Fantasy Faction

Fantasy Faction Writers => Writers' Corner => Topic started by: Eli_Freysson on January 27, 2019, 10:29:24 PM

Title: Making villains pathetic
Post by: Eli_Freysson 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?
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: Elfy 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.
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: Peat 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.
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: J.R. Darewood on January 28, 2019, 04:31:09 AM
Galina
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: tebakutis 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?)
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: Eli_Freysson on January 28, 2019, 07:15:13 AM
Galina

What?
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: J.R. Darewood 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
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: Peat 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  ;)
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: Magnus Hedén 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.
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: Peat 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?
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: Eli_Freysson on January 29, 2019, 03:58:05 PM
Such as?

Well, surely a story ought to hinge on the protagonist.
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: Peat 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.
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: Magnus Hedén 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.
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: Eli_Freysson 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.
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: Peat 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.
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: The Gem Cutter on January 30, 2019, 03:55:32 AM
The bad guy in the Green Lantern movie was pathetic. There are a lot of things about Kylo Ren in SW that are pathetic. There were aspects of Loki that were pathetic in many ways/much of the time in several Thor films. There were many aspects of the emperor in the movie Gladiator that I found pathetic. So it can be done. Making a villain pitiable can be effective, I suppose, if you can craft a story where even the pitiable sometimes must be beaten.
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: Neveesandeh on March 01, 2019, 09:24:41 AM
I think Joffrey from 'A Song of Ice and Fire' is a fantastic example of a pathetic villain. He causes tremendous damage but he's weak, insecure and childish and using his power to make the lives of others miserable seems to be the only thing he's good at.

I completely agree with Eli's original post about evil people in real life. These aren't cool or admirable people. In fiction we tend to give villains more sympathetic traits for the sake of realism, but I think even the total scumbag has a place in more realistic stories, seeing as there's no shortage of those people in real life. I remember reading that when one key figure in the Nazi regime was appointed to lead the police, he said something along the lines of 'My mission here is not to bring justice, but to destroy and annihilate, nothing else'.

The dictator is my favourite antagonist. I think it's because I like writing revenge fantasies after watching these people dominate the news. Dictators aren't the ultra capable strongmen their propaganda makes them out to be. More often than not, they're idiots. Stalin had all his best generals purged before the Nazi invasion. Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi has almost completely destroyed Egypt's economy after just six years in power and Hitler provoked a war which lead to his country being devastated and then partitioned into two states, one of which was ruled for decades by the communists he hated so much. Stupidity can be far more dangerous than outright malice, but plenty of leaders have opted for both.
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: Draconis on June 12, 2019, 02:19:42 PM
The fact that some villains are so popular that they sometimes even eclipse the protagonists, as someone said, should be attributed to the reaction of the reader/spectator. Darth Vader does not emerge, nor do I think he has been thought of as a popular figure, he is the archetypal villain (his robotic mask evokes a skull, his colour associated with darkness and the colour of his sword with blood and anger, the fact that he kills a subaltern only so that the spectator knows how bad he is, his dehumanisation by being more of a machine than a man), but his real leap is in the turn in which he reveals to Luke that he is his father. It is then that he becomes a more complex character, introducing a moral challenge to the protagonist and himself. Gradually we have witnessed a humanization of the villains, to the point that we have abandoned Manichaeism to evolve into gray characters, where there are not always good and bad but different points of view. And humanizing villains does not necessarily imply justifying or empathizing with them.
Title: Re: Making villains pathetic
Post by: Bender on June 14, 2019, 01:50:59 AM
I don't subscribe to the Dictator's are stupid theory. It's just that their objectives are immediate. Though many had grandoise let s change the world ideas, they were fundamentally living for their lifetimes only. 

They are charismatic leaders and have a street smartness to work their way up military bureaucracy. Both Hitler and Stalin were charismatic leaders who generated an mass appeal.

I recall Asimov's psychohistory their on manipulation of mass of people and these fit that theory.