledge of what they're capable of doing.
     
  19. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

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    I'd say the exact opposite of this. Not knowing what someone might do is a lot more scary. People with explosive tempers who could flip shit at any moment are much worse to be around than people who always get mad when their team loses (though both suck obvs)
     
  20. AnimalAsLeader

    AnimalAsLeader Member

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    Well, you need at least some knowledge. You might not know exactly what said person is capable of, but you need to suspect that they are powerful/capable, etc. I agree that the fear of the unknown is a powerful tool, but you can't fear if you have no expectations. This is where the physical appearance comes in. You will never fear a 50kg super skinny nerd with glasses that you have never met. Yes, you don't know what he is capable of, but you will not suspect that he can knock you out with a spinning kick. On the other hand, if the Mountain would stand in front of you flexing his muscles, you would be scared, even if you haven't seen the things that he can do.

    This is actually what I meant by "knowledge". It was a poor explanation on my side, so sorry for that.
     
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  21. Baeraad

    Baeraad Member

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    This. The unknown, to be scary, has to be surrounded by enough of the known that you can start making paranoid guesses about it. Ambiguity is great for this purpose - like, "did he just make a slightly weird off-colour joke, or did he just imply that he wants to rip my spinal chord out??!!"
     
  22. badgerjelly

    badgerjelly Contributor Contributor

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    If she doesn’t have children AND doesn’t care for them, then she would need something else to focus on. Whatever it is can be used to create a sinister impression.

    For example, if a guy has no kids, doesn’t wish for children or marriage, he will still have a certain ... er ... ‘impulse’ to leave a mark on the world and to invest in SOMETHING. This could be an apprentice of sorts or merely a project quite different from his day job - hobby or past-time.

    If you already have this and wish to keep it secret just create something else that isn’t as important but does the job of reflecting something ‘off’ about her motives. Maybe she collects artwork and as her journey through the narrative progresses her art purchases start to become more and more ‘peculiar’ (brutal, violence, gory or just plain dark and disturbing). If you go for an apprentice then maybe this could be used to reflect something of her upbringing; she will treat them how she was treated (or maybe the opposite) giving a glimpse into her psychology.
     
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  23. mochi-melo

    mochi-melo Member

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    I too, like the replies here, like it when a female villain is manipulative. There's something about them that's charming and amusing despite their despicable qualities. I believe there's a reason why most villains tend to be smart. Think of Cinderella's stepmother, she's married but she still manages to take control of the household, something that Cinderella should have inherit. (at least from my perspective, Cinderella is still a noble who's got stripped off of her title) You could take it to the extreme and make them cartoony like the Disney villains. Though a simple grin and glowing eyes are enough to make someone intimidating. *cough* Lady Tremaine *cough*

    Second these. Mothers have the tendency to be very protective, sometimes to the point of being destructive not just to others but also to their children. I've also read that there are some cases (pardon the pun) where some parents of certain criminals still believe that their sons/daughters did nothing wrong even when evidence says otherwise. To give you an example, a kdrama called SIGNAL has a father of a serial killer that refuses to let his son go to prison because he still believes his son was just a broken lonely child.

    But of course, resourceful people, while admirable, if that kind of personality goes to a villain can also be very intimidating. (to the point of being scary) You can imagine a lot of things they can do to you. Should that villain happen to be female, she may use her sex appeal, status, or other people to obtain what she wants.

    Villains that refuse to give up are also scary. It's like a twisted version of a hero. What was once a noble trait becomes a sickening attribute. (and also annoying hahaha :supergrin::superlaugh:)
     
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