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Thread: Crafting a 'Villain' with a bit of depth

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Crafting a 'Villain' with a bit of depth

    So I have my works plotted and am flushing them out right now.

    The books are intended for a YA audience and they are supernatural, romantic (but not the full emphasis) and hopefully a little thrilling.

    I am struggling with two elements atm.

    1) Crafting a villain who has some depth (I don't want him to just 100% evil, I need him to have sorta fallen into his villainous path and just have his humanity deteriorate as he spirals downwards) I want him to have been at one point likeable and maybe even honourable.

    My issue with this is I find myself constantly thinking of him in binaries. I am either handling him as the most evil thing in creation or getting a saccharine and nostalgic whim and creating this like pathetic victim of circumstance. I need to balance his character better and find that aporia and just kind of reconcile where he is now and how he arrived there.

    Do you guys find it hard to break out the binary as well? Any tips on not being so black and white and creating a more rounded character?

    2) I am also struggling with his end goal. Essentially he is looking to construct a dystopian future but I am having a really hard time flushing out what that future should be. Again I think I sometimes lean a little too much towards the ridiculous (like SUPER evil)

    When you have your plot set and your characters for the most part constructed what do you do when you are still struggling with a pretty main aspect of your narrative?

    Any Villains you particularly love?
    What did you love about them?

    Thank you so much for reading this in advance and all comments are very appreciated

    Lots of love,

    Catherine

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  2. #2
    Learning About New Fish Trevor Z's Avatar
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    Potentially you could really try to illustrate the reasons for why the villain is doing his evil things, if not just for the sake of evil.

    Is he doing it for greed? Desperation? Does he feel he has to do evil for the greater good? What's the motivation?

    (Star Wars spoilers coming up, skip this section and go buy them if you've never seen the movies)

    On the flipside, if another character feels that the villain has the potential to be redeemed, the audience will often follow along--think Dark Vader. He was pretty much a terrible, horrible person, yet he had his few moments of redemption at the very end.

  3. #3
    permanently suctioned to Buz's leg Putputt's Avatar
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    Don't think of him as a "villain". Think of him as someone whose belief system happens to clash with your MC's. Think of him the same way you would your MC. What is his story? Tell it from his POV. Keep that in mind when you write the book.

    My favorite "villains" are the complex ones who make us torn between hating them and sympathizing with them, such as Jamie Lannister from ASOIAF. In the beginning of the series, Jamie does an extremely evil deed (he pushes a little boy off a ledge because the boy saw Jamie having sex with his twin sister). However, in later books, we see a new side to Jamie that quite honestly made me sympathize with him. Sadly, I can't think of any in YA. I find YA rife with black and white characters, which is kinda why I quickly grew sick of the genre. Maybe I just haven't read enough YA...
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    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    thank you so much for those comments.

    I don't want the character to be so one dimensional. I like the idea that his journey just does not align with the MC's.

    I want him to have moments where his humanity is very apparent moments where you are almost rooting for him despite yourself.

    I love feedback...I don't know any writers irl so when I ask my inner circle things like this they kinda just look at me all googlie-eyed!

  5. #5
    I heart sexy elves and wizards. fredXgeorge's Avatar
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    It might help to think of him/her as an 'antagonist' rather than a 'villain'. That is, someone whose goals are in direct opposition to the protagonist's. Just the word 'villain' conjures up thoughts of a cartoonishly evil character. Do you have any idea of his background? Maybe fleshing out his life a bit could help you in regards to what his goals actually are. Was he brought up indoctrinated in some way? Did something happen in his childhood to fuel his anger? Maybe he just doesn't like the world as it is.

    Something else to remember is that everyone is the hero of their own story. He has to believe that what he is doing is the right thing. I doubt even people who have committed the worst atrocities in our own history sat there twirling his moustache and saying 'muahahaha', because they believed in their cause. Doesn't make it right, but it does create a much more well-rounded character. Everyone has values and weakness, including people they love, or have loved at some point, and hobbies.

    Maybe try interviewing your character. Forcing them to have answers to both fun and serious questions might help you 'see' them a little more. I don't do that, but I know it really helps some other people.

    Anyway, I'll stop rambling now. Hope it helps!
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  6. #6
    Vengeful Crystaline Hawk 45C AW Moderator Zoombie's Avatar
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    Give your villain a REASON to do things.

    A good reason!

    Heck, the villain in my book rams a spaceshuttle into a space elevator which ends up killing a million people...and he's actually got a fairly good reason to do it.

    Find that reason.
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    figuring it all out Darkh0rse's Avatar
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    I think there is some good advice here from the previous poster. I will add my two cents and hope it helps.

    Let's look to history to see about answering your questions. It is said that Adolf Hitler was charismatic, extremely good at oratory and a war hero (from World War I).

    Now, if you took the name out and put another in, would you think that person a villain? I wouldn't. I would see a war hero, perhaps someone who was politically motivated and probably a pillar-of-the-community type.

    Hitler wanted to unite Europe and in his mind, it was fully justified. Obviously, there were many who disagreed, and I am thankful they did. I'm not particularly fond of the German language, as it seems rather guttural, although I do like the beer. (okay, and the women)

    So:

    Quote Originally Posted by catherineshanahan
    1) Crafting a villain who has some depth (I don't want him to just 100% evil, I need him to have sorta fallen into his villainous path and just have his humanity deteriorate as he spirals downwards) I want him to have been at one point likeable and maybe even honourable.
    The villain of your book could merely believe that the path of the people lies in a different direction, and as such, strives to take them there (kicking and screaming if need be). He believes what is being done is for the greater good, that he has <insert deity> on his side and therefore, all actions done are justified.

    Quote Originally Posted by catherineshanahan
    2) I am also struggling with his end goal. Essentially he is looking to construct a dystopian future but I am having a really hard time flushing out what that future should be. Again I think I sometimes lean a little too much towards the ridiculous (like SUPER evil)
    Perhaps he wants to create a 'paradise', where only the 'chosen race' is allowed to reside? In his mind, there would be no other race aside from the one he was a member of. So, lets say he is purple. Well, only purple people are allowed to inhabit it. He will take over other territories and turn those green, pink and orange folks into slaves or kill them. They are not required for the 'master race', so they are nothing more than an issue that needs to 'go away'.

    I'm not saying you need to 'go' this route, I'm only giving an example of a direction you 'could' go.

    There are many different directions. Your villain might believe that all humans are in need of 'fixing'. Thus they would be provided drugs to make them more tractable.

    Or, the entire population could be assigned numbers and only allowed out for four hours a day, and cameras are on them twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. If anyone ever leaves a camera view for more than 10 seconds, they are interrogated for days on end as a possible rebellious faction.

    Come up with something in your mind that you think would be one of THE worst ways of living, and put it on paper. Then see how it works.

    Hope that helps.

  8. #8
    Partial or semi awareness of the effect post effect:

    Ex. A mercenary is briefed on a mission to assassinate a particular warlord, however he's not aware of the fact that he has kids he has to feed too, and might have gone about it differently if he had known.

    Ex2. A rival general is briefed on a mission thats meant to assassinate him, so he changes his route in another directly where he changes his flank maneuver to attack another village, however he's unaware that these soldiers are better armed than his unit.

    Also, in my own dystopia its actually Utopia, is a means to an end. They truly want a perfect world, however what he considers perfect is drastically different than what other want, who have their own end goals.

  9. #9
    Holed up in the revision cave Niiicola's Avatar
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    I'd recommend writing out his backstory, but not necessarily with the intent of putting that into your manuscript. It's time-consuming to write extra stuff, but I always, always find it helps with character development. Then you'll have a whole wealth of details about him that you can pull out and weave into the narrative, and some of those details will hopefully be things that make him more interesting and enable your audience to see why he is the way he is.

    In terms of favorite villains, I'm a big fan of the Darkling from Shadow and Bone. Dreamy and very bad. King Leck from Graceling and Fire is also excellent, though not very sympathetic.

  10. #10
    I aim to misbehave Myrealana's Avatar
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    I always try to remember this:
    "The villian is the hero of his own story."

    He has a goal, motivation and conflicts. He thinks he has the right, or responsibility, or destiny to acomplish whatever it is he's trying to do.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Myrealana View Post
    I always try to remember this:
    "The villian is the hero of his own story."

    He has a goal, motivation and conflicts. He thinks he has the right, or responsibility, or destiny to acomplish whatever it is he's trying to do.
    I agree with this. Creating an antagonist is no different than creating any other character. Everyone has a goal.

  12. #12
    Eight Legs, All Holding Pens ArachnePhobia's Avatar
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    Definitely, the villain's dimensions will come from his motives. The villain, like the hero, has a goal that he at least sees as essential to his survival. The difference between a villain and a hero- most of the time, anyway- is how far he's willing to go, what lines he's willing to cross, to achieve that goal. Varney, in Varney the Vampyre, is being blackmailed. His goal is to acquire the exorbitant amount of money required to pay off the blackmailer. The reader doesn't have to be evil themselves to understand why Varney wants the money. The villainy is that he's willing to lie, cheat, steal, murder, and throw innocent people under the bus to get it.

    To figure out what kind of dystopian future your baddie wants to create, ask yourself this: What is it your villain dislikes about the current world so much that he wants to change it, even if those changes create something worse (or wipe everything out totally)? This does not have to be a good reason. In Final Fantasy VI, Kefka watches the Empire succeed in conquering most of the world, realizes they still have problems and setbacks, and takes that to its logical conclusion: the only way to "win"- to really eliminate all pain, loss, and conflict, both personal and collective- is to kill everyone, including himself. Most players are going to think, "Gee, that's kind of a bad idea," but they can also see why he got to that point.

    Also, it's important to humanize him. You don't necessarily have to make him sympathetic, or load him with tragedies, but unless he's supposed to be alien and uncanny there have to be moments when the reader sees something of themselves in him. This is what ultimately made me fall so hard for Cobra Commander in G.I. Joe. His sinister plot will be going along and suddenly, he'll mention something unrelated - he doesn't like the song on the radio, he's not taking fashion advice from someone wearing an open vest and gold chain, he thinks he's coming down with a cold - that is both unexpected but on reflection exactly what a real person, in that place and situation, would be thinking or talking about.
    Last edited by ArachnePhobia; 12-13-2012 at 06:46 AM.
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  13. #13
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    So much good advice. This has really helped to focus! I really like what was noted about Cobra!

  14. #14
    Maybe it was Utah. nightowling's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ArachnePhobia View Post
    To figure out what kind of dystopian future your baddie wants to create, ask yourself this: What is it your villain dislikes about the current world so much that he wants to change it, even if those changes create something worse (or wipe everything out totally)?
    Yes, if you write out his backstory I think it will help you to figure out what dystopian state he wants and why he wants it. I've found it helpful to do writing exercises like an interview with a character, or writing out one chapter from the first person POV of a character who is not the MC, just to get inside other characters' heads for a bit and understand them better.

    Maybe an institution in the current world abused him, took away his family, etc, so now he wants to dismantle that world/institution that he hates so much?

    To help figure out the deterioration of his once-honorable intentions: what is something that you hate about the world, and how would you change it if you had the power? Then take that a step further and think of various ways that the initial good change could spiral out of control over time.

  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW Maria S's Avatar
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    My favorite villains are Regina from Once Upon a Time, and Milady Di Winter from The Three Musketeers. In my opinion, the best villains are the ones you secretly are rooting for. Or even the ones you secretly admire. Give him valid reasons for being who he is, and doing what he does. Make him likable, maybe even charismatic.

  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW auriel's Avatar
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    Give your villain some sympathetic moments, times when the reader could almost justify agreeing with him. Maybe some actions in his past that aren't evil - that are downright angelic, even. Real people have dark and light sides. Good intentions, but evil actions.

    I had a villain help destroy technology worldwide, reduced the population of humanity to near extinction, built himself a little prison empire and ruled it with an iron fist. He did all that because he thought he was saving people from themselves. That he was the only one who could fix things. At the core, he wanted to help. It's just impossible to believe, because his methods were so incredibly warped. But he thought he was being a hero.

  17. #17
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin JayneFowler's Avatar
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    I've been going backwards, writing out shorts about my characters, and nothing has been more helpful than doing this with my big bad.

    He wants to wipe out an entire group of people who he sees as incredibly dangerous, a belief that was seeded when his wife was murdered by one in front of their young son and grew as he encountered more of them. A lot of people would agree that he's right by getting rid of them, that he's making the world a safer place.

    But my MC, as well as all of her family and friends, fall into the group that he's trying to exterminate. Since the story is from her point of view, and we're obviously rooting for her, the big bad seems "evil."

    Instead of just "writing backstory", write an actual story. 1000 words from the POV of your villain, about what made them who they are, will probably give you new perspective. Even when he was honorable, he wasn't all good. Pick up on the flaws that he's always had and stretch them and build them up, while breaking down his honorable qualities, to turn him into the villain you're writing about now.

  18. #18
    Going on a mental vacation. Clueless's Avatar
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    Look at William Shurman. He was the definition of evil for a lot of people both during and after the U.S. Civil War. His march down the Southern States devestated the lives of millions. He essentially crippled the Southern economy. He ravaged the countryside, destroyed every railroad track that he could see, let his men eat all the crops they could find and then burned the rest and burned civillians out of their houses only to be killed or raped by his troops.

    But he did that all for a reason; so that the men that he was in charge of, whose lives had been handed to him for care, could have a better chance of surviving the war. Not only on the march down the Southern States, but also on their return and the rest of the war.

    There are multiple accounts from his men on how he'd retreat to his tent at the end of a long day and disappear for hours before rejoining his men. Also, after the war, he refused to be called a hero and spent the rest of his days preaching to people about the horror of war, of what it does to a person.

    I think that the actions of an antagonist could be pardoned by his reasons and character. If your antagonist wants to build a dystopian society, give him a great reason and a relatable character and no reader will be able to blame him. They might hate him, but they won't be able to write him off, either.
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  19. #19
    figuring it all out L.W.Patricks's Avatar
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    One of my favourite books is the 'Name of the Game is Death', a pulp crime book that has quite the villainous main character. The chapters alternate between present and the past and you get to see how he develops into big bad he is today. Perhaps you can write some backstory and insert it in between stanzas of your book? And for an entire source outside of typical novels, check out Batman's baddies. I'm serious. Find a copy of Alan Moore's - the Killing Joke and have a read. One of the greatest villain stories ever told =)
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