Writingforums

Writing Forums is a privately-owned, community managed writing environment. We provide an unlimited opportunity for writers and poets of all abilities, to share their work and communicate with other writers and creative artists. We offer an experience that is safe, welcoming and friendly, regardless of your level of participation, knowledge or skill. There are several opportunities for writers to exchange tips, engage in discussions about techniques, and grow in your craft. You can also participate in forum competitions that are exciting and helpful in building your skill level. There's so much more for you to explore!

How Bad does a Bad Guy Need to be? (1 Viewer)

Gyarachu

WF Veterans
Which would scare readers more, Sauron or John Wayne Gacy? Sauron might be more fun to read about, in an RPG sort of way, but he's not going to be knocking on my door, at 3:00 AM. Someone like Gacy just might... I've never felt dread about any antagonist in any fantasy story I've read, and I have a perfectly well developed imagination, thank you. But really all we are doing here is splitting hairs between the realms of fantasy -- where anything goes, which is fine -- and more realistic fiction in which the readers expect more realistic antagonists. It all goes back to what has been said several times, "the character is as bad as he needs to be for your story."

My point was that I can imagine many things that don't exist, put myself in such a world and such a situation, and imagine what facing such a thing would feel like. Many readers can, and that's why so many are drawn to fantasy. If you cannot do that then yes, the problem is on your end.
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
My point was that I can imagine many things that don't exist, put myself in such a world and such a situation, and imagine what facing such a thing would feel like. Many readers can, and that's why so many are drawn to fantasy. If you cannot do that then yes, the problem is on your end.

What problem?
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
My point was that I can imagine many things that don't exist, put myself in such a world and such a situation, and imagine what facing such a thing would feel like. Many readers can, and that's why so many are drawn to fantasy. If you cannot do that then yes, the problem is on your end.
Who said I couldn't imagine it? I said I'm not afraid of some make believe pure evil entity. I'm more afraid of people that are willing to do anything to cause me and my family as much harm as possible because they exist and have existed.
 

Gyarachu

WF Veterans
What problem?
Who said I couldn't imagine it? I said I'm not afraid of some make believe pure evil entity. I'm more afraid of people that are willing to do anything to cause me and my family as much harm as possible because they exist and have existed.

Well it appears we've gotten nowhere. Time to agree to disagree.

My bad I was going to respond to you, but I didn't and it kept the quote my bad

I figured. No worries.
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
Well it appears we've gotten nowhere. Time to agree to disagree.

Nowhere? Really? A new writer reading through this thread will see that it's important to consider just how she wants her antagonist to come across, and might realize that the nature of the antagonist could very well depend on the genre in which she plans to write. They might also learn that the most important criteria for designing an antagonist is the story itself. A world-eating-mega-demon might be just what's called for in an epic fantasy tale, or the charming sociopath who coaches your kid's baseball team on weekends could be just the ticket for a thriller. Sure, we didn't come to a consensus, but how can we when the needs of our chosen genres vary so much?
 

Jay Greenstein

Senior Member
What people seem to have lost sight of is that good and bad are plot concepts. Our protagonist is good and the, whatever, is evil. So what? Story happens. It's emotion, not fact based, and it's lived, moment-by moment. Stick with the idea of a "bad" character and your antagonist is a plot device whose every thought is to do the things the author dictates, without question. So on the horror movies the evil insects/worms/snakes/zombies, etc., pour out of the ground and no one ever asks what they've been living on, or why they're so fixated on killing our hero.

But in life our antagonist makes decisions based on "What's in it for me?" So do we. Forgetting that, and making the antagonist's driving force be the author's plot line destroys all sense of reality.

The classic structure of a scene/sequel on the page is:

• The protagonist either enters the scene with a short term goal or quickly acquires one.
• She or he is attempting to reach that goal when something interferes.
• The protagonist works to regain control, but each effort is thwarted as the stakes rise and options narrow. This continues until—to stop the scene from descending into melodrama—the protagonist is forced to recognize defeat and withdraw, ending the scene.
• The protagonist must lick his/her wounds, think over what must be done to salvage the situation, and plan for the next encounter. That done the sequel ends and the next scene begins. Danger is greater. Options narrow. But our protagonist is steadfast, of necessity, for reasons we make plain (and which cause poetic justice to demand the protagonist prevail).

Does it matter that the antagonist is an insane megalomaniac or a businessman who needs the protagonist's property for a business deal? No. What matters is that the situation in the moment the protagonist calls "now," causes him/her to stretch and grow—to reach deep inside and become more than they thought they can be.

It's the problem in the moment that keeps the reader turning pages, not some concept like good or evil. When someone is trying to bash your head in you don't worry about good or evil because survival is what counts.

So...toss a body through the overhead to crash onto your protagonist. Set the house on fire and lock the doors. Be a bastard to your poor protagonist and test him/her to the limit. Put the character on a slope, running to keep from falling and unable to catch their balance. Keep the reader to busy worrying about what to do next to think about concepts. Make them care. Make the story move. Screw plot. Plot's for you. Action is what the reader wants.
 

Cran

Da Boss Emeritus
Patron
While I understand the many comments about you don't actually have good guys and bad guys just antagonists and protagonists... but isn't that sort of indicative with modern fantasy, with it's habit of moral grayness and totally ambiguity as to who's actually good? I don't know about you but I think that fiction needs the moral divide, humanizing the villain is all very.... ambiguous of you but fiction is a parody of life, not its perfect reflection. Simply reflecting back what is already in the world, might make you feel all warm and un-hypercritical inside because you aren't called to judge a character, but that doesn't allow us the stark contrast needed for us to make that this side or that judgement. Which I think is important to make.

OK. And yes, these sorts of black and white morality tales exist ... for children. However, the popularity of anti-heroes and shades of moral grey tell us that even older children understand that not everything - in fact, almost nothing - is empirically black or white, good or bad.

We like heroes who face moral dilemmas. We like good people doing bad things. We wanted Butch and Sundance to get away from the Bolivian soldiers. We wanted Han Solo to smuggle stuff and shoot down Empire fighters and bombers. We wanted Wolverine to trash the place. We wanted Gladiator to kick the shit out of the Emperor. We wanted Robin Hood to take Maid Marian (sp?) away from the duly appointed Sheriff of Nottingham, and her maidenhood in the process. We wanted Batman and Spider-Man to kick the crap out of the real villains and escape the vigilante charges against them. We wanted Firefly to outrun the reavers and the central authority to show the people what the real crime was and who did it. We want post-apocalyptic worlds where laws are forgotten and heroes make their own rules, and their own choices.

Perhaps the pendulum will swing back, and perhaps you would be ahead of the curve, but I think that as a story-loving society, we have grown well beyond the simplistic good is good and bad is bad. We know better, and we want stories that don't insult our intelligence.

If the enemy is not redeemable, then it is a waste of space and must be eradicated. Starship Troopers. Lord of the Rings.
 

Gyarachu

WF Veterans
Nowhere? Really? A new writer reading through this thread will see that it's important to consider just how she wants her antagonist to come across, and might realize that the nature of the antagonist could very well depend on the genre in which she plans to write. They might also learn that the most important criteria for designing an antagonist is the story itself. A world-eating-mega-demon might be just what's called for in an epic fantasy tale, or the charming sociopath who coaches your kid's baseball team on weekends could be just the ticket for a thriller. Sure, we didn't come to a consensus, but how can we when the needs of our chosen genres vary so much?

Yes yes that's all well and good, but it's not what I was referring to. The very fact that this is your response reinforces my conclusion that our discussion went nowhere. Not exactly in a negative way. Just a misstep in communication, it seems.

OK. And yes, these sorts of black and white morality tales exist ... for children. However, the popularity of anti-heroes and shades of moral grey tell us that even older children understand that not everything - in fact, almost nothing - is empirically black or white, good or bad.

We like heroes who face moral dilemmas. We like good people doing bad things. We wanted Butch and Sundance to get away from the Bolivian soldiers. We wanted Han Solo to smuggle stuff and shoot down Empire fighters and bombers. We wanted Wolverine to trash the place. We wanted Gladiator to kick the shit out of the Emperor. We wanted Robin Hood to take Maid Marian (sp?) away from the duly appointed Sheriff of Nottingham, and her maidenhood in the process. We wanted Batman and Spider-Man to kick the crap out of the real villains and escape the vigilante charges against them. We wanted Firefly to outrun the reavers and the central authority to show the people what the real crime was and who did it. We want post-apocalyptic worlds where laws are forgotten and heroes make their own rules, and their own choices.

Perhaps the pendulum will swing back, and perhaps you would be ahead of the curve, but I think that as a story-loving society, we have grown well beyond the simplistic good is good and bad is bad. We know better, and we want stories that don't insult our intelligence.

If the enemy is not redeemable, then it is a waste of space and must be eradicated. Starship Troopers. Lord of the Rings.

As usual, responses like this continue to miss the point entirely. Little better than strawmen, and arguably as simplistic as the "morality tales" they're employed to rail against.

But I've tried. We've tried. Many have tried. I think it's just the way it's going to be.
 

Cran

Da Boss Emeritus
Patron
Yes yes that's all well and good, but it's not what I was referring to. The very fact that this is your response reinforces my conclusion that our discussion went nowhere. Not exactly in a negative way. Just a misstep in communication, it seems.



As usual, responses like this continue to miss the point entirely. Little better than strawmen, and arguably as simplistic as the "morality tales" they're employed to rail against.

But I've tried. We've tried. Many have tried. I think it's just the way it's going to be.
I'm sorry, but what point have we missed. I was addressing the OP.

So, ante up. What have I missed?
 

The Fantastical

Senior Member
OK. And yes, these sorts of black and white morality tales exist ... for children. However, the popularity of anti-heroes and shades of moral grey tell us that even older children understand that not everything - in fact, almost nothing - is empirically black or white, good or bad.

We like heroes who face moral dilemmas. We like good people doing bad things. We wanted Butch and Sundance to get away from the Bolivian soldiers. We wanted Han Solo to smuggle stuff and shoot down Empire fighters and bombers. We wanted Wolverine to trash the place. We wanted Gladiator to kick the shit out of the Emperor. We wanted Robin Hood to take Maid Marian (sp?) away from the duly appointed Sheriff of Nottingham, and her maidenhood in the process. We wanted Batman and Spider-Man to kick the crap out of the real villains and escape the vigilante charges against them. We wanted Firefly to outrun the reavers and the central authority to show the people what the real crime was and who did it. We want post-apocalyptic worlds where laws are forgotten and heroes make their own rules, and their own choices.

Perhaps the pendulum will swing back, and perhaps you would be ahead of the curve, but I think that as a story-loving society, we have grown well beyond the simplistic good is good and bad is bad. We know better, and we want stories that don't insult our intelligence.

If the enemy is not redeemable, then it is a waste of space and must be eradicated. Starship Troopers. Lord of the Rings.

Now having had some time to think about it I think you and others here are making the same mistake that a lot of people make. There is a difference between a BAD GUY and a amoral character or a criminal. You say we cheer for Han Solo and Firefly.. yes but they are not the bad guys. They are criminals but they themselves are not bad they don't do morally bad things, by which I mean murdering people, torturing people those kinds of things. They just break the law, a law that most times is set up by the evil controlled antagonists. While you have the Reavers and Darth Sidius who are the true Big Bad in the story behind the scenes who do all of the above and more with a gin on their face.

The moral of the story is that sometimes to be good you have to break the law... but that doesn't translate into doing bad things, to be a anti-hero who isn't actually any better then the "antagonists".

Anyway if you look at all of the stories that you mentioned there is always a bigger, darker, evil behind the "antagonists". There is always a force that can't be humanized. Or talked to, or reasoned with. It is just a part of human nature that there is always a dark force that cannot be reasoned with, that is beyond our understanding. The humans turned to this dark force... they are part of the story I won't disagree with that as they serve as warnings... "Look at the horror that you can become if...". But they are not the Big Bad be it a evil force, a dark shadow in the soul or a corporation who is backing the business man who wants to buy out the family owned store.

So in the end my point is that talking about conflict characters is fine but they are different from the Bad Guy, the evil behind all the "antagonists". How bad does that character/monster/force need to be? And I am happy with the answer of "However bad it needs to be".
 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
The moral of the story is that sometimes to be good you have to break the law... but that doesn't translate into doing bad things, to be a anti-hero who isn't actually any better then the "antagonists".

Antihero protagonists are quite popular, too.

Look at writers like Alan Moore (Watchmen), Frank Miller (Sin City), and Jeff Lindsay (Darkly Dreaming Dexter), to name a few—their heroes often torture, dismember, and/or murder other characters as part of their own form of vigilante justice. Often, the acts are glorified.

Sometimes, bystanders get their heads kicked in if they're unlucky enough to get in the way.

Yes, in the world of black and white, our heroes would never cross moral lines. Two wrongs shouldn't make a right.

But our fiction doesn't have to be in black and white. Sometimes, shit gets messy. :encouragement:
 

Firemajic

Poetry Mentor
Staff member
Senior Mentor
What is bad and good?

To your antagonist(s), what your protagonist(s) is doing is bad; to your protagonist(s), what your antagonist(s) is doing is bad.

There is a very old, but very true, saying in life: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. A person does not wake up one morning and decide to be bad. Things happen in their life that conspire to make that person become what they are. Good guys and villains are no different. Just as there is a fine line between genius and insanity, there is an equally fine line between bad and good, so much so that good people can do bad things, and bad people can do good things, because that's what being a human is.

People don't do bad things just because they can. More often than not, there is an underlying reasoning behind their actions. That's what makes anti-heroes and anti-villains fascinating to write. They're unpredictable.

When you have predictable characters, you also have boring characters.



Don't lynch meee... but maybe I am confusing "EVIL" with "BAD"....
There are people who have no regard for what is right and wrong... they are driven by their own dark desires...could care less if you are pleading and begging for mercy... soooo.... maybe there IS a difference between bad and just plain evil.... anyway...
and another thing... everyone is capable of doing dastardly things, How, you ask? Because they are able to justify the deed...
 

1Zaslowcrane1

Senior Member
I figure that you have to decide what his/her motivation is and understand how that runs counter to the "common good" or even what the protagonist wants/needs. If you're unsure as to how to start, there are lots of great villians in literature. Find one who "speaks" to you and use him/her as a template a sort of jumping off place. I wouldn't recommend trying to "reinvent the wheel" if you're having difficulties. Also someone mentioned Looper (Great film) as how and why the protagonist and antagonist might "shift", however try to avoid allowing the distinction to become too grey otherwise you'll end up confusing a large portion of your audience (with mixed feelings about all of the characters), which was why Looper was not a commercial success.
I'm not suggesting writing "down" to your readers, only that you make the distinctions apparent to any who wish to understand. There such of a things as "being too smart for the room".
My villians were frequently very grey and I feel that my stories could have been better had I made the motivations of the antagonist a bit more...evil (selfish/self centered/ you pick your adjective at this point), so I'm coming from a place where I'm trying to move just a bit more toward "simpler", so take my comments with a grain of salt.
 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
Also someone mentioned Looper (Great film) as how and why the protagonist and antagonist might "shift", however try to avoid allowing the distinction to become too grey otherwise you'll end up confusing a large portion of your audience (with mixed feelings about all of the characters), which was why Looper was not a commercial success.

I definitely agree that we shouldn't confuse our audience too much (unless, of course, confusing your audience is part of your goal! :D).

But I have to point out: Looper was certainly a commercial success—in worldwide sales, the film earned nearly six times its production budget, and reached #2 at the Box Office.

Audiences seemed to appreciate the grayness of it all. :encouragement:
 

Newman

Senior Member
This is partly from wanting to know for my own book but also out of interest as I haven't read a lot about writing bad guys.... How bad does a bad guy need to be?

There's a theory that the bad guy is the extreme antithesis of your central idea.

Take The Walking Dead ATM: arguably, a central idea ATM is "caring about other people" ; Rick is good because he cares about other people (which is why he isn't reacting, for fear of what will happen to his "family") and that Negan is bad because he doesn't care about anyone else at all.

Negan is constructed with that root in mind; Lucille helps him take that root to the extreme.
 

Cran

Da Boss Emeritus
Patron
Now having had some time to think about it I think you and others here are making the same mistake that a lot of people make. There is a difference between a BAD GUY and a amoral character or a criminal.
That is exactly the point we were trying to make. For instance, I said something like: sometimes good people do bad things; and with the Firefly example, there is a group on the wrong side of the law who ended up exposing the greater evil - something in common with most anti-heroes or vigilantes.

I'm trying to remember the name of a story/film that was remade with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones - they then went on to make a sequel called US Marshals - in which both the protagonist and the antagonist were good people doing what they believed was the right and only thing to do; the real bad guys were represented in minor supporting roles.

So, it comes back to who are the actors in your drama, and where does the true evil lie.


So in the end my point is that talking about conflict characters is fine but they are different from the Bad Guy, the evil behind all the "antagonists". How bad does that character/monster/force need to be? And I am happy with the answer of "However bad it needs to be".
I'm good with that, and with your clarification of what you meant by bad guy.

And there, the usual motivations are power (control), revenge or abhorrence, or arrogant superiority (people as nuisance vermin to be eradicated or home worlds to consume or remove).
 

Kyle R

WF Veterans
I'm trying to remember the name of a story/film that was remade with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones - they then went on to make a sequel called US Marshals - in which both the protagonist and the antagonist were good people doing what they believed was the right and only thing to do; the real bad guys were represented in minor supporting roles.

The Fugitive. A classic! :D (Though, until you said so, I had no idea it was a remake. Learn something new every day.)
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top