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Thread: Writing the Villain?

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW vicky271's Avatar
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    Writing the Villain?

    So, today I finally found that villain that will be woven into my series. I started working on the series in the summer. I figured out the ending (only to discover that the first trilogy was just the first part of the series...though idk how many books there will be at this time. Still trying to figure that out) to the first section of the series. Before we switch to brand new characters. The problem is this "villain" is 100% morally good. He isn't evil. He doesn't want power. He doesn't care about ruling the world. Or money. And he loves his black castle. He loves showing people around. He's got a wife, and children. And he's genuinely happy. AND yet he's corrupting people. But he's one of those guys whose too nice...but not fake. 100% genuine.

    Here's my question: How do I flesh this out?? I'm FASCINATED by him. He's super interesting. But i'm not sure where to go from here. I know in my gut he's the over arching villain i've been searching for. But I have no idea what to do next...

    How do you flesh out a villain?
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  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW indianroads's Avatar
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    No real advice other than get into his head and show his justifications, the why behind doing bad for good reasons.

    My first novel, never published, was from the POV of a vampire. It was a fun write, all in first person immediate ( or whatever the proper term is ).

  3. #3
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    How is your villain corrupting people? Does he do it intentionally? What is his alignment specifically (e.g., lawful good)?

    What is the source of your villain/MC conflict?

    I took someone's advice recently that your villain has to be AT LEAST as respectable as your hero... and I went so hard that I had to switch the novel to his POV because what followed was so epic. A couple of thoughts about great villains come to my mind.

    It helps if villains believe in what they do, and are willing to stomp boundaries to get what they want. You should consider a sympathetic motivation (I went with jealousy) that people can relate to, even if how they act on that motivation is completely screwed up. You can consider giving them qualities that implies an adherence to their own moral code or standards (what WON'T your villain do? what must he do to do right by himself?). Unflinchingly stopping at nothing is something most people don't have the nerve to do.

    I did a compare/contrast with my hero and villain and gave them opposing qualities that would create interesting situations. My villain has masterful self-control, speaks with elegance, is persuasive and charming. My hero can't articulate himself to save his life and has anger management problems. It's simple for my villain to make my hero look bad--not to the reader, but in the eyes of others in the story. My villain also has a physical problem that the hero lacks and this plays on the villain's mental state.

    The villain doesn't have to be right, you don't have to endorse him. But he should be every bit as compelling as your hero and maybe even a little more powerful/skilled/etc. If he isn't, what measure of triumph is there for your hero?

    Light doesn't always equal good, either... and someone else's good deeds can antagonize another person's agenda...
    Last edited by blackcat777; 12-06-2017 at 11:04 AM.

  4. #4
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    "Villains" should be good imo. Just about perspective. Actions come down to justification. It needs to be that he has clear priorities and goals which, seen from another angle, put him at odds with someone else.

    A modern day example: Having children is generally not seen as evil. But by choosing to have your own child, you have probably condemned someone else's to die, or to have a poor quality life (as compared to donating the money you'd have spent, or adopting yourself.)

    Nestle kills around 800,000 kids per year but you can still be a good person (by societal reckoning) and work for them. I don't think of myself as evil and I still buy Cheerios; yet I'm complicit nonetheless.

    A missionary might be a good person and believe he needs to destroy parts of a foreign culture in order to save the people he's living among.

    A father might think scaring off his son's unsuitable wife is a good if difficult thing to do. A mother might think it is morally necessary to genitally mutilate her daughter.



    Then there's the classic question of greater good. 'The Ecolitan Engima' by LE Modesitt has the main character working for an organisation whose job is to ensue galactic peace among humanity's spacefaring nations. When the MC finds out that one of the nations is preparing for war and has stealthily killed thousands of people already, he ends up faced with a choice--allow a war to go ahead in which billions die, or kill 100,000 innocents to stop said war.

    MC makes his choice. He slings a starship full of metal into an inhabited planet and wipes out the rogue empire with one stroke, ending the war before it began--and saving billions. Was it right? Wrong? In another book, he could easily have been the villain. In this one he was the protagonist.

    Some quotes:


    "You're holding a people responsible for the actions of a few leaders."


    "Exactly. Who else should be held responsible?" asked Nathaniel. "They allow the system to continue. No government can stand against its people, not if they really want to change it. So... any protests that they can't do anything about it are really a statement that they don't want to pay the price for changing it." (p325)


    People didn't protest against their government, Nathaniel argues; they refused to act to prevent tyranny and war. Their downfall by him is therefore deserved. This is a classic villain line you will see in many films and books: they got what they deserved, dontcha know.

    But Nathaniel is undeniably 'good', as well as upright, intelligent, thoughtful, and deeply moral. And all the more compelling as a character, for it.
    Happiness, is just a word to me
    And it might have meant a thing or two
    If I'd known the difference.

  5. #5
    practical experience, FTW thereeness's Avatar
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    I agree with Harlequin, it's all about perspective.

    There's this really awesome quote, one of many, about how "villains are the heroes of their own stories." (I can't remember who said it, but it's out there.) Basically, a villain won't see their actions as wrong. They do them for their own reasons and are completely justified in doing so. Think of Hannibal Lecter. He was a serial murderer, but he was also cultured, refined, an excellent chef, and a philanthropist (before his murdering ways were discovered.) Yet to him, everything he did was completely understandable, even necessary. He rid the world of rude people and gave them a purpose they wouldn't otherwise have had. There are other examples, but he's the first one that comes to my mind.

    Further, a villain can be motivated by love. Love can be a huge motivator, for both the protagonist and villain/antagonist. Love motivates the hero to rescue someone, to sacrifice him/herself, to achieve things he/she wouldn't have thought possible. Love motivates the villain to do whatever it takes to keep them safe, to make them happy, and also to achieve things he/she wouldn't have thought possible.

    A villain who works from the emotions of love or benevolence or generosity is entirely capable of corrupting people while serving his own needs and it will be entirely justified in their mind. As to how to flesh your villain out, find out first what motivates him. Is it love? Or is it something else? Once you find out what motivates him into corrupting other people, then you can start building the rest of his character. Further, again as Harlequin mentioned, his motives need to put him at odds with the protagonist. They can be motivated by similar emotions, but their end goals should clash. Otherwise, there's no story XD

    Good luck though, sounds like your villain's going to be fun to write!
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  6. #6
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    I second the above, especially the idea that some of the best villains are motivated by perfectly normal and understandable needs or wants. They stand in direct opposition to the protagonist, that's all. It doesn't mean the villain is evil, it just means the villain has, does or also wants something that gets the protag into trouble because the villain is following his or her own script.

    Depending on genre, an antagonist is sometimes the protag's strongest force for change in the character arc. So if your story has a protagonist who changes a lot by the end, the antagonist is probably pushing him the hardest. (That's what makes him the antagonist!).

    I love Harlequin's example of the person who destroys a whole people to prevent something that hasn't happened yet. That is very evil, yet the character probably thought he had a moral duty to do it. This wraps into all kinds of moral and ethical exceptionalism and even fanaticism.

  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW indianroads's Avatar
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    “Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions.”
    - T.S. Eliot

  8. #8
    Travelling around the sun cbenoi1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vicky271 View Post
    How do you flesh out a villain?
    Give him/her values that are opposite the Hero/Heroine and make the fight about the same goal. Or about the same moral argument.

    A good example: http://truby.com/the-dark-knight-2008/

    A more thorough explanation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Djd1CpDQ3Q0

    Mind the 'Crime' versus ' Detective' genre thingy; Truby uses those terms for story structures which is often confused with story genres as we know them. Just focus on how Truby designs an Opponent. Opponent instead of Villain, because the Opponent -opposes- the Hero, and as it is in your case the Villain is not exactly a bad guy. Truby talks about a fight. That fight can be physical. It can also be intellectual. Not all stories end in a blood bath.

    Hope this helps.

    -cb
    Last edited by cbenoi1; 12-06-2017 at 07:58 PM.

  9. #9
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    The best villain to me is someone who partly realises they are evil and they suffer for it. They know intuitively that they are doing wrong, but they can't get out of the pit they are in that seems to force them to do evil things. This metaphorical pit can of course be anything from society to tradition to lazyness to juxtaposed needs of their close of kin. It makes for a more riveting character when you make their intuition bubble with the understanding that what they are doing is not right, but intellectually they refuse to accept it and develop mental gymnastics to talk themselves out of it. With these characters internal/external dialogue can also be used as the character battles between systems of ethics, namely deontology or consequentialism. This makes the character an easy type develop an arc through self-realization.

    The next best villain is someone with a conflict of interest with the main character. This, I believe, is also the most common in adult literature.

    There are also people in the world that are truly evil and understand that they are evil, but they personally value their self higher than societal morals (or are unable to intuitively understand moral). We usually call these people mentally ill, but that's not always the case. These characters rarely interest me in stories. They are so difficult to write believably that very few authors succeed in conveying their motivations so that the reader can actually relate to them. If one succeeds, they make for a great villain, or even a main character.

  10. #10
    Willing to Learn MythMonger's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vicky271 View Post
    How do you flesh out a villain?
    Give your antagonist a character arc. What did he start out as in the beginning of the story? What is he now?

    If your antagonist could take over as the protagonist just as easily as your existing protagonist, I'd say you've struck oil.

    I'm not sure what you mean by corruption, however. That's not a trait of a good person.
    I wrote my way into this mess, and I'll write my way out.

  11. #11
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Atlantic12 View Post
    I second the above, especially the idea that some of the best villains are motivated by perfectly normal and understandable needs or wants. They stand in direct opposition to the protagonist, that's all. It doesn't mean the villain is evil, it just means the villain has, does or also wants something that gets the protag into trouble because the villain is following his or her own script.

    Depending on genre, an antagonist is sometimes the protag's strongest force for change in the character arc. So if your story has a protagonist who changes a lot by the end, the antagonist is probably pushing him the hardest. (That's what makes him the antagonist!).

    I love Harlequin's example of the person who destroys a whole people to prevent something that hasn't happened yet. That is very evil, yet the character probably thought he had a moral duty to do it. This wraps into all kinds of moral and ethical exceptionalism and even fanaticism.
    Glad you liked it! the actual book is quite dull I must say >.> because it's not so much a story as a carefully crafted hypothetical situation with a brutal choice.

    I do think of the protagonist as a hero though. His arguments convinced me, and had an impact on my own understanding of morality.

    The action saved lives; it was the correct choice. Justice is not the same as justification.


    BUT I do like that the novel could have potentially been written with him as somebody's villain and worked just as well if not better.
    Happiness, is just a word to me
    And it might have meant a thing or two
    If I'd known the difference.

  12. #12
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    For me? Simple. I just let one of my other personalities do the writing.

  13. #13
    Not a real eskimo Quinn_Inuit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vicky271 View Post
    Here's my question: How do I flesh this out?? I'm FASCINATED by him. He's super interesting. But i'm not sure where to go from here. I know in my gut he's the over arching villain i've been searching for. But I have no idea what to do next...
    Next, you might consider whether he's really the hero...or at least the protagonist.
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  14. #14
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    A villain doesn't have to be purely evil. He should be a multi-dimensional character imo, because that is simply more realistic, and to most, more compelling to read.

    The only advice I have to give to you is that you should give him a backstory, and motives behind his actions. He can be as good of a person as possible, but still have reasons to do what he does to deserve to be classified as a villain; most people do (even if it isn't corrupting people, and much more minor).
    Last edited by Questioner; 12-07-2017 at 08:52 PM.

  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW vicky271's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by indianroads View Post
    No real advice other than get into his head and show his justifications, the why behind doing bad for good reasons.

    My first novel, never published, was from the POV of a vampire. It was a fun write, all in first person immediate ( or whatever the proper term is ).
    Thanks for taking the time to comment. That seems like a good method. I'll write it down and try it out.
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  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW vicky271's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by blackcat777 View Post
    How is your villain corrupting people? Does he do it intentionally? What is his alignment specifically (e.g., lawful good)?

    What is the source of your villain/MC conflict?

    I took someone's advice recently that your villain has to be AT LEAST as respectable as your hero... and I went so hard that I had to switch the novel to his POV because what followed was so epic. A couple of thoughts about great villains come to my mind.

    It helps if villains believe in what they do, and are willing to stomp boundaries to get what they want. You should consider a sympathetic motivation (I went with jealousy) that people can relate to, even if how they act on that motivation is completely screwed up. You can consider giving them qualities that implies an adherence to their own moral code or standards (what WON'T your villain do? what must he do to do right by himself?). Unflinchingly stopping at nothing is something most people don't have the nerve to do.

    I did a compare/contrast with my hero and villain and gave them opposing qualities that would create interesting situations. My villain has masterful self-control, speaks with elegance, is persuasive and charming. My hero can't articulate himself to save his life and has anger management problems. It's simple for my villain to make my hero look bad--not to the reader, but in the eyes of others in the story. My villain also has a physical problem that the hero lacks and this plays on the villain's mental state.

    The villain doesn't have to be right, you don't have to endorse him. But he should be every bit as compelling as your hero and maybe even a little more powerful/skilled/etc. If he isn't, what measure of triumph is there for your hero?

    Light doesn't always equal good, either... and someone else's good deeds can antagonize another person's agenda...
    Thanks for taking the time to comment. Corruption is unintentional. Right now. Feel that's the best answer to go with until something shows me otherwise. And it fits with few points i have for his backstory. The alignment was accidental, and i know he doesn't know that he's aligned himself with anyone. It's complicated. I can reveal more details to you in a PM if you wish.

    He's a new idea (a few days old) so i'll see where he goes. Thanks for all the lovely advice!
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  17. #17
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin KSpigel's Avatar
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    When i'm writing a character, any character, i have a checklist. Depending on the work the checklists can be large or small, sometimes i write them down and sometimes it's just a mental or instinctual checklist. but i always have a list of things i like to make sure i cover. at it's simplest the list looks something like this:

    What are they better at, or can do that most people can't?
    what are they afraid of/ weak to or protective of?
    what is it they are trying to get done?

    i honestly can't think of a single character that does not at least have those three ideas defined, from a writer perspective. these ideas might never make it onto the page, but that's how i flesh the characters out.

    when i write villains, villains that i really like, i always ask myself "why"?
    i don't believe in evil, so the villain has to have a motivation for doing this that i can understand and relate to. a lot of this comes back to where the villain came from, how their world view got twisted in a way that was different from the world views of the hero(s). when did the villain start becoming someone who would be considered a villain? how does the villain feel about that?

    sometimes the answers are "the villain is in denial, and has no feelings on the subject," but that is still a useful and exciting piece of information that really helps me out. if the villain responds with denial, what else might he/ she/ it be in denial about?

    there are other tricks i use, but this is my favorite place to start. good hunting!
    Last edited by KSpigel; 12-09-2017 at 01:49 AM.

  18. #18
    Makes useful distinctions Lady Ice's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vicky271 View Post
    So, today I finally found that villain that will be woven into my series. I started working on the series in the summer. I figured out the ending (only to discover that the first trilogy was just the first part of the series...though idk how many books there will be at this time. Still trying to figure that out) to the first section of the series. Before we switch to brand new characters. The problem is this "villain" is 100% morally good. He isn't evil. He doesn't want power. He doesn't care about ruling the world. Or money. And he loves his black castle. He loves showing people around. He's got a wife, and children. And he's genuinely happy. AND yet he's corrupting people. But he's one of those guys whose too nice...but not fake. 100% genuine.

    Here's my question: How do I flesh this out?? I'm FASCINATED by him. He's super interesting. But i'm not sure where to go from here. I know in my gut he's the over arching villain i've been searching for. But I have no idea what to do next...

    How do you flesh out a villain?
    'Villain' is not always a helpful term. The antagonist of a novel could be a perfectly nice moral person; it's just that their goals directly clash with the protagonist's goals.

    Your character doesn't really sound like a villain and I find his motive a little weak. He doesn't appear to be motivated by anything and if he's genuinely happy, why is he corrupting people? 'Genuinely happy' is also not a massively helpful term because it suggests contentment with the status quo and therefore no motivation to change.

    I would suggest probing your character a little further- nobody is 100% moral. It might also be worth looking at your other characters.
    "We work in the dark--we do what we can--we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art." (Henry James)

    "Either you think--or else others have to think for you and take power from you, pervert and discipline your natural tastes, civilize and sterilize you." (Tender is The Night)

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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by vicky271 View Post
    How do you flesh out a villain?
    First of all, I don't think in terms of "villain". That conjures up an image of a mustache twirling man with a manic grin and staring eyes and a big black hat and cape; in other words, a stereotype. I think in terms of protagonist and antagonist, and not uncommonly there is no humanoid antagonist, but just a big problem or obstacle to be covercome by the protag.

    How to flesh out an antagonist? What does that person do? And why? Narrating activity and events is a far more vivid way of "fleshing out" any character than is description of characteristics.

    caw
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