January 31st, 2008, 08:32 AM
While I too would be all in favour of "grey" evil (or better yet, a situation where the distinction between good and evil essentially comes down to one of viewpoint), I think there is still a place for "pure" evil - but it becomes a matter of plausability.
Where the "Big Evil Bad Guy" is human (or for the fantasy/horror writer, was once human), I would expect him to have some semblance of humanity, or at least an explanation of where that humanity went. This is where the "grey" or complex villian comes into play. He may be still salvagable, he may still have a change of heart, or he may just be running on ostensibly "good" purposes that simply run contrary to the hero's purposes. Or he may simply have passed the point of no return, as in the case of insanity or a technological/magical experiment gone wrong, where at least the reader can understand what has happened to him. Stories that involve protagonists of "ultimate evil" who are normal humans can come across as stereotyped and unimaginative.
On the other hand, the "pure" evil villian can still work for the discerning reader when the protagonist possess an anatomy or a psyche that utterly differs from our own, for example in the case of an alien species (Starship Troopers), a machine (The Terminator) or a supernatural force (Lord of the Rings). In such cases we can reasonably expect there to be no possibility of a peaceful solution or a change of heart - something that is always possible when dealing with human villians - so that "Ultimate Battles between Good and Evil" can occur, instead of the fight being little more than a clash of ego and politics, which most real-life wars ultimately are.
It really comes down to a matter of style and what sort of story you are trying to write. If the writer is writing a military-orientated story, he probably wants to avoid the moral dilemmas of what to do with prisoners and drawing the fine line between "necessary use of force" and indiscriminate murder (unless the writer wants to depict his hero as unhinged to a greater or lesser degree) in which case an alien or a machine enemy is probably the way to go. Who's going to complain about the indiscrimate massacre of prisoners when the "prisoners" are non-sentient machines? On the other hand, the story of a pan-determined moralist forced to fight in an unnecessary and senseless war against people he has no personal quarrel with would make an interesting story in itself, albeit a very different one.
Essentially, the choice comes down to style and plausibility. Good V Evil stories tend to be more action orientated and less concerned with moral dilemmas or ultimate motives. "Grey" stories tend to deal with more complex issues, but can be more true-to-life and hence more plausible and realistic. It just depends what sort of story you want to write.
January 31st, 2008, 09:18 AM
The really odd thing about this whole discussion is the etymology of the word "villain". The obsolete use of the word describes a "villain" as "a member of a class of partially free persons under the feudal system, who were serfs with respect to their lord but had the rights and privileges of freemen with respect to others." or as a "A peasant regarded as vile and brutish."
That being the case, it almost establishes a villain as an individual hoping for a better life than the one they currently possess. What could be more human than that?
Would that exclude Ultimate Evils - being non-human - from the list of villainy?
January 31st, 2008, 11:56 AM
It is interesting that you use the Bugs in Starship Troopers as an example of the "pure" evil villain because to be honest there is nothing evil about them. You are right that about their anatomy and psyche, but theoretically humans ought to be able to get on with them just as both get on to some degree with the skinnies.
Originally Posted by EnlightenedOne
January 31st, 2008, 12:25 PM
One thing stands out to me as the essence of a good villan:
January 31st, 2008, 01:02 PM
True, and maybe it wasn't the best example, but I was aware of that notion when I used it. I was then going to go on to make a point about the nature of evil and whether or not there truly is such a thing. The bugs aren't evil in the traditional sense of the word, but for all intents and purposes they may as well be. By the same token who can say even the machine intelligence in The Terminator is evil, after all it is only doing what it is programmed to do and what it thinks is right. Maybe even Sauron saw himself as the last bastion of all that is pure and holy by ridding Middle Earth of the human parasite and restoring the orcs to their rightful place at the top of the food chain.
Originally Posted by Michael B
But my post was already longer than I had intended to be, my lunch break was already up and my boss was getting suspicious so I had to break off early, leaving my train of thought sadly incomplete.
C'est la vie!
January 31st, 2008, 01:06 PM
Ah, but my dear Optimutt, is that not the most heinous of all evils?
Originally Posted by Optimutt
January 31st, 2008, 02:03 PM
Certainly, enlightened one. However, it also excludes any of a number of Purely Evil entities from the list, which, in its own right, channels the argument for what makes for a "good villain". In other words, it does exactly as you say, it makes for the best villain that could be: no more nor less than a mere Human being.
Anything else, by archaic definition, is not a villain.
January 31st, 2008, 05:54 PM
i like that aspect of villainy, where a higher power is the true source of "evil". money, power, greek gods, religion......i feel that it makes for more realistic storytelling. it seems to work best for me if the villain is written as someone i like or respect (which i don't see happen very often). at the very least i should understand his motives. i just hate it when someone is evil just for the sake of being evil, especially "hey look at me! i kill babies for the fun of it. i'm EVIL". even more hated is the concept of "evil races" like the drow from D&D or orcs/goblins/trolls from dozens of fantasy novels.
Originally Posted by obiwanky
i never actually read the iliad so i probably shouldn't have used it as a reference. i should have referred to the trojan war in general, which is referenced in more sources than the iliad even though that's by far the most famous of them. the graphic novel "age of bronze" is a fantastic reference.
February 7th, 2008, 12:39 PM
I'm not sure if someone already mentioned this, but maybe a master manipulator would be a good idea. Someone who uses subtle provocation to nudge...say the main character, towards self-destruction.
February 7th, 2008, 01:11 PM
Enlightened One, combine your definition of the worst villain being naught but a Human wanting a better life than the one he currently has with LaydonD's fine craft of manipulation, and I'd say we have the most heinous sob that any writer could hope for.
I love Grand Manipulators. They add so much thrill to a good story. If it leaves the reader wondering how much the hero did of their own accord, how much s/he was manipulated to do, how the other pawns were manipulated to this effect, it can make for the kind of read that the audience comes back to again and again and again.
February 7th, 2008, 02:47 PM
The greatest villain is the person who believes what they are doing is absolutely right. They might not even be acting out of a selfish desire, and instead simply be doing what they feel to be the greater good.
Who is scarier: The lord who burns a peasant village to the ground because it serves his selfish ends and knows he's wrong for doing it, or the one who does it because it's right to do it?
I feel it's realistic and it casts the protagonists in an entirely different light: This lord would see them as evil for trying to stop him.
Last edited by shashekar; February 7th, 2008 at 02:51 PM.
February 8th, 2008, 03:23 AM
This thread seems to have taken an intruiging twist.
You've reminded me of a character I've created for a yet unwritten story I Plan to Write Some Day (TM). He starts off as an apaparent hero, a detective investigating terrorist activities against his govenment. However, as he delves further and further into the case, he slowly starts to realise that the government he has sworn to protect is oppressive and totalitarian and that the "terrorist organisation" he's fighting is actually attempting to right a genuine greviance. However, instead of following the tired cliche of defecting to the oppressed undergods, the hero becomes the villian by sticking to his job and doing what he sees as right, despite all evidence to the contrary. In the same story, there's also one of LaydonD's master manipulators, a man who is practically unknown to the general public yet one who the President calls "Sir" and takes his orders from. Indirectly, he is main driving force behind the plot, the one who calls the shots behind the scenes which the main character blindly follows out of a misguided sense of "duty."
Practically the whole point of the story is to call into question who the hero and who the villian of the story is, rather like the often dubious distinction between "terrorists" and "freedom fighters."
February 8th, 2008, 09:02 AM
Creator of "SENTI"
To me what makes a person "good" or "Bad" is their actions, not so much their intent. that said, I read an article about how to make your villian as bad as you need him/her to be. The long & short of it is you make a list of say 10 things you would not want happen to you, then have your villian do some or all of them. You can do the same for the Hero except have him/her do things you would love happen to you.
The Villian in SENTI, Bishop, took over a mercenary unit and to make a point he punished a female officer who broke a major rule by staking her in the common yard naked over night. the next morning a muster he scalped her, skinned her alive, then cooked her over a low fire till she was good and dead.
Can you guess what 3 things topped my list?
G W Pickle
February 8th, 2008, 05:58 PM
Jo'ou-sama no Shimobe
If that's what they served at morning chow, I'd have to make a point to be on sick call.
February 8th, 2008, 06:39 PM
What makes a good villain is a bad person. More than that, a person that makes you cringe or feel slimy. Consider Saruman. He didn't see the total destruction of his plans as a defeat but as an opportunity to rebuild...by persuading his enemies that it was all a misunderstanding.
Good villains must be defeated physically, emotionally, spiritually, and emotionally one more time. Even if they are killed, the hero/-ine must defeat them emotionally and spiritually after the fact. The hero/-ine must deal with the emotional and spiritual trauma the villain has left behind.
You don't believe me? Consider Hitler: we're still trying to deal with the aftermath of his reign, more then fifty years after his death.