Methods to Madness: Villains

Deviation Actions

Dragga's avatar

Literature Text

Methods to Madness
Character Creation Insight


Villains, bad guys, antagonists…call them what you will, but every story has them. In a fit of possible madness, I’ve decided to jot down my usual process for creating my villains for a tale. Mind you, I don’t consider myself as a shining example of writing prowess, but we’re only looking at my thinking here. I’m not expecting to make people go “This guy is totally on to something here!” or anything, just an explanation on my usual creative choices with what I consider one of the best parts in a story. Now, let’s get to some bad guys!

First, let me set up the categories I divide villains into. Sympathetic, Misguided, Enjoyable, and Complete Monster (I had no better way to say it, so I borrowed from TVTropes). These four types are fairly straight forward, and I usually only focus on the first three. Sometimes they’ll begin to overlap, but I’ve defined them each in a way that works best for my train of thought. I just wanted to get that out of the way before getting into this.
• Sympathetic: A villain/antagonist whose motivation, back-story, or personality is built so that they can still be seen as the bad guy, but nonetheless connects with the audience on an emotional level. This can link with Misguided, obviously, but Sympathetic ones will usually know what they’re doing is wrong and see no other option. However, depending on what pushes them to “villainy”, a Sympathetic character may also be out for revenge on the world they believe has wronged them and see it as completely justified. This doesn’t fall into Misguided to me, because these kinds are out for revenge and don’t have the mindset that they’re doing what’s best for others/everyone.
• Misguided: This villain will believe that what he’s doing is actually the right thing to do, no matter how evil it seems. They will usually come off as sympathetic, but I don’t link the two too much, due to their morals. Again, Sympathetic knows they’re wrong but see no alternative, Misguided believe they’re in the right, and will often believe they are the true heroes. They are proven wrong eventually.
• Enjoyable: These guys are pretty much wild cards. They may have a back-story that can inspire pity, they may see nothing wrong in what they do, or they can actually be Complete Monsters. The whole thing boils down to how they’re carried. Enjoyable villains are just what you’d think: villains that are just plain entertaining.
• Complete Monster: This is where making a villain loses its fun to me. Complete Monsters are meant to be hated, so they’ll usually have no way to get the audience’s sympathy. They’ll make a habit of being utterly vicious, conniving, and such a jerkass that the audience will usually be ready to kill them themselves. Because of this, Complete Monsters are really no fun to make for me.

Now, everyone has their own opinion on where a villain will fall, and it’s not uncommon for a creator’s view on his character to be different than those of the people reading/watching. For instance, I made my dragoness Keaira seem like a Complete Monster to virtually everyone that read of her by purposely keeping mum on her back-story and showing her only from Garrett’s point-of-view. I knew she would come off like that, but I still had someone read the early short stories and find Keaira as an extremely enjoyable character just because she was such a monster. To this day, that still amazes me. I mean, I intentionally kept any redeemable qualities from sliding in, and yet she still had a fan. I do find her rather fun to write, though, because I know her planned back-story and actions not shown from the original perspective keeps her out of Complete Monster territory.

I feel a few examples are in order. Might as well stick to the order then, eh? Sympathetic villains are fairly easy to come by, but perhaps the poster boy of the sort is Mr. Freeze from Batman: The Animated Series. He had a just cause that allowed the audience to care for him, and never came off as despicable even when committing crimes. Of course, most Sympathetic villains are usually depicted as being forced into these roles by a stronger villain. Those out for revenge will likely be emotionally twisted by the stronger villain, or simply a more malevolent character. (An example of that could be Shadow Link from the Four Swords manga, who was being forced into working for the Big Bad, Vaati.)

An example for Misguided is a bit tricky, since usually they’re actually portrayed as very close to the Complete Monster type. However, from Final Fantasy X, Seymour Guado is a decent example. He believed the only way to keep people from suffering in the endless loop they’ve somehow been locked into (I wasn’t paying much attention) is to kill everyone. He truly believes he’s doing the world some good, despite his plan being genocide. If you’re familiar with TvTropes, you can link my Misguided type with the Knight Templar and Well Intentioned Extremist tropes.

For an Enjoyable villain, look now further than Batman’s very own Joker. No matter the incarnation, the Joker will usually be too damn fun to actually hate. Hell, just look at his incarnation from The Dark Knight. The guy does horrible thing after horrible thing (or so I’ve heard, still haven’t actually seen it myself), but you just can’t hate the guy after seeing him in a nurse’s outfit. Seriously, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who hates the Joker, regardless of what version of him it is. I didn’t intend on two Batman examples.

Now for a Complete Monster, there’s a lot of options, but the one that stand out to me is none other that Captain Freakshow…er, Mayuri Kurotsuchi, from Bleach. This is a character with no redeeming qualities, and whose actions paint him as the worst of the worst. Unlike most in the Complete Monster category, Kurotsuchi has yet to really get any comeuppance for his atrocities, aside from the beating from his debut. Even his “evil counterpart” Syazel-Aporro Granz at least got a karmic death. Really, when two utter bastards go up against one another, it’s hard to pick sides. One could argue that what Syazel did to Kurotsuchi’s daughter was asking for it, but that’s rendered a tad moot when Kurotsuchi’s treatment of her is brought up. Honestly, I could go on for hours about this guy considering how much I despise him, but then Bleach is a very polarizing show for me at times.

Alright, back to my train of thought with creating villains. Usually, I prefer to work with a small amount of antagonists because that allows for time to set up their characterizations better. If I do have a large number, like in the Two Sided Coin series (especially with me rewriting it to include cut characters) I prefer to have the final villain be of the Complete Monster sort and the one behind it all. The ones under the final villain will usually be given more sympathetic characterizations, so that any deaths before the final guy will have more of an impact. And then, the Big Bad, lacking any redeeming qualities, can be dealt with without having to deal with having the final stand be against a character who’s been revealed to be a decent person dealt an utterly messed up hand in his sad existence. Kind of difficult to make the heroes seem “heroic” after killing such a character.

If I’m opting to focus on one villain, I usually want them to be the Misguided sort. When done right, I find those villains to be one of the easiest to make a likeable character. Although, in honesty, I’ll blend Misguided and Sympathetic a lot more just to have the character actually have the audience “care” for him. One odd example, though, is the Big Bad I planned for the Sonic: Endgame idea. He would more than likely have shades of Misguided, but none of those groups would really define him too well. His planned characterization does keep him out of Complete Monster, though.

On that note, I’d like to add that I find children make the best villains. It’s fairly easy to characterize a younger character as any of the four types I usually go by. After all, a child pushed into villainy will almost instantly gain Sympathetic status if they have a likeable personality, seeing everything as a game easily leads into Misguided, a childish sense of humor can bring them into enjoyable, and, lets face it, kids can be downright creepy when played as a Complete Monster (I’m looking at you, Damien). There’s also the fact that when cast as a villain, almost everything a child does seems to carry an extra bit of shock value in my experience. It was quite amusing to see reactions to Jackal, the young, animal-like boy with a craving and love for human flesh.

And that pretty much covers how my mind works on villains. Where you expecting me to go into my various villains and how they came to be what they are now? Considering I want to actually make stories for them all, it would have been silly of me to spoil them all here. Don’t know what possessed me to write this, but if you’re this far down, I’d like to misquote Futurama if I may. “You read it, you can’t unread it!” long has it been since I submitted writing of any kind?
Join the community to add your comment. Already a deviant? Log In
waiveringsaint's avatar
If I ever drew myself as a villain it would be the complete monster type like a druid capable of using magic and psychic abilities who was performing the will of demons inside of blood seal curses who was getting drafted into the Templar knights to murder and steal from everyone while wearing a police badge