Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Constructing a Villain: Part 2

In contiuance with my previous update "Constructing a Villain" I will now continue looking at the process of creating a proper villain.

In my first post I discussed how in order to make a satisfying character for a villain I went through a long process of creating a character and playing him out. I think that this is probably the best way to go about creating a villain. Not making one on an RPG and playing his character for a while, but rather creating a villain and putting yourself in his shoes.

When one is creating any character it is important that they always be thinking 'what would -character's name here- do?' and looking at the situation from that particular characters point of view.

So for now lets look at some good villains that have been cooked up in fiction. I think I'll start off with everyone's least favorite disciplinarian, Professor Umbridge from the Harry Potter series. This woman despite being a frumpy middle aged woman that wears pink and loves kittens has gone down as one of the most evil people in fiction. She has a non-threatening demenour and appears as a very mild mannered and sweet woman who is not what you would call physically imposing. Yet despite this she manages to emit an aura of fear and suspicion. Not to mention a bit of toadiness. We first meet her when Harry is put unjustly on trial and she begins asking some rather innocent sounding questions, but phrases them in ways that are mean to incriminate Harry or make his claims seem absurd. She seems like a bit of a shrew but otherwise just a minor annoyance at this point. Then of course she is sent to Hogwarts as the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. She immediately begins spreading lies, deceit and the Ministry propoganda line. Still she seems like a rather harmless busy body or just an obstructive beuarucrat.

Then of course she makes Harry write 'I shall not tell lies' in his own blood.

Unfortunately this is just the tip of the ice burg. Umbridge goes on a dictoral spree of banning items and creating unusually cruel and inventive punishments and creating an Inquisitor Squad to rat out and punish other students, as well as almost restorting to using curses of both torture and killing on students! The woman is so scary even Stephen King says he wished he had cooked up this evil creature! She turns into a petty and vindictive, dictator. Her interests in power and control mold her perfectly into accepting Voldemort's dictatorship and giving show trials to half-blood wizards and either sentencing them to death or lengthy prison sentences.

As a villain she works wonderfully as she has both a comprehensive reason for her evil actions, and a consistent, petty and villainous personality to back it up. She is a tyrant who simply wants power plain and simple. Not just any tyrant, but one who feels no qualms about flouting her power over innocent children and helpless adults. Truly an evil woman.

Another example of a well done villain is the Dark One from the Wheel of Time series. He is the antithesis of all the is good and wholesome. The enemy of Light and a creature that thrives on corruption. Even the symbol of the master of evil is a fly! Rarely seen and mostly acting through his servants he is a terrifying unseen force. Though through a number of evil plans and overarching schemes (such as controlling the weather!) he is felt in the entire series, in fact just saying his name brings down misfortune. Thus he is felt in nearly every aspect of the series and has a definate and ever present effect on the plot.

Then there are his pawns, darkfriends and the Forsaken. The darkfriends are people who have begun serving the Shadow in exchange for power (at the cost of their life if they betray) and can be found in all levels of society from the lowliest peasant to the highest lord in the nation. It makes the heroes constantly look over their shoulders and be unsure of who to trust.

Then the Forsaken who are the most powerful magic users in the series. They are constantly challenging the heroes and engaging in various schemes. They plot against the heroes and each other whenever they get the chance. Thus they have a near fatal case of collective chronic backstabbing disorder which tends to hold the evil side back from making direct blows against the heroes. This is not always the case, for when a plan by one of these evil schemers succeeds, it has a near devastating blow on the heroes and their mission. It keeps the reader on their toes looking for villainous plots and reminds you that the villains are not enitrely incompetant.

As a whole the forces of the Shadow are interesting and always fun to read about. It's easy to cheer for the heroes when the bad guys are just so terrifyingly evil!

Then we have a more subdued but down to earth villain in the story World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler. In a world falling apart in the post-oil age we see how an unsrupulous and weedy little man can make an impact on an entire community just by sticking to his old ways and building up a town of likeminded criminal elements. The villain, Wayne Karp (leader of Karptown) is a former trucker who in the post-oil world makes a living by scavenging houses and and other materials important to the day to day running of any small town and sells them in his general store. But he is also a notorious crime boss who preys on the weak and unwary and takes advantage of the break down in law and order in order to excersise a loose sort of control over the region.  He runs a protection racket and beats people up who don't comply.

This leaves the hero trying to restore order in a qaundry. He must unite the community against the man by organising the local people and becoming sheriff. Karp is constantly causing trouble and harrassing the community presenting a sense of danger and disorder. As a simple gangster he works well for a villain who gets little screen time. He engages in torture and arson and makes the reader want to see him stopped. His arrogant and creepily personable demeanor make him sadly likable in some respects but still someone you want to see taken down a notch or two.

Finally I suppose I must go with a villain who has inspired me in creating my villains and evil characters, that honor goes to The Operative, from the film Serenity. He is truly a magnificent villain and I absolutely love/hate him for his intellect, combat skills and the ruthlessly pragmatic way he does his work. First introduced by researching the escape of research suject River Tam, he is a cold, yet intelligent villain who notes that love is more powerful than any madness. His actions revolve around his firm belief in what his government, the Alliance, is doing and how they will one day provide a utopia for mankind. Thus he commits acts that are truly heinous and evil, and he does them all with a wink and a smile in the same cold and calculating manner he would perhaps hunt an animal. His first act is killing a scientist who has failed the government.

The man is the epitomy of affably evil he apologizes for the evil deeds he commits, is perfectly willing to negotiate with the heroes. In fact his first action is to attempt to trap the heroes and peacefully negotiate with the intrepid Captain Malcom Reynolds. He is of course more than willing to beat the man to a pulp to get his way. Then of course he begins killing everyone who was ever associated with Mal and his crew, right down to a peaceful community of Christian miners. He fully admits he is a monster who has killed women and children in order to further the aims of his government, no matter how brutal, amoral, and disturbing they are. In fact he's such a calm rational and badass individual you end up both respecting him yet hating him at the same time. It only makes it oh so sweet though when he gets what was coming to him. An extended scene in the film plays this out better and I encourage readers to buy a copy of the film just for that! All in all he is probably my favorite villain, one who engages the viewer and at the same time establishes bimself as a top notch character. He may not have a back story, but the way he firmly establishes his reasons for why he does what he does and his driving motivators and beliefs make him interesting to watch and leave us wondering just what lengths he is willing to go to in order to complete his mission. He is truly a fantastic template for creating a villain.

So as one can see from the previous examples a good villain is one who is thought out, given a decisive role and one who represents a clear and present danger. I must stress that these three factors be followed exactly. For if even one of them is screwed up it can destroy the viewers belief that the villain is actually a threat. Otherwise they might just seem like a bad man who has lots of expendable henchman. And that isn't dramatic, it's just comedic and mildly sad. Like Norman Armiger from my previous post, a bad villain is one who can't hurt the cast in a meaningful way, is poorly characterized and presents no clear and present danger. Arminger never added tension to the story just served as a stereotypical evil character in a frankly cartoonish manner which ensured I could never take him seriously. Then how easily he ended up being defeated by the heroes made it seem as though he was only a background character whose only purpose was to keep the story chugging along. Unlike the Operative who actually drove the story and whose actions made the heroes desperate. His defeat was far from easy and required blood sweat and tears mixed with near genius ingenuity on the heroes part to actually defeat him.

Thus in conclusion I hope to show from these two articles, and accompanying examples how one can create a good, plot driving, and well thought out villain. I hope it helps some of my readers and inspires others in their writing.

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