This is a discussion from some time ago amongst a group of writers regarding "The Bad Guys"
and the writing of such characters. These are all the opinions of individuals and are for entertainment purposes.
Chair Five: Anyone who knows me is probably aware that my favorite character archetype is often the antagonist of just about any story. Antagonists are great because they bring conflict to a story. Without conflict, the protagonist would have no challenge to overcome, and without a challenge to overcome, the plot remains stagnant, as does the main character.
I love villains. The eviller, the better. Of course, it can be argued that everyone is the hero in their own story. Sleeping Beauty, as told from the perspective of Maleficent, may have an entirely different tone once we're introduced to Maleficent's own justifications for her actions. Oftentimes I find that most hero archetypes are self-sacrificing martyrs so blinded by their beliefs that they cannot see the harm they are doing to others with their good intentions. It often takes an antagonist or villain to try to drive this point home. Most of the time, this is unsuccessful because the good guy always has to win in the end.
What I can't seem to understand from all of this is why some readers/writers/artists feel the inherent need to "fix" a villain. I've been seeing it everywhere lately. Comics, movies, fanfiction (especially), you name it. A story progresses, and there is a conflict between a protagonist and antagonist, and at the end of the day, the conflict is resolved with the protagonist as the victor. Season 2/Book 2/Part 2 comes around, and suddenly the antagonist in his faded glory is "fixed" by some other character who has faith in him to be good or some other such nonsense.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, I say. What makes a story compelling is the conflict a character can bring, and by "fixing" him or her, you're eliminating any potential conflict in a story, a conflict that can move a plot forward, that can change a character and make them grow and develop into someone more multi-dimensional.
I've been trying to pinpoint where this obsession with fixing a bad guy comes from. Lately, I've managed to pinpoint that this theme with villains appears in romances. Not exactly my cup o' tea, but if you're going to start a romance with a villain, why not challenge yourself as a writer to give them a love interest that accepts them for who they are, or maybe be as bad as the villain is? Where does this preconception of having a relationship with a villain come from, that they need to be a good person first in order for it even to function? I can think of one example pairing that functions perfectly well as a dysfunctional lunatic couple: The Joker and Harley Quinn.
Harley has no intention of "fixing" the Joker! If she had, he would have killed her years ago! She's madly in love with his lunacy and with his flaws, and to date, the Joker has had the longest stable relationship in comics history next to Clark Kent and Lois Lane, which is more than can be said for his "sane" Arch-nemesis the Batman, who can't seem to hold on to a solid relationship for more than a week without self-sabotaging it.
All I'm saying is writers need to step up to the challenge of getting into the mind of an antagonist and accept them for the conflict-creators they are. I'm of the current theory that some writers are afraid of facing conflict and don't want their characters to face it either, but without it, a story cannot and will not move forward. Be proud of your villain's ill deeds. Sure, you can sympathize with their crappy abusive upbringing, but thinking that "all they need is a hug" in order for them to be relatable is doing them a disservice. Often times it serves as an insult to their overly egotistical and maniacal self-concepts.
When it comes right down to it, I think some writers just want a villain to become a different person entirely, and they do this by supposedly redeeming him or her. I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with redeeming a person, but when they've already come to terms with who they are and are proud of the horrible things they do, then redeeming them isn't doing them any favors.
I agree. There does seem to be a trend for writers to "tone down" the villain in the stories. The last one that was TRULY untampered with was Joker, played by Heath Ledger. I HEARD how dark that movie was and decided I didn’t want to see it. (I don’t like being terrorized.)
There has come to be a situation in this world where, out of anxiousness for everyone and everything to be accepting and accepted, politically correct, etc., everything has become cushioned, sugar-coated if you will. It's why Avatar was so popular. It didn’t sugarcoat anything. The conflicts and the villains were real and nasty, respectively.
The problem with sugarcoating everything is that when TRUE evil happens in this world, people are shocked by it. Evil exists, absolute evil exists absolutely, but the habit of making everything seem "not so bad" has handicapped much of the world, leaving them unprepared for the monsters and villains that DO exist. Therefore the world is stunned, blindsided, and cannot understand or comprehend when atrocities happen.
I think Chair Five is correct....the authors are afraid of true conflict themselves; possibly, they don’t want to accept the darker aspects of their personalities, so they try to write their antagonists as not being beyond redemption. But the truth of the matter is..sometimes Bad is just that...BAD.
What a JUICY topic... I couldn't help but be a part of it.
Villains are unique creatures, mainly because they are made up of two components:
These two components not only make up their strengths but their weaknesses. A villain isn't a villain until he breaks an established law, while evil is a little more than a point of view. This complexity is what makes TRUE villains so DANG exciting!!
It is also the reason that SO many writers have difficulty creating good villains. Instead, they often create 'criminals'. It is that elusive second component that scares the crap out of a writer to explore...
A secret standard writer scratches down all the associations with evil and depends on the stereotypes to save them.
The terrifying writer explores that evil doesn't exist; instead, the writer introduces two obsessed entities that see themselves as the heroes of their ideologies to strengthen society's awareness.
A normal person has difficulty understanding the pedophile that sees himself as helping his victim into womanhood.
They cannot grasp the concept of the serial killer hunting the weak as he has been chosen to do to strengthen society's awareness.
Your neighbor refuses to accept that 'it' can happen to them, so the atrocities they turn the television channel from every night need to visit their home to let them know that THEY are also a part of this world. For the deliverers, these acts are ordained.
You can't save a man determined to help others. You can't save parents determined to take care of their children. You can't save a woman who would do anything for her man.
You can't save... a 'true' villain!
They are the forgotten phrase that appears after the apostrophe in a complicated sentence. They're the secondary definition of any tools that can also be described as a weapon. They're the lack of understanding, the confusion, and the darker-than-dark always in your home when you get that strange feeling.
A villain NEEDS both parts of his components as much as you need air. Being viewed as evil is natural to them, while existing as a crack in the law is the final piece of the game that makes them remembered. It is the secret to their immortality.
A villain is the one that defines the difference between fearless and courageous for his hero. All great heroes are defined by their villains.
This is the secret that makes The Joker such a great villain for the hero known as Batman.
This again brings the crux of the matter to the fore...Writers don't write many TRUE villains anymore...
Dean Koontz might, Stephen King....come to think of it, most of the TRUE villains are written by Horror Authors....coincidence?
I think NOT.…
I think one of my ex-girlfriends might have been a villain...
I'm not sure, though. Uhm... maybe she wasn't EXACTLY a villain, but I DO think I saw her eating a radioactive bug type of pop star once. They were standing near a bonfire chanting while drinking vegetarian blood and holding hands. Does that make her a villain??
Has anybody ever told you lately how twisted you are? NO? OK...I will.....YOU, sir, are one sick puppy, even if you are funny..…
And no...that would just make the X a cannibal....(ew) Unless eating radiation-resistant bugs is considered something else?
An Entomophogist. Do you know what's yucky? Those actually exist...…
People are afraid to write a truly, evil villain or stick to the true nature of the evil villain because if they do, it will associate them with evil themselves. If someone who is not a serial killer writes a book about a serial killer and really gets it right, one might wonder what experience the writer has in the matter that makes him/her such an expert. We as writers just know that it takes a great imagination and research.
Yeah, I read...well, started to read...a book by an author who described a pedophilic encounter...it was WAY too real...made me TERRIBLY uncomfortable and sick to my stomach. But you were correct...I HAD to wonder about that author and how he managed to get it so real....needless to say, I won't read ANY of his works anymore.
I often wonder about this as well. A writer who manages to deliver what we consider a very real and life-like version of a serial killer tends to make us wonder about that writer's sanity, as you both have mentioned. Still, is it only life-like here to us because we couldn't previously relate? What do real serial killers and the like think when they read about these characters? It may actually turn out that we're nowhere close to representing them "properly". A writer who creates a disturbing killer simply explores the possible limits of human depravity. Sometimes those limits are unbelievable; hell, they might have never even been achieved before, but the more unbelievable it is, the more life-like we tend to think it has been written because we can only scarcely imagine a human being doing something that horrible. That’s what I find most interesting about writing villains.
I think, simply put, that a true villain commits the evils and atrocities that humanity, in general, would never contemplate because those acts lack all forms of compassion and warmth that are really a basic building block of humanity itself...if those things weren’t basic, none of these evils and atrocities would shock anyone...we would all commit them because we would lack all sense of conscience. I have to wonder if exposing oneself to said exploration for the sake of writing a TRUE villain doesn’t negatively affect the author to at least some small degree…It's those "normal moment quirks" that make some villains irrisitable. They keep you off guard and make you briefly forget the atrocities that they are capable of. Real-life examples....serial killers are often VERY charming individuals...as are a lot of sociopaths...
And there is nothing wrong with how any villain is written....it is the choice of the author. Personal taste. I believe Chair Fives' entire point of this Round Table was that there is a scarcity of REALLY scary villains out there...ones who are not redeemable in any way, shape, or form.