Sunday, September 8, 2013

Antagonists - Part II

Welcome back!  This second part of antagonists will be devoted solely to finding the right motive for your antagonist.

Let me talk briefly about motives in general before we analyze individually.

As I said in the last post, antagonists are not evil people, they are people doing evil things and being corrupted by evil.  If they're really and truly evil people, they'll likely be pretty bland.  Blech.  We don't want that for our villains, now do we?  No, because then we'll end up with a diluted Sauron, and honestly, what was it that made Sauron such a great villain?  Was he really even a great villain at all?  I'm inclined to say no.  We know little about the great Eye, want he wants (aside from world domination - but wait, what does he want from world domination?), or why he wants it.

In general 'purely evil' antagonists are major spills.  Galbatorix, from The Inheritance Cycle, was an undeveloped villain with a common motive and a common goal.  He wasn't interesting - all we see him doing is ordering around a bunch of Urgals and torturing people.  So I'm going to put Ol' Galby in the fail section as well - not to say he didn't serve Paolini's position, he did that well, but when an antagonist fits perfectly into a pre-designed plot, that pretty much means he laid down plans so he himself could get caught in the end.

Right, so now we can get a bit closer in on one of the areas that makes a great villain.  I'll start off with a list of motives and look at them analytically.
But first, I'm going to leave out the topic of Revenge out.  Why?  Not because it's a 'bad' motive that you shouldn't use (whatever works best for you is what you should do, this is all just advice), no, it's because Revenge has more than a dozen sub categories of it's own, many of which are listed below.

1.  To Distinguish Oneself - The beat up little kid from middle school now turned into a supervillain?  Not realistic enough?  Maybe this motive thrown into the gears could give it a bit more of a flare.

2.  Greed - As one great writer said, although this is a realistic motive, it's far too one dimensional and overused.  Greed is often used for anti-heroes.  But not truly greedy, just kinda greedy.  This is because they don't want their anti-heroes to be evil.  Well, like I said, antagonists are people who are doing evil things - this goes also for anti-heroes.  Or maybe you don't want to go all the way to evil things, but you need to.  No one can be 'lukewarm' when thrust into bad situations.  It's hot or cold, and you have to go all the way for your characters, at least for now.

4.  Power Trip (including Megalomania) - You can pretty much tell where this one is going.  It's the same basic idea of sheer insanity though.

5.  Sheer Insanity - Likely the most well known example is the Joker from The Dark Knight.  He is a superb example of sheer insanity.

6.  Fanatical Reformer - Does he want a world Hitler-esque?  Maybe he actually wants to help the poor in an oppressive nation, but he uses evil methods to do so.

7.  Patriotism - So fifty years into the future a President is assassinated.  The Vice President comes in as President and vows to hunt the assassins down to the end of the Earth.  (Yes, even villains can fit into that situation that would seem like a good choice.)  Of course, you can put any spin you want on that.  Patriotism is an interesting concept for sure.  Patriotism could also go for loyalty.  May hap your villain is so loyal to his family he tries to kill the hero for somehow effecting them. 

8.  Survival - Ever think that the villain might just be wanting to survive?  That's it, no power trips?

9.  Wrongfully Accused - A hero labeled to be an evil power?  An innocent decoy from the real problem?

10.  Undercover Good Guy - Unless he didn't actually harm anyone during his regime, this would be hard to explain if he killed any innocents.  But neither this nor wrongfully accused would work for the evil boss of them all.

11.  Brainwashed - Only for enemy sidekicks.  It can also explain number 12 well, though.

12.  Ignorant Obedience - Best for a villain subordinate, this can lead to an interesting twist if the character realized he's just mindlessly obeying his leader and doing wrong things just because of his ignorance.

13.  Action Junkie - This goes with the Joker-esque pretty well, but could be separate of plain insanity and a power trip.

14.  Family Traditions - A headhunting tradition every Halloween?  (No, really, a headhunting, where they hunt for heads as trophies.)  Bounty hunting operations?  There's a vault stock full of golden promise in this motive.

15.  Romance - Yes, the antagonist could 'fall in love' with someone the hero knows or cares about.  This is a great ploy if his objective is to lure our hero into his base after whom the villain 'fell in love' with.  Or possibly to inherit a great amount of wealth or some other important asset.  But, if the antagonist truly 'falls in love' with someone who he had originally intended to use as a pawn on a greater board, it can stick him in a very awkward position.  That also delves deeper into the character, which is always for the best.

And the list goes on.  But really, I can't brief even half of the possible options in a series of twenty posts.  Whatever motive you choose, make sure it fits the villain.  For example, if your antagonist were a geeky nerd with insane and lethal science experiment products, he likely wouldn't be much of an action junkie, unless it's a secret he's held in his heart for all his life.

Pick one of the motives and assign him to your character.  Perhaps he's sounding a little more nefarious now, but if not, there's still more to come.

Tomorrow we'll be exploring the evil acts of an up and running villain.  In the mean time, work on your antagonist's past.  Bullied at school?  That's kiddie, cliche stuff.  Your villain needs more, more.  Put him through terrors worse than anything you created before.  Why?  Because not every kid who's bullied at school tries to take over the world - and nearly succeeds.

~R. A. H. Thacker
(Yes, I just gave you homework in that last paragraph.)


  1. My current villain falls into the "Fanatical Reformer" category, with a bit of "Power Trip". King du Karel is mostly "Power Trip". Nightshade is "Power Trip" with a hint of "Sheer Insanity"; she's probably my weakest villain in terms of why she's a villain. (Though she's also my favorite villain I've created.)

    1. Power Trip is a common motive, nonetheless interesting.

      Interesting to hear about all your villains, Leilani!

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    1. The Joker is very insane and evil, but he was, in my opinion, displayed really well. Just in my opinion - I won't argue that he shouldn't be hated.

      That's interesting. But sounds pretty complicated. And I like complicated villains. ;) Aren't they all family, though?

    2. Ahehe. Sort of... But Cale and this guy have had history since Cale was like sixteen. They hate each other. And combining the two families set off a lot of sparks.

      Eliot Sr. (Which is his name. Yeah... I was realllly lazy.) is the PC chief. So he falls under patriotic and reformer. I dunno. I hate to label him villain, but he's definitely a main antagonist.

      Of course, I can never have just one. >.<

    3. I see. Was it something like a Romeo and Juliet setting (without ending up in the suicides)?

      Having multiple villains is actually really helpful to keep the plot moving, at least moderately interesting during the dull parts, but I haven't had much success with more than one head villain.

  3. Sorry, this is off topic, but how do you get away from Wedgewink? *looks around nervously*

  4. What? Get away from Wedgewink? Psh. No way. No way on earth.

    Although, if you follow this blog he might pardon you of a few errors occasionally.

    1. I don't follow blogs…I just keep checking them. But if that's what it takes…*takes a deep breath*

  5. Great post. I've got the Fanatical Reformer, the one Trying to Distinguish One's Self, the Romance, Revenge/Power Trip/Sheer Insanity... I think I"ve pretty much got them all, actually. I love villains. ^_^

  6. Well, my current villain mostly relates to the Power Trip - but his predecessor was more of a mix of Knowledge and Power.


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