21 June, 2012

What's Your Favorite Villainous Trait?

Partly because of last week's post Is There A Certain Type Of Character You Like To Write About?, I'm wondering about the other side of the equation: Villains.

A few characteristics seem to repeat themselves throughout fiction, with physical deformities being one that comes quickly to mind. There's usually a scarred, one-eyed, wheezy, or otherwise imperfect (occasionally just ugly) antagonist to be found, which I guess is supposed to be a reflection of the his or her inner qualities. On the other hand, of course, there are the perfect, attractive antagonists who achieved their beauty through nefarious means.

Then there is personality. Most villains are as smart if not smarter than the protagonist; some are relatively balanced except for a major destructive flaw; some have a rough history; some tried to do good and turned bad; some were inclined toward crime/violence/etc. at the onset.

What do you like to see in a villain? Are there any traits that you think are always cliches, regardless of the story? What is your antagonist like?


-----The Golden Eagle

62 comments:

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I could talk about this question forever! I love villains, they are by far my favorite characters (except perhaps the shady, suave Han Solo-esk kind!). I love all kinds of villains - real villains, I mean, not cartoon villains. It's always great when there are levels of complexity, but there's also something great about a bad guy who just kills everyone he can. I'm not picky, I love them all. :)

mooderino said...

I always enjoy super smart villains who consider most people too stupid to let live. they could take over the world, if only they weren't insane.

mood
Moody Writing
@mooderino
The Funnily Enough

Hildred said...

My favorite villains are ones who are/feel forced into the villain role, and do their villain-deeds because they honestly believe that it's best for humanity even if nobody else agrees. They're the most complicated and fascinating, I think.

Jamie Gibbs said...

My favourite antagonists are the ones who are 100% bought into the idea that they are the good guys, even though they commit very serious crimes. Their insanity and their passion make them a complicated character.

Precy Larkins said...

I like villains who think/believe that they are in the right. Makes for a complex perspective.

Krista McLaughlin said...

Great question! I love villains that aren't ugly, but have a nice appearance, yet they are so ugly inside that they seem ugly. It's a little cliche, but my villain is very nice looking, but he is a murder of children. Not a nice guy.

His second in command is not appealing, scarred and limps. But he's secretly kind. Definitely one of my favorite guys. You think he's the villain too, but he isn't. Like Snape, from Harry Potter, seems evil but in the end actually a good guy.

Andrew Leon said...

I think the most important quality in a villain is ruthlessness, the willingness to do what needs to be done no matter what. They're not much of a villain without that.

Old Kitty said...

I like naughty fun villains! LOL! Like Madame Mimm in The Sword in the Stone! Sorry not exactly a fiction book character, but I really like bad characters like her! Take care
x

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I want the villain to have a sympathetic motivation. That is, we may not like how the villain behaves, but we can understand how s/he justifies it.

Pat Hatt said...

I like many depending on the situation. But the ones who are larger than life are fun

J. A. Bennett said...

I like to see people mix things up. My antagonist is a beautiful forever 18 year old boy, a brilliant scientist, and totally messed up mentally. My character falls in love with him at one point, hehe :)

Griffinclaw said...

I love the idea of making the villains, just... human. Like the author makes you understand why they do the things they do, and what makes them tick. Doesn't mean you have like or appreciate what they do (especially since they are the villain,) but they got to have a reason for being bad. They can't just be bad or evil for the sake of being the antagonist of the story. :P To me that's what makes a great villain.

Brian said...

Great post! It got me thinking and that is what I like in a villain, a well thought out evil deed!

Liz said...

Who the villain is depends on the story for me. What I can't stand in one story might work fine in another.

The ultimate villain in the story I'm working on right now (there are about three layers of villains) is movie star handsome and quite reasonable on the surface, but he won't hesitate to kill anyone who crosses him. I'm still working on it, however.

Charles Gramlich said...

Unless the villain is really powerful, the hero's journey doesn't work for me.

Trisha said...

I prefer to buck trends like that... I have a hero who is badly scarred, and stuff like that. :)

I'm with mood on the smart villain thing. Evil geniuses are fun. Then again, moronic lackeys of evil dudes are fun too.

Christine Rains said...

I'm a fan of the highly intelligent villains. Especially the ones that believe they are doing the right thing and their logic seems infallible but what they're doing is evil!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I like the really smart villains who stay a few steps ahead of the good guys. I also like ones who fight for what they really believe is best instead of just greed or evil natures.

Brinda said...

My antagonist seems like a nice guy until you realize that he isn't. I'm with Jamie G on this one.

Matt said...

I like villains who are not necessarily the cliche evil but they are still considered the villain. Anti-heroes are fun too, maybe I'm just tired of the cliche good guys.

Cacy said...

I'm all for smart, competent villains who really make the heroes earn every victory, or maybe even repeatedly steal the victories altogether (Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of my favorite villains from the last few years.)

But I also like villains who are complicated and can make doubt your judgement of them and get you thinking about whether or not you can trust them, whether or not they can change (The Mayor from Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking Trilogy really messed with the protag - and reader's - mind by the time we got to the end of the last book)

And I love the in-between villains who are often antagonists and bad guys but not "evil" and completely awful, can sometimes help the cause but also be trouble for the good guys. Those types of villains can be a lot of fun to have around (The Duke of Detroit from the new animated series Motor City is a GREAT example. Newest addition to my list of most favoritest characters ever).

That's my short list of favorites. I love good villains. (Especially in animation!) They just add so much to a story.

Deborah Walker said...

I like a villain who is self-aware, but who just doesn't care.

Also I like posts that rhyme.

stuartnager said...

Never thought about it: right off the bat, smart comes to mind. Deeply disturbed is next. Not crazy about the "meek one reveal".

Just fleshed out well is best all around.

Misha Gericke said...

Excellent question. I like villains who are interesting in some way.

Not very helpful or specific, but it's all I can say.

I also try to write my villains to be different from the norm.

Carol Kilgore said...

Villains are fun to write. I try to remember they are heroes of their own story, no matter what happens. Some of mine have been normal, some not so much.

cleemckenzie said...

I like complicated villains, ones you have to root for because you can't help but identify with some part of who they are.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

A villain needs to have purpose. It needs to have a reason for everything that he/she does. This gives them a three-dimensional spin that allows them to step off the page so that there are parts of you that realize they are not all bad, but simply pursuing goals that are at odds with a protagonist. They also need to be really really tough.

Heather said...

I love to see all different kinds of traits in villains. In fact, any time an author does something that hasn't been done with an antagonist, I want to stand up and cheer. A common trait though that all villains seem to need to an extent is vanity.

the writing pad said...

This is not quite on topic, but I have often observed how birds, especially males, threaten one another by dropping their wings, like cloaks, and flapping them. This made me wonder whether the darkly cloaked 'villain' of pantomime and melodrama, is based on this. Just thought I'd share that... Hope all is good with you:-)

Li said...

I suppose I like villains who are complicated - those who also have a redeeming quality, or who have some sort of motivation other than the usual. Vigilantes are attractive, as I find myself torn between justice versus revenge. Great topic!

M Pax said...

My favorite villains are those who have a true passion for what they do, that have a real joy for evil and havoc.

The Golden Eagle said...

Bethany: LOL. Han Solo-esque characters are overdone. :P

And I like all kinds of villains, too.

Mooderino: True. They make you wonder what the world would be like if they did rule.

Hildred: It definitely plays on emotions if they have that innocent element about them!

Jamie: Yeah, it does.

Precy: Agreed!

Krista: I love the sound of the contrast between your characters. :)

Andrew: Nope. Otherwise they'd probably have failed long before the hero of the story needed to defeat them.

Old Kitty: Madame Mimm . . . she was quite the character! LOL. :)

Jennifer: Indeed. A character, even the villain, can't just run around doing evil things without a reason.

Pat: Certainly!

J. A.: He sounds like a great antagonist. And all the more interesting if your MC falls in love with him. :)

Griffinclaw: It certainly doesn't make for very good storytelling if they're just evil because the author needed a foil for the protagonist.

Brian: Thank you.

Some antagonists come up with the best plans.

Liz: He sounds formidable. As Andrew mentioned above, ruthlessness is an important villain quality.

Charles: Interesting point. The protagonist's development is definitely influenced by the villain.

Trisha: I'm writing a story where both the MCs have their--er--problems. It's fun to twist the standard "heroes".

LOL. I agree!

Christine: It highlights just how wrong reason can be sometimes . . .

Susan: Me, too. It's always more interesting when the protagonist is being outsmarted.

Brinda: Cool! Though also scary. :P

Matt: I think I'm getting a little tired of the standard protagonist as well. Someday I want to write a book with a true anti-hero; now that would be a challenge.

Cacy: I thought The Mayor was brilliant. Excellent example there! I haven't heard of the others before, but I'll have to remember to check them out.

Deborah: The ones without a conscience can be really scary.

Rhyming posts are awesome. :)

(Have you ever checked out Pat Hatt's blog? He posts rhymes every single day.)

Stuart: Me, neither. Wishy-washy villains can be annoying.

Misha: Same here. Can be hard to define a specific quality, since there is such a range of villains. :)

Carol: I want to write through the perspective of a villain/anti-hero because of that. I think it would be fascinating to explore an evil character's perspective.

Cleemckenzie: They're much more human that way!

Michael: Agreed. Weak villains are too easily defeatable.

Heather: Great point. It's hard to think of a villain who wasn't vain . . .

The writing pad: That's an interesting hypothesis! It would make sense. :)

Li: The line between the two can be a fine one, that's for sure.

Thanks!

M: Those types of villains are scary to watch; if they're that insane, you don't know what they might do. :P

laughingwolf said...

good/bad are not natural phenomena, they're qualities imposed by diverse societies...

what's 'acceptable' in the western world is seen as confounding elsewhere...

forcing one's biases on others is sick!

i prefer my antagonists at least as powerful, in all ways, as protagonists

any cookie-cutter, obvious differences bore me; make me use my bean to decide which is which

RaShelle Workman said...

I like the sneaky villains - the one's who look gorgeous, act sweet, and even do nice deeds. They are lovely on the outside, and evil on the inside.

Summer Ross said...

The antagonist for my Novel is Aurora Craven and she is a witty Vixen with a troubled past.

Clarissa Draper said...

I agree with the other commenters. My favorite villains are those that either have good qualities or ones we can in someway relate to. There are no purely evil or any purely good characters.

Susan Kane said...

My favorite villain is like Professor Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes. He is brilliant, amoral, a deviant, and he will do anything it takes to defeat his rival.

DWei said...

My antagonists are condescending and well-spoken, elegant assholes. :P

Carole Anne Carr said...

Probably a cliche, but in my children's stories I give the villain, sometimes a dragon, the redeeming feature of loneliness.

Paul Tobin said...

I think a good villain is one who has decided the ends justify the means and can delude themselves that their every deplorable action is justified, even if their logic for thinking so is very off kilter. I think for a villain to work they have to be believable and have that logic/ without it I think the danger is they look 1 dimensional. i think it must be more fun to play the villain than to be the hero when acting.

klahanie said...

I thought I would allude to one part of your posting.
It is time the tired cliches, the popular misconceptions that equate to those with mental health concerns, to be labelled as 'villains' in the more sensationalised and irresponsible assets of some writing, to write in a more balanced way.
Enjoy the remainder of your weekend.
In kindness,Gary

Michael Pierce said...

I love villains that come across genuine, caring, and sophisticated...at first...then revealing a dark side plaguing or propelling them for whatever reason. I like villains that had been heroes.

Angela Ackerman said...

I think the best villains are ones that on the outside are everyday people. Clean cut, they smile at cute babies in strollers, like the taste of a crisp red apple...and have homicidal tendencies. :)

Wounds define villains, but I think to show them on the outside as a physical deformity is a bit of a cop out unless there's an exceptionally valid reason for it. It's the internal emotional wounds that really count. :)

Angela

Milo James Fowler said...

I often resort to physical scarring and bad attitudes for the villains in my pulp stories, but the rest of the time, I like my bad guys & girls to resonate with the reader in some way; I want the read to feel conflicted. Most of us have inner heroes as well as villains, right?

The Golden Eagle said...

Laughingwolf: Good point!

Subtle differences between characters do make a story more interesting.

RaShelle: Sugar-coated villains, as it were? :)

Summer: I love her name; and she sounds like an intriguing villain!

Clarissa: Nope; as much as some stories seem to try to promote that ideal.

Susan: Moriarty is a brilliant villain. There's a good example of a character who has more cunning than the protagonist.

DWei: LOL.

Villains who know how to use words are formidable.

Carole: That's certainly an element people can relate to.

Paul: I've heard that it's true; playing the villain is more interesting than the hero. Villains allow for a lot more room, I imagine. :)

Gary: Thank you for pointing that out! It is sad the way individuals with mental health problems are looked down upon.

Hope you enjoy the rest of the weekend as well!

Michael: Ah, now that's an interesting twist for a villain. Makes you wonder what would cause them to scorn the hero.

Angela: Agreed. Scars don't have to be external, and probably shouldn't be most of the time.

Milo: I would think so!

Samantha Sotto said...

I enjoy a villain that you can't help but feel sympathetic for :)

....Petty Witter said...

Ooh, now this is a difficult one. I must confess that I quite like my villains to have a vulnerable side and a reason for why they are what they are.

Michael Pierce said...

I know I already commented here, but I just wanted to say that I have an award waiting for you on my blog if you're interested in checking it out. Hope you had a great weekend! :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

I'm not a big fan of deformities defining the villain. Most are very smart and look perfectly normal, as you say, except for the thing they're focused on. I think they're even more scary if they're the average everyday sort. They pattern life. I think about Hannibal Lecter. He was charming, brilliant, and yourself being drawn and repelled. But his creepiness came from surface normal.

http://henderson-jo.blogspot.com/2012/06/sia-mckyegemstones-for-healing.html

olmpic station park said...
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The Golden Eagle said...

Samantha: Certainly adds conflict!

Petty Witter: I agree. There has to be reason for their villain status.

Michael: Heading over! :)

Sia: I've never actually read a book or seen a movie with the Hannibal Lecter character, but he sounds like an excellent villain.

Cherie Reich said...

I like the intelligent villain, like a Hannibal Lecter.

Nancy Thompson said...

I like to understand what makes an antagonist tick, why he is so bad. I don't like cliched antagonists. They have to be rich and understandable, even a bit sympathetic, their reason, not their methods.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

I like a villain who's complicated. You might start out liking him/ her, but then start having this uneasy feeling that there's more there than meets the eye.

Emily R. King said...

What a fun question! I like my antagonist to be an antagonist. There's nothing I dislike more than an antagonist who isn't really evil. Evil is evil. I don't do shades of gray.

Ciara said...

I've always enjoyed the genius gone wrong type of hero. Hannibal comes to mind.

The Golden Eagle said...

Cherie: Second vote for Hannibal Lecter. :)

Nancy: Agreed!

Elizabeth: They're some of the creepiest.

Emily: Those kind of antagonists can be fun to read about. :)

Ciara: Third for Hannibal!

Cally Jackson said...

I really like villains who have slivers of good in them. It makes them more believable and even more frustrating when they let their evil triumph in their heart.

Krispy said...

I love ambiguous villains because they keep me on my toes. I'm never quite sure what they're going to do, or sometimes I don't even know what they're after. It's that whole walking on the edge that attracts me. They're villainous, but they show glimmers of redemption.

I also like villains that are attractive vs. villains that are ugly because the dichotomy is intriguing - that their outer selves don't reflect the ugliness of their inner selves. Plus, we have such a tradition of equating ugliness with evil that that sort of presentation feels kind of cliche to me, and the conclusion you can draw that ugly = evil is also kinda offensive.

The Golden Eagle said...

Cally: Yup. They make you want them to turn good. :)

Krispy: Same here. Ambiguous villains are much more like normal people.

I agree--it is offensive (though I think that some physical afflictions can be pulled off).

Maurice Mitchell said...

Golden Eagle, it's gotta be the God Complex. Whenever a villain says, "I'm more powerful than God!" you know he's going to die a horrible, horrible death.

The Golden Eagle said...

Maurice: Great example of a villain. No good comes from power delusions.