I have a problem. Any time I attempt to create a villain, they turn out horrible, and not in a good... er... bad way. They're cardboard! They are all Old White Guys with well-trimmed goatees and hooked noses who steeple their spider-like fingers and have voices like Alan Rickman. (But oh, man, if I had to choose an actor to play a villain in one of my stories, I'd choose him.)
The problem is, I find writing villainous things... boring, I guess you could say. Or even distasteful. I just don't relate to my villains, which makes them impossible to write. And maybe I'm a little afraid of writing them. What motivates a villain?
This is by far the largest problem I'm having on my current project. I have scenes of my villain peppered throughout the manuscript, and they're boring! Even my sister, who has been reading it for me, says she skims those scenes to get back to the protagonist's scenes. Villain scenes shouldn't be boring, they should be tension-building, especially as time goes on and you see them drawing closer and closer to catching up with the MC. How do I achieve this? How do I write an awesomely horrible villain instead of a horribly horrible one?
I think one of the most important things about writing a villain is realizing that they don't think of themselves as villains. Whatever the motive, they think it is the right thing to do.
This will take you one step closer to becoming sympathetic with your villains. In fact, I don't think of them as villains at all, just antagonists, the people who have a goal that is at cross purposes with the protagonist. If you write a story about a kid who wants ice-cream, and his mom won't let him, well, kid and mom are protagonist and atagonist, but mom isn't evil (kid may think otherwise), she just has a different perspective.
Villains are tough. There are many kinds of villains and degrees of villainy, some more difficult than others, but they're all tough. My villain-issues usually stem from, essentially, making them too nice, or insufficiently bad, especially in terms of dialogue. One of my best readers and friends recently commented, after reading one of the chapters of the novel I'm working on, that everyone was very polite...even the villains. It's difficult for me, usually, to get into the mindset of someone who would speak and act inconsiderately and cruelly to others. And that inability to connect can lead to what you speak of, a character who lacks personality, animation and interest.
quote:They're cardboard! They are all Old White Guys with well-trimmed goatees and hooked noses who steeple their spider-like fingers and have voices like Alan Rickman.
To me, this isn't a bad thing in and of itself-I don't have a problem with "cliches." But even if their nature and even their behaviour is cliche or archetypal it still has to have personality and interest. Personally, I'd say that in determining your villains motivation and trying to understand them more fully, you should first decide what sort of villain and/or how villainous you want the character to be. Many will tell you that a villain needs to be "human", sympathetic and see themselves as the "hero" of their own story. I don't agree that it is a need; to me, that's just one type of villain. It's perfectly ok to have a completely evil, unsympathetic villain. That being said, from what you're saying one that is at least somewhat relatable and and sympathetic would be a good place to start, though I don't know the story-needs of your current project(s).
Perhaps you could tell us a bit about a current example? Some more context would make it easier to assist.
Edit: Osiris inspired me with a better way to put it...there is a difference between "villain" and "antagonist." As my esteemed green-skinned colleague says, you can have an antagonist who isn't evil or even bad, an antoganist is merely at odds with your protaganist. To me, "villain" implies a character who is evil or borderline morally. Such a character may in fact view themselves as such, or be indifferent; some beings, human and otherwise are in fact evil and they may or may not try to justify their actions to themselves or others and they may or may not believe the justifications or care.
[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited August 19, 2011).]
[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited August 19, 2011).]
To me villains arrive at their actions by one of two ways: either they value their own goals and desires above everyone else's to the point of crossing certain lines, or they're able to dehumanize others because of some perspective of their own such as religion, patriotism, race, etc.
Basically either lifting themselves above everyone else or putting others beneath them. It's a subtle distinction.
One very common way people do either of these things is by the the notion that anyone who opposes them is their "enemy". As an enemy they are inferior and no longer deserve to be afforded the same rights and mercies an ally would have.
Of course these are your rational, sane villains. The sociopaths who murder their own lackeys for displeasing them and think nothing of harming innocents to achieve their goals are another matter entirely.
[This message has been edited by Natej11 (edited August 19, 2011).]
I just like to add that if you want to add depth to your antagonist you need to work on characterizing him/her.
It helps if you don't think about him as evil. There are very few people who are truly evil in the world and most of them don't get to positions of power. But power is a a corrupting force and can turn people with the best intentions into something dark and even evil.
Someone who wants to save the planet can become a terrorist. Someone who wants to promote democracy can turn into a dictator.
I honestly think that people who are evil for the sake of evil are too insane to get to a postion of power, but if you want a joker (like in the movie Dark Knight) type villian, more power to you. I though he was very compelling.
To flesh out your antagonist, you need to start asking questions. If he wants to take over the world, you need to know his motives. Then dig deeper, why does this motivate him? Where did he grow up? What did his family value? What moments in his life defined him? How did he get to where he is today? Stuff like that. I really believe the deeper you go, the more three dimensional and complex the character will be even if none of this ends up on the page.
The point is that you, the author, needs to know him as well as you know your protagonist. Then you will know what is important to him. What he wants, what he will do. What are his limits if any. The reader will feel that depth behind him even if they don't know everything you know.
You should probably spend as much time (if not more time) in developing your Antagonist's background. Track back to what put them on the path that they are on, then go back to what led up to that. Get to know them inside and out. Find out what they value and why. Even if you only actually use a small portion of that, in print, the leg work is worth it.
As someone else pointed out, from their point of view, they are the hero of this story
Thank you all for the replies! I appreciate the advice, it's all excellent! I think I might be getting somewhere with my current villain/antagonist. I never thought of them as the hero of their own story, and I think that might be just what I need, because I think he would see himself that way. I'm going for a sane villain. It would be easier if he were crazy, then I wouldn't have to come up with believable reasons for him to do things!
I think I've got good stuff to go on now. I've decided to make the antagonist much younger than I'd originally intended, and to make him the hero's cousin, as the struggle between them has to do with an inheritance of a magical power that came to the hero instead of the cousin through questionable acts on the part of the hero's father. It puts them on more equal ground, and I think there will be more conflict if the antagonist has a legitimate claim on what he's after.
Though, of course, the hero is the hero because the antagonist wants to use the power to exterminate the majority of the human race. There was someone who said a character who wants to protect the environment can become a terrorist... you hit the nail on the head with that one, but in the story little more extreme, because my characters aren't human, and so he doesn't view himself as a terrorist as much as an exterminator. This also takes care of the thinking he's better/thinking other people are lower problem. To him, humans might as well be parasitic chimpanzees.
Just avoid setting something up where the villain kick puppies or take candy from a baby just so the reader can say, "Hey! This guy's a villain!"
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I would just like to add one thing no one mentioned yet: if you keep making the same cliche villains, try making him a woman. That alone can reset your parameters and you might end up with something interesting.
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Those are also good pieces of advice. I would like to write a female villain at some point. I've noticed that I have a pattern: there is a young, strong female protagonist and a young male protagonist who must overcome something in his nature. The antagonist is older, male, and directly opposes the male protagonist, who can only overcome with the help of the female.
Wow, all of my stories are like this. That's interesting. I suppose I should change it up.
And don't worry, there is no puppy-kicking or candy-stealing in the current story. In fact, I've had some weird inspiration. I was thinking about actors (it helps me visualize the characters) and I thought, what if instead of Alan Rickman playing the antagonist, it was some popular heartthrob guy like Alex Pettyfer (not my favorite actor, but definitely a change from Alan Rickman). I think this has given me what I need.
First off, I'm entirely in agreement with your admiration of Alan Rickman, which I'd meant to say before.
quote:Wow, all of my stories are like this. That's interesting. I suppose I should change it up.
You're definitely right and you definitely should. But, I just feel the need to say...most writers (and movie directors, and muscians, and really all artist but especially those that deal most closely with stories of some kind) tend to develop pet themes, situations, structures etc. You should most definitely diversify but, don't feel that you shouldn't embrace your more...automatic tendencies either. With me, it's the fact that a great majority of my protaganists are magic-users of some sort for example.
quote:I honestly think that people who are evil for the sake of evil are too insane to get to a postion of power
If you're truly insane in the legal sense, you can't really be evil as you can't make a true choice...and truly evil people do make their way into positions of power even in real life. But I agree with your fundemental statement especially as far as sadist types and people with evil hungers/compulsions and such...unless they are extremely adept at seeming "normal" such people aren't going to get into positions of power in politics, business etc. Although the thing about those types is getting into positions of economic or politcal power often involves corrupting oneself...but, I digress. Evil is a very complex issue.
However the main thing I want to point out is this: in the context of speculative fiction, especially fantasy, it is very possible for any and all evil-pyscho types to get/become/aquire vast power of other types. The meglomaniac evil wizard being a prime example. Palpatine is another one of this sort (although, he is also one who had extraordinary ability to hide his true nature and motives, partly due to his powers.)
[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited August 20, 2011).]
You could have a female character be a "villain" who is only antagonistic sometimes.
In Robert McKee's book, STORY, he points out that the "love interest" is sometimes supportive of the "protagonist" and sometimes a hindrance to the "protagonist" (though not necessarily supportive of the "antagonist").