Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Thinking about Villains

For the Work in Progress update I am still moving on my YA paranormal rough draft, started on the MG dragon book, and am outlining the other MG book. And I'm still pondering the NaNoWriMo question. But I'm leaning toward doing it. At least today.

Now for some deep(ish) thoughts...

While planning for my "Top Sekrit" second middle grade project I've done some pondering about villains. Every story needs an antagonist or antagonistic force, and some of my favorite stories are memorable for the villain as much as the hero.

Yes, I know there's some that argue women love a bad guy, but I think it goes beyond that. Villains have a certain amount of freedom that I think deep down sometimes we envy. Without the moral inhibitions of "good guys" villains can say & do things that we might think, but won't actually do.

*Disclaimer: I'm talking about villains in stories, since real life villains (i.e. murderers, child abusers, etc.) are a whole different ball game. Hannibal Lecter creeps me out and I'll never forget him (in the book or movie) but I pray to never meet someone like that in real life. You can have safe bad guys/girls in stories.

So I've been thinking about and researching villains and came across a really interesting thread at the Experience Project site (I think it's a forum). And one of the people had some insightful thoughts that I'd like to share:

Villains usually impersonate what is morally wrong. Now, defining this will depend on the movie script/book, who wrote it, where the script/book came from and when it was written.

Often in fairy tales, the villain is a stepmother/stepfather. Fairy tales have some kind of "real story to them", and in those, the villain is an actual parent. But you don't want to show parents as villains, so you just kill them and pretend someone else is the bad guy. Unlike parents, stepfathers and stepmothers get to be selfish, greedy, jealous and show many human traits parents aren't supposed to show. Basically, they're there to be labeled as wrong, and they impersonate the kind of behavior you should steer away from.

Modern villains (take Ra's Al Ghul (?) in "Batman begins", or the guy obsessed with the holy grail in "Angels and Demons") usually have traits that are designed to make you empathize with them, but take those "good" ideas one step too far and become evil. Those are there to teach you moderation, show everyone can be a bad guy (or a good guy), and it's all in the balance.

Let's consider criminals now: just because of the name we're using, it means they've broken the law, which somehow represents everything we think it's wrong to do. Killing, for instance, is wrong. But often, what's actually wrong is *why* people kill, and if you're dealing with an educated or smart killer, they probably have good reasons to believe some people should die, but then take it one step too far and actually kill them.

What do you think makes a good/memorable villain?


Kimberly said...

The storybook villains that stand out in my minds are the ones that made sense to me, funny as that might sound. The ones I could understand the motivations of. Who wanted, for instance, to conquer the world for a reason, not just because the intrinsic evil in them compels them. They're characters who are real to me, and therefore more chilling and memorable.

L.T. Elliot said...

What makes a good villain? To me?
Honestly, it's the heart. A villain is just a hero with the spotlight removed. A good villain to me is one that I have empathy for. I get more invested in the story.
I don't mind the villains who are bad for the sake of it, I just don't care about them as much.