What Would Stories Be Without Villains…

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     You know, although I haven’t really come to a decision, or spent enough time to discern whether or not it’s true, there’s this sentiment that runs through my head whenever I’m watching or reading fantasy, or even writing it: the plot is only as good as the villain the heroes are facing.

    In a way, it makes sense.  Try to understand me here: we all love a good villain.  It makes the story exciting.  It makes the story seem big and possess almost incomprehensible depth, as if only the author or story-maker the limits and strengths of the villain.  We’re drawn into the story, wondering “How will the good guys be able to defeat such a supreme evildoer?”

     Consider the idea that the villain has lame reasons for performing an evil task, or just for being evil at all.  Consider that he really isn’t clever, but then the characters are still hard-pressed to defeat him.  Consider that the villain is too cheesy (I’m talking about maniacal laughs, lame catch-phrases, etc.). 

     Now also consider that the villain is too powerful, as if, when the good guys seek to overthrow him, he is defeated by the way of a fluke.  If the villain is too powerful, how is it realistically possible for the good-guys to defeat him, based on their own strength?  It presents something relative to a plot-hole, and the only logical way for the author or story-maker to cover it up is by suddenly giving the main-character some new-founded power which is used to subdue the enemy.  A poor villain can lead to a poor story.

     In my opinion, a lot of books and movies have good guys fighting enemies that are either lame because of their motives, unintimidating, or too powerful.  A medium must be met, such that the main characters must truly strive to defeat somebody that requires some striving to defeat, but all the while the villain cannot possess too much power, so that even with a lot of striving the characters shouldn’t be able to reasonably defeat him.  My examples for great villains are thusly:

 

Sauron (The Lord of the Rings)

 

The Joker (Batman: The Dark Knight)

 

Moriarty (Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows)

 

     Why?  Sauron has a reason for being evil—he’s an evil spirit—and he’s immensely clever.  Also, he’s one of those villains that we can’t entirely understand, which makes the story of The Lord of the Rings seem broader.  The Joker has a reason for being evil—he’s CRAZY!—and he is also very clever.  Moriarty is obviously wonderful for the sake of his cleverness, and his reasons for being evil, I would say, are that he seeks only to profit himself, no matter how drastic the way he intends to do so.

     Poor villains are thusly:

 

Galbatorix (The Inheritance Cycle)

 

Red Skull (Captain America: The First Avenger)

 

Lizard (The Amazing Spider-Man)

 

     Why?  Well, if you’ve ever read The Inheritance Cycle, you should be able to understand what I’m talking about in regards to Galbatorix.  He’s super powerful, with so many wards (layers of magical shields) that he’s nearly impenetrable, and he has so many magicians helping him that, at least in my opinion, it was a fluke when Eragon defeated him.  I say Red Skull from Captain America because, despite all of his magically influenced strength, and his soldiers having such high-powered weaponry, he still gets overthrown.  He’s played up like he’s some ultra-mega-mighty bad dude, but the good-guys storm his “front door” in the movie and overtake his headquarters easily.  I don’t care how perfect Captain America’s hair is, it really was an unlikely victory.  Lizard from Spider Man has lame motives for being evil, and his plan for taking over the city was pretty dumb.  In fact, his name is kind of dumb…Lizard?  Here’s a summary of the movie:

     Spider-Man versus a Lizard that has serious temper-tantrums!!!!

     Of course, these are just my thoughts :).  I’m trying to not make the villain in my book (Kartrus) be too powerful, while not making him too weak.  I’ve gotta keep it interesting and real!  Thoughts?

 

Aul

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14 thoughts on “What Would Stories Be Without Villains…

    sarahansari said:
    April 12, 2014 at 10:06 PM

    I agree, a story is about 1000% better with a good villain. Especially (in my opinion) villains that are complex, with an entire background behind them and why they are the way they are, with hints of mystery to keep you on the edge of your seat. They have to be a good match for a hero. Maybe sometimes just a tad more powerful at first (not too much), so the story almost has an “underdog prevails” kind of thing, since, of course, if the hero was just the perfect match from the beginning, that would make for a dull story. There has to be room for the protagonist to grow and antagonist to develop. And, yes, I think the motive behind the villain had better be good, and not just some shoddy, “Oh, I don’t like how this city operates, so I’ll blow it up” type of thing. Maybe it relates, like said above, to their past, and what people used to do that shaped their mentality. Take for example, a serial killer that kills (I don’t know) irresponsible mothers because of what his mother used to do to him/her, mix that with a shot of craziness and cleverness, and you have an (at least) decent antagonist. Sorry for the bit of a rant. I’m basically saying that you are right, and that this was a great post! :p

      Aul responded:
      April 12, 2014 at 10:23 PM

      LoL, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I don’t mind it when people rant…I do the same thing, as I’m sure you know :p . I’m glad you liked the post! Yeah, I forgot to add some “underdog prevails” notions in there, but you’re absolutely right. Thanks again!
      Aul

    PCGuyIV said:
    April 13, 2014 at 9:46 PM

    I see nothing wrong with villians that are “too powerful.” It could easily be argued that if a villian isn’t something or someone that is insurmountable by the team, except for “good fortune, fair weather, and the grace of God,” then their is no struggle or adversity for hero(es) to overcome. There is no reason for him to find the “dragon’s weakspot” and the suspense and drama of the battle is lost. There is something endearing and captivating about quixotic protagonists.

    I would agree, however, that the “equal match” such as Dr. James Moriarty, is an awesome villian, as you are left wondering who is truly superior. I would also agree that villians that are too weak, or aren’t sufficiently menacing are terrible villians. Consider Disney’s The Black Cauldron. The Horned King, despite his ghastly appearance, never does anything particularly “villianous” throughout the whole movie. So he brings an army of unead to life, big whoop. By that time, you’re so bored with him, you’re rooting for the good guys just because he deserves to have is Villians-R-Us membership revoked.

    Now back to disagreeing…sort of: I’ll admit that if the villian’s reason for being a villian isn’t compelling, then it is hard to believe in him as a villian. Of course, this often goes along with the villian not being all that strong. Where I disagree with you is with Lizard being a prime example of this. I actually think that Lizard is a great villian. Dr. Curt Connors, a.k.a. the LIzard, was a good man who was pushed into a dark place by the company he worked for, and decides to experiment on himself rather than lose his valuable research. (Obviously the good doctor never read Jekyll & Hyde.) The result of his experimentation is mutation coupled with being driven insane. His motives and goal as a villian are both derived from the insanity caused by his mutation, so the fact that they aren’t necessarily sensible or somewhat skewed is less of a detriment to him being a good villain, and more a part of the character’s psychosis.

      Aul responded:
      April 13, 2014 at 11:08 PM

      Hi PCguyIV!
      Thanks for the comment! I think that, in general, your part about nothing wrong with “too powerful” is correct. However, I believe that, if the characters actually defeat the bad guy, it makes all of their struggles worthwhile, instead of just a “by the grace of God” victory. I get what you’re saying, but I at least plan to have my story end in a different way.
      Lizard 🙂 Yeah, I can see what you mean. He was a “for lack of a better lame villain to put in my post”. Maybe it was just because I never liked “The Amazing Spider-Man” that much! Lizard just wasn’t cool enough for me, or something….
      LoL, anyway, thanks for the comment again and I hope you’ll come back!
      Aul

        PCGuyIV said:
        April 14, 2014 at 12:39 AM

        I do get what you mean by the good guys having a true victory over their nemeses, rather than strictly relying on divine intervention.

        Regarding the Lizard, some of the difference of opinion could be based on our differing opinion of the movie—I thought it was great fun, and surpassed the original series; but it could also be based on a different frame of reference. You seem to be looking at the Lizard strictly from the vantage point of the movie, whereas I am looking at the character from at least three different reference points: The original comics, the TV adaptation, and the movie. That being said, whether I agree with your choice of LIzard as a lame bad guy or not, you make quite valid points about being able to buy into the villain’s motivation.

        You obviously have a talent for writing and a good understanding of what makes enjoyable and believable characters. I hope you succeed in your endeavors. I will definitely be keeping up to see what you come up with next.

        Aul responded:
        April 14, 2014 at 1:05 AM

        Ah, I didn’t even know of Lizard until I had seen the movie. And in my opinion, I liked the first series better, mainly based on the values of the characters and morals of the movies (although they were often really and uncomfortably obvious!).
        Thanks for the follow and for offering good luck!
        Aul

    seangreen5 said:
    April 17, 2014 at 6:22 PM

    The only complaint I have is with Galbatorix, (if you haven’t read the series then stop reading this now)Yes Eragon did beat him relatively quickly but in my mind there was good reason for this because although Galbatorix had all the wards around himself and all the energy he could ever need at his disposal, he could not stop Eragon killing him because of one of the key aspects of magic in that world. For a large part, using magic successfully against someone in that world depends on how smart or clever you are. To be able to protect against every type of physical harm and mental harm is an incredibly tricky thing to do. Especially if you want to do it in a way that uses the least amount of energy. So for Eragon to subvert all the wards Galbatorix had put around himself and attack him without attacking him to me was very impressive. The author invented the solution to the need for energy early on with the knowledge that dragons could work magic, but not of their own free will. If he had introduced that piece of information only 100 pages before the final battle then I would have felt a little cheated but he told us in the (to my knowledge) second book, by turning Brom’s tomb into diamond. In the end here I’m trying to say why Galbatorix was a good villain, weird that I’m defending a villain but in a sense I’m defending the book series because I really liked it even though Eragon vanished into the sunset at the end. However I do agree with you mostly on your article, it was a good one.

      Aul responded:
      April 17, 2014 at 8:55 PM

      Thanks for the compliment at the end, for reading the post and taking time to review it.
      I have read the whole Inheritance Cycle, and the final book I read in two days….so I can’t say that I don’t like them. However, Eragon really only defeats Galbatorix by chance, which doesn’t necessarily means he figured out a way to subdue Galbatorix and all his power. If you look at the final part of the book, you can see how he only wanted Galbatorix to “understand”, and that he wasn’t trying to attack him. I felt that it was indeed a clever way to defeat Galbatorix, but I also felt that maybe the author was just trying to find a way around all of Galbatorix’s power…like he was covering up a plot-hole, even though it wasn’t really a plot-hole. I’m not disagreeing with you, but unless you have a world where you can make somebody understand, and consequently they blow up, don’t make your bad guy as tough as Galbatorix 🙂
      Aul

        seangreen5 said:
        April 18, 2014 at 12:02 AM

        I can see your point but but in my mind, making Galbatorix understand was the only thing to do as he was insane so truly understanding is the one thing that could kill him. It is hard to understand the pain felt by others, even if you feel close to someone you do not know how painful it is for them, so (I would say imagine, but no one can because it is impossible) when Galbatorix is forced by magic to *completely and utterly* understand the pain of everyone he hurt and and an *entire* race, probably anyone would explode from that. I’m also not disagreeing with you but stating my view more clearly I hope 🙂

        Aul responded:
        April 18, 2014 at 1:04 AM

        I see. Maybe making a bad guy “understand” just seemed lame to me in the spur of the moment…I was kinda expecting Eragon to do the whole, “lunge forward…and he stabbed him through the heart…” sorta thing. LoL 🙂
        Aul

    M.C.C. (Main Character Crisis) « Montairyus said:
    June 8, 2014 at 6:29 AM

    […] long time has passed since I wrote the post What Would Stories Be Without Villains.  The main theme of the post was that a really cool, clever, and powerful bad guy can make a […]

    proverbs31teen said:
    June 8, 2014 at 9:31 AM

    I definitely agree about Moriarty. I haven’t watched the movies, but even in the books, he’s an awesome villain. Red Skull is kind-of fifty-fifty for me. I was wondering what you think about Loki. I consider his a good bad guy (I must add that I’ve only seen him in the Avengers, though.) but I was wondering what you think.

      Aul responded:
      June 8, 2014 at 10:21 AM

      Hmm, what do I think about Loki…
      I think Loki’s a good villain. He’s smart, not too powerful, and everyone seems to like him even though he’s a bad guy 🙂 I think his only flaw is that perhaps he isn’t powerful enough. He seems to rely mostly on other bad guys helping him…
      Aul

        proverbs31teen said:
        June 8, 2014 at 5:17 PM

        All good points. I know plenty of girls who would love it if Loki became a good guy, so I know what you mean about everyone liking him. 😉 Although some of that may be Tom Hiddleston.

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