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Making a villain group look good

Discussion in 'World Building' started by KressKross, Oct 22, 2012.

  1. KressKross

    KressKross Acolyte

    I'm trying to make multiple villains in my story, without making each one seem like they are there just to get in the way of my protagonist. I plan on having 15 sub-villains divided in 3 separate groups, each having a specific goal to achieve for my main antagonist. They all won't appear in the same book, since I'm hoping on making a trilogy out of this. My main problem/concern is this; how can I go about making more than one bad guy, but still having each one interesting enough for the reader to accept them being there, and to make it feel they are not there strictly to be an obstacle? Also, how could I introduce each person without, again, having it seem like I made it up as I went along?
  2. Leif Notae

    Leif Notae Sage

    Foils. The easiest way to introduce these characters is to have them be a foil of some aspect. Perhaps a lover scorned by one protagonist. Perhaps a rival. There are many ways you can do it.

    I will say 15 mid-bosses might be a stretch. You might want to trim it down some and start combining your character sketches where you can. The attention span can only go so long before purple squirrel walnut fuzzy teeth...


    Give your villain more control too. Lackeys under the heel are always more "sympathetic" when they have something on the line to lose.
  3. Jess A

    Jess A Archmage

    This is good advice. I managed to merge characters several times over when I realised that there were too many with similar plots/motives. This got rid of some of the messy parts in the plot and condensed the story, thus better serving the plot.

    If you want to have 15 villains, 5 per group, put the focus on the leader of each group (for example) and the others can be supporters. But giving them all a spotlight will become bothersome for some readers, who just want to focus on a few characters. This is just my personal view - I like to read about a smaller cast as opposed to a bigger one.

    Another point to remember is that each person needs to have a motive. I have 'villains' whose motives revolve around gaining more power for themselves. It always affects the protagonist, but sometimes, the person doesn't even know the protagonist(s) exist. A domino effect. Your main antagonist needs a motive and a reason to be getting the other villains to do his or her dirty work. The other villains might be rebellious or have their own hopes and dreams.
  4. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver


    15 'subvillians' is a bit much. Were it a television show, I'd say you'd be running a risk of a 'monster of the week' type problem.


    is there anything that says all of these villians have to remain villians? Opposed to your MC over one item, but willing to cooperate with him over another, or possibly even forgoe whatever it is which creates the conflict in the first place?

    Second...don't keep the ones not confronted by the MC rightaway 'offstage'. Drop hints. Have secret meetings that the MC either hears about or directly witnesses. Have the MC hear rumors of activities by the 'offstage villians'...maybe one of the MC's trusted allies has a run in with a couple of the others. MC goes...'hmmm, could be a problem later on' and then goes back to the problem at hand.

    But you really should pare them down. Probably, you could cut their numbers at least in half and not hurt the story any.
  5. MystiqueRain

    MystiqueRain Troubadour

    As people have said above, 15 villains does seem like a lot to me, especially if you're going to have a motive for each one. But hey, if you can pull it off without making it contrived, go for it.

    Some ways I've used to make villains "better" are:
    1. Having a backstory to them (how they got there, why they're doing what they're doing, did they have some traumatic experience in their life)-this would make them more relatable to not only the protagonist perhaps but maybe even the audience, which is what I think you're aiming for. :)
    2. I like the point about not staying a villain. Just because they are one now doesn't mean they'll be one later. Maybe they had some other motive to being a villain that wasn't just "oh, this is evil and I like evil things".
    3. Going off of that point, maybe you can make one of them not a villain at all. An anti-hero of some sort. Or on the other side, an anti-villain. Something that would go against pure villainy but still have actions "evil" enough to be getting in the protagonist's way, even if their motives are good.

    As for introductions without being too repetitive, you could always introduce them in groups if you haven't already considered that. Or introduce them in some way so that they aren't just lightning bolts and thunder and "mwahahaha" when the protagonist just happens to stumble upon the mystical object he or she was looking for (an exaggeration, but I hope you get what I mean). Maybe you can introduce a villain in a time when the protagonist is in need and they actually help the protagonist. Or maybe you can introduce a villain as a friend of the protagonist before they really reveal that they're evil. Again, just try to stay away from the above example with the cheesy evil laugh...unless that IS what you're going for. :)
  6. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

    To me 15 villains don't sound at all to much, even though I'm a shameless lover of HUGE cast of characters. While a great many good things have already been said one thing that could work might be to let them have the spotlight at different times. So while some of your villains are central to the story the others can act or be mentioned in the periphery and then allow them to become more central. I think that Georg RR Martin uses something similar in his books, and I think it works fairly well.

    In all I think that MystiqueRain put it fairly well.

    What I would add and which I think that hasn't been said yet is that that way to make villains more varied is not to think of them as villains. Instead of protagonist and antagonist just think of them as characters that there is a conflict between and you have chosen to view this conflict from the eyes of one particular character. Thinking about them as villains might restrict you to make them as you expect villains to be.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2012
  7. FireBird

    FireBird Troubadour

    I would rather read about one interesting antagonist than 15 different ones. Why do you need 15? I'm wondering what the point is. By your description, it really sounds like you are writing for a video game and not a book. Instead of 15, why not 3? One per book. Have that one person have friends that don't need to be fleshed out.

    As far as Martin goes, none of the major characters are villians. You have minor characters like Gregor that could be considered villians, but no one major. There are forces and the opposing forces, thats about it.
  8. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

    Well TS wasn't talking about 15 major antagonist villains but 15 sub-villains so I think that my comparison stands fairly well.
  9. KressKross

    KressKross Acolyte

    Well, that's actually half true. I am making it like a story for a video game, but I'm writing the script like a book, just in case my dreams don't work out as planned.

    Thanks for the advice, however. And everyone else. I'll keep everything into consideration.
  10. You basically just need to make them interesting and figure out what each one is "about". Give them specific quirks, personal goals (even if it's something simple as "I really want to beat up the good guy!") and try to make them distinct. Give them varying degrees of evilness and different moral values. And most of all, try to have fun with them.

    Giving them each a backstory probably helps you get a grip of them, but bear in mind you may not be able to cram in the personal histories of 15 bad guys and still have room for a plot. Villains are active characters, anyway, so it's probably better to make their personalities come through their actions.

    Depends on the style you are going for. I personally find that 7-10 characters on each side of the conflict works best for me, because I like to have a wide variaty of characters running around. And I would rather read about 15 fairly interesting villains than one developed main villain and his 14 completely forgetable henchment.

    Eh. There's nothing wrong with borrowing styles from other media, as long as you do it right. Video game design is a very complex field that I think we authors can learn a lot from.

    Not to be discouraging, but writing novels and writing video game scripts isn't very interchangable. I'd advice you to focus on one, or you risk getting stuck in the middle and never developing your skills fully either way. Don't become one of those people who only write in script format.

    I recommend making it a book because, frankly, as far as I understand you can't just show up in the video game industry with an awesome script and convince a studio to turn it into a game. At least not unless your name already commands some major respect, for example Clive Barker. It's far more common for a developer to make some clever game mechanic (or copy someone else's) and then hire a writer to write a story around that mechanic.

    On a side note: You see similar tendencies in the movie industry, actually. Even assuming you're not writing on commission, the writer usually has very little power over how the movie actually turns out. I've heard some really tragic stories about amazing movie scripts that end up in the wrong hands, and even if you dodge that bullet your story is still at the mercy of an absurdly conservative industry that operates on severely dated values.

    Heck, even writing comic books requires you to compromise a lot, because the dialogue has to match the layout, which is practically an artform in itself. That basically means that if you want to make a really awesome graphic novel, you are best off being both a great writer and a great artist and do everything yourself from scratch.

    This is really why I've decided to be a writer of novels: It seems to be the one artistic medium where the writer has the most freedom. By far.
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2012
  11. ScipioSmith

    ScipioSmith Sage

    I don't think 15 is too many if your writing a trilogy- it's only five per book after all.

    One thing you can do, depending on what POV structure your using, is to make copious use of the Darkfriend Social. This is the device Robert Jordan used in Wheel of Time where his Forsaken (and other darkfriends sometimes) congregate to update the reader on their progress, whinge about the people who aren't there, and generally show some character, good and bad (Sammael and Demandred, get over it!)

    The other thing to remember is that they don't all have to be deeply developed villains. Manga frequently employs large groups of bad guys (Akatsuki in Naruto, the Espada in Bleach) and for the most part the consist of one or two well developed characters, who get the most sympathy from the heroes and the readership, and the rest are a bundle of entertaining/scary/strangely endearing mannerisms wrapped up in delicious eye candy.
  12. MadMadys

    MadMadys Troubadour

    Something you should ask yourself, whatever your end goal may be, is what are there 15? It isn't whether there are too many or not enough. It is a question of do they make sense in the story for them to be there? Starting with the idea of 15 then working backwards might have the side effect of making them seem shoehorned into the story.

    Work out a back story for each individual in each group. None of it needs to come through in the writing directly but if you, as the writer, know why they're there then, based on your skills, you should be able to make it come through.

    Bad characters that are bad simply because that's what the author needed them to be will always shine through as hollow to readers. The best villains are ones that you can almost understand how they wound up on the side of the good/evil fence they landed.
  13. Kim

    Kim Scribe

    I really like this comment. It is what I try to do in my writings. Don't judge your characters as a writer. Of course you can write down the opinion from one of the characters about an other character. 'Good' and 'evil' just depends on your believes, your upbringing, your situation, goals, the place you were born, which side you are fighting for, etc...
  14. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    Especially, just the fact that there are exactly five villains for each book looks like a heavy-handed coincidence-- unless there's some reason like "a Magic Circle Coven needs 5 members." Without an explanation like that, you lose some credibility having a pattern that clear. (If you're committed to all 15 characters, you could always transfer one to another book, for say a count of 4, 6, 5.)

    On the other hand, you can make things look especially organic by having one or two of them survive one book and become active in the next too...

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