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Thread: Making interesting villains

  1. #11
    The great thing I've noticed about writing villains is that you can make them as complex or shallow as you want and still find ways to make them interesting, or at least entertaining. For example, the villain in a story I've written is a fanatical Catholic priest who becomes a vampire. Oh, and he keeps a cult of children that he fathered from many incestuous unions. So he's pretty nasty, but I'll admit he's one note as far as characters go.

    Point is, you don't always have to write shakespearian level villains, sometimes having a disgusting monster for it's own sake can work too from time to time.

  2. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Tatami_Matt View Post
    I think that's an excellent rule, but I'd argue it's best to even go one step further and make sure there isnt a fatal flaw in his logic. Rather than straw manning the villain, I think the goal should be to "steel man" him: to have his argument so solid and logical that it almost can't be contended with. In that scenario, the protagonist has a real fight on their hands.
    I completely agree.

    The best antagonists (at least to me) are the ones with rock-solid arguments. The ones where you have a hard time deciding who you want to root for.

    It doesn't always have to be black and white, villain versus hero. You can also have morally gray characters locked in opposition with each other, each with their own compelling motivations.

  3. #13
    I'm kind of torn on this. I think "bad for the sake of bad" villains are a lot of fun, to read and to write. But it is true that villains who honestly believe they are right are much scarier. I guess it depends on what kind of story you're writing.
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  4. #14
    My current 'villain' is literally doing his best to make the world a better place in the time he has, and since he's in a medieval fantasy world, has to kill people, usurp rulers and conquer lands in order to do so.

    My protag is the one who brought him into the world, and becomes his enemy because he only sees the short term results of the 'villains' actions without understanding the reasoning or even caring to find out.

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  5. #15
    Villains, like all characters, are constructed for the reader much more by how other characters see them than by how they are described as an individual. You can give anyone a biography of your villain, but for them to come to life in the story as 'the villain', they have to matter to much more than just themselves.

    To make my villains feel more fleshed out, more 'three-dimensional', I try to give multiplem perspectives on their villainy through multiple different characters, some major and some minor. I try to keep them as a regular point of discussion - a villain forgotten by the characters is a villain that the reader will forget too.

    Most of all, I try to craft my villains in tandem with crafting my heroes, because they are linked by the narrative dynamic they partake in: the hero must want something, the villain must be some sort of obstacle they have to get past. The relationship between the hero and the villain is the most important thing to make 'real' for the reader, so I try to prioritize that above all other relationships when I'm working out what's going on in my stories.
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  6. #16
    Isn't the villains moral argument defined by the story's premise though? It sounds like people are talking about their villains as if, they have already created some of the story already and haven't gotten around to the villain's moral argument yet. But wouldn't the villain's moral argument be the first thing in the story you come up with?

    For example, a while ago, I came up with a story premise about using time travel to make money. So there's the villains motive right there, in the very idea for a story I thought up.

    So I feel that the idea for the very premise of the story would normally be the moral argument, and not something you come up with later on, as some may think. Unless I am wrong of course?

  7. #17
    Has anybody else tried writing with the villain as the main protagonist (I won't call him the 'hero', but you see what I mean) ? The only version I can think of in mainstream fiction is 'Lord of the Flies', or possibly 'The true history of the Kelly Gang'. I have a short story where the 'hero' works with the Mafia and commits a fairly gruesome murder, hanging the body up in the shower and slicing him up into small pieces for disposal, but he does it to get the girl he loves and to save his friend's mother. I don't see why villains shouldn't have reasonable motives, most people are not bad through and through any more than they are complete angels. As they see it they are doing what they have to to get by, so maybe a convincing or interesting villain is simply a convincing or interesting human being.
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  8. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Olly Buckle View Post
    Has anybody else tried writing with the villain as the main protagonist (I won't call him the 'hero', but you see what I mean) ?
    Not for a whole book, I don't want to write or read that. But for a short story, yes, to explore those people. At the extreme, I have a horribly disgusting short about a man starting to molest his girlfriend's daughter while the girlfriend ignores what he's doing. So he's a horrible person, but he's a complicated character, and I try to make him 10-20% sympathetic.

    I'm trapped by my anger and lust. A woman I can use however I want. A maturing teenager with smooth skin who lets me touch her. How can I leave that? They imprison me here in their web of temptations and deception.
    That's still disgusting, at least to me, but it's not drooling evilness.
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  9. #19
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    My "ideal" villain is strong physically and / or mentally. And not morally weak, but "differently abled", so to speak.
    I actually think the perfect villain was played by Neil Patrick Harris in "Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog." You don't have to get overly complex for the bad guy to be... er, good.
    Giving the villain just enough flaws (as well as the hero) makes for interesting stories.
    Unless you're re-writing the script for "Godzilla vs. Bambi". Simplicity works well in short, very short stories.
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  10. #20
    If you wanna write some complex villains, then watch NARCOs on Netflix.
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