Making interesting villains


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Thread: Making interesting villains

  1. #1

    Making interesting villains

    In his book 'The Anatomy of Story', Truby writes the following:

    "The key to good moral dialogue by the opponent is not to set him up as a straw man, an opponent who appears formidable but is really hollow. Never give your opponent an obviously weak argument. Give him the best, most compelling argument you can. Make sure he is right about some things. But also make sure there is a fatal flaw in his logic."

    I have been thinking about this a lot, and it seems true. One thing that is difficult for many people, is that having ones worldview questioned can create genuine discomfort. Truly seeing the opponents side, is something even the best debaters can have a problem with at times.

    I think there are two ways of making your villain believable.

    First, make their side to the story compelling. In Crime and Punishment, Raskilnikov takes a very long time to argue with himself about the murder, before going through with it. In the manga Death Note, Light wants to rid the world of crime, something we can all apreciate as a motivation on some level.

    The second way seems to be to make your villain relatable and understandable as a person. Instead of having a villain who for no reason goes "haha, I shall destroy the world now!", have them perhaps grow up in an environment, where all they see is injustice and corruption. In that world, there is not much room for good.

    Thoughts on this? Have you ever struggled with making villains that feel real?
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  2. #2
    There's no such thing as a villain in my things. There are only degrees of moral turpentine. People might pine for their lost innocence, but it isn't coming back.
    I like best antagonists that think that they are on moral high ground (or are), or who have a justified cause. Much more grounds for complexity than standard black-and-white morality.
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  3. #3
    The main villain in my manuscript is a libertine. Though he comes across as charming when with the protagonist (he dementedly loves her), I wrote him so that the reader would be shocked at what lengths he goes to satisfy his manias. From feedback several beta readers gave me, this made my manuscript a page-turner. I'm glad :'D I put a lot of love into crafting crazy characters.

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  4. #4
    Member Hill.T.Manner's Avatar
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    When I write a villain I try to make sure there's enough back story to explain why he/she/it is the way they are. Otherwise, it comes across like you've just written in a hollow character who's only lot in life is to eventually be defeated. If you attach a level of humanity to them it makes it that much more liberating when they're finally defeated.
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  5. #5
    The villain should be defined by the premise, so once you have thought of a premise, the villain should be defined from there, as far as motive goes, but then maybe you need to add on how he/she changes as the story's execution goes along, if they change at all.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by AdrianBraysy View Post
    "The key to good moral dialogue by the opponent is not to set him up as a straw man, an opponent who appears formidable but is really hollow. Never give your opponent an obviously weak argument. Give him the best, most compelling argument you can. Make sure he is right about some things. But also make sure there is a fatal flaw in his logic."
    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 think the best villains are those who do have the logical high-ground, and sometimes the moral one, but are motivated not by the desire to do something right, but by their own twisted pathologies. Since Light from Death Note was mentioned, I'll use him as an example. In the first episode, and for the first few chapters, Light seems to be genuinely killing criminals out of an ideal to make the world a better place. I think most people would argue that, logically, that's a good move. Maybe morally, although I'd bet anyone who said it's morally correct wouldn't be so willing to pull the trigger themselves. But as the series goes on, we find out his real motivation is this deep-seeded God-Complex he has--his own inflated ego and undeserved sense of self importance. He's not righteous, and he isn't justice--he's a stupid little kid trying to make everything the way he wants it, and he's masking that truth behind the moral ideology of trying to make the world a better place. Same with Lelouche from Code Geass: he masks his own ego and need for revenge behind giving his sister a better world to live in. Now, both of those characters are the protagonists of their own stories, but nobody would argue they couldn't just as easily be villains.

    Conversely, Thanos in the most recent Avenger's movie is the opposite of this. He's got a plan that he thinks is the only way to ensure the survival of the universe, and he's convinced himself that he's right. However, he doesn't take any pleasure in the idea of murdering half the universe. He struggles with moral choices, clearly, throughout the film, and it's only because he's utterly brainwashed himself into thinking that his way is right that he's even a villain at all. It's why a lot of people raved about him as the antagonist--his point was, while maybe not entirely sympathetic, at least coldly and calculatingly logical--and it was an unarguable logic: half the universe gone, twice the resources for everyone. Murder half the people now, ensure a universe for the unborn people of the future. It makes sense--it's just abysmally morally incorrect.

  7. #7
    Member Guard Dog's Avatar
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    You mean you typed all that out, mentioned Marvel movies... and ended with Thanos?

    No mention at all of Erik Killmonger, Baron Zemo, or ALL of the Avengers from Captain America: Civil war, at all?

    Amateur.




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  8. #8
    To me a villain either needs to intimidate me, or amuse me.
    If I read the story and feel like I could kick that guy's ass then he wasn't a very good villain (unless he's a fun villain like Dennis Hopper in Waterworld.)

    My last villain was a narcissist with a comb-over. Guess where I got my inspiration from.

  9. #9
    I go the other way, I make my heroes far from perfect, not to the extent that they become villains.

    You could go to the classics, Woman in White has a great villain, an aristocratic foreigner, the perfect qualification, or like Moriaty, always shadowy, in the background. That saves you having to do any description at all, just variations on 'mysterious'
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  10. #10
    Member Sir-KP's Avatar
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    Well, yeah, I agree. It's all about moral for me.

    IMO a villain's moral doesn't always have to have a positive reason within its major flaws. They instead can be an obvious d*ckhead that their only purpose is to fulfill their own stomach, although of course the whole thing still has to be rational, such as what sparked the motive, what/who influenced them, how they can act like this, etc.

    I mean, I have clear examples all over the domestic news So, yeah...

    Anyway, I leave interesting or not to the readers. One of my friends is the type who likes that simple 'I'm bad cuz I'm bad' villain.

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