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 Guide to playing a good villain

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Join date : 2012-02-15
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PostSubject: Guide to playing a good villain   Mon Jan 05, 2015 6:12 pm

Of course I am messing around with the word 'good' here. What I mean of course is how do you play a villain well

Well, let's first look at;

What Makes a Good Literary Villain?(taken from THIS article, this section is comprised of the article in the link and  has been slightly modified to fit this guide)

A great literary villain is not any one thing; some are moustache-twirlers or evil geniuses, some are darkly complex, tortured souls, while others are amoral crazies who act wholly on impulse. There are many ways to write a literary villain, but a unique characteristic often binds the truly memorable anti-heroes together: they are at least as complex as the heroes.

Some of the earliest and greatest literary villains come from William Shakespeare. While literature certainly featured villainous characters before, Shakespeare had a talent and interest in developing their characters and the motivations behind their evil actions. In Othello, Shakespeare gives us possibly the most iconic literary villain of all time: Iago. The play revolves entirely around his schemes, and Iago frequently speaks to the audience, explaining himself and his plans. This tradition of a “thinking villain†has influenced many writers throughout history, and led to the creation of dozens of famous literary evildoers.

A great literary villain can be almost entirely pure evil; in the revolutionary Harry Potter series, much of the climax depends on the idea that the villain, Lord Voldemort, is truly unredeemable and beyond help. Yet the simple motivation of gaining ultimate power is the most basic thing about Voldemort; what makes him a compelling villain is the meticulous explanation of his past and rise to power. The depth of his villainy makes him a powerful and memorable figure, one that will haunt the nightmares of many for a long time to come.

Other villains are complex in their seeming amorality. These characters are particularly frightening as they seem to live chaotically, choosing actions by impulse or for their own highest good at any cost. Sometimes, these characters are described as gray- or anti-villains. They will occasionally do good, if necessary, but can very suddenly decide to do evil or actions that are detrimental to the hero. The random-seeming pathos of these villains is unnerving and memorable, as the challenge the concepts of ordered systems by their very existence.

A good literary villain can also be one with motivations or characteristics that are both easy to identify with, and to a certain extent, universal. Creating a villain that is sympathetic gives readers a powerful contradiction of emotions. While they do not want the character to succeed in their dastardly plans, they feel true remorse for the pain or fatal flaws causing the villain to react with evil. In Macbeth, the villain arguably does a good thing, by ridding the kingdom of a weak and frail king and replacing him as a hero of the nation. Yet Macbeth is twisted by his own love of power, and, almost against his own will, falls into darkness.

For the most part, the best literary villains remind us that they, too, are human. No matter how twisted or dark they might be, they are not so different than you or I. The paths that separate the hero from the villain are complex and uncertain, and great writers are often able to accurately depict not only the evil done, but the humanity abandoned.

So to Re-Cap
(all original content from here)

  • They are COMPLEX
  • Develop the characteristics and motivation behind their actions.
  • Make them unredeemable and beyond help
  • Give depth to villainy and make them memorable and compelling
  • Amorality, the heart of Chaos
  • Unnerve the reader
  • Identify with the villain and justify their actions
  • Always have them abandon humanity

How to...

...achieve this?

They are COMPLEX - so don't be scared to confuse people. Match the complexity of the hero/es, how else can you hope to defeat them? Mwahahahaha! Every villain needs his master plan, his plot to gain power, or take over the world! Don't shy away from these grand schemes and don't be afraid to make them convoluted. The more diabolical and far fetched the better!

Develop the characteristics and motivation behind their actions. - this is where you get depth and character development. You don't have to always agree with or understand these motivations, not everything has to be justified or indeed, sane, and you don't always have to identify with your villain, just know them. For every action there is a reaction, for every thought there is substance. Random is fine but have some method to their madness otherwise you are just playing someone insane, not always a villain. Like the Joker give them reason, make them make sense even if it is just to themselves. The plan can be to have no plan but give them a direction and a reason for that direction. You don't have to reveal it too soon or even at all, just knowing it helps you write them though.

Make them unredeemable and beyond help - again, this is not true for every villain, but sometimes it helps to write the more... messy actions and deeds if in your mind this person is beyond retribution. You are merely playing a part, telling their story, you do not need to justify them only admit they are beyond help and have no morality and are wholly disconnected to you (even if you are vicariously living through them, haha! Kidding, I am kidding >_> )

Give depth to villainy and make them memorable and compelling - don't be a wall flower, villains rarely are. Give them gravitas, give them quirks, give them bravado! Don't be afraid to make them arrogant and even if they are slimy little so and so's at least make them compelling... so they work in secret? Does that mean when you post them your writing has to be as forgettable as their actions are supposed to be?

Amorality, the heart of Chaos - ahhhh, chaos! How I love thee! A villains best friend is his insanity, but even the insane have some order to their madness. There can be chaos in order and to write it convincingly you still need to construct this amoral character in an orderly fashion, otherwise you lose sight of what you are trying to achieve with them and just end up with a huge mess; both in character and in your writing. Amorality is difficult to write well, so I advise against it if you are a newb to writing 'good' villains. This takes practice, and flair. When done correctly though you end up with a truly frightening character, impulsive, selfish, single minded, on the edge and unpredictable. They may seem to do good sometimes but they always manage to cause chaos for the hero, so focus on that... their aims are always shifting, so litter their actions chaotically but wisely, not leaning too much towards one side or t'other, always keep them guessing!

This should be your Amoral villains mantra:

"Make the random pathos as unnerving and memorable as possible and challenge the concepts of ordered systems by my very existence."

Unnerve the reader - by doing pretty awful things. Mwahahaha! Don't tell them what's coming, sit on it and surprise them (but don't god mode!). There are clever ways of unsettling your fellow posters without forcing them down a path they might not want to go. Use atmosphere, language and most of all, intelligence to write a truly convincing villain. Weave your plots around the hero and challenge them, unsettle their character mentally and always stay one step ahead of the game. There is no such thing as a stupid villain, that's what henchman number five is for.Wink

Identify with the villain and justify their actions - by doing this you limit yourself with the other conventions, and limit what you may be prepared to write, but there is a way around it. They may have universal traits, even a justifiable reason for their villainy, but does the end justify the means? That is what you need to cling to... Make the end justifiable but the means abhorrent. We can sympathise with their childhood and trauma, and its something we can identify with on most levels, but how we deal with it and how the villain deals with it is what sets us apart and enables you as a writer to write this despicable actions. Justify it by saying; "Well I can see why I just can't condone the how of it, but it does happen." You do not want them to succeed but you feel remorse for them, and understand the fatal flaws that lead them to act out these villainous deeds.

Always have them abandon humanity - this is a journey and to complete their metamorphoses it is advisable to detach them from humanity and make them a beast. Always is probably a bit strong, as not all villains are irredeemable and not all go as far down the path of evil but for the sake of the conventions most must go down this path most of the way if we are to preserve the beauty that is villainy and indeed, evil.

Obviously not all of this can be achieved in one character, so what types of villains have these conventions?

Villainous conventions

As far as I know these literary concepts do not meet up and greet their fans, no, I am referring to the types of villains you can write, and how you combine the above conventions.

Archetypal villains  - these are types of villains that can be seen in most literature.

The "Thinking Villain" - The plot revolves entirely around their schemes, they frequently outline their plan and modify it, explaining themselves and their plans, sometimes attempting to justify it. This tradition of a “thinking villain†has influenced many writers throughout history, and led to the creation of dozens of famous literary evildoers.

The Malcontent - The Malcontent is a character type that is often discontent with the social structure and other characters in the plot. He or she is often an outsider, who observes and offers commentary on the action, and are often a bastard or illegitimate child with resentment at being poor, ignored or not included in the family. Shakespeare's Richard III and Iago in Othello are typical malcontents. The role is usually both political and dramatic; with the malcontent voicing dissatisfaction with the usually 'Machiavellian' political atmosphere and often using asides to build up a kind of self-consciousness and awareness which other characters will lack. The morality and sympathy of the malcontent is a massive variable, and sometimes, as in Hamlet and The Malcontent, they are the sympathetic centre, whereas Iago is a very unsympathetic character. The most important thing about the malcontent, is that he is malcontent—unhappy, unsettled, displeased with the world as he sees it—not at ease with the world in which he finds himself, eager to change it somehow, or to dispute with it. He is an objective or quasi-objective voice that comments on concerns and comments as though he is somehow above or beyond them. The word itself epitomises the nature of this character, mal - bad and content, not contented with his lot or the world.

The "Rogue" - The assassin, the thief, the character who has the most sympathy and often the most transition. He/she can be the main antagonist, the main villain, or in servitude of a villain and either become a villain themselves (and often murdering their 'master' in the process) or reforming and changing their ways.

The Mad scientist - chaos, anarchy, insanity! Always always always has some grand experiment and is single minded to the point where it is often to their own demise. They refuse to see beyond their plans and they often enrage their own minions. 

The Supervillain - The Uber Villain, the dude who is pulling all the strings and changing the world to suit them. Can cause the creator to make a Gary Stu, but the best way to avoid this is to focus on his flaws. He is arrogant, and mistreats his minions and henchmen, he undermines his allies and he underestimates his enemies. To play an interesting supervillain you MUST have him have a fall, and the higher he is before, all the better. Strip him of his power and force him to regain it slowly and force him to focus on his basic strengths, thus removing the Gary Stu element. Supervillains are often power played so I urge you to make his weaknesses debilitating and you are on to a winner! Be willing to be defeated and prove his worth by playing him in a clever manner. He is intelligent so don't rely on his power, make him politically savvy and with the ability to adapt and recognise his own failures, after he has fallen. Remember, Pride before the Fall, so if he is starting in a position of power, prepare to bring him down a peg or two and allow him to bleed. Make him untouchable and no one will touch you, literally they won't post with you as that character.

The Evil Overlord - teh Emperor, the all powerful Ming! Lord Sidius, Sauron, you know the deal. Often a canon and never to be overplayed, use this villain through his minions. Create his apprentice, his faithful servant, his slave and if you are an admin only play him to progress the plot. He is too hot to touch for too long, too awesome and powerful to play every day, so bring him out on special occasions and then put him back on your shelf of awesomeness. Too much of a good/powerful thing does not a good plot make. As fun as they are to play resist the urge, everything in moderation!

The Evil Genius - Unlike the mad scientist this dude is not completely insane. His genius may drive him insane but he still has some grip on reality and thus renders him more dangerous. Often under the radar, weaving his evil threads and relishing in his machinations this villain is fun to play but extremely hard to pull off.

The Traitor - my personal favourite! Clever, two faced and normally in disguise for 90% of his career as a villain the betrayal must be significant and he is NOT TO BE TRUSTED! Yet the bloody hero always ends up trusting him. Tips on playing the traitor... be cool. Do not tell everyone your plans and trick your fellow posters into believing him. If you post at a board that allows one account per character make TWO profiles, one the arch villain the other the disguise and do not reveal the link until the OPPORTUNE moment. You'll know when it is, if you are clever enough you will have manipulated the plot in order to reveal your true self and thus betray the hero. Before this happens you'll have a tingling sensation, but don't worry, that's is just the anticipation of being able to finally bellow your evil laugh.... having practised it in secret for so many years.... Bwahahahahaaaa! 

The Sycophant - The snake, a self-seeking, servile flatterer, a fawning parasite! The seemingly servile weasel who attempts to win favour by flattering influential people. Sometimes in the servitude of a king, but truly his loyalties lie with the arch villain, sometimes this sycophant is the arch villain though, perhaps in disguise. Do not overplay this character, keep him under the radar and eventually reveal his true allegiance, be that another master or evil instead of good.

Some Final Words of Wisdom

  1. Stay true to your character and the archetype.
  2. Have a plan! You don't always have to stick to it, that depends on the character, but have some focus or your plot will suffer!
  3. Don't be afraid to be bad. Its fun!
  4. Torture is always a good 'talent' to have.
  5. Don't be afraid of the stereotypes, villains are clichàbut the execution of the clichàis what matters. Take the convention and make it your own, twist it to your needs and wants.
  6. Mix and match - keep people guessing and keep in interesting for yourself. Don't always stick to form, try all kinds of villains!
  7. Don't be scared of them, embrace their villainy and detach yourself if need be to get the job done.
  8. Enjoy them as characters and don't taint them with "bunnies" and "sunshine". Be bad, and be good at being bad.
  9. Practice makes perfect!
  10. Don't give up! Playing a good villain is hard, but the better the villain the better the hero and the more interesting the plot!

This Guide was originally created for the members of TNR.

'How to Play a 'good' villain' written by Caducus of http://rpg-directory.com


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