Super Villain Boot Camp: Where baddies go to shape up


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    I write the worst baddies.  I mean the worst.  You know the villain is in Much Ado About Nothing (the Joss Whedon, Kenneth Brannagh or original Shakespeare version)?  I write worse.  It makes me sad, because I want to write villains like Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender (original cartoon series only, thank you).  Or […]

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  • Plotist Team: Community Storyteller

    I admit that more and more I am find myself routing for antagonists in many of the stories I read. I also admit that my stories tend to have characters that many would consider monsters. For me, when it comes to villains or antagonists I want someone who makes me feel slightly uncomfortable. Something that challenges my ethical understanding. To help though, and to answer your last question I make sure that the antagonist has their own rich story, one I could write where they are the protagonist, and the protagonist in the story I write is actually their antagonist. It has helped to make sure that every villain I have is more than just the anti-protagonist.



  • I tend to write my 'villains' more like anti-heroes. I try to view their perspective as if they were the protagonist. It helps me to see it from this perspective because it makes the writing feel more real. If you can view your antagonist's reasoning and understand what has driven them to become what they are, you'll write them from a much more personal source.


  • Plotist Team: Community Storyteller

    I think that's a great way to do it @kalebT. If you just see a character (makes no difference if it is a protag, antag, side character, taxi driver) as there just to move the plot on, readers can feel that. I highly recommend keeping "sonder" in mind for every single character.



  • I currently have one villain character that I'm actually proud of. I consider her my first successful villain and, well, the only one of my characters to date that I can both identify with and hate with a blinding fury. And I think that's because her views of the world are so warped that she believes she's doing good. She's willing to sacrifice everything to achieve that notion of 'good', herself included. She's not afraid to die, kill, or even destroy the things she loves for those goals and her logic is so sound at times that I often find myself questioning my own sanity while writing her.

    Because what she wants to do does make sense, but, at the same time, it involves the deaths of thousands of innocents. :/

    Other than her, I've never written full villains or full heroes, just messed up humans. One of my most likable characters in the RP series I'm running is actually a telepathic serial killer. He's so likable that he's called by other characters to babysit their kids. And yes, they know exactly who and what he is while doing so, but hey; he's also great with kids.


  • Plotist Team: Community Storyteller

    @Blackbird That is awesome. The idea of someone who breaks "social ethical codes" but is awesome with children. Or helps the elderly across streets. I've found it comes down to knowing the ethics of the world I am writing in, then warping them and turning a character up to 11. :D



  • @Josey I actually had a friend complain to me that I don't villainize him like I should, that she doesn't like the fact she can't hate him, which, to me is about as great of a compliment as I'll ever get on my writing because that's exactly what I was going for with him.


  • Plotist Team: Community Storyteller

    @Blackbird said in Super Villain Boot Camp: Where baddies go to shape up:

    @Josey I actually had a friend complain to me that I don't villainize him like I should, that she doesn't like the fact she can't hate him, which, to me is about as great of a compliment as I'll ever get on my writing because that's exactly what I was going for with him.

    Without a doubt, that is one of the best compliments. Having a character that is grey morally can make the book all the more exciting.



  • I've been a storyteller for as long as I can remember. I've been a fan of the villains throughout a number of stories for nearly the same amount of time. My perspective is that good and evil are subjective and based on perspective. If a character has a code (ethical or otherwise), it allows a common ground to be reached by some of the audience. An insane character is harder to empathize with (for me at least), but self-delusional, ignorant, enlightened, or well adjusted, I want to create characters the audience can love and/or hate (different members of the audience will go different ways).

    My advice on writing villains/heroes...don't. Write people, put them on opposing sides, they are both right (in their own minds), make the audience feel something for them (hopefully be able to relate and care about them). Also, I personally enjoy throwing people together who happen to be on the same side of a conflict, but across the moral and ethical spectrum. Cruel or kind, naive or jaded, characters got to where they are by experience and beliefs. Where they begin in your story, or end up after the journey is over, is up to you.


  • Plotist Team: Community Storyteller

    @Occi said in Super Villain Boot Camp: Where baddies go to shape up:

    My advice on writing villains/heroes...don't. Write people, put them on opposing sides, they are both right (in their own minds), make the audience feel something for them (hopefully be able to relate and care about them).

    Oh wow. Darn good point. I wouldn't have put it that way as I'm always so focused on what side the story is being told, that I forget to just make people.


  • Plotist Team: Teller of Tales

    @Occi @kalebT I think you're both right with these points, we need to look at our villains as people performing actions they think are justified and right in their own minds.

    What I struggle with is sorting this out when plotting, because I'm so used to plotting via my main character. How do you combine planning all the motivations for your characters at the same time?



  • I agree with this all. I don't like stories that try to fit the world - and characters - into black and white. The world is far too subjective for that. One of my favorite characters stars as a minor antagonist in one of my stories. He's the king of an empire in a small world, and everyone (especially in politics) hates him. The major FMC even blames him for the death of her sister. Most people accuse him of murdering his brothers and father. My favorite part is that unless I get around to writing a story in which he's a protag, there will just be 38 rumors and no truths.

    @Niffer I don't really know the motivations for my characters unless I've written them some, because that's how I get to know the character. That being said, I would suggest writing in the POVs of all of your characters, whether you use it or not. Put them in mundane situations, put them in stressful situations, put them at the dinner table - do they even eat at the dinner table?

    For example, I have one story in which the minor character's motivation is something of a paradox. He wants to do good by everyone, but he also wants to succeed his mother as ruler of the city-state, even if never in name. I only wrote one or two scenes in his perspective, but this, combined with the scenes through other characters' POV, was enough for me to see that that was his motivation.

    In another story, one character's motivation was to control the city via her role as head priestess of a patron goddess; another was to be united with his son; one's motivation was simply to spite her husband; one character was trying to redeem herself for abandoning her emotionally traumatized brother many years ago. I didn't write any of these scenes outright, I just figured it out as I went along writing scenes relevant only to the main plot of the story.

    TL;DR: When I plot, I've often written scenes, if only in my head, involving those characters most relevant to me, whether through one person's perspective, or even the perspective of a character that will never be featured in-text. Thus, I would suggest trying to write random scenes with these non-MC characters. It's the little things that will help you see what motivates them.



  • @Niffer I can share what I do, but my process has been cobbled together over a lifetime of storytelling rather than formal education. I get into each of my characters and role-play them, when I'm writing out a scene. Similar to getting into the PoV of the character mentioned by @typical_demigod . For me, that means I've established the world setting very well, and then I've gone through and charted out every character that will play more than a bit part. I have one or two dozen questions I pose to every character that might show up in my stories, if they're going to take on a major role. After I've done that character development, I can slip into their skin (and mind) and let them run wild on the page. It takes me to interesting and unpredictable places.

    Characters with smaller roles may get stereotyped or simple motivations, but often that's strategic. Less audience empathy, more pushing the plot along (or, acting as a foil for a character who I already know very well).

    Generic baddies are people too, but the story isn't about them, and the PoV of the character currently dominating the stage probably doesn't much care. An alternative, obviously, would be a considerate character who doesn't see anyone as a 'bad guy' and tries to empathize and understand every adversary. In my opinion, this sort of naivete would be a catalyst for conflict all by itself. Not my sort of MCs, but it'd be a very amusing antagonist...Constantly getting in the way of the MC with the best of intentions, never wishing to do harm, but incidentally frustrating the MC's plans and ambitions regularly enough that they come into conflict. Whether or not the MC recognizes the antagonist is simply paving the path to hell in good intentions or not, the audience could.



  • @Occi An antagonist like that I could get behind :D

    @Niffer I was checking up on a blog and found this tweet, which I think fits (not just for villains, but for all characters). It summarizes what I was trying to say anyway: https://twitter.com/SyeraMiktayee/status/786204553976778752

    Has anybody also on Nano ever participated on a Respond, Answer, Ask thread? (Someone asks a question, you answer the question and ask a new one, then the next person responds to your post, answers the question, and asks a new one, and so on and so forth.) This thread has made me think that we should set one up for characters, but I wasn't sure where it should go or if anyone would be interested in that.


  • Plotist Team: Community Storyteller

    @typical_demigod I have not participated in a Respond, Answer, Ask thread... yet. I was thinking of doing something like that here, so the fact that you have an interest in it makes me giddy! What I think I need to do is add another section to our forums for general writing discussions and things like that. Once I get that set up, instead of me starting it, I'd love to see you start it! :D



  • @Josey You can count on me! If it takes off, since we have so many worldbuilders, we might consider doing that too. ^_^


  • Plotist Team: Community Storyteller

    @typical_demigod Omg goodness. What a fantastic idea. Have the PAWs world! :D



  • @Josey Yes! I'll probably get around to making that a little later, if all are in favor! ^_^


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