Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Constructing a Villain

Recently I have been giving some thought about making proper villains. A villain is a must for a story wheather it is an evil warlord, a school yard bully, or even nature itself as done in some stories. The central goal remains the same however. It is an adversary for the hero to overcome and help drive the plot/ So for the writer designing a good villain is a must. This is just as important, if some cases even more so as a villain must have clear and consistent motivations. I find that nothing kills a story more than a poorly characrterized and motivated villain. Especially a villain that is evil 'just because' or is carrying the villain ball so to speak. A character that does something evil just for the sake of doing it is rather uninteresting, especially in a story which is trying to take itself seriously.

For instance. I once experimented with a character in an RPG who was an evil warlord. I made him as stereotypically evil as possible. In the fluid story telling of this RP he grew from a bit villain into the main antagonist of the series. He would do evil things at first just becsuse they were evil, since the setting (a veeery future Star Wars Galaxy) didn't take itself seriously about half of the time it tended to work out, but in the series most recent reincarnation it has taken a darker and more gritty tone so I had
to change some fundamental characteristics.

Starting off as a sort of gag character who had a vague revenge plot against the central hero for killing his father. He then served as the foil and main antagonist to a secondary character and his back story got fleshed out as a rim warlord whose home had been destroyed in the ancient war. He worked his way up in the world and became a capable commander eventually working his way up to the main story. He then became a greater threat in the plot and began surpassing other villains in evil strangely. As he evolved he became more serious, still retaining some of his gag quirks and had a growing insanity issue that became central to the story line. He finally evolved into a near godlike character who after a long and complicated series of events had captured near half the Galaxy and was engaged in a fight with another villain over the fate of reality itself while the heroes raced around attempting to stop it.

All in all it was a very satisfying evolution for the character and the storyline in general. He went from being a gag character to the stories main antagonist. It was my first go at story telling from a villains point of view and trying to characterize one as well and it was a rather fun learning experience. Though it wasn't a professional project and something just for fun I found it good to work on and I became really attached to the character and as he became more important I wanted to keep him involved and try to make him more villainous. I found that my attachment to him was important and that I was glad to keep trying to make him more serious, interesting, fleshed out, and more depth in his personality. I learned that with a villain you must make him for a reason. You need to have a reason for him to be opposing your hero, a backstory that makes him who he is and what his motivations are. Sure you can have Warlord Grog rampaging around the countryside raping and pillaging with the young knight go and defeat him in single combat and it works. Is it relatively simple? Yes. But is it extremely engaging? Not really. And for instance you can't have a corporate boss go around murdering people because he wants to, it raises a host of probability problems and practical issues.

To use two fictional examples of the 'evil warlord' stereotype. Sauron from the Lord of the Rings, and Norman Arminger from the Emberverse series.

Sauron: Sauron is the ancient lieutenant of the great evil fallen angel Morgoth. He was compelled by a love of order to try and bind the world by force and wished to control the world out of a misguided noble sense of what he thought was order but was instead consumed by his lust for power and control and fell into evil. His lust for power is eventually what destroyed him.

Norman Arminger: Former history teacher who was a SCA nut who takes advantage of the event known as the Change to cosntruct a pseudo-Norman kingdom in former Oregon. He is a sadist who loves power and displays of power for its own sake, is short tempered, but intelligent. He enlists an army of gang members and SCA fellows like himself. They carve out a kingdom which Norminger rules with an iron fist. He makes many mistakes due to arrogance ends up being toppled by the very society he created.

Despite these brief descriptions, I find Sauron to be a better character. He has little time on screen but his menace and threat are clearly felt, as is his motivation which is deep and complicated. Arminger, who has more screen time comes off as less interesting, his arrogance and general 'evil because I can' attitude isn't compelling and his actions reek of stock villain ideas. Mind you there are other factors that make him less interesting, but his own character makes him dull because of this.

So it can be seen that creating a villain is up to the author to give a story a sense of scale, danger, and a good character. I will continue this more in part two coming soon.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting read. I look forward to part 2. Perhaps you will touch on villains who don't work so well? I know you like the Volturi, but I find them a boring, unintentionally one-dimensional, self-serious group. Or the threat of overpowering your supposed "heroes" by having a villain who is so much more interesting than them that you end up unintentionally rooting for the ignoble bastards. Like I was saying about the Saw sequels, I find them repulsive, but the villains are the only characters allowed character development, so I actually grew somewhat attached to them strangely. Just some ideas anyway.