Screenwriting : The Complex Villain by Tui Allen

Tui Allen

The Complex Villain

I need to get a discussion going about villains, because I'm having trouble developing one in my current story. If we can just talk generally about villains I might get my subconscious into action and produce the goods. Right now there is a discussion on Amazon about this and someone there whinged when her story was rejected because the reader disliked the villain and did not identify with it at all. The author was miffed about this because her argument was "you are not MEANT to like the villain." But when you look at stories like LOTR, the most interesting villains are not those who are just outright evil. Sauron is the most evil by far. But the lesser villains like the Nazgul, Gollum Saruman and so on, are all more interesting and I'm sure it's because if you dig deep enough they ALL have redeeming features or once had redeeming features and that is what makes them complex and interesting. Cruella DeVille was a stylish socialite with beautiful clothes. We might admire that in anyone else but in her it somehow emphasised her evil. Wormtongue loved Eowyn. That scene where it showed was one of the most powerful on the movie. Such tenderness from such a slimeball. Brilliant. Gollum's good side arguing with his bad. Mesmerising! My evil character in Ripple is Erishkigal and in spite of her poison and her evil lust for dolphin flesh, she was flat and boring to begin with and it wasn't until I made her loving and motherly towards her servants (her own tentacles) that she came to life. Any other thoughts on the complexities of villains to share?

Kerry Douglas Dye

I recall reading of list of qualities that make for a likable hero. The list is pretty short on qualities we typically associate with goodness (e.g., "nice"). But it has things like funny, obsessed, courageous, talented... all things that could equally describe numerous movie villains. OF COURSE the villain should be likable... kind of. Or maybe there's a better word, like "compelling". Hans Gruber is brilliant, the Joker is funny... hell, even Jason Vorhees has a dedication to his craft that would be highly valued in, say, an office setting. I suspect that when this writer was told that the reader disliked her villain, what the reader was saying is that she was bored by the villain. We should be strongly drawn to, or strongly repulsed by our villain. But we'd better feel something.

Jeffrey Stackhouse

No one is a villain in their own mind. They simply have a better vision of how things should be. and, metatextually, as far as the villain is concerned, the story's about them. It just ends, too late.

Tui Allen

Yep Jeffrey - not even Adolf Hitler was a villain in his own mind. A good angle to see it by. That could be very helpful to a writer.

Tui Allen

Kerry, I remember being told at one writing course that the one quality the hero had to have was a strong will. There's wisdom in that and it probably also applies to the villain when you think about it. "Compelling" is an excellent word for a villain.

Tui Allen

Danny, I hope you don't take offence, but there seems to be a bit too much emphasis on selling stuff to us on Stage 32. Does anyone else find this or is it just me? Id like to talk stuff through without having people always selling me courses etc. I can resist the temptation to sell my novel. I'd appreciate it if others would return the compliment.

Kerry Douglas Dye

One difference: a hero may have to find her will. A villain is likely willful from the beginning. One other note: some villains know they're villains. But that doesn't mean they don't have stuff they need to do. Both kinds can be interesting in different ways (in the same way some heroes have high self-regard, and others don't.)

Kerry Douglas Dye

Oof, Alle. Disagree with 90% of that. No, I've thought about it further. 100%. Add the word "some" or "most" and you might get me on board.

Jeffrey Stackhouse

Alle may have had her sarcasm hat, on ... emoticon-talking be hard.

Danny Manus

I am going to hope that Alle was being sarcastic with that last post..

Tui Allen

I agree with you Kerry, specially about those words "some" or "most." They would have made Alle's comment more likely to be true. I'm thinking of a book with many villains. Some are as Alle describes, but others are not.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Bad on me if I missed the sarcasm. Knowing what I know about certain classic villains, it had a ring of plausibility.

Trey Wickwire

For your villain to be believable, you have to put just as much effort into them as you do you hero. If you are into character bios then your villains has to be just as detailed as your heroes. Most of the time when a villain is two dimensional, its because the writer has no idea what their back story is. They are just there to do bad things and it shows. Oh, and Jeffery, nice Robert Heinlein reference. ;)

Tui Allen

That's a good idea of Trey's about developing the back story, for the villain just as you would for the protagonist. Was interested in Alle's mention of a group being the villain too. I have a single villain who is also a group. They are the eight tentacles of one evil octopus. They conflict between themselves a lot. Makes for some fun dialogue to write. I do find that if the villain has zero redeeming features, he lacks that compelling quality. Remember the "villain" in Life of Pi? The tiger. He was magnificent and so complex. And so dangerous. And what was he really?

Flavio Gaertner

I feel like a good villain may actually have similar thought processes as the protagonist, but wants to achieve certain goals in a means that is a polar opposite. I think of the Joker, a character that many people love, in this situation, who in the mythos, we know is a reflection of Batman. Or even Magneto, from X-Men. Magneto would probably share Xavier's path in assimilating mutants with humans, had he not been mistreated by humans and seen their ugly side. I feel like audiences connect with these villains because we can think, 'you know, I could get on board with that.' But that's really just parroting what everyone is saying in the context of, give your villains a motive. Sometimes I catch myself hoping that a villain DOESN'T get caught, that he may get away from a predicament. I find myself actually cheering for a villain, even if he has done horrible things (Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner is a perfect example). The problem with this is that I've seen too many writers who go out of their way to make their villains morally ambiguous. I want to infer that the villain may be redeemable (or not), I don't want to be told this. I was reading a screenplay about a serial killer (which had a great scene where the rescue search team was on lunch and eating cupcakes that turned out had the evidence they were searching for, dried bones were mixed into the cupcake batter, so they were all suspect) that had a great and enthralling story, but was severely marred by a scene where the protagonist confronts the villain, who has flashbacks of how badly he had been tortured as a kid-- maybe it was just the way it was done, but it seemed so hammy and shoehorned in. A villain should be an obstacle to what the protagonist wants to achieve, bring the protagonist to his/her knees. This creates conflict. Conflict creates drama (ew, I'm sounding like a pedantic screenwriting book, but it's true).

Trey Wickwire

I almost forgot the best advice, make your villain British. ;-)

Kerry Douglas Dye

That's an LOL, Trey.

John D Harrod

How DARE you, sir. . .

Tim Vanbaelen

i do believe that there is also value in having a villain that's operating on a total different plane of existence + he has to be totally despicable => you as the viewer should feel total satisfaction when he gets what he deserves at the end, it all depends too what kind of feel you want to instill in your viewer

Anthony Brady

In my opinion a villain should never be remorseful. Unless the script calls for the villain to change his ways at some point, other than that he should be spiteful and angry until death or through the sequel. I simply don't like to see villains change at the end. makes me feel like what was the point of all the chaos when in the back of your mind you really just wanted to change for the good.

Boomer Murrhee

I like conflicted characters, both protagonists and antagonists alike. I think when the lines of good and evil are blurred, it causes one to think about the gray area. When does bad become good, and when does good become bad? I like mixing it up. Unless it's Superman, then it's okay to be a diabolical villain. Lol

Tui Allen

I am very intrigued by what Flavio said, "I feel like a good villain may actually have similar thought processes as the protagonist, but wants to achieve certain goals in a means that is a polar opposite." Hmmm, that's really got me thinking. I might try thinking that way with my own villains.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Remorse is a lovely way to go with a villain. There are dozens of ways to slice and dice these things. A villain and hero who want the same thing, a villain and hero who want completely unrelated things but smash into each other, a villain who destroys lives because he enjoys it, a villain who destroys lives because he has a goal and doesn't give a damn, a villain who destroys lives because he has a goal and really HATES to hurt anyone but, hell, he just REALLY REALLY needs to do what he needs to do... (Along with the eager hero, the accidental hero, the unwilling hero...) There are so many ways to wring drama out of the mix-and-match potential of these characters. Be open to everything and find the recipe that makes your particular story go KAPOW.

Tui Allen

Thanks Kerry. When we see this kind of list of possibilities we all want to fit our own into the list. My villain fits closest to your class of "villains who destroys lives because he enjoys it." Mine fits there because she destroys lives when she wants to FEED.

Tim Prescott

Hard to know where to start. Genre dependant I think. Where do you want the audience ? Do you want sympathy, hatred, understanding ?

Tui Allen

Good point Tim. We have a wide range of villains between a children's story and an adult thriller. Villains in children's stories might be the big cuddly "Wild Things" as in Sendak, the Once-ler in Seuss's "Lorax," and even a hole in a pocket, in "Polar Express". What about the the villain in the great children's book, "Stranger at Green Knowe" When you think about it, that villain is simply CAPTIVITY. Captivity for the two parallel protagonists - both innocent young jungle-born beings -one a human boy and the other a young jungle-born gorilla. Both orphaned by human vivolence in their own far-off home countries (Africa and Asia) and imprisoned in the UK. Fantastic story. Why don't they make that one into a movie? Even human frailties can be a villain, such as the greed, vanity and ignorance and human aggression (war) that are the group of villains in Black Beauty. Horses, in general are shown as the innocent victims of those villains. BB himself is the only one who manages to find away to navigate through all of those villains, though not unscathed. I think mine needs to be fear incarnate, as she represents the fear that exists in the mind of the protagonist. That's why Flavio's comment so resonated with me.

Terry Hayman

Lots of goods stuff here. I'd just add that, whether or not they somehow come around by the end, they should be evil. Meaning they should consciously break the rules or standards that your hero (and by extension your audience) holds as good. And they shouldn't just break them by a little. They should stomp all over those suckers and enjoy the process.

Annette Stewart-Colon

What is her backstory, like the character Bain in the movie "The Darknight Rises". How did she become a Villain? In my opinion, Bain was neglected as a child and the people that was trapped with him raised him. etc.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Terry, you describe a lovely type of villain. One type of many.

Terry Hayman

Absolutely right, Kerry. Just my favorite kind.

J Tom Field

Take a look at Dr. Horrible, which of course is done tongue in cheek but they way they make the antagonist the villan and protagonist the hero (or maybe that should be anti-villain) is very interesting. By looking at how they show the anti-villain you can get a good idea of what mistakes not to make (although this was very intentional on their part). by glossing over who the person really is, showing any altruistic qualities, they make the guy who should be the hero completely nonredeemable as a character. THis is an accepted way of creating a villain but does leave you a bit empty on that side of the equation, in this instance even allowing the openly, self proclaimed evil character to be our hero. Yes he odes have some regret at the end, as they often do, but mostly because they failed. If world war 2 had not ended with Hitler hiding in a bunker, he probably wouldn't have shot himself. As for making Englishmen villains, even English car maker Jaguar agrees with that.

Serita Stevens

remember that villains are not all evil. They are human too and have wants and needs as well - just they are opposite the protag. Do a real character bio for them and their backstory. Why did they become what they have? Choose three traits you despise about them and maybe three that you admire - do they help animals, too? YOu might be interested in my new book, The Ultimate WRiter's Workbook for Books and Scripts. It's from Amazon, B/N and my site. The publisher is Motivational Press and it's based on my years of teaching at USC, UCLA, etc.

Tui Allen

I once wrote a little children's picture book story (no longer in print) where the "villain" was the wind/ weather. It was perfectly-behaved for a while, allowing my protagonist, (a rotary clothesline) to get off the ground by setting the washing like sails. The" villain" behaved quite well for a while after that, blowing them merrily over the ocean, but then it started to behave badly, proving itself to be unreliable. Finally it committed the crime of calm, which dumped the clothesline into the sea. But all was not lost . . . Radio NZ got an actor to read the story aloud and it still gets played on radio here in NZ from time to time, even now 27 years ofter it was published, but the book is no longer in print since it was traditionally published in the eighties before the days of POD. I choose not to self-publish this story, for further sales, even though I now have the rights back. This is because I don't have illustrations. The original illustrations were not by me so I don't own them and wasn't that keen on them anyway. But the story works fine without the illustrations except it leaves out my cute little visual sub-plot, (a cat who goes along for the ride) What I've done is made the story free on the Readwave website, so anyone can read it. If you're interested in checking out this kind of seemingly mild but still very dangerous villain, the story is a four-minute free read here: http://www.readwave.com/captain-clancy-the-flying-clothesline_s34614

Juan Mendoza

I believe that a good villain must have a great story background. Reasons create villains. If you have read LOTR specifically the Silmarillion you will understand Sauron's reasons to be a trouble maker. Is not necessary a dramatic background but the fact of losing against those who he want to control makes him a formidable villain. Generally the ' bad guys' are ambitious and don't mind on stepping on others to get what their ultimate goal is, call it revenge, call it searching for power, call it control.

Katherine Summers

Exactly, remember Adolph Hitler was an artist, and loved his German Shepherds! Give your villains traits we loathe and also give them some humanity - a weakness, or an interesting quirk...

J Tom Field

A failed artist who became a house painter.

Tui Allen

Adolf might be an excellent name to give a villain . . . thinking thinking thinking. Thanks for the great idea Katherine. If you are reading a story about dolphins some time and yuo notice there is villain of that name, know that it was your own idea. :)

Katherine Summers

Maybe - but it comes with baggage! Best of luck with the writing :)

Katherine Summers

Aren't we all 'failed artists' until we succeed? I didn't know he was a house painter, that's interesting!:)

Tui Allen

I didn't know that either but I've seen his paintings. He was more talented than I was when I tried. But he's a classic complex villain isn't he? And Winston Churchill had as many flaws as Hitler had good qualities. Flaws bring your heroes alive in the same way as the reverse with villains. Think of Wuthering Heights. All main characters were so full of flaws and strengths it was hard to tell which ones were villains and which ones were heroes. And then you get P&P (Austen) which was a story ABOUT the flaws of the two main characters, those flaws being of course pride(him) and prejudice (her).

Katherine Summers

Indeed! Dickens had some corkers too, do you remember the 'Murdstones' and 'Uriah Heep' from 'David Copperfield'? I do love Darcy and Heathcliffe! CLASSICS!

Tui Allen

Uriah Heap was very slimy. So long since I've read it, I can't remember much about his complexities though. but for another lovely complex villain, how about Dorian Grey? (Oscar Wilde) What about a book like Jonathan Livingstone Seagull? What is the villain there? Would it be just "limits"? In that to win, he had to overcome his limits? Can you class that as a villain?

Katherine Summers

Not in the traditional sense maybe, or just as some kind of antagonist or conflict? There's enough evil going on right now... have to get back to work :( Nice to chat, Tui! Hope your day (evening) going well.

Greg Rempel

Over and over again we hear movie and TV actors talking about playing reprehensible characters - as an example, Anthony Hopkins playing Hannibal Lecter. Hopkins and others often say that they don't think of the character(s) as evil. To make the character real and relatable, the actor searches for the humanity in the character. Hopkins has said that he thought of Lecter as a very disturbed individual, but one who had his own moral code (albeit twisted). So, the character can't be flat and one-dimensional - evil for the sake of evil. Underneath the ugliness, there needs to be a glimpse of some human character trait.

Tui Allen

Thanks Greg and Alle. You both make fascinating points. I'm learning a lot from this discussion. Greg, Hannibal Lecter was a fantastic example. Hopkins is the best isn't he? Alle, I sure hope my villain displays traits I DON'T have myself. But your comments are making me take a very close look at her. Quite scary.

Floyd Marshall Jr.

I would agree with Greg, we all have a moral code and you might think mines is evil where I think it's perfectly fine. Usually when I write I don't necessarily say this guys going to be evil, sometimes they have opposing points of view. So you might want to look at it from that stand point. What's the characters motivation, what's his objective and does it clash with his opposite. Christians didn't think they were evil when they brought religion to the new world, but if you had asked those Indians I think they would have had a different opinion. Good luck.

Andrea Balaz

If by villain you mean antagonist, and you accept functional approaches- the antagonist is the one making the protagonist come up against his inner flaws, his needs in a way the protagonist can not simply walk away from. He is the one basically keeping the story going for the p. to need to change, and have his change tested by a situation. The a. does not need to be a person, but if it is, it needs to be as complex as the problem, and the p. if the a. were only "bad" surely the p. would simply turn away? The relationship between a. and p. must be believable for the audience, and is only I guess, when either their being forced together is believable, or the a. has (positive) attributes the p. (and the audience) is drawn to. Greetings Andrea

Kerry Douglas Dye

Andrea, you describe some stories. There are plenty of stories where the protagonist would love to "turn away" from the antagonist but has no choice in the matter. Not every protagonist is drawn to their antagonist.

Tim Vanbaelen

would it be possible to write a story where a 'good guy' breaks the moral codes to catch a 'bad guy' who obsessively keeps living by a moral code?

Anthony Moore

A great writer once told me..."A good villain is interesting because they believe that no matter what they are doing, its for a greater good, thus exposing their true humanity."

Tui Allen

Yes, even Hitler believed he was doing the right thing for Germany.

Tui Allen

Tim, that sounds like a very interesting premise. In all my years of teaching there was only one child of all the thousands who I could find nothing in him to like. He was fairly well-behaved and very bright, so there were two redeeming qualities straight away. He was also a very beautiful looking boy too. Fair-haired and blue eyed. But he gave me the absolute creeps. I detested him. I felt so terrible for having such an unprofessional response to a child that I hid it very deeply and made sure he never knew I felt that way. He probably got treated way better than he deserved because of that. But those blue eyes were as cold as ice and that young heart was as hard as stone. I was never so pleased to see a school year end so I would never have to teach him again. Give me a shockingly naughty child any day, over a well-behaved creepy one. But do you know it may well have been just a personality clash. That blue-eyed monster never did anything particularly evil that he was caught for, other than few nasty words here and there. The science teacher thought he was wonderful. It was probably just me.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Or he was a sociopath. Statistically speaking, if you taught thousands of kids, you taught dozens of sociopaths.

Floyd Marshall Jr.

I just read your description of the young man from your class. I thought you said you were having trouble writing about a villain, hell that sounded like a great one right there. Just make the blue eyed monster an adult and explore more why he creeped you out.

Stacey Stefano

So interesting ! I like the premise , it some how shows us the good in the heart of evil , and makes the character very complex .

Ron Brassfield

Tui, it sounds like you understand the secret already. Just realize that no one acts from what they consider an evil motive. It's also possible to be an "Antagonist" without being evil, not a villain at all. Just having motives that induce a committed course in opposition to what the protagonist is striving for. "Everyone is the hero of their own story." Leave Snidely Whiplash for the cartoons, in other words. I wish I could have told my younger self this before I attempted my first screenplay.

Thomas Ray

I read somewhere that the "Best" villians are those who believe, in their twisted logic, that they are "doing good"

Tui Allen

Floyd, that's not bad idea. I'll give it some thought.

Tui Allen

Hmmm, that's interesting. I started off disagreeing with you Chris Taylor but I'm starting to hear what you're saying. Had to work through a few stories in my mind to find ones where the protagonist and antagonist did NOT both want the same thing. I guess even with Little Red Riding Hood, both wolf, little girl and grandma all just wanted full bellies and Goldilocks and the three bears all just wanted the same chair, bed and porridge. But in my own story the antagonist is fear itself. It wants to eat the protagonist and prevent her achieving her life's goal. How are they both wanting the same thing? (I incarnated the fear to create the character of the antagonist.) My protagonist wants music. My antagonist is stone deaf.

Tui Allen

Thank-you - it makes sense. My book has many sections that would be difficult to show on screen and the person interested in writing the score has noted that there can be no music for the first part of the story. Because the story shows the invention of music, eons in the past. Not impossible but very challenging. There can be a sound-track with beautiful sounds from nature, as long as it is not recognisable as music. We have a musician in this country who makes the perfect sounds for such a sound-track. These are the kinds of problems screenwriters need to help novelists with, as you are doing.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Tui, I also disagree that the antagonist and protagonist always (or even usually) want the same thing. Obviously their desires will come into direct conflict, so their goals must be incompatible. But the same? No. Hans Gruber wants $600 million in negotiable bearer bonds. John McClane wants to be with his wife. Neither cares a whit about the other's goal except insofar as it's an impediment to his own. Yeah, at some point in the story they may be chasing the same thing -- a McGuffin like "detonators" -- but it's only in a subset of stories that the protagonist and antagonist have the same primary goal (or the flip side: opposite goals). More frequently it's two parties doing their own thing who accidentally run head first into each other.

Katherine Summers

I agree with much of what's been said, but it just comes down to 'great writing' and creating memorable characters! That's good news!

Kerry Douglas Dye

Post of the week, Peter. Thanks for all that. Great stuff.

Tui Allen

Thank-you Peter. You made some thoughtful points. I've never seen Bladerunner but I still get what you are saying. I've seen Clockwork Orange.That's an amazing film and the moral considerations are very complex and interesting.

Tui Allen

Yes,Clockwork Orange is very disturbing. I will definitely seek out a copy of Bladerunner, hopefully the original release. I'm a big fan of movies with visual beauty.

Richard Toscan

It might help to think about where movie villains came from. They were absorbed by Hollywood from 19th Century American and British melodrama where the basis of nearly every story was a triangular character structure of the absolutely heroic and proper hero, the absolutely pure heroine, and the absolutely villainous villain. It's a structure we still find today in many films in the horror and thriller genres. There's no question that it works with audiences. But the most intriguing villains, even if the exceptions to the rule, tend to have some trace of humanity that makes them more complex, believable, and even more fearsome: weird as it may seem, Norman Bates loving that fly. The more complex villain probably owes its origins to the advent of so-called modern drama where the hero and villain are combined so that the hero (or heroine) now becomes his/her own worst enemy. I don't think successful villains (measured by box office) are ever "likable" chaps, but the best of them are understandable and because we can understand them, there can be some level of identification with them.

Tui Allen

Yes, Peter you made me think of our New Zealand movie Whale Rider. The protagonist is a rather pathetic weedy little girl - she has inner greatness but hardly the absolutely pure heroine. The antagonist is her grandfather - he's quite magnificent in his own bigoted way. A mesmerising film. No stereotypes. Just seemed more like classic Kiwi characters you might meet anywhere any day in this country,

Stephen Williams

Agreed, Peter. The Conformist is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen.

Michael L. Burris

I haven't read everone else's comment but the author being miffed really doesn't make much sense because you are meant to " Like" the Villian and their expectable, relatable, vile, disgusting, lack of conscience, nerve hitting, beautifully proposterious, evil character qualities that indeed makes the Villian likeable as the Villian. Wishy Washy Villian's never work in my opinion. I also think the Villian for the most part is comfortable with their attributes even if they are brought upon them by situational events causing them to change to the Villian otherwise youy really have a walking oxymoron hero/villian character like a "Punisher" which can be interesting and work at times but a Villian for the most part should be just that the Villian. That's my two cents and opinion of the situation anyway. I think Hannibal Lector was so appealing because in a way you want to feel sorry for and be understanding of the Villian but in all honestly anyone of morality just can't. I don't know what it is about human nature that just can't allow two Villianess wrongs to make a right even when highly justified, however a righteous wrong is acceptable to outweigh a Vllianess wrong making those two wrongs make a right. Well there's my ramblings I'll hush and good luck with your endeavor. Hope I didn't confuse or complicate more.

Tui Allen

Looks like "The Conformist" is another one I'll have to get hold of. Obviously I don't see enough movies.

Gordon Olivea

In "All About Eve" the protagonist was a villain. Great film, kind of like "Gone With the Wind" in that we root for someone bad.

Tui Allen

And also the frightful hero and heroine of Wuthering Heights. They got their just desserts in the end, but we were all on their side and just wanted them to be together. Only in death did it happen. But somehow we were even satisfied with that. They were two dreadful people but their love for one another forced us to identify with them.

Katherine Summers

Oh it's been so interesting (and inspiring) reading everyone's POV. One film that is chock full of VILLAINS - beautifully shot, but also an uncompromising, deeply disturbing, journey into corruption 'SALO" - The Director, Pasolini, was murdered shortly after, too.

Tim Vanbaelen

in terms of beautiful movies (B&W), may i direct everyone to Night Of The Hunter (1955)?

Anthony Furlong

Sometimes the bad guys think they are the good guys, esp in real life, and sometimes bad people do good things. Give the bad guy a dog. That'll really mess with the reader. A cat won't work. Meh.

Leah Waller

I couldn't agree more, villains who are evil just to be evil are boring. Look what Tom Hiddleston did with Loki - he made him likable, even though he did so much bad, you understand where he is coming from. Someone recently sent me a write up about making villains more complex, if I can find it I will send it to you. A good villain can make a good movie great, but a bad villain can make a good movie suck (or at least that's my thoughts.) :)

Dillon Mcpheresome

I thought the villian was the person who stood in the way of the hero accomplishing his/her personal goal. We can like the villian for somethings but he has to be dealt with if the hero is to have a good ending.

Michael L. Burris

Forgot about the aspect of simple obstacle Dillon, good point. Obstacle and viiian probably should coincide or revovle around each other as a general rule anyway.

Tui Allen

Thanks for the link Miquiel - I'll check that out.

Chanel Ashley

Tui, loved seeing the word "whinging" on here, knew you had to be from either Oz or NZ - still haven't seen Bladerunner and found Clockwork Orange rather tame/okay, but loved the book.

Serita Stevens

The villain should be as well rounded as the protagonist. Instead of two good things and one bad for our hero, two bad things and one good for the antagonist. Think of the villains on TV - they might kill, but they are family men, too. They want their goal as strong as the hero. They are not fighting just to fight him, but they think they are right in wanting to rule the world. Do a character bio on them. What is their backstory? What made them into the person they are today? Why do they want their goal so badly? (I have a character bio form in my book The Ultimate Writer's Workbook for Books and Scripts, but you can make one up yourself by asking simple questions. Things as basic as their favorite subject in school, their first girlfriend, their first pet, their relationship with their parents. These all matter. Good luck

Dillon Mcpheresome

First of all readers are terrible people. But even if they were close to correct, the antagonist has to have her reasons for being so evil. Give her an affirmation for her path. She is evil; it's not her fault. She has her reasons. And having given those reasons, maybe the reader will understand the the villain's motivation. To make the villain complex let them want to do something good, by doing something bad.

Tui Allen

Thank-you Serita and Dillon. You've both given me something to think about. Today I finally completed the creation of a "villain" who is the nicest person you could ever imagine, except for one little blind spot that causes him to do great evil to many innocent victims. It was fun to create him but heartbreaking to describe the effects of his one little failing.

JR Kingsbury

Find a movie that had a great villian and then read only the dialog form that villian

Tui Allen

Here's some dialogue from my evil villain recently created and mentioned above. Doesn't sound at all evil: ‘Yoshio! I’m so glad to see you safe. We thought you must be dead. How did you survive?’ But a few minutes later in the same conversation, his blind spot is revealed, and it might also allow you to work out what his profession is: ‘He was too ugly for the pens. He fought like crazy, but in the end he got the spike like the rest and went to the works. That big old boy won’t be stealing any more of our fish. He’s pet-food by now!’ Can anyone work out what this villain does for a job?

JR Kingsbury

You are a very nice person...

Katherine Summers

If you want real evil, you could look across at what's happening in Syria, Iraq, Mexico, etc. No-one would tolerate (or believe) in villains that bad in a mainstream movie. For all those in pain, suffering or in grief because of these events, my prayers are with you. Whatever your creed/colour we all want to be happy, we all want to live and we are all the same HUMAN RACE!

Tui Allen

There are just as many villains in the USA as in any other country. And also in my own tame little country too. The HUMAN race is not my favourite species at all. The real villains everywhere are just waiting for favourable conditions to come out and be themselves. Not only that, I think the seeds of evil exist in all of us.

Chanel Ashley

The HUMAN race should be your favourite species - certainly, there is much evil, but also much good and I strongly believe it is the latter that prevails - I don't doubt for a moment that the seeds of evil exist in all of us, but that's why we have choice, that's why we are tempted, that's why we have the ability to choose our path re good and evil - ultimately, we are responsible for our actions and that comes down to choice - I like to think most of us make the right decision, and isn't it wonderful when we see or hear of a good "deed" done when unexpected - the REAL villains usually come to grief, and those that don't, I like to think are dealt with "elsewhere" - but hey, we need evil to write some great stories, make some great films, lol.

Tui Allen

Sorry, no the human race is not my favourite species and often I'm ashamed to belong to it. This whole world would be way better off without us. I think always from the point of view of the so-called "lesser" species of this planet. I don't think they are "lesser" at all. It's only human arrogance that thinks so.

Chanel Ashley

Ashamed? I think it's sad that you've come to that conclusion - me? I still believe in the human spirit, that good will triumph over evil, that there is more kindness in people than not - that said, and with your distaste of the human species, you obviously have ample examples to draw upon to create your complex villains - good luck.

Barbara P. Shaidnagle

I think sometimes a villain does not have to be so obvious, and one perceived as a villain is not so much of one. If you watch LAW AND ORDER (on SUNDANCE, TNT) and see the people the various detectives go through before settling on someone, you get my drift.

Tui Allen

Peter, man is the worst of all predators. He also creates his own environmental catastrophes. Fukushima is an example of one that is killing far more members of innocent species than it is killing if humankind. We've spent far too little time and effort preserving what we call lesser species. It's time we woke up or got out altogether to let the rest get along better without us.

Michael Corcoran

Regarding listening to music when writing- I usually do it when I need inspiration. I have actually written about a dozens scenes as the music seemed to guide my creativity... I've wrote a screenplay that begins with ancient music traveling from the past to the present, and right to the house of a particular man as if it was calling him- This once popular rock star had not created any music in years. So he went to Ireland. Later in our story, we visit the woman in 1860 who played the "traveling" music. She had picked up playing the piano after her husband died in the great potato famine in Ireland, back in the 1840's. She soon discovered she was a prodigy. The deep pain that she suffered was able to reach deep into her soul to find a hidden gift... I have been working with a musician in Australia. Her name is Fiona Joy Hawkins. She plays piano with a mixed style of both classical and new age. I was listening to Pandora while writing, and her music jumped out at me. I turned it up, and immediately saw a new scene unfold before my minds-eye. I was thrilled! Then I bought her CD online; Blue Dream. I wrote her an email and told her what had happened and she was also thrilled! We met at a recording studio in New Hampshire, and were able to go over my screenplay in person. She took it home and produced a half dozen songs based on the inspiration she received from my story in her CD 600-Years. So I guess it can work both way!

Tui Allen

Peter, this topic has thousands of far more suitable places on the web to be continued, than here in my thread about villains. I've heard all these arguments before - they are not new as there are still a few holding on to this same old angle. Fewer and fewer all the time, fortunately for the planet, as our directions become increasingly obvious. Even the pope has finally seen the arrogance of such human-centric thinking, not that popes were ever high on my list of people I respect, until I found what this one has been trying to achieve towards changing environmental attitudes. I hope he succeeds but there are many backwards-thinkers surrounding him in the Vatican and the Catholic church. Like you they choose to ignore the signs and the science.

Tui Allen

Peter, unless you can add something positive on the topic of villains, I would really appreciate it if you would leave this discussion.

Jim Fisher

Science News for Writers has a list of articles about developing characters based on the latest science. There are posts about the anti-social character, about how viewers and readers are more emotionally effected by your villain than your hero, and so on.

Tui Allen

Jim, I haven't heard of that publication, but will look it up and check it out - sounds like an interesting and useful concept. Thank-you. So much of the research for my dolphin novel was science-based, and although I write fiction, it was scientists who I most consulted and whose input was most useful in developing my characters and villains. Getting the science background right is what gives our work the vital authenticity, which is often as important in fiction as it is in non-fiction.

Jim Fisher

Not a publication. It's a blog at scienceforwriters.blogspot.com. Thanks

Tui Allen

Exploring it now.

Annette Stewart-Colon

Villlians play a vital role in movies, if it wasn't for them, the story wouldn't be interesting. Villians have a fascinating background either the kid who was never picked to play a sport or a kid with low self esteem.

Dan MaxXx

A. S. Templeton what’s been the feedback of your villain?

Hey Erik, I have been spying on the set of “The Joker.” They shut down two city blocks and dressed it up as 1970s. Haven’t read the script yet but supposedly this Joker is inspired by Scorsese “The King Of Comedy.”

Bill Costantini

A.S.: that's cool, A.S. Some people are just evil by nature. They don't need to have justifications to explain why they are evil. No deep-rooted issues. No past abuses. No organic psychological disorders. They just are.

My girlfriend the psychiatrist struggles with that. She always believes there is a reason for everything. Sometimes we know it, sometimes we don't, sometimes there isn't a reason. Just as long as it's believable in that particular story...then everything is good in that regard.

Peter Roach

Villains must have a reason to be angry, they must feel they are right. On the other hand they could simply enjoy the terror they impose on others.

Kevin Carothers

The most interesting viillian to me was Fletcher from whiplash.

He can be nice to your kid one minute and destroy your life the next.

He is as sociopathic as he is talented.

Man, if I could write a villain like that....

Jennifer R. Povey

The simple thing is this: Your antagonist is somebody who has goals that oppose the protagonist. They are the character your audience roots against. In MOST stories they're a villain - that is, the protagonist is "good" and the antagonist "evil," possibly with some shading. They don't have to be. Where you should start is "What is your villain's goal and how does it intercept your protagonist's goal." Your villain wants something. Simplistically, this could be power or wealth. It could be attention (most serial killers). In some stories the GOAL of the villain may be good, but the way they get there is bad. (We'll fix global warming by killing a ton of people, for example). Some protagonist/antagonist pairs even have the SAME goal - Professor X and Magneto being a classic example of this. So one approach is to give the villain a goal with which people sympathize, such as "Protect my people." Twist that a little bit and you get Magneto - "Protect mutants at all costs". Twist it even further...and you get Adolf Hitler actively protecting "his people" through genocide.

Eric Christopherson

One of my most favorite villains is Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa) from Bridge on the River Kwai and I think it's because he saw himself as anything but a villain. From his perspective, Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness) was the villain.

I remember Tolstoy saying something like the best stories aren't good versus evil but good versus good.

Kevin Carothers

@Erik I think you are exactly right. Even down to the observations about Hitler.

This brings a question in my mind; It seems like the what you're getting at is a lack of introspection on the part of the villain about what they are doing. Or at the very least, just not caring about the harm.

I'm sure Hitler knew he was harming six million Jews and 22 million Russians. I don't think he was ignorant of that. But, he felt there was some perverse "greater good" that he was in provenance of (which you mention) that made those facts "less important" in his mind than what he was doing. I don't think this was "ignorance" - I think it was calculated and purposeful.

Movie villains these days don't seem to have the weight of that kind of horribleness. The example I gave was of Fletcher in Whiplash - he wouldn't even be a fly in Hitler's fruit salad compared to Hitler himself.

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