Strangely, my villainous characters are usually the ones mistakenly perceived as heroes and acting for the greater good. In some books, you have the people who you think are good but turn out to be double-agents and such, accompanied by those who you thought were bad but were the real heroes all along. In my stories, the villains are never really the villains: they are just hugely misunderstood. Heh, I understand that's an overused excuse, but in all honesty, they are. They know what they're doing, they know they are destroying cities and killing people, but they really are doing it for the greater good. In some cases, the populace believes them, but when they don't, they are automatically classified as the villains, and the special forces are sent to stop them "at all costs".
I prefer stories that have villainous heroes than heroic villains.
Those we identify with. Those who challenge thoughts (Smith from Matrix), Those who has a point (Adrian, Watchmen). Those whom we cannot understand (Alien, Alien - Joker, Batman). Those who aren't necessarily evil, as evil, in Kantian terms, implies irrational, and intelligence is an alluring trait in a villain. It can even be as little as merely opposing the protagonist in one form or another. In certain cases like Sauron (LOTR) or Vader (Star Wars) it can be the mere aesthetic and bad intention, but this is extremely hard to pull of and perhaps needs an epic to go along with it. Usually, ambiguity, nuance and complexity hooks me on much more than cruelty for cruelties sake.
Damaged past doesn't absolve villains of anything, it's no excuse. It just makes them easier to understand and provides a reason for them to do what they do. To make one convincing, they generally start out with good intentions (but didn't see the sign that said 'this way to Hell'), and then they just hit the extreme and it all goes downhill.
Villains are the best characters, because we all see a little more of ourselves in someone who does things wrong. We're more aware of our faults than our more heroic qualities. When I write, I like to blur the border of good/bad. The heroes should have a dark side if they're to be believable.
Evil people are often heroes in their own mind. They are doing horrible things, but to them, in their warped world view, it's perfectly acceptable for the greater good, or for their own well being, or maybe they simply lack a moral compass.
Evil makes me think of people who do bad things and enjoying doing them. Like they know what they're doing is harming others yet they do it anyways. They could also be misguided cos my evil character is sorta misguided. He was promised something if he performed cruel acts... of course, this character has a bit of a mental problem as well...
My villain certainly knows that what she is doing is wrong. Sure, she justifies it to herself, but she still knows it's wrong. Is she 'evil' or misguided? Or is she a normal and respectable individual that made a mistake?
She killed her captain's sentient pet. She leaves her captain in suspended animation while she uses his stuff to try to rule the world. She literally eats babies. And the whole time she is doing this, she is preventing her former allies from stopping a cosmic menace that threatens to devour a large chunk of the galaxy.
Evil is subjective term and this is a good thing to start around that. I myself do not have any truly evil characters - breaking all kinds of morality is a typical thing in my universe, where my stories are set in and my characters exist. It is all dependant on cultures and how they clash.
For example - the race that serves the role of the good guys in my stories is by nature quite vengeful and in some cases feel huge superiority over other species due to being descendants of a divine being. In their mind, as a society that is (I'm not talking about individuals) - it was completely justified to burn down (literally) three human planets - billions of civilian casualties - all in sake of vengeance, because ancestors of said humans nearly wiped said race out six thousands years earlier. Yet, we may see this as evil deed, but said race was simply afraid of humans and acted on "better safe than sorry" principle. On the other kind - said human faction is lead by Senate, yet the problem is information - the country is huge - over 700 planets and exchange of information is really slow, and Senate itself is corrupt, leaving many planets in pretty much barbaric state, still making extensive use of slavery and commiting other atrocious acts. Are they truly evil? Nope - evil is always a matter of a point of view and environment in which each character was raised. If the society promotes, for example, murder and treachery as a good way to raise in power it will not be seen as something negative - it will be genuinely positive trait - there is no need for classic "misguided" or "twisted morality" stuff.
Generous character involved in charity will be a villain in place when wild capitalism is the ruling principle, simply for denying the profit. Same capitalist will the the evil guy among the communist society for not sharing with people in need.
These are all great points and perfect examples of what some characters called evil might have to do to qualify as such. It really is all about perspective as you said. Though there have to be some things that no matter where you would go that would still be called evil.
It pretty much always is the matter of point of view, even for the most selfish kinds of villain - even if they do the wrong thing and are well aware of it, they do it for OWN good. So, in their very narrow perspective, villain is always doing the good thing at least for himself.
When I'm writing an "evil" character I'm mostly interested in their motivation and rationale for doing bad stuff. Most of the time, they just have a warped sense of morality and think whatever they're doing is right. Or they believe it's OK to transgress certain codes if the ends justify it. Again, it's about thinking they're right/justified, which from their position they might be (it's not unknown).
Well that sounds to be the more classic kind of evil character you would find. I don't think its always a warped sense of morality, some of the time its just them rationalizing what they do as a necessity. That could lead to even worse actions in the future.
As I said, they believe it is OK to transgress if the ends justify the transgression. And maybe warped is not always true either. They might just have a looser moral code than some, believing certain rules depend on situation. Most people's morality is situational to some extent, and we tend to rationalize actions if they get us what we want, or the group we have loyalty to.
See I can agree with this. Though having your morality bent, I'm not sure I would call those people evil, as misguided maybe. There is a line there that even with all the reasoning certain actions will always be called evil.
You're reading into my replies something I didn't intend. See, I don't think people are just good or evil in some black/white sense, and I dislike fiction that implies this. People have the capacity to do good or bad actions, and often there is a lot of ambiguity as to which is which.
Well if they are being evil for the sake of being evil I'm not sure if that can work in more than a theoretical way. I can see a person doing evil acts and not lying about how bad they are or how evil the acts are. Those kinds of people end up being sociopaths in most cases.
I think the best "evil" characters are those who are rather misguided than just amoralic. Those people who are convinced that what they are doing is actually a "good" thing. Like, as an example, a scientist who makes experiments with people to develop a cure for a disease. Or a religious fanatist who firmly believes that blue-eyed children are demons who must be destroyed. Or a mafia boss who does what he does for the family. "Really evil" has a bad sound for me. A believable "bad guy" won't think of themselves as "Ha, I am sooo evil, muahahaha!" They have their personal goals and motivations which can be selfish, but also seemingly selfless. Their personal motivations should be understandable. "I think this planet should be left to the animals, humans only destroy nature, so they don't deserve to exist." "I have to protect my family/company/boss/home/country at all cost, even if that means that I have to kill/destroy/..." "There is a price for everything, in the name of science, for knowledge, I must pay what I must pay." There also are those who *know* (or don't want to know) that what they are doing is wrong, but are unable to stop it, like serial killers. Anyway, the better the reader can relate to their motivations, the more interesting and scarier they are. You know, when you think that they *do* have a point.
Oh you mean a little like, and I know I'm going to get flak for this but, the Hitler style of evil. Even as bad as he was, he still thought what he was doing was making humanity better.
I can say yes, those are a bit more believable but a little less complex than other kinds of evil characters. There are some that don't care what they do as long as its for themselves, the selfish evil. Then there are some that destroy for no other reason than that they like to or want to, the chaotic evil.
Those characters that seem to have a purpose don't seem like they would be that complex overall. The kind that commit evil acts while knowing what they do is wrong, cruel, etc. there just seem to be more questions and depth to those kinds of characters.
What makes them convincing? 1) That they have a motivation 2) That what they are doing seems perfectly rational to them. Nobody thinks they are evil, at most they might be a little selfish. But their hand was forced, you know?
What makes an evil character? Uh, doing immoral things? This may be a question wrongly asked.
What makes an evil character worth reading about? There, that's a bit better. My personal opinion: They should be scary. Villains should be imposing and frightening in some way. That might be a frightening rage or an unnatural calm, it might be unstopable brute strength or an unmatched cunning. They should have abilities or resources that you would never want in the hands of somebody with their personality.
I'd go with the definition of evil as a morality that directly contradicts basic values of society, above all 'murder/incest are bad.' Anyway, it kind of depends on their purpose for it. Seems like a lot of "evil" characters are mostly ruthless and obsessed with rising to the top--completely focused on ends instead of means.
Hmm, old one? I think I had one started like a year ago, that one kind of petered out.
Well definitions are all nice and good but I think those kinds of evil characters are too easy and clean. I still like the ones that go for the "greater good", ignoring whatever might get in their way to obtain it. Those that think they are good but are really just destroying lives.
Easy clean evil is good for some stories but I prefer ones that are far more complicated.
They can still follow the notion of 'greater good', the problem is they don't see things that we very fundamentally consider amoral (genocide, for instance) as something to avoid at all costs, even the loss of their end goal. At least by my personal definition of 'evil.'
Yeah, I'm not a huge fan of the 'tehehehe so self absorbed' model. It works if your perspective is limited to the "good" side, though.
Now what about those that are damaged, like the villains that are out for revenge or retribution? Like the ones that kill out of a sense of grief for a lost loved one due to a corrupt system? Are they really evil? Or is that more of a grey area?