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Pinchofmagic

Your favourite type of villain

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Villains comes in all shapes, from the big and determined Thanos to a kid who decided to break up their sibling's new relationship by being a real brat. What's your favourite type of villain to write? Do you have any type villain you wanna write, but they seem daunting to tackle? What's difficult to write when it comes to the baddest of the bad? Any advice for creating a villain that will impact the story in a big way? Let's talk villains.

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I try to make my villains more morally gray than straight up evil, and I like to have multiple antagonists at various levels, each with their own agenda. I also like to insert plot twists that change the reader's perception of the antagonists, making them less of a villain in some cases. Severus Snape was a great antagonist for just that reason. 

I rarely give antagonists much, if any, POV time. I write fantasy, but there is a very heavy dose of mystery in my stories, and getting inside the head of the antagonists will often ruin the mystery.

Villains need to have clearly defined goals and a solid plan to achieve them. Those goals don't need to be clear to the reader/protagonist until later in the story, but the villain needs to be fully aware of what they are and be proactive in pursuit of them. The villain is usually the most proactive character in the story. 

There are so many better things that your villain can be than evil. Evil is boring. Smart can be dangerous. Compassionate can be soul wrenching. Consider a passionate character, doing what he/she believes is the in the best interest of everyone despite the cost. Thanos comes to mind here. We fully understand why the heroes need to stop him, but at the same time, we understand where Thanos is coming from and we even sympathize with him to a degree.

GRRM is a master at twisting the reader's perception on characters. In the beginning, could Jamie Lannister be any more despicable? Yet there are times where he shows compassion and nobility. The same guy who pushed Bran from the tower is also the guy who jumped into the pit, one handed, to save Brienne from the bear. He's known as the Kingslayer and generally regarded as a man without honor, yet when Jaime tells the story to Brienne of how the Mad King meant to burn the entire city, you can't help but feel for him. There are so many characters who are at times both despicable and noble, treacherous and loyal. Even Ned Stark, for all his honor and nobility, deceived King Robert when he wrote "my rightful heir" instead of "my son Joffrey" in the decree that named Ned protector of the realm. And Kat, who fiercely loves her children, yet had no room in her heart for her husband's bastard. It's this type of stuff that makes the characters feel real, whether they are hero or villain, protagonist or antagonist. The lines are so blurred in many cases that the labels become meaningless. 

That is something I strive for, though maybe not to the degree that GRRM does it. My stories aren't usually that big. But if I can get the reader to sympathize with someone they hate, or be angry with someone they love, then I've done my job well.

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5 hours ago, Banespawn said:

I rarely give antagonists much, if any, POV time. I write fantasy, but there is a very heavy dose of mystery in my stories, and getting inside the head of the antagonists will often ruin the mystery.

Same. There are other ways to make the goals and motivation behind a villain's action come through. And part of the fear can come from not knowing too much about what the villain is capable of. I like what you said about blurring lines, and where the villain is not so much a monster that we can't at times feel sympathy for them, or even see how easy it would be for the protagonist to end up on the wrong side too with just a few different life-choices. :)

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I'm kinda torn on this one.  On one hand, I do enjoy those complex villains like early 90's comic book Magneto of the X-Men.  He was ruthless in his efforts to protect mutants by destroying non-mutants first.  But, a big part of me really enjoys classic good vs evil, especially with a twist like the sentient artifact Crenshinibon in R.A.Salvatore's novels.  This thing manipulated people to increase it's own power as much as possible, and would completely enslave the weak of will, but it was originally created as a defensive artifact for an entire country by a ruler who simply didn't want his neighbors to attack him or his people.  I love seeing evil come out of good intentions like that, and vice versa, but that's another topic.

I also really enjoy villains who are totally sane, but have decided (because of whatever backstory events) that the world needs to be destroyed or somebody or some group, etc.  They've lost loved ones or suffered terrible injustices, and have decided the best solution is to burn it all down and start from scratch.  This was a big thing in Z Nation on Netflix that I really really enjoyed.  Self righteous villains can be equally epic, like Sephiroth who believes (mistakenly) he is the last of an ancient race that died off because of humans, so he plans to destroy everyone and everything and reclaim the planet for his own personal use as basically a giant spaceship (still not sure exactly how he was going to pilot it, but again that's another topic).

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7 hours ago, Banespawn said:

Villains need to have clearly defined goals and a solid plan to achieve them. Those goals don't need to be clear to the reader/protagonist until later in the story, but the villain needs to be fully aware of what they are and be proactive in pursuit of them. The villain is usually the most proactive character in the story.  

A good villain can make or break a story, and the good ones are often the most interesting! I agree that they need goals, and to pursue them relentlessly.

 

47 minutes ago, Tangwystle said:

I love seeing evil come out of good intentions like that, and vice versa, but that's another topic. 

I loooooove this kinds of villains as well, especially the kind where they would be the hero of their own story if it was told from their perspective. It makes them so much more human and interesting.

 

My own short version...

My logical writer side: My favourite is the kind of villain that has their own internal logic and moralities, totally separate from everyone else. The things they do may be evil, but they make total sense for that character.

My awful fanfic loving side: I love me a villain with good shipping potential. Bring on the enemies to lovers fixer fics, NO SHAME.

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I totally agree with you, @Banespawn, about the way you described the Game of Thrones characters. They all do things that aren't good, but they do so with specific motivations in mind. I think one of the biggest examples is what Cersei does in season....six? of the show,

Spoiler

when she uses wild fire to blow up the High Sparrow and everyone else.

It's the moment where she's gone truly off the deep end, and I don't know if it was the music or just the way she was acting (with that smug look on her face while she was sipping her wine) or what but it was just...such an epic, cunning moment. It wasn't something where she sent her forces in to murder everyone (i.e. in the Red Wedding), it was something as simple as gathering them together and using one of the biggest weapons she had at her disposal against them. I think that was the moment that may have made her a true villain. I also never give my villains any POV time, either, so that's maybe part of why I don't usually have a good grasp on who they are and what their motives are.

I am terrible at writing villain characters. I just . . . I always focus more on the main characters, and I usually don't get far enough into my stories to really give any depth to any villains/antagonists in them. With Court of Shadows, I've at least given the villain some depth with her background, though I'm still playing with it.

I'm honestly trying to think of whether or not I have a favorite kind of villain, other than what Banespawn described with the Game of Thrones characters. I mean, looking at Disney movies, Maleficent (the animated one, not so much the Angelina Jolie version) is definitely one of my favorites. She's relentless, she can turn INTO A DRAGON, and she's just...a bad ass. She puts a spell on a baby all because of not getting an invitation to a birthday party. Ursula is another favorite, as is Scar.

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7 hours ago, Jedi Knight Muse said:

I am terrible at writing villain characters. I just . . . I always focus more on the main characters, and I usually don't get far enough into my stories to really give any depth to any villains/antagonists in them. With Court of Shadows, I've at least given the villain some depth with her background, though I'm still playing with it.

I struggle with my villain characters too, and mostly when I keep them at a distance. Lately they appear earlier in my stories and in a position closer to the main character, I found that's easier. But they're still developing late for me and only get fleshed out in editing. 

For a favourite villain, I like the one's who are cocky and clever and play games with the protagonist. Also, if they have a bit of style and a sense of humour, that's neat. Moriarty in BBC Sherlock was way more fun than Moriarty in the movies (the Robert Downey jr ones). I also really enjoyed Dick Roman in Supernatural season 7, he was hilarious to watch. Oh, and Sue Sylvester in the early seasons of Glee. I stopped at season 3, so I don't know how she evolved, but she was one of those over-the-top villains I just marvelled at, like how do you even write someone like that? Tell me! 😄

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Villains are fun!

There are different types of villains I tend to enjoy:

a) Tragic monsters. Villains that elicit that mix of pity-and-revulsion. Like, you almost feel sorry for them, but also, NOPE. I am a sucker for really compelling origin stories and "for want of a nail" type scenarios, like if that one thing hadn't happened... Often monstrous. One of my favourites is Shrike from Mortal Engines. In the book you get little hints of backstory and remnants of humanity in there which only makes him more unsettling.

b) Related - villains who have a damn good backstory or revenge quest. Basically a compelling motivation for why they're doing what they're doing. I think some good examples of this can be found in studying the more memorable villains in superhero narratives. And contrasting with the ones most viewers don't care about. In Marvel movies, you've got antagonists like Magneto, the Winter Soldier, Loki... I feel like their more memorable movies are the ones with memorable villains. I find the ones who are just doing it "because i'm evil/crazy/for fun" wayyy less interesting most of the time.

My one exception to this was the Joker (I'm thinking more the Nolan movie here, but also his general vibe of "multiple choice backstory"), but I think it works because it's one of those story questions that's never really answered. Esp. in the Nolan movie he's used more as a force of nature/representative of human evil which works to contrast with Batman's whole thing.

c) Paladins. "righteous villains" that are technically not wrong, or believe they're working for a greater cause. Javert is a good example of this. Sometimes they're not even evil, or they later help the protagonists, which can also be an interesting dynamic. "Other" modes of morality can also be compelling, in characters who seem to be working off a totally different framework of reality to the others (though it has its own form of logic.) I thought Greer and Root from Person of Interest were both interesting examples of this in different ways, and how they view the AI. Hannibal Lecter is another example and I love the way the more recent TV series explores the idea of his "morality" as being more tied to aesthetic and politeness, in a way that's almost fey.

d) That bastard. aka. villains that you love to hate. Think the classic Iago, or Umbridge from Harry Potter. My other favourite examples are from Star Trek DS9 - Kai Winn is awful but I can't stop watching. Gul Dukat is also utterly vile and every time he interacts with Kira I just want to slap him. These characters are great because they make you cheer harder for the protagonist. They seem to work best when they're ultra-powerful and also have a layer of hypocrisy to them, versus the protag who is less-powerful but who has integrity.

Chessmaster villains, too! (Has anyone else read Gormenghast and adored hating Steerpike's manipulations of all the other characters?)

13 hours ago, Penguinball said:

My logical writer side: My favourite is the kind of villain that has their own internal logic and moralities, totally separate from everyone else. The things they do may be evil, but they make total sense for that character.

My awful fanfic loving side: I love me a villain with good shipping potential. Bring on the enemies to lovers fixer fics, NO SHAME.

HA, same!

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4 hours ago, Pinchofmagic said:

Also, if they have a bit of style and a sense of humour, that's neat.

I like this too, it makes you look forward to their appearances. I also agree that I have trouble writing villains too. My last attempt was cartoonish, like all the evil stepmothers from Disney were rolled into one lady. Ehhh I'll fix her later.

 

3 hours ago, roadmagician said:

Tragic monsters. Villains that elicit that mix of pity-and-revulsion. Like, you almost feel sorry for them, but also, NOPE. I am a sucker for really compelling origin stories and "for want of a nail" type scenarios, like if that one thing hadn't happened... Often monstrous. One of my favourites is Shrike from Mortal Engines. In the book you get little hints of backstory and remnants of humanity in there which only makes him more unsettling.

Yeah! And where they have that scene where they COULD choose to be less monstrous and pick a better path and become a better person.... but can't, because they are set in their ways and have no hope left, so they double down on the evilness, that is so satisfying.

 

3 hours ago, roadmagician said:

Paladins. "righteous villains" that are technically not wrong, or believe they're working for a greater cause. Javert is a good example of this. Sometimes they're not even evil, or they later help the protagonists, which can also be an interesting dynamic. "Other" modes of morality can also be compelling, in characters who seem to be working off a totally different framework of reality to the others (though it has its own form of logic.) I thought Greer and Root from Person of Interest were both interesting examples of this in different ways, and how they view the AI. Hannibal Lecter is another example and I love the way the more recent TV series explores the idea of his "morality" as being more tied to aesthetic and politeness, in a way that's almost fey.

I can get frustrated by these ones, which I suppose means they are written effectively! When the villain follows a strict code, and is unable to deviate even when its morally right, ah that gets me. The kind who follow the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law. They make great villains but sometimes I want to shake the book and tell them to just open their eyes and see the world outside of the rigid framework they've created for themselves.

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3 hours ago, Pinchofmagic said:

Oh, and Sue Sylvester in the early seasons of Glee. I stopped at season 3, so I don't know how she evolved, but she was one of those over-the-top villains I just marvelled at, like how do you even write someone like that? Tell me! 😄

Oh yeah, Sue was a great villain. I stopped watching...pretty much once the main group graduated (I have no idea what season it was) from high school, and then I watched the episode they did when Corey died (uugh, that was sad) but that was it. Glee had a lot of potential and then it got stupid and I just lost interest, although I might have lost interest before that. I can't even remember any more.

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My favourite villains are just ones that are fun. Fun to hate, fun to watch, as long as they're enjoyable. Disney villains are (usually) great at this, and I think it's why villain songs are always some of my favourites. Can you ever not sing along to them? And, yeah, it's great if the villain thinks the end justifies the means or they have multiple sides and morals, but do I care about that if reading about them is like watching paint dry? No.

Motivation is the second thing I like best about good villains. Roadmagician mentioned having a reason behind the motivation but I don't really think that's necessary. If they do have a good backstory, all the better, but sometimes people don't have a compelling reason to do something other than "I want x". Often it's understandable if it's something like money, or love, or power. As long as all their actions make sense in the context of their motivation and you're not just staring confused about all the choices they've made, then that's pretty solid. 

My favourite villain is Marissa Fittes from Lockwood and Co because she fits both of these. She's likeable when first introduced, already surrounded by a compelling mystery and as the books progress she stays as a constant presence and it's great fun to slowly grow to hate her over the series. By the time you find out what her motivation is, it's makes complete sense. As far as I know, she doesn't have a strong personal reason behind everything she does other than she's scared of death and cares very little about the impact on other people. "Dozens of children a year die because of The Problem? Sucks for them."

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20 hours ago, Jedi Knight Muse said:

Oh yeah, Sue was a great villain. I stopped watching...pretty much once the main group graduated (I have no idea what season it was) from high school, and then I watched the episode they did when Corey died (uugh, that was sad) but that was it. Glee had a lot of potential and then it got stupid and I just lost interest, although I might have lost interest before that. I can't even remember any more.

O, absolutely. The show did have a lot of potential and had a real edgy humour. I started to lose interest in the third season and then I heard it got really stupid to the point where just the title Glee gets people all riled up. But I stand by that the first two seasons were really good. The music was awesome, and they were really talented singers. I bought a lot of the cd's from those seasons, and I love them. :)

16 hours ago, SecretRock said:

As long as all their actions make sense in the context of their motivation and you're not just staring confused about all the choices they've made, then that's pretty solid. 

I agree so much with this. When it comes across as believable, then it's all good. And yes to villains being fun to watch! I don't even care that they outshine the protagonists on occasion. I know that's a bit of a no-no when it comes to writing, but for me a good villain can save a story, and a bad one can ruin it a bit. :)

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On 4/10/2019 at 12:48 PM, roadmagician said:

In Marvel movies, you've got antagonists like Magneto, the Winter Soldier, Loki... I feel like their more memorable movies are the ones with memorable villains. I find the ones who are just doing it "because i'm evil/crazy/for fun" wayyy less interesting most of the time.

My one exception to this was the Joker (I'm thinking more the Nolan movie here, but also his general vibe of "multiple choice backstory"), but I think it works because it's one of those story questions that's never really answered. Esp. in the Nolan movie he's used more as a force of nature/representative of human evil which works to contrast with Batman's whole thing.

Oh yeah, I completely agree with this. I think that the Joker worked because he had a kind of message to send, and his plans involved that message (chaos, human evil and that people can be pushed beyond their morals). So he did have a sort of plan, even though he said he didn't, and I think that made the whole difference with him. I don't know about the comic books though.

I loved that you called Hannibal in the tv-show fey, that's precisely the word I was looking for when it comes to him. Lightbulb moment! Thank you. :) Which also reminded me of the fairy king The Gentleman from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I'm partial to the mini-series and the actor in that... Omg, it's a villain that you just feel the power and presence from during the first scene. He's amazing, and so incredibly entertaining to watch.

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13 hours ago, Pinchofmagic said:

O, absolutely. The show did have a lot of potential and had a real edgy humour. I started to lose interest in the third season and then I heard it got really stupid to the point where just the title Glee gets people all riled up. But I stand by that the first two seasons were really good. The music was awesome, and they were really talented singers. I bought a lot of the cd's from those seasons, and I love them. 🙂

I didn't buy the CD's, I downloaded the songs I wanted off of iTunes, but I have the first few seasons on DVD. I also went and saw Glee in concert, which was pretty fun (back in 2011, so it was only a season or two into it).

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I don't really have a lot to add here.  Pretty much it's all been covered.

Writing villains isn't my strong suit, and a lot of my stories don't have a VILLAIN so much as the odd character or two that makes my protag's life miserable somehow, but never quite manage to gain 'villain' status.  They're antagonists, yes, but of true villains I have maybe...3 or 4.

One of my oldest villains was very much an 'over the top' villain which was in keeping with the famous line, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!"  But I wrote her when I was like...13 or 14 years old, so she's incredibly campy.  I'm not sure if I can salvage her, but I'd like to try some day.

In my most recent story I've been working on, my main character IS the villain of the story.  She's known to the people as the "Terror of Avendrow."  Catchy name, no?

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14 hours ago, Mynoris said:

In my most recent story I've been working on, my main character IS the villain of the story.  She's known to the people as the "Terror of Avendrow."  Catchy name, no?

That is awesome! I love that name. And yeah, we talked about the classical sort of villain, twirling their moustasche in their villain lair, and they fit into certain stories. In many other stories antagonist is a better word - even though it seems to blend with villain a lot of the time when writers talk. I love the more common sort of antagonist though, like a soccer mom who just gets a bit mad with power during a PTA-meeting or a boss at work who stands in the way of promotion. They're so relatable and I like how they can mirror ourselves. I love what they did in Glee and played up Sue Sylvester's villain-traits more and more during the first seasons until she became... well, a classic monster villain, really. I still don't know how they made her so darn funny and outrageous. That is some fine writing, and I will never not be impressed by that. 😄

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18 hours ago, Pinchofmagic said:

That is awesome! I love that name. And yeah, we talked about the classical sort of villain, twirling their moustasche in their villain lair, and they fit into certain stories. In many other stories antagonist is a better word - even though it seems to blend with villain a lot of the time when writers talk. I love the more common sort of antagonist though, like a soccer mom who just gets a bit mad with power during a PTA-meeting or a boss at work who stands in the way of promotion. They're so relatable and I like how they can mirror ourselves. I love what they did in Glee and played up Sue Sylvester's villain-traits more and more during the first seasons until she became... well, a classic monster villain, really. I still don't know how they made her so darn funny and outrageous. That is some fine writing, and I will never not be impressed by that. 😄

In my Necromancer story, the main character is pretty much relating her tale to show how she is, and isn't, evil.  Pretty much, she recognizes that she's done bad things, but she warns the person she's telling the story to that just because someone IS evil doesn't mean that's the only thing they can be defined by.  Then she goes on to tell how she went from an innocent child to, well, the Terror of Avendrow.

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I'm drawn to villains who are evocative of real evils in the world. There are a lot of messed-up people out there, and one always wants to see them taken down. Some of the most frightening are the villains in positions of power and influence who use their position to bully and oppress others. You know, fascists, imperialists, capitalists, racialists, fanatical religious leaders, etc. They have done more damage to world peace and harmony than your average street criminal could dream of inflicting.

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4 hours ago, Tyrannohotep said:

I'm drawn to villains who are evocative of real evils in the world. There are a lot of messed-up people out there, and one always wants to see them taken down. Some of the most frightening are the villains in positions of power and influence who use their position to bully and oppress others. You know, fascists, imperialists, capitalists, racialists, fanatical religious leaders, etc. They have done more damage to world peace and harmony than your average street criminal could dream of inflicting.

I totally 100% agree with all of this. Villains with the influence to rouse people to keep others down, that is truly frightening. Or the shamefully greedy ones. Very satisfying to see them going down too. :)

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