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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Building a Bad Man

   
Author Topic: Building a Bad Man
Grumpy old guy
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I'm curious. I know that the requirements of the 'First Thirteen' make it almost impossible to introduce your story's antagonist and yet, from time to time, I read writers lamenting the quality of their own 'Bad Guys'. So, I want to know how much thought and effort you put into creating your Hero's opposition.

How much effort do you put into his characterisation and just when in your writing process do you start to create your antagonist? How much back-story do you develop, how deeply do you delve into his hopes and dreams for the present, for the future? If he is bad, then why is he bad and how bad is he? Is he evil and why; and by what criteria do you judge evil? Is he ever good?

Any an all answers gratefully received. [Confused]

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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Honestly? It depends on the needs of the story and the specific antagonist. I prefer for there to be depth to my antagonists -- characterization on the whole is important to me as a writer, so I strive to give all of my characters depth. For me, the goal is to make my antagonists believable--not necessarily sympathetic, but clearly motivated, with reasons (whether accurate or flawed) for their words and actions.

Thinking about it, my current story actually has two antagonists. The first of the two is largely unknown to the protagonist and doesn't communicate with words, which makes it difficult to elaborate overmuch on his motives. There is, however, a clear cause and effect correlation for his actions. They're strange and disturbing, but understandable to a degree in the end.

The second antagonist is far more subtle. While he is arguably an ally, he is nonetheless a force of change for the protagonist--much more so than the straightforward foe. This is because he causes internal conflict for the protagonist instead of external conflict (internal conflict is my favorite, by the way).

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extrinsic
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I think of antagonism instead of antagonist. Their similar Greek etymology illustrates a matter of furthest backtracked first principles. Ant- suffix to mean anti, in opposition to, and -agon- root to mean contest. The word agony borrows from that Greek root. Or as ABC's Wide World of Sports broadcast motto puts it, "The thrill of victory, the _agony_ of defeat."

For a "bad man" in contention I require the same want-problem complication motivations and stakes forces in opposition as for other agonists. Motivations and stakes for all agonists.

The "bad man," though, who contends for a goal only one individual can achieve, is a nemesis, precisely. A villain, on the other hand, is an ignoble individual, irresponsibly selfish of goals to an extreme state and not per se of any regard to who suffers. Both are selfish and their selfishness causes undue harms, to others, most of which to the self, and the self cannot break from that toxic cycle. The motivations are for me the key to a "bad man" character; that is, self-promotion at others' expense. What degree of selfishness to selflessness such a character exhibits is as well the degree of antagonism, suited to a narrative length. No less, as well, that a contest do result in transformation of a "bad man's" moral aptitude, for good or ill, or both.

This selfishness aspect is a zero sum scenario, one individual gains at the proportionate expense of another's loss. Rob Peter to pay Paul. However, such a scenario entails a transaction penalty, some percentage of loss due to the transaction's value transference. The net outcome of a zero sum scenario is a loss for all and sundry regardless.

Where stakes come into play is a "bad man" who has a suitable magnitude conflict; that is, outcome forces in opposition. Salvation and damnation, in particular, or Mark 8:36, paraphrased, updated: "For what shall it profit an individual, if the individual shall gain the whole world, and lose the individual's own soul?" Or as Socrates asserts, according to Plato, "An unexamined life is not worth living."

The above update channels contemporary revisions of the "theme" bases of literature; instead of Man versus Nature -- an individual and Nature. "And" and more.

A "bad man," fundamentally, retains John Locke's "pure state of Nature," the state of birth in which individuals are born into a natural state of pure, and briefly necessary, selfishness. Contrarily, Locke's law of nature is that no individual is an island, can long survive without some responsible selflessness for common cause, or for the common good; ergo, responsible participation in and contribution to the common good reaps benefits as well for the self.

For Locke, according to Wikipedia, all individuals "are free 'to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature.' (2nd Tr., §4). 'The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it,' and that law is reason. Locke believes that reason teaches that 'no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty, and or property' (2nd Tr., §6) ; and that transgressions of this may be punished." [Adjusted, anyway; hence, maladjusted individuals; for responsible civil self-governance or else shunning, to include, when indicated, the ultimate shun.] (Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government) Bracket contents mine.

The above contrary -- anyone who harms another, and the self most of all, in the individual's life, liberty, or property -- for me, is the basis of a "bad man."

I put a lot of thought into antagonism, more than many writers into thoughts about self-antagonized and caused complications. We are our own worst nemeses, villains, and problems.

[ June 11, 2016, 02:37 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Pyre Dynasty
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Villains are usually more work than heroes. Often stories are about the villains more than the heroes. For me the hero can have simple motivations. They are doing the right thing because it is the right thing. (Although it can be better if they have complex motivations.) The villain has to have complex motivations, every time.

The funny thing is I think most real bad people have simple motivations. Greed, hate, sadism.

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Kolona
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An agent at a writers' convention said many writers can't write plausible bad guys because they (the writers) are too nice. Made me wonder about the writers of some of today's horror scripts. [Eek!]
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rabirch
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Honestly, I'm so uncomfortable with villains that I tend much more towards things like nature as antagonist or self as antagonist. I've never been able to wrap my head around a true villain-type antagonist.
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dmsimone
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With the story I am working on now, I started with my antagonist and created a full and complete character history. I asked myself two things:
What does this person want?
Why do they want it?
...and it grew from there.

What drives human nature? Hate? Love? Jealousy? Why do people do what they do? I think a good antagonist needs to have a believable motive. Something in their life experiences made them the way they are, compelling them to do the things they do.

I didn't have a main POV character or support characters until my antagonist was fleshed out fairly well.

CS Lewis said that one of the most difficult works he had written was The Screwtape Letters because he had to put himself inside the mind of the "villain," who happens to be a demon mentoring his young demon nephew on seducing man. So wonderfully written - I highly recommend if you've not read it before.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by rabirch:
Honestly, I'm so uncomfortable with villains that I tend much more towards things like nature as antagonist or self as antagonist. I've never been able to wrap my head around a true villain-type antagonist.

So don't write about a villain. Write about two characters opposing each other. Neither one of them has to be villainous, I promise. They just need to have goals that clash in a serious enough way for them to come into conflict with each other. [Big Grin] (Some of my favorite stories are the ones where there's no clear-cut villain, just lots of characters trying to do their best. It's important to remember that every character, no matter how good or bad when viewed from an outside perspective, is the hero of the story in their own mind. People always have a justification for their own actions.)
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I believe it was Aristotle who described one kind of tragedy as being when two heroic characters are at odds to the point where only one can win and after winning discovers that the opposing character's goals were every bit as valid and worthy as their own. The tragedy exists in the fact that only one Good can be achieved, and the other Good is lost most tragically.
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Grumpy old guy
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rabirch, I'd really like to know what you find so distressing about creating villains. Is it that you don't know much about evil or is it because you know too much? [Smile]

Phil.

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rabirch
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
rabirch, I'd really like to know what you find so distressing about creating villains. Is it that you don't know much about evil or is it because you know too much? [Smile]

Phil.

Phil, I have such a hard time wrapping my brain around doing anything evil, I just can't even start to go there. I've taken to calling myself a rules-follower who follows rules. On the rare occasions I've accidentally caused hurt feelings, I turn into a ball of anxiety and hide for as long as possible.

It's safe to say I just don't get it.

I definitely agree with Peony about preferring internal to external conflict. I am working on getting better at external conflict, though.

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