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December 26, 2012
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Villains, Antagonists, and General Evil

:iconterrytatcher:
TerryTatcher Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Professional Filmographer
That's right, you lovely people... I'm back.

I've been hopping around a lot in story writing, dabbling mostly in genre/speculative fiction when I'm not working on my webshow. Despite my best efforts, I always seem to run into one issue: my villain. I would say I'm relatively okay in the subject of antagonism, but if there is one thing I've learned about my writing, it's that there is always room for improvement.

I suppose my major problem isn't so much about creating the character of the villain, i.e. his/her personality, quirks, and overall lack of common ethics. Rather my issue is more centered the the actual writing process (perhaps). I has this insatiable need to create an iconic villain. Not just a foil, or a villain that is fun to think about. A truly. iconic. villain. Batman has his Joker, Sherlock Holmes has his James Moriarty, Luke Skywalker has his Darth Vader, and so on. The list of iconic baddies is immense and I hope to one day place at least one (if not all) of them on that wall of fame. So my questions to you are these:

What - in your opinion - makes a villain iconic?

...and...

How do you create something so profound that it sticks to the readers' interest-glands?


Note: I'm not asking how to be a sellout or how to make a perfect novel for the publishing table. I don't want fame or fortune. Those would just be nice perks. I want to be truly satisfied that I did the best I could to create some of the best villains in fiction. I don't want to settle for what I have now when I know that (with help) I can get better. Pointers? Ideas?
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:iconellerochelle:
ElleRochelle Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012   Writer
My main antagonist is more of a mystery. You don't get to meet him until toward the end of the book, you just hear about all the terrible things he has done or is doing. I don't know if that will make him memorable to the reader, but every time my MC looks at the scar on her arm or the scars on her brother's face, she will remember all that happened because of him, whether directly or indirectly.
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:iconworld-hero21:
World-Hero21 Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I'll go with what `saintartaud said; I don't deal with making the villain iconic. What matters to me is how much depth I can put in him and how realistically human I can make them be. The hardships they'll face, their whole reason for existing and for doing the things they do, how they feel about certain things, quirks, personality flaws, back-stories, etc.

And well-developed villains are my favorite type of characters to create. The first villain I ever created happens to be my absolute favorite. He's cunning, short-tempered, stubborn, overbearing, sarcastic and tends to act like an absolute ass to anyone he dislikes...which is everyone. But underneath lies a lonely, unappreciated intellectual who has an inferiority complex (he acts superior to cover up his feelings of social inferiority), is afraid of failure, and his only reason for doing evil things is because he's been tormented so much for being a know-it-all and his computer and engineering skills were always overlooked or degraded. So he developed the view that the entire world was against him. He turned his back on the world and decided to gain appreciation in a more ruthless way by manipulating people to trust him and give him free reign.
In other words...He just wants people to accept him and appreciate him for who he is. :meow: He's just doing it the wrong way.
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:iconsaintartaud:
saintartaud Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2012  Professional General Artist
I don't fuss over whether the antagonist is "iconic."  I focus on the character and their role in the story, clarify their motivation and conflict with the protagonist, and work from there.

My suggestion would be to look at the antag the way (hopefully) you look at your protag: as a whole person with their own wants and desires, with some complexity and struggles, not just good or evil.  What matters to your antag?  What do they want that the protag won't let them have?  Basically, try to think backwards from the villain's point of view.  People are rarely malevolent just for the sake of it.  Some want revenge, some think the ends justify the means, some don't think they're doing anything wrong.  It really depends on the story and your characters.
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:iconparadigmfallen:
ParadigmFallen Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2012  Professional Artist
They need to be in conflict with your protagonist -- they don't necessarily have to be anything more. If you want them to be interesting, then put as much thought into them as you do your protagonist. Define them as a person, give them flaws, and if need be, make them like a car crash. They were fine once, but now they're on a path counter to your hero's. And the audience can't look away from a good car crash -- tragedy, whether in the making (like Macbeth) or already happened (like Darth Vader) or even to come (Jacen Solo in Star Wars: Legacy of the Force), will always be attractive for an audience.
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:icondefaultking:
defaultking Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I don't think any of the "villains" in my stories are really villains or really that evil. They stand in the way of the protagonist, but that's not their main purpose in life. Well, except for one, but that guy was insane... The others are actually very intelligent.
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:iconali-st:
Ali-St Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Make him terrifying. Darth Vader was awesome because he was pant-wettingly terrifying. He could kill you with his hand. He was dressed all in black. You could not see any sign of flesh (with exceptions) and that made him almost inhuman. Also it seemed like he could and would kill anything that moved. Or tried to. He had a temper. Seeing the original trilogy as a small child made me terrified of Darth Vader. For years I would not watch The Empire Strikes Back. But now, Star Wars is one of my favourite (if not my favourite) set of movies.
Make him badass. Along the lines of scary, but with more panache. Make him cool, awesome, his resources/abilities/training epic. Make his lines awesome and witty.
Make him smart. Make him stick around. Make him hard to beat. This will make him epic because he is so very difficult to kill/defeat. Everytime you turn around, there is, hands clasped together, grinning like a maniac, with a white persian on his lap. Make him hurt the protagonist so much that the reader so angry that they want to kill him.
All these things make him terrifying. They make him (or her, I suppose) awesome and epic.
That's my opinion anyway. Good luck!
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:iconterrytatcher:
TerryTatcher Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2012  Professional Filmographer
I like the ideas you gave, particularly about the "scary" thing. I figure if I make my readers scared, angry, mortified even, they will remember him more.
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:iconali-st:
Ali-St Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Exactly! You have to give your readers a reason to hate him, to make them more invested in the story! I always have trouble trying to invest my readers in my story, it always feels like I am the only person who cares about my characters, not that I show my work around or anything. :) oh well. Thanks!
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:iconraspil:
raspil Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012   Writer
you offer these ideas with no real way to implement them. how do you make a badass? how do you make them smart? what is smart? what does hard to beat mean?

and really with the white persian cat cliche?

your opinion is just that and you are 100% entitled to it. but when you cross over to giving advice, back it up with ways to make it work, otherwise silence is better.
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:iconlupina24:
Lupina24 Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
What are their ambitions and fears? I always work with ambitions and fears first when creating a villain or antagonist. Those two qualities can explain what makes them ignore customs, ethics or morals. Is it something they despise in their culture or world view, is it a biased perspective, perhaps like many criminals (not all) it was an act of desperation; something they perceive or fear as a threat or hazard to themselves or purpose.

How is the villain/antagonist's character provide tension for the protagonist(s) and/or move the plot through the story? or how do I incorporate that tension into the story? That one I really have to figure out first.
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:iconterrytatcher:
TerryTatcher Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2012  Professional Filmographer
That's a very very very good way to create a villain, but I'm not sure if that makes him iconic.
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:iconlupina24:
Lupina24 Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Iconic how?
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:iconterrytatcher:
TerryTatcher Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2012  Professional Filmographer
Something that will latch onto a reader's psyche. They look at a certain object or something and instantly recall the villain they associate it with. If that makes any sense....
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:iconlupina24:
Lupina24 Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
ahhh, stereotype? Qualities or characteristics that generally used to define a group rather than individuals. Like all villains have a secret lair (lab or tower) while they plot and scheme and form their evil plans speech while waiting for the hero to stop by kinda deal?
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:iconterrytatcher:
TerryTatcher Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Professional Filmographer
The opposite of that. Something that sets them apart completely.
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:iconlupina24:
Lupina24 Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
uhh, that would be original. Iconic means having characteristics of an icon as represented by an image, usually in accordance to tradition or convention. Much like the iconic devil has horns and the angel has wings and halo.

So are you asking what makes/ how to make a villain original?
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:iconterrytatcher:
TerryTatcher Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Professional Filmographer
I'm asking about how one goes about creating an original villain that BECOMES iconic.
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(1 Reply)
:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Professional Writer
Don't think of your villain as a villain.  Think of him/her as a person.  What motivates a person? 

And then think of your person in terms of your story.  What would create the most tension in your story?  What does your "villainous" person do that creates tension for your "heroic" person?  And what does your "heroic" person does that creates tension for your "villainous" person?

If you can think less about character and more about story, you'll get to the heart of what makes a character work.
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:iconterrytatcher:
TerryTatcher Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2012  Professional Filmographer
Yeah. I try to think of my villains as people as much as I can, but after a while, I need to stop rationalizing and justifying their actions and give them a little umph in a darker direction. My villains bore me because they're too real, in a way. My antagonist/villain in the novel I'm working on is after immortality for all life and he has very logical steps he is willing to take to achieve it (world-wide sterility, curing all disease, etc). He is a convincing bad guy and he uses logic and emotion to win over the hearts of the depressed and lonely, giving them hope that one day he will be lord and master of life and death itself (and he actually accomplishes his goals), but he has very little flare to him. I mean, sure, they all think he's a God, sure he wears clothes made out of the fabric of the sky itself, and sure, he has cool piercings all over his body that are what gives him power to resist death's call. BUT.... Where is his flare? Why will he be remembered? Will it be for the fact that he heals and saves everyone (even criminals despite his hatred of crime) he comes across? Will it be for the fact that he's "hot" or "has the look"? Will it be because he wears the skies? Because he is a God-like mortal? Because he is rich? Because he murdered his toddler granddaughter by tearing her open with his bear hands? What will make people look at something ordinary and then go "Oh, hey! Remember that one guy?"
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2012  Professional Writer
Why do villains have to be dark?
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:iconterrytatcher:
TerryTatcher Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Professional Filmographer
THat's what villains are. Antagonists don't have to be, but villains. Villains are evil.
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Professional Writer
Why do villains have to be evil?
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:iconterrytatcher:
TerryTatcher Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Professional Filmographer
Noun
A person guilty or capable of a crime or wickedness.
The person or thing responsible for specified trouble, harm, or damage: "the industrialized nations are the real villains".
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:iconpinkymccoversong:
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Professional Writer
And none of the above is "evil." It's bad, or causes harm or trouble for someone, etc. But a villain might be someone who is a trickster, or who is morally ambiguous (think Magneto from X-Men) or who believes they're doing good but is misguided. A villain is more than evil. Evil is boring. Evil is flat and 2-dimensional. A good villain takes a lot more work than writing a sociopathic dick.
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:iconterrytatcher:
TerryTatcher Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Professional Filmographer
Ooooh. I get it. Brilliant. I'm sorry. I'm so slow sometimes.
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:iconlytrigian:
Lytrigian Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
"What - in your opinion - makes a villain iconic?"

If he's played by Alan Rickman.

"How do you create something so profound that it sticks to the readers' interest-glands?"

I throw in some sex.
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Hear, hear.
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:iconjzlobo:
JZLobo Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Give the villain a touch of panache.
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:iconterrytatcher:
TerryTatcher Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2012  Professional Filmographer
I love that words. So fun to say. "panache." Hehehe. "Panaaaaache."

And yes. that is a good idea.
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:icondamonwakes:
DamonWakes Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012   Writer
I like villains who are perfect people, except for one enormous flaw. Other kinds of characters can be iconic--The Joker is utterly insane, Darth Vader is really intimidating, I...don't know much about Moriarty, to be honest ^^;--but for me, the most memorable villains are the ones who could almost be heroes. I find that as well as being more plausible they're often more evil.

Consider Andrew Ryan from Bioshock. I'm piecing this together from the first game and the beginning of the Rapture novel, but as far as I can tell he believes he's doing the right thing, and to some extent he might be. Having fled Russia, he feels that even the US government has too much control over its economy, and resents having to pay taxes. At the same time, he's aware of the devastation caused by the atomic bombs in Japan and believes that soon nowhere will be safe from the threat of nuclear weapons.

To address both problems, Ryan builds his own city, Rapture, hidden beneath the sea. There, he is sure, people will be safe from the bombs and free to keep all the fruits of their labour. The problem is that, without any kind of economic control or welfare to fall back on, the workers are horribly exploited. Technological breakthroughs made by the thriving businesses only cause further problems, since they're completely unregulated and encourage organised crime. Rapture, ironically, becomes a Hell.

The thing is, you can't help but at least grudgingly respect Ryan at this point. Even if it's not in the best interest of his city's people, he really sticks to his ideals, and you get the impression that Rapture fails not because of any weakness on his part, but because the path he chose could only end with its society in ruins. The main thing that cements him as a villain really isn't so much that he let this happen as that at some point--far, far too late--he does decide to intervene...and it's sad. He wanted a city free of government control, but instead he becomes a worse tyrant than anybody on the surface. You half pity him for abandoning his ideals, and half hate him for not having the sense to do it sooner, when it might have done some good.

He's not even really likeable as a character--I certainly didn't agree with his ideals at the beginning of the game--but he's an iconic villain because, at least up until he gives up on his original ideals, he's the hero of his own story.
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:iconultimateridley:
UltimateRidley Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I...don't know much about Moriarty, to be honest


From what I can tell, Moriarty is a very early example of the sort of villain who exists to provide an equal match for the hero. I'm pretty sure that type of villain did not originate with him, and I am not certain if he popularized that type of villain, but he is most definitely a prime dead-on example of that type of villain.
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:iconraspil:
raspil Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012   Writer
I'm not sure about villain (apologies) but i do write a mean anti-hero. she does what she wants at the expense of others but at the same time, she is willing to totally help those who help her. does that even qualify? probably not, but she sure is a piece of work. when you get your answers, let me know ;-)
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:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Professional General Artist
You have to get the reader to identify with the villain. I mean, the reader can see into her or his soul, can understand the pain that created her/him, can completely sympathize and even rationalize the villain's descent into madness, wickedness, and/or self-servitude. I don't even think it is a matter of loving to hate the villain, so much as being able to put themselves into the villain's shoes and like it. A great villain must have all the thought and development put into it as a great protagonist; sometimes even moreso, because most people generally know right from wrong and it is hard to persuade them to rationalize to the point where morality may be suspended. And if you can offer a glimmer of hope for their salvation, even better -- even if you fully intend never to fulfill it. Redeeming qualities are important. It's about creating richness. And remembering to use a little something of your protagonist's shadow -- the joker has his dark psyche and his background of personal pain (he could have been Batman, but his will was not strong enough to overcome the madness and he became Batman's opposite); Moriarty has his cool intelligence and his cunning greed (he could have been Sherlock, but he chose to use his talents to serve himself); Darth Vader let himself fall (he WAS like Luke Skywalker, a talented young man with a fate, but he chose his own stubborn path). That sort of dynamic is important.
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
You've got to love to hate them.

Cersei Lannister (okay, pretty much all the Lannisters) is a great example of this.
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:iconenuocale:
EnuoCale Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
What if they're not evil, just misguided?
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:iconshobonimaster:
shobonimaster Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Wouldn't that be an Anti-Villain?
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:iconenuocale:
EnuoCale Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I guess?
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Where does evil come into what I said anywhere? :O
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:iconenuocale:
EnuoCale Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
The thread was about villains? And you were if I'm not mistaken implying that hating them should feel good? And I was saying that a different kind of good villain is the kind you feel sorry for. Either because past experiences made them broken, OR because they think they're actually a tragic hero trying to do a necessary evil.
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:iconraspil:
raspil Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2012   Writer
are all villains inherently evil? do they have to be? what distinguishes a villain from a "bad guy"?

past experiences made them broken
because they think they're actually a tragic hero trying to do a necessary evil


Batman fan, are we?
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:iconenuocale:
EnuoCale Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Not particularly. I was referring to my own story. :P
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:iconraspil:
raspil Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2012   Writer
well, if i was able to discern from your description of it that it is pretty reminiscent of Batman, maybe you should ...

w/e okay it's YOUR story
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:iconenuocale:
EnuoCale Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
I've never even read any batman comics, and my sole knowledge of it comes from the three modern movies, a few episodes of the animated show I watched when 8, and the occasional conversation I ended up in. Any strong similarities are probably coincidental.

...Besides. I was describing like 40%* of all villains. D:

*number made up at random.
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(1 Reply)
:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Villains are those opposed to the protagonist—do they need to be anything else? And the protagonist isn't always unequivocally 'good' either. I think a better word is 'justified.' From the perspective of a rule-bound policeman, Batman is easily a villain. Not a great villain, but that's what lack of depth does to a guy.

I said straight out that hating them should feel good and, even more than that, be something people want to pursue.
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:iconterrytatcher:
TerryTatcher Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2012  Professional Filmographer
Villains can be a protagonist too. Antagonists and Villains are different. In my opinion.
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Hmm, so would someone be a villain for what they've done even if you're having the reader sympathise with them?
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:iconterrytatcher:
TerryTatcher Featured By Owner Dec 28, 2012  Professional Filmographer
Sort of. A villain has to be an antagonist. But an antagonist is not always a villain. Javier from Les Mis is an antagonist, not a villain. He's a just man. But Voldy-mort is a villain, not just an antagonist.
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(1 Reply)
:iconterrytatcher:
TerryTatcher Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Professional Filmographer
Yes, I imagine that would be important. Creating a bond with the readers in any way is important.
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:iconneurotype:
neurotype Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
A bond that the readers care to pursue. :nod:
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:iconterrytatcher:
TerryTatcher Featured By Owner Dec 26, 2012  Professional Filmographer
oooo. Nicely said.
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