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On evil: most villains in sci-fi/fantasy -- or hell, any genre of fiction, period -- inspire no fear or hate in me.

Take Sauron in Lord of the Rings. Oh, everyone'll cower at the mention of his name. We know he commands a vast army of unwashed, wicked orcs and the spoooky Ringwraiths. We know that, if he wins, he'll cover Arda in eternal darkness. So what? Boo-freaking-hoo. I don't bloody care. Sauron's not threatening. He's just there. He doesn't hurt a character that I can empathize with; he doesn't harm a character that I have come to care about. He just hovers there at the edge of the plot. (Partly, his lack of oomph has to do with the fact that I can't bring myself to give a fig about Tolkien's characters, as I think they are all flat, annoying, and tedious to read about. But again, another separate rant altogether.)

IMO, these vague evil overlords who are evil because, well, the writer tells you they're evil demonstrate sloppy characterization on the writer's part. "Evil" spirits, elemental forces, and suchlike lack character, personality, and therefore they do not give me a sense of menace or intimidation. I prefer my villains to be more personal and much, much more subtle. Perversion of what is considered normal mind, someone who can have tea with you one moment and execute you the next, heartless manipulation -- these are the things that, I think, actually bear some semblance of being frightening.

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I got no "fear feeling" about Sauron as well. Maybe it was simply because I never understood what was so evil with "him".

And that goes for anyone in MIddleearth : Only the High Eöves, the Maiar and very few others acttually know and understand what "kind" of creature Sauron is - and why "he" actually is dangerous. Others, like Gollum for example, would innocently run across "his" path - and being picked up.

Speaking of emotions and characterization, I thought that the Orcs were described fairly well, because their descriptioon evoked certain emotions in my - they stand for everything "animalistic" in our perception, especially because they don't wash themselves every morning. <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/delight.gif" alt="" />


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Could never understand Sauron myself either! Or even Saruman for that matter. What was Sauron other than some entity who had ugly dumb orcs do his bidding!? What was Saurons motivation!? Why did he want to hang around with orcs trolls and ringwraiths that screamed at every little thing they saw!? <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/tongue.gif" alt="" />

Sauron was 'evil' in the way you'd say a large corporate company like Nike are 'evil'! I'm not afraid to pick up a pair of Nikes, though I wouldn't wear the accursed things!

A far more menacing character is a human one, with dark thoughts, and evil schemes, a subtle manipulator who does what it takes to take power. Not some bodyless lighthouse with an army of unwashed nobodies! <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/evilgrin1.gif" alt="" />

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Sauron's predecesor (corrupter and liege-lord too, actually) had much more substance to him, I'd say. Morgoth's brand of evil has some motives to it, although his actions strike me as just bratty rather than malevolent. ("Daddy Eru wouldn't let me mess up the music, so I'll go and kick down my siblings' lamps and trees!") In the Silm, Sauron has a bit more character -- he seduces Ar-Pharazon into corruption and an insane endeavor, after all. But in LOTR? Yikes. Boring, boring Dark Lord.

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On evil: most villains in sci-fi/fantasy -- or hell, any genre of fiction, period -- inspire no fear or hate in me.

Take Sauron in Lord of the Rings. Oh, everyone'll cower at the mention of his name. We know he commands a vast army of unwashed, wicked orcs and the spoooky Ringwraiths. We know that, if he wins, he'll cover Arda in eternal darkness. So what? Boo-freaking-hoo. I don't bloody care. Sauron's not threatening. He's just there. He doesn't hurt a character that I can empathize with; he doesn't harm a character that I have come to care about. He just hovers there at the edge of the plot. (Partly, his lack of oomph has to do with the fact that I can't bring myself to give a fig about Tolkien's characters, as I think they are all flat, annoying, and tedious to read about. But again, another separate rant altogether.)



I haven't found many villians who inspire cold hatred or fear within the pages of many books. In fact, I've been sitting here trying to recall *any* character who scared me enough to make a lasting impression. The only one that comes to mind is evil's representation in Stephen King's "The Stand". But it's been quite some time since I read it. However, the Silmarillion, and the LOTRs was written back during World War I. The audience was different, times are not the same, nor are people's expectations and attitudes about what defines evil.

Tolkien set out to show how man (in a mythological setting) can corrupt natural beauty. How mankind manipulates his setting and the various impact that manipulation has on our environment and our future. I don't think it was his intent to inspire hatred or fear as much as to show the destructive side of human nature.

However, in today's fantasy genre you will find cookie-cutter models of evil overlords. In the suspense and psychological thriller genres, I think evil's face is more malevolent than in fantasy stories and has subtler implications which, for me, inspire a bit more fear.

When Tolkien's LOTRs was published, it turned out to be an anomaly of sorts. Critics called it a fairytale that got out of hand. And in a way they might have been correct since Tolkien's publishers asked him to write a book for children. Tolkien, being a linguist, already had the Silmarillion in outline form (which is the background history of his LOTRs). The Hobbit was a story he had written solely for his children and never intended it to be published. After his trilogy ended up being a success, he wrote the final chapters for The Hobbitt and it was thereafter published.

I think Tolkien's genius lies in his ability to create a fantasty realm where we can see our own destructive nature and its impact on not only the environment but ourselves as a race.


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What Tolkien was really writing was not so much a story as a myth, which is why he fills the whole thing with archetypes rather than individual personalities. He once said himself that he set out to create for the English a body of legends to rival those of the Greek and Norse myths - and that's just what he did. It's why his work echoes so strongly for us, and why he has such enduring popularity here in England.

The Hobbits represent the ordinary people of England, and it is they who do the really hard and dangerous work - and ultimately they who save the world not only for themselves but for the kings and mages and heroes.

In LOTR Tolkien's characters are shallow, his plotting straightforward and his villains uninteresting - but every time we have any kind of book poll here in England LoTR wins the 'Best Ever Book' category by a very wide margin because the book speaks to us on levels no other work does.

I can't really explain the appeal better than that, I'm afraid <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />


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On the subject of 'Evil', I must confess I would prefer to avoid the label entirely when I think about my own villains. It is a bit like 'Insane' - a catch-all word too often used to mean that the author has given no thought to motivation or characterisation. It is fine for the heroes to label a villain 'Evil' or for the reader to decide for themselves that that is the case, but for an author it can be a dangerous mistake.

Labelling one's own villain as 'Evil' means it becomes easy to justify his or her every action on the grounds that s/he is 'Evil' and so lose sight of who s/he is supposed to be as a character.

Without motivation, villains merely perform vile acts seemingly at random, and so become far less scary than they should be.

At heart, a villain is no less a person than a hero is, and should be just as complex. Indeed, in some of the best novels I have ever read the antagonist is not 'Evil' at all - his goals merely lead him into conflict with the protagonist because of ideological differences, or because of the differing needs of their two peoples.

Just as a hero need not be without flaw, so a villain need not be without virtue <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />


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I thought this might be of interest :

From the Board at The Force.Net : How to write evil (Getting inside the mind of your villian)

What I find interesting , is the point of view that a villian , an evil person is sometimes someone who is not a villian from the own point of view. What I mean is, that in Star Wars the TIE Fighter pilots are not necessarily evil, but merely trying to establish and keep some sort of order.


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This is a highly edited version of my Villain Guide posted on Hero Realm. I've basically taken out all of the superhero references to avoid confusion. I think the most important point is the first - 'Evil' is socially defined, and is never a label that the truly nasty apply to themselves. Hopefully this will help people get into the minds of villains, at least a little.

The Good Villain Guide

Things I try to remember when working with villains:

1) Villains Are Heroes Too

No villain thinks of himself as 'the bad guy'. He will always have a justification for what he does, no matter how illogical or unconvincing. These reasons range from cultural or ideological all the way down to 'looking after number one'.

No villain is ever going to describe himself as 'Evil' unless he is trying to scare the heroes. He doesn't mean it.

2) Attitudes To Killing Are Cultural

Not all villains are necessarily killers. A skilled jewel thief, for example, may carry a gun that fires tranquiliser darts because he doesn't want to seriously hurt anyone.

A hero from an alien world, by contrast, may have no problem with killing an enemy, simply because his culture allows it.

3) A Good Villain Is A Smart Villain

Cannon fodder can be stupid. The master villain has to be very smart - and demonstrably so. Any master villain who loses because he is a moron will have no respect from the reader, and, worse, will have everyone wondering why his minions follow him in the first place.

Try to name a single great villain who is a fool, and you will see what I mean...

4) Insanity Is Overrated

Mostly a writer will use 'insanity' as a shorthand way of saying he doesn't know what makes the villain tick. Avoid this particular shortcut at all costs.

There are a lot of 'insane' villains out there, but you can count the good ones on the fingers of one hand.

5) Good Villains Have Believable Motives

Your villain does what he does for a reason, be it power, wealth, prestige, the advancement of science or anything else. He might be driven or forced to it, he might even have the best possible motives combined with the worst possible methods.

Your villain should always keep his main objective in view. To a good villain, the heroes are most likely an obstacle, not a goal. If they can be circumvented or distracted or otherwise gotten around, your villain should attempt this method in preference to a direct confrontation, unless he is certain of victory.

Revenge for the death of a loved one is a good motive. It also moves into a grey area...

6) A Villain Is Not Always A Villain

Sometimes the person or group opposing your heroes will have a good and justifiable reason to do so. It may be a question of honour, or misunderstanding, or that they feel the heroes are responsible for the death of someone they loved.

7) Villains Must Act Plausibly

A psycopathic killer does not spare the hero's life because he is 'not worth killing'. A time-travelling conquerer does not invade when his known enemies are at their strongest. A clever villain does not mount a direct attack upon the heroes unless he is certain of winning. No villain fights a hero who always beats him unless he has no means of escape. These things are implausible, and ruin the flow of your story.

Similarly, your villains must act within the scope of their powers. This works both ways. Your villain should not suddenly pull powers out of nowhere to allow an escape or a win, but then neither should the heroes.

If you are being forced to write a hero or villain 'down' in order to make the story work, you need a new villain.


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Very good ! <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/up.gif" alt="" />

I'll keep this in mind, if I ever decide to write a villian. <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/winkwink.gif" alt="" />


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Well since I almost always seem to write villians (check out almost all stories Ive written) this will help. Thanks! <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/up.gif" alt="" />



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Thanks for the kind words, Alrik & Lews <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />


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Elliot_Kane said:

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In LOTR Tolkien's characters are shallow, his plotting straightforward and his villains uninteresting - but every time we have any kind of book poll here in England LoTR wins the 'Best Ever Book' category by a very wide margin because the book speaks to us on levels no other work does.


Yeah, but I must be missing something, because LOTR speaks to me on... uh, precisely no levels whatsoever. When I can't bring myself to care about the characters, as I've said before, I won't care about their stories. Period. For me, characters drive the story. Characters are, essentially, the story. Failing that, there's the plot. If neither characterization nor plot grabs me, all bets are off. I only finished LOTR for the sake of it being the foundation of modern fantasy. (Note the word "modern"; I know that LOTR is hardly the foundation of all fantasy genre or something.)

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I thought this might be of interest :

From the Board at The Force.Net : How to write evil (Getting inside the mind of your villian)

What I find interesting , is the point of view that a villian , an evil person is sometimes someone who is not a villian from the own point of view. What I mean is, that in Star Wars the TIE Fighter pilots are not necessarily evil, but merely trying to establish and keep some sort of order.


It's very rare to come across an individual who will label themselves 'evil'. Even the people our society labels 'evil' (Saddam Hussein, Adolph Hitler, Idi Amin..., etc.) thought they were doing 'good' on behalf of their own people. And that's where viewpoint and motivation becomes interesting for a writer.

I've always been fascinated by human behavior. Not from a judgmental point of view, but probably more from a clinical aspect. People who inspire fear in the average person fascinate me. I have at least 50 books on serial killers, socio- and psychopaths, pedophiles, sadists, etc. in my library and many other books that are probably considered quite macabre. They have opened the door to a glimpse of man's darker side. A side which dwells in every one of us. The triggers that set these types of personalities in motion are what interests me the most. And those triggers are the basic motivation in developing a depraved character. (I.e., abusive childhood, witness to a violent crime, psychological abuse, etc. all are the impetus that bring about some kinds of personality disorders).

So when creating a compelling villain (my fingers have yet learned to type 'villain' properly, as it always comes out 'villian'), there has to be some kind of reader identification. Otherwise, the character and message are lost. A villain's character must have some redeeming quality. Even more appropriate, the conflict which inspires what we call 'evil' must be plausible within the context of the storyline and something the reader can identify with. Creating an antagonist without redeemable qualities will undoubtly result in a 2 dimensional character.

Also, when creating your antagonist, his/her actions (no matter how outlandish) must be anchored in the believeable. Designing an evil character for evil's sake is amateurish, lazy and not well thought out.

After giving some thought to who my favorite 'villain' (I really don't like that word) is, I'd say Hannibal Lecter. I both love and dispise him at the same time which makes an interesting character, IMHO.

Another way to look at 'bad men' is ask yourself this: Is it possible to like a person but dislike their actions? If you can answer 'yes' to that question, take note of your specific likes and dislikes for they will play an important role in a well-developed antagonist.


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)4. Insanity Is Overrated

Mostly a writer will use 'insanity' as a shorthand way of saying he doesn't know what makes the villain tick. Avoid this particular shortcut at all costs.

There are a lot of 'insane' villains out there, but you can count the good ones on the fingers of one hand.


Insanity should not be 'avoided'. It should be researched. In fact, all characters need to be researched on some level. I dislike the use of blanket warnings, Elliot which is why I'm responding to your message. I understand your point but I think there is a more important message regarding 'shortcuts'. Beginners to the craft do not always do their homework and I can't stress the importance of a well-researched character (or plotline). Therefore, if your character's motivations stem from a personality disorder, that disorder should be researched and understood by the author. A poorly researched character is (IMHO) akin to fingernails screeching down a blackboard. *shivers*


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Back to evil: yes, I agree -- nobody would really think of him/herself as evil, which is why, say, R.A. Salvatore's omniscient style bothers me a lot. He keeps describing his villains as "the evil priest", "the evil mage" and so on and so forth. Glurg. (Okay, my problems with Salvatore's writing does not stop there, but this is one of them. Does he think his audience consists entirely of braindead Homo habilis or what?)

I love, love, love a well-written villain. It's something many shared worlds I enjoy lack, IMO. Star Wars? Oy vey. Vader is about as threatening as a pink rubber duckie. Palpatine's manipulations in the prequel movies make him look a bit better in my eyes, but still, not much oomph here. Malak in KotOR just makes me want to cry. (Well, no, he makes me want to throw a rotten tomato at him and seethe. Then I go off and write fanfiction in an attempt to make him more three-dimensional.)

Incidentally, if anyone's interested, I've written an essay/rant on Mary Sue, the pit-trap of characterization into which many beginners will fall.

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By the way, Hitler was possibly at least partly kind of "insane". I've recently found an article in a newspaper about a book describing the possible reason why :

Hitler fought in the WWI and came back, blind out of psychological reasons, mentally wounded.

A Psychologist (kind of), a Professor Doctor Edmund Forster used a shock therapy which was desined to make " [combat] ready soldiers" out of patients, and he used it with many people, including Adolf Hitler, the mentally wounded and psychologically blinded ex-soldier.

The article says that the method consisted of shock-elements, and of the suggestion, that the own symptoms of a single person were not important considered against the suffering of others and the "great common task" of a sum of people. A hypnosis-like suggestion should incude that the treated people should be able to heal themselves through sheer will. The article lists as "shock-elements" the following : Shouting at a person, calm talking, electro shocks, cold water.

Hitler regained his sight, thus being partially healed, but also the treatment induced in him to be "a chosen one".

So, the article says that the book says that he believed he had to "heal" the society from its suffering - as a kind of "chosen doctor" - chosen to heal the society. We know where this led to.

The article says that this book has its mistakes (sometimes poorly recherched facts), but I find the report of this "therapy" interesting. It might have done things from bad to worse. Also, it shows how the Therapist looked upon human live : Not as an indivudual being, but only as a means to support one obscure "Great Idea". Typical for that time, I believe.

For the record : "Hitler. Ein Sohn des Krieges." by Manfred Koch-Hillebrecht, Herbig Verlag (Publisher), Munich 2003, about 30 Euros. Unfortunately no ISBN Number is given.



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)4. Insanity Is Overrated

Mostly a writer will use 'insanity' as a shorthand way of saying he doesn't know what makes the villain tick. Avoid this particular shortcut at all costs.

There are a lot of 'insane' villains out there, but you can count the good ones on the fingers of one hand.


Insanity should not be 'avoided'. It should be researched. In fact, all characters need to be researched on some level. I dislike the use of blanket warnings, Elliot which is why I'm responding to your message. I understand your point but I think there is a more important message regarding 'shortcuts'. Beginners to the craft do not always do their homework and I can't stress the importance of a well-researched character (or plotline). Therefore, if your character's motivations stem from a personality disorder, that disorder should be researched and understood by the author. A poorly researched character is (IMHO) akin to fingernails screeching down a blackboard. *shivers*


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Faralas...

My Guide began really as a fanfic guide for writing about US comic characters, where 'Insanity' in used as a general excuse far too often and with no thought whatsoever, so I thought a blanket 'Do Not Use' was best. There are far too many poorly thought out comic villains as is <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />

In general I would say that while it is less true for other writers, even a well-researched form of insanity is still in some ways a means of excusing the villain for their actions, or at the least making those actions more palatable to the reader.

After all, the reader can give a sigh of relief and tell themselves, "Great! He's insane! Normal people wouldn't do that!"

The truth is 'normal people' are guilty of some truly horrendous things, and any get out for the reader is in a sense a way of reducing the evil of the villain.

Sure, many forms of insanity can come across well and create a very chilling read - but the best villains are those who truly believe they are acting for the noblest motives, and will justify any atrocity because their goal is more important to them than the means used to get there.

They are the best because - with one tiny mental slip - they could be any of us... Our friends, our neighbours, even ourselves... Now that is scary <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />

I may not have explained it well, Faralas, but I did think about it <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />


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Incidentally, if anyone's interested, I've written an essay/rant on Mary Sue, the pit-trap of characterization into which many beginners will fall.


Excellent, Winterfox! I really like that <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />

A good examination of the traps of cliche and lack of environmental/historical awareness.


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Alrik...

Very interesting sidenote on Hitler. Thanks for that <img src="/ubbthreads/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" /> It was certainly something I was unaware of, and I suspect many other people were too.


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