February 25, 2020, 03:14:23 AM

Author Topic: Making villains pathetic  (Read 3398 times)

Offline Eli_Freysson

Making villains pathetic
« on: January 27, 2019, 10:29:24 PM »
Don't get me wrong; a villain needs to be dangerous, or the hero's victory doesn't mean much.

But I'm piecing together a new space opera setting, and I'm thinking about my resident evil sorcerers. I want to avoid the "Evil is Cool" trope. Just look at the Sith in Star Wars. They get to wear all black, cut loose with destructive powers, and have no few apologists among the fans. But I want their opposites to be the cool ones.

Real-life villains, for all the damage that they do, aren't cool or impressive. Aside from the evidence we see every day I used to watch a lot of documentaries about dictators, mobsters and serial killers. None of them impressed me in the slightest. Dictators are paranoid inadequates, mobsters are brutish, semi-literate parasites, and serial killers are disgusting, pathetic morons.

So while my evil sorcerers who have given themselves over to horrible elements may wield all sorts of murderpowers their minds and bodies warp from it. They're not cool and collected, they're petty and angry, their skin and teeth suffer, and they gather various physical ailments as they go further along the path. And rather than wear all-black or cool armour I'm thinking of putting them in really gaudy, ostentatious outfits, because they're ultimately empty narcissists trying and failing to fill themselves.

I'd like to hear some thoughts on this. What do we think of villains who aren't fun, just loathsome? Clarence Boddicker, the Scorpio Killer and Commodus, rather than Hannibal Lecter, the Joker and Hans Gruber?
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Making villains pathetic
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2019, 11:31:05 PM »
Don't get me wrong; a villain needs to be dangerous, or the hero's victory doesn't mean much.

But I'm piecing together a new space opera setting, and I'm thinking about my resident evil sorcerers. I want to avoid the "Evil is Cool" trope. Just look at the Sith in Star Wars. They get to wear all black, cut loose with destructive powers, and have no few apologists among the fans. But I want their opposites to be the cool ones.

Real-life villains, for all the damage that they do, aren't cool or impressive. Aside from the evidence we see every day I used to watch a lot of documentaries about dictators, mobsters and serial killers. None of them impressed me in the slightest. Dictators are paranoid inadequates, mobsters are brutish, semi-literate parasites, and serial killers are disgusting, pathetic morons.

So while my evil sorcerers who have given themselves over to horrible elements may wield all sorts of murderpowers their minds and bodies warp from it. They're not cool and collected, they're petty and angry, their skin and teeth suffer, and they gather various physical ailments as they go further along the path. And rather than wear all-black or cool armour I'm thinking of putting them in really gaudy, ostentatious outfits, because they're ultimately empty narcissists trying and failing to fill themselves.

I'd like to hear some thoughts on this. What do we think of villains who aren't fun, just loathsome? Clarence Boddicker, the Scorpio Killer and Commodus, rather than Hannibal Lecter, the Joker and Hans Gruber?
I like it at times. You need someone that the audience is comfortable hating. I’ve got one like that in my current WiP.
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Offline Peat

Re: Making villains pathetic
« Reply #2 on: January 28, 2019, 01:46:53 AM »
I think there's probably a reason that most really famous stories have villains who are pretty cool and kinda admirable and that the reason for this is that's what people seem to prefer. Maybe its because it makes them more interesting, or maybe it makes for more interesting and nuanced stories about heroes... I'm not sure, but whatever the case, I think you'd have to work really hard to make a book with pathetic villains as generally captivating as one with cool villains. Which maybe says some fucked up things about as a species, but there we go.

I also suspect that the more pathetic the villain, the better advised an author is to concentrate more on the heroes' internal struggles than their external ones.
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Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: Making villains pathetic
« Reply #3 on: January 28, 2019, 04:31:09 AM »
Galina

Offline tebakutis

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Re: Making villains pathetic
« Reply #4 on: January 28, 2019, 06:51:22 AM »
I'd like to hear some thoughts on this. What do we think of villains who aren't fun, just loathsome? Clarence Boddicker, the Scorpio Killer and Commodus, rather than Hannibal Lecter, the Joker and Hans Gruber?

For me, what's important in villain is competence. If a villain is competent, then they're a threat, and that's really all you need to give your protagonists a challenge. Everything else is up for debate.

As a counterpoint, incompetent villains frustrate me and can cause me to not enjoy a story at all. They really only have a place in children's entertainment (Cobra Commander, anyone?)

Offline Eli_Freysson

Re: Making villains pathetic
« Reply #5 on: January 28, 2019, 07:15:13 AM »
I'll notify your next of kin... that you sucked!

Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: Making villains pathetic
« Reply #6 on: January 28, 2019, 09:21:13 AM »
Galina Sedai,
basically the Donald Trump of the White Tower
authoritarian, insecure, incompetent, and utterly pathetic, but boy did she know how to make a mess

Offline Peat

Re: Making villains pathetic
« Reply #7 on: January 28, 2019, 02:37:41 PM »
Galina Sedai,
basically the Donald Trump of the White Tower
authoritarian, insecure, incompetent, and utterly pathetic, but boy did she know how to make a mess

And if she was any more C list as a villain, she'd be the Aes Sedai's version of the worst America's Got Talent semi-finalist from 2012  ;)

Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: Making villains pathetic
« Reply #8 on: January 28, 2019, 06:30:02 PM »
I thought long and hard and I can't think of a single example when it comes to my writing when I've set out to write a villain. That doesn't mean my stories don't have them; only that they tend to start out as people (or other things) with ideas, a personality, a past, whatever -- who come in collision with someone who turns out being the protagonist.

My point is that I don't think I write pathetic villains, but I don't write cool ones either. I guess I just try to write them so they follow the logic of whatever character they are. I was going to say I write them human, but I realise a lot of them actually aren't (demons, AI, and what-have-you), even if they are probably anthropomorphized due to being written by one.

In my opinion, pathetic antagonists are not a problem because a story that rests on the coolness of its villains (or heroes) has deeper problems.
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Offline Peat

Re: Making villains pathetic
« Reply #9 on: January 29, 2019, 02:18:19 PM »
I thought long and hard and I can't think of a single example when it comes to my writing when I've set out to write a villain. That doesn't mean my stories don't have them; only that they tend to start out as people (or other things) with ideas, a personality, a past, whatever -- who come in collision with someone who turns out being the protagonist.

My point is that I don't think I write pathetic villains, but I don't write cool ones either. I guess I just try to write them so they follow the logic of whatever character they are. I was going to say I write them human, but I realise a lot of them actually aren't (demons, AI, and what-have-you), even if they are probably anthropomorphized due to being written by one.

In my opinion, pathetic antagonists are not a problem because a story that rests on the coolness of its villains (or heroes) has deeper problems.

Such as?
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Offline Eli_Freysson

Re: Making villains pathetic
« Reply #10 on: January 29, 2019, 03:58:05 PM »
Such as?

Well, surely a story ought to hinge on the protagonist.
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Offline Peat

Re: Making villains pathetic
« Reply #11 on: January 29, 2019, 03:58:56 PM »
Such as?

Well, surely a story ought to hinge on the protagonist.

Heroes is there in brackets in the bolded sentence.
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Offline Magnus Hedén

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Re: Making villains pathetic
« Reply #12 on: January 29, 2019, 05:42:39 PM »
Such as?

It would most likely be a problem with the narrative structure because if that fails, nothing else matters. I'm saying a cool hero or villain might be a selling point to some, but in the end it's not what makes a story good or bad.
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Offline Eli_Freysson

Re: Making villains pathetic
« Reply #13 on: January 29, 2019, 06:39:04 PM »
Such as?

Well, surely a story ought to hinge on the protagonist.

Heroes is there in brackets in the bolded sentence.

Oops. I missed that.
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Offline Peat

Re: Making villains pathetic
« Reply #14 on: January 29, 2019, 11:24:53 PM »
Such as?

It would most likely be a problem with the narrative structure because if that fails, nothing else matters. I'm saying a cool hero or villain might be a selling point to some, but in the end it's not what makes a story good or bad.

Hmm.

I'd agree if we're talking about a story relying solely on whether the hero/villain is cool, then there's probably problems elsewhere.

But I think a story can - maybe has to - rely on multiple different factors. And having the 'cool' factor of the main characters strikes me as a legit factor there.
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