Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Some Musings on Villainous Weaknesses

A month or so ago, I read a wonderful book with a strong heroine who had a secret destiny, mad sword skillz, and a very fun love interest. I'm not going to tell you what book it is, though, because, well, the villain sort of fizzled for me, and I'd rather talk about that.
Source

Early on in the book, we learn that the villain has this thing for fire. He's practically invincible, slaughters anyone who stands against him battle (or sparring), is superhuman fast, and dang scary. And every time he sees fire, he has a moment of staring awe. The heroine is even aware of this--she has ample opportunity to observe it. So, from almost the beginning of the book, I'm excited for the final showdown which, will, of course, involve fire. Either he'll use it as a weapon or she'll use it to distract him--or both!--but fire really should be there, right? Right?

Wrong.

Instead, the villain dies in a moment of suicide-by-heroine. He's won the fight, heroine is down for the count... and he picks up her sword, hands it to her, reengages... and practically forces her to run him through. Nothing was on fire at the time.

And it really bothered me. It's not that I didn't appreciate the redemption angle--the villain's need for redemption was also a sort of weakness of his--but if he really wanted redemption, wouldn't he have been kinder? Less of a bloody tyrant? Maybe he would have been shown seeking a way to rule with fairness? To gain the love of his people instead of constant fear? A little? Instead of trying to force the heroine to endorse his continued reign of terror?

The other issue was that his moment of suicide robbed the heroine of her victory. Instead of earning it, it was handed to her. She was bested--well and truly beaten--and still "won." Worse, her subjects saw her bested. They know she's not as strong as the tyrant who ruled them for so long. If that's not a recipe for a coup, I don't know what is.

So, anyway, watch what weaknesses you give your villain--and use them to help your hero win. Like really win. And, also, a villain's redemption shouldn't take precedence over the hero's victory.

Who are your favorite villains? Did you love them because they secretly, in their deepest, darkest heart of hearts, really actually wanted to be good?

16 comments:

  1. Interesting post and you're right - feeling like a heroine's been robbed of her victory is a complete letdown. The whole point of a heroic journey story is for an awesome showdown at the end!

    I don't know the book you're talking about, but if there is a sequel it better involve a coup :P

    One of my favourite villains is Sloane from Alias, because every time you want him to be redeemed, he goes and does something totally evil! And as much as I wanted him to lose, I kinda also wanted to see him win ^^; I also really like Maleficent, but that's just because she relishes being evil XD

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    1. Oh, I loved Sloane. I did keep wanting him to be good. :)

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  2. I love villains that aren't 100% evil because I feel they're more realistic-- everybody has their reasons for doing things, even if they're not the right reasons.

    I actually felt a good example of this was in The Serpent's Shadow-- there's a scene where the main character get's a little glimpse into the true nature of the villain and has a small moment of empathy, even though the villains a total jerk who wants to destroy the world. I like it when authors do that because otherwise the villain seems too one dimensional.

    I also like villains with a sense of humor-- even though you don't want them to win, you can't help but be drawn in by their charismatic nature.

    I probably would have been disappointed by that ending too.

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    1. I do like villains that aren't 100% evil. But like everyone else, they need consistency. Few people, good or bad, will suddenly change the pattern of their choices. That's one of the greatest problems with Anakin-he chose good pretty consistently until suddenly he's slaughtering children. Wha...?

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  3. I've heard this one saying, Villains are just misunderstood heroes. I love that.
    No one does something because it's so evil. People do evil things because of power, money, revenge, religion, or anything else they want. Some people are crazy, but those are so few and far between. Most people who do bad things think that they're doing the right thing.

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  4. Thanks so much for this great post, Robin. Have you heard of the book, The Sociopath Next Door? There are more sociopaths than you might think. Many of them are our bosses. :-)

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    1. I've read I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER. Does that count? :)

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  5. Darth Vader, Professor Snape (who of course, was really a hero but I didn't know that at the time of reading it!) and Arvin Sloane and Irina Derevko from Alias (I reached almost cult status following that show, lol).

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    1. I agree on all but Vader. Vader's death-bed redemption has always bugged me. He spent most of his life being evil-for-evil's-sake, then saves his son from death, and that counts enough to contact all the bad? Especially given that he became evil ON PURPOSE to save this child (and his mother)? BS, I say.

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  6. That's kind of my worry for the Wheel of Time series. We've had so many really vicious bad guys our heroes have had to overcome that if it's not handled well the showdown with the truly evil bad guy could seem lame. You can't use up all the good stuff on the way to the end battle.

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  7. I personally believe that there needs to be valid reasons why an Evil person is evil. Some people are bad people. None of us would draw the same logical conclusions that Hitler and his associates did. But they had valid internal reasons why they made those evil choices.

    But I also think as authors we don't have to humanize every single evil persons behavior either. When an author trys to make evil human; it lessens the antagonist or requires me to reader to delve into emotions, actions, etc. that I and many others would rather not read about.

    Which is why I don't write from the evil perspective. I take Hyden's approach to the problem. Which is probably one of the reason why I am writing Epic Fantisy rather then Urban Fantasy.

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    1. Let's also keep in mind that antagonists don't have to be evil, or even bad people: they just have to want the opposite of what the protagonist wants.

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    2. Agreed. Pride and Prejudice is an example of antagonists that are not evil, just acting based on their own beliefs.

      But I wanted to make my point for those who have truly evil villians in their story.

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  8. Thanks so much for your sweet post on my blog today! It's so good to be back; I have missed this!

    I completely know what you are saying about that villain. Seems like that old saying about the gun on the mantel in Act One that goes off in Act Three. If it doesn't go off in Act Three, there's no point in having it in Act One.

    What a wasted opportunity to come full circle, and a shame to waste the heroine's victory. Funny how a bad climax can color your whole opinion of a book...

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