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What makes a good villain?


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Any Hollywood movie will tell you that to qualify as a 'villain' you must be one of the following:

 

a - you are evil for the sake of being evil (this is the most common

b - you want to take over the world because being power hungry is obviously evil

c - be a stark contract to leading character

 

Sound generic? If you said, yes, you are correct.

 

It's hard to make a villain interesting. It's often why people root for the evil guy to lose because they horrendously plain and dull. 

 

So... for you writers, how do you make the antagonist interesting to your readers? 

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Well my main antagonist (he leads a small group of antagonists) is a clone of a demon Prince and I made it so instead of starting evil, his life since his creation affects how he turns out. The scientists mistreat him, he gets a grudge. His only friend gets killed by a gang, he becomes introverted as he doesn't want to make another friend he can lose. He falls in love, he gains humanity and charisma. His lover gets killed, all the stress comes tumbling down on him and he loses sanity.

So I've made it that he does have humanity and morals, his underlings all serve him as most of them he saved. But due to bad experiences he's 'evil' and a pessimistic extremist. Kinda

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I think an interesting villain needs to see themselves of the hero of their own film/story. Think R'as Al Ghul, Haytham Kenway, Pierre Bellec, possibly even Crowley from Supernatural. In their minds they are right and justified. And their reasoning has morality. Someone you could almost root for because you get how they're thinking and you can see some flawed logic in it.

I like a villain with slightly skewed moral compass. I also like it if they dance the line between anti-hero and villain.

Evil just because I want to be evil is dull. And verging on parody. They need a good reason for being evil. And they need to be able to establish a personal connection to their reader or viewer so you're affected by their defeat/death.

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For me, a 'villain' has to be the morally grey character. He or she is the one that does what needs to be done regardless of how many people will get hurt in the process. This is the character who is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to preserve what they believe is good. I think a villain needs to be a character people can relate to as well - as far as I'm concerned, a 'villain' doesn't necessarily mean 'evil' - they're just willing to take the most unpopular option (in my perspective anyway).

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I agree with you there aquila. Moral ambiguity is so interesting to read/watch. In all characters, not just villains. Consider how dull Connor Kenway is and the fact that so many love Haytham

In the Marvel films, my favourite characters are Iron man, Black Widow and Loki. Characters that have a flexible view on morals. In the DC universe I love the suicide squad and John Constantine.

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Actually, I was discussing this with some friends and one of them had very good insights on the subject.

With a morally grey villain you want to know their reasoning and motives so you can see their thought process and kind of understand them. But with some villains who are going for out and out evil it's more terrifying to not know. Like the joker from batman. Or the master from Dr who, at least in the episodes since Eccleston. The fact that you don't know why they're doing what they do adds to their success as a villain.

Posting this again as it is made of awesome. I think Liam Neeson just nails it as that perfect morally grey, but justified in his own head villain.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&persist_app=1&v=JPncg5CBwhc

And the joker as the villain with no discernible motives at all.

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I agree with Jacob. I think villains' psychology is important, but not always easily understandable... after all, we ourselves are antagonists to our enemies in real life, and we must have a reason to despise someone. As a matter of fact, the most hateful villains ever are those with no apparent motive... those who are created just for the sake of the plot. Yuk, those are annoying! 

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A common theme I've noticed across alot of villains is their motivation for acting.

Alot of them have had bad pasts that drive them to the way they are when their portrayed.

So, to make an interesting villain I guess its good to give them a strong motivation behind their actions.

Otherwise I guess you just get some random person causing trouble for no discernible reason.

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All good points.

 

I don't think I can add anything since it's all been said.

 

How about this: a author will create a good villainous character when they look at themselves. All their insecurities and fears and failures and crimes. Everything and anything negative about them can be used as motivation or the establishment such a character.

 

Real life and real people are boring; sure. That isn't to mean that exaggerations of real life aren't. All the negative aspects of a person, if "turned up to 11"  and you have a good start to a good evil character. Just make them seem real and exaggerate their defining features and you can generally get an interesting and villain like character to work.

 

You don't always need to a good backstory or reasoning to have a good villain. In Jaws, the villain is a Shark. There isn't an explanation for it, there is no real backstory or reasoning behind its "character." It just simply exists but it's villainous in terms of the plot. You barely even get to see the animal as Spielberg, when designing the shark, he took a page of Hitchcock's movie experience. Don't show the evil, just give the reactions of the characters and you have a good villain right there. The entire villain trope around Jaws is that it;s an exaggerated version of people's fear of sharks and expertly reflects it.

 

Villains can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be, making them interesting is simply based on perception and relatability. A phobia is a great example and connection tool that pulls the audience and the plot together. There are other ways to create villains that are interesting and effective but this is probably the most simple way: use what you know scares you and what you hate.

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A good villain takes cunning, who is scholarly or is quite learnt in the whims of life. A soft, reserved tone strives further than a snort or guttural screech. Indeed, for a villain to exceed they should not have to posterise or call attention to themselves, they should be reserved, courteous to their opposition and be diligent in all that they set out to do. Ultimately, they must be surgical, rather than strike with brute force. Once they worm their way into the minds of their opposition, you know that the villain has already won the fight, even if it costs them their mortality.

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  • 7 months later...

Being a hero or a villain is just a matter of perspective (in most cases, at least.) 

To me, a good villain is someone who has a noble (at least, in their minds) goal and will stop at nothing to get it. They believe they're doing it for the greater good. 

The whole 'I'm a villain because I need money and stuff' is pretty old and overdone. 

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Three key words pop to mind.

Manipulaton - Being able to get your subordinates or even enemies to dance to your tune and do things that advantage yourself.

Power - Actually having the strength to go through what you have planned both Physically and mentally.

Control - Being in control of yourself is key, a villain that becomes unhinged if a plan goes awry is someone who set up to fail. 

Edited by Lightningblade49
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I do like physically unprepossesing too.  Like for example, Kylo Ren when he takes off that helmet. He just looks like an average if slightly weedy and pale guy. You assume he must be powerful or have just something about him, in this case great manipulation of the force and self discipline, that he doesn't need to be physically large or overtly strong.

 

 

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Look at his face - the nose, the cheekbones, set of the eyes and their build. My partner is fair, grey eyed and blond and my oldest boy is dark haired and dark eyed with an olive skin tone. They still have an identical facial structure and look enough alike for it to be commented on by strangers.

There is more to a resemblance than just colouring. But this is drifting far from the point of the thread.

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I also like villains who honestly believe they're doing the right thing. Maybe they're taking a morally questionable road to save their family or something.

Like in The Originals, Freya was willing to sacrifice Davina to save her family from being slaughtered. Yes it was cruel, but someone had to die to save another life. 

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  • 2 months later...
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I don't know. I think it's just a matter of opinion. For example, I think everything you've said is right. 

Except that guy who commented on Anakin not having black hair. That's true, but I'm pretty sure using the dark side turns your hair black and your eyes yellow overtime. So I suppose that explains Kylo Ren's hair.

Anyway, to me a good villain isn't simple nor complex, he's somewhere in the middle, and sometimes both. It's interesting if their motives are simple, but often if they are complex the overall story gets much more enjoyable. You know what I mean?

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Ah ... antagonists. One of my favorite things in writing.

Unlike the OP's difficulties, I find that creating antagonists as different and varied as the protagonists to be both easy and refreshing. Each one is their own individual. They have motives, tics, and desires of their own; they are the hero of their own story. Of course, "hero" can also be taken loosely. Sometimes they're aware that they're going down a dark path, and it scares them a little. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe they relish the direction they're taking their life, when they take control of it. 

Another fun thing to consider is what mental hoops your antagonist had to jump through to justify their actions, or if they're aware that they're jumping hoops at all. (One of my antagonists, for example, is the "king" of justification. All the signs that the protagonist is giving say "no", but he finds one reason or another throughout the story arc to brush it aside or assimilate those concerns into a different issue. His motives are skewed, but in his mind, undeniably valid, and he sees himself as a white knight. In my main series, one of the key antagonists is a sociopathic telepath - and without being able to connect to those around him on an emotional level, he's simply given himself a purpose, and that purpose is to reorganize the social hierarchy that currently places chromosomal mutagens at the beck and call of the military, or in preternatural politics, whoever is the strongest. The last bit he doesn't mind so much, except that fellow psions are often considered the more human of the community and therefore are owned as chattel. That just won't do.) 

I could probably go on for pages about this topic, but since walls of text tend to get glazed over ... you get a breather.

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