Friday, December 10, 2010

Misunderstood Villains

Stephen Tremp joins me today! He's doing a series on villains this month and today he discusses misunderstood villains. Next Friday, I will be visiting his blog for my unique take on this topic. (Because Captain Ninja Alex just HAS to be different!)

Take it away, Stephen!

Regardless of how bad the bad guy is, sometimes the reader or viewer needs to sympathize with them. Perhaps they are a victim or in dire straits. Or they simply make unwise decisions. Example: John Q. A down-on-his luck father, whose insurance won't cover his son's heart transplant, takes the hospital's emergency room hostage until the doctors agree to perform the operation.

These characters are merely protecting what they hold near and dear to their heart. There could be an underlying moral or ethical value at the heart of the problem, one the reader or audience will need to consider as they watch events unfold before them. These villains are not pure evil, in contrast to The Joker or villains of James Bond movies who want to murder countless innocent lives or vie for world domination.

Not every villain starts out as a bad guy. A vigilante, one who takes the law into their own hands, can be such a villain such as Charles Bronson in Death Wish, Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Jose Wales, or Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. Or one of my favorites: Boondock Saints, All Saints Day. The plot is secondary. Revenge or justice is what drives the story.

Perhaps the villain is being forced to do something terrible or else his wife and kids will be harmed, like Johnny Depp in Nick Of Time. His daughter is kidnapped and will be killed if he does not assassinate the governor of California.

Some villains are juxtaposed to the good guy, such as Ursula to the Little Mermaid. One is born into a royal family, one is born with nothing. Well, whoever said life is fair?

Then there are the mentally unstable villains who are not bad people to begin with. They just snap. Example: Michael Douglas in Falling Down who is having a really bad day. An unemployed defense worker frustrated with the various flaws he sees in society, begins to psychotically and violently lash out against them.

Then there is Carrie, a shy young girl who was picked on by the cool kids. She was a victim. She had telekinetic powers. She snapped. This is not going to end well.

Important: The villain often does not see themselves as a villain, such as vigilantes. Perhaps the police have failed to bring in a killer or the murderer has fallen through the cracks of justice. Vigilantes are people who do bad things but for seemingly the right reason. A villain may even be a delusional savior. The Twilight Zone has this theme in many of its episodes.

Which brings me to Dexter. But this is a blog all its own for next week.

Stephen Tremp blogs at Breakthrough Blogs and is author of the Near Future SciFi Thriller Breakthrough.

71 comments:

Pk Hrezo said...

Funny, I was thinking of that movie, Falling Down, when I first started reading... then you mentioned it. How ironic. I absolutely LOVE Falling Down. I actually loved it so much that the ending upset me when he finally had to face the consequences. These are my fave types of bad guys... those with layers we get to peel away over time.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

A most wonderful and interesting post to read. I have enjoyed the series very much,
A thank you also goes to Alex .

Yvonne.

Gail said...

Great post, guys!

Every one likes a bad guy that has a reason.

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

I do like a good anti-hero/heroine. There is always something interesting about someone who goes to the extreme for what they believe in. :)

Joanna St. James said...

you see it did not even occur to me that Denzel Washington was a villian thats how good he was.
Mr Tremp you had me at Johnny Depp.
Hi Alex Sorry I have not been by lately either blogger or my laptop is broken because it is not letting me update my blogroll, as soon as i get it fixed I shall be all over your blog like white on rice. Stephen can back me up on that, right Stephen?

Stephen Tremp said...

Alex, thanks for having me today. You have a great group of commenters!

Pk, villains, like ogres, are like onions. They have layers. Falling Down was a great movie and like you I was upset at the ending. I'm going to rent it this weekend.

Yvonne, thanks so much for stopping by and glad you like the series.

Gail, there;s never a shortage of reasons to use for motivation for bad guys, even if they are misunderstood.

Lindsay, I think of the scene where Michael Douglas walks into the restaurant and wants breakfast even though its two minutes past ten thirty.

Joanna, Denzel's one of the best ever. I reference him often in my posts, be it Training Day or Deja Vu (which I reference twice in my book ... wormholes and all).

Hannah Kincade said...

Oh how I do love a good villain. Great post, Stephen!

iZombie said...

good guy, bad guy... i am the one with the gun... ash
great idea!
jeremy

N. R. Williams said...

Thank you Alex for having Stephen and thanks to Stephen for another good post. One of the best things about writing is creating the villain and asking, what motivates them? What is s/he afraid of? What does s/he want? What will they do to get it? Is he a puppet? I have a puppet villain in one of my future books. I really like the guy, but hay, someone had to get used, right?
Nancy
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Tara said...

Love a bad guy with layers. Awesome examples!

Matthew Rush said...

Interesting point here. I had never thought of Carrie as a villain, but of course she kind of is. I get tripped up because villain is not the same thing as antagonist. You can have a protagonist that is also a villain (like Carrie).

Great post guys, thanks!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Pk, layers like an onion!

That's okay, Joanna - glad you came by today!

Matthew, they are interchangeable.

Thanks for posting today, Stephen!

Stephen Tremp said...

Hi Hannah, great to see you again!

jeremy, okey-dokey.

NR, sometimes we don't know someone is being used until its revealed toward the end ... makes for a nice twist in the plot.

Tara, thanks for stopping by.

Matthew, often the lines are blurred and a good writer like Stephen King can do this. When does a victim cross the line from defending themselves and his loved ones to becoming a villain. I guess once bullets start to fly and people start to get hurt and killed. But sometimes its not this easy. Some writers are so good at this we don't consider these characters villains.

Clarissa Draper said...

I agree. One of the reasons I get into my character's head by using them as POV is because it helps the reader understand the villain. If we understand them, we can relate and think that maybe they're not so bad.
CD

Falen (Sarah Ahiers) said...

oooh i love Dexter so much. SO. MUCH.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

Some of these “not really villains” make us think about what we’d do in similar situations. Though our reactions would probably be quite different, we’d like to think we’d take care of the matter in a comparable way, which may be why we feel that bond.

Leovi said...

Interesting article on villains. But my favorite villain and still unsurpassed as the creation of a fictional character is "Tom Ripley" by Patricia Highsmith. Sure, it's my humble opinion.

Bossy Betty said...

Interesting insights into the bad guys!

Thanks Alex and Stephen!

Karen Lange said...

Thanks, Alex and Stephen. Glad you shared this with us. Great stuff!
Happy weekend,
Karen

Carol Kilgore said...

Excellent. I love a good villain :)

Stephen Tremp said...

Clarissa, I think the movie John Q did a good job at that. Who wouldn't want to save their kid when you know there is a solution out there but you can't afford it.

Falen, Dexter is one of my favorite all time shows. Can't wait t finish that post.

Jane, these make terrific dramatic themes for a story. If a writer can put us in their shoes and show us the desparation, they have done their job.

Leovi, thanks for your input. Its fun to hear who other people's favorite villains are.

Bossy Betty, thaks for stopping by. Great to see you again!

Karen, have a great weekend yourself!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Jane, I think sometimes the villains do what we WISH we could do!

Donna Hole said...

Such excellent examples of misunderstood villians. Sometimes, likfe just overwhelms people.

I'm sleep deprived today - who knows what I'll do today with my powers to authorize :)

Have a great weekend Steve and Alex.

........dhole

Old Kitty said...

Dexter!!! Now that is a moral conundrum if ever there was one!!!!

I'm loving this villains series - more villains please - so complex and misunderstood really! Take care
x

Holly Ruggiero said...

Great post. The villain never see's him/herself as a villain.

Raquel Byrnes said...

I find myself almost rooting for the bad guy at times...at least understanding where he/she is coming from. I think it makes hero more sympathetic as well. To snuff out evil is expected. To have to take down a damaged soul for the greater good...that kind of stuff makes things interesting.
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Stephen Tremp said...

Carol, don't we all love a good villain.

Alex, amen to that.

Donna, it fun to fantasize about what we would like to do do, but if we did this in real life we would probably be arrested or on the five o'clock news.

Kitty, its the moral conudrum is great for conflict.

Holly, the more delusional the villain is the better IMHO.

Raquel, you bring up a great point: for the greater good. I use this very them in my book.

Arlee Bird said...

I don't think of these types so much as villains. They are the ones I'm rooting for and I'm disappointed when I see them get punished for what they do. I always rooted for the Charles Bronson Death Wish character because he was taking care of the job that our system failed to do. Sometimes it's our system that becomes the villain for those of us who are trying to be good and it's great to see some vigilante justice.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

The nice thing about villains is that they're complex. Thanks for a great post, Stephen!

Talli Roland said...

I'm learning so much from this series! Thank you Alex, and thank you Stephen!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You have a point, Lee!

Stephen Tremp said...

Arlee, I concur, although I included vigilabtes as villains because according to the law of the land they are breaking countless laws that would land you or I in prison for the rest of our lives or get us the death penalty. For the record, I love vigilates!!!

Elizabeth, the more complex, the better. As long as the author explains the villain to us so they don't come across as convulated and do not make any sense.

Talli, I'm learning much just researching and writing the posts.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

I really like this concept of the likable villian. I'm a scaredy cat and avoid villainous movies or books. This type of villian, I could sympathize with (especially when they're cute like Dexter). xo

The Golden Eagle said...

Interesting food for thought. Villains don't often see themselves as the villains, or as being "evil", which makes them complex--a good thing in a story.

I love this villain series of posts!

Elana Johnson said...

Wow, this is a great post, Stephen (and Alex)! I love all the examples, because I'm so visual.

I think, ultimately, that the villain has to believe that what they're doing is right. For whatever reason (snappage, etc.).

Cold As Heaven said...

When I was a kid during the cold war, we learnt that the Russians were villains. When I got to know some real Russians I found that they were very nice people >:)

Cold As Heaven

Chris Phillips said...

I would have called John Q a hero. I like flawed protags I guess.

Stephen Tremp said...

RawknRobin, amazing how many people like Dexter for whatever reason. For Christmas I'm asking for the whatever seasons are released on DVDs.

Golden Eagle, there are the self-righteous, delusional, insane, disgruntled, and such type of this kind of villain. The list goes on and on.

Elan, the snappage defines characters like Michael DOuglas in Falling Down or Carries. I love villains who SNAP!

CoH, agreed. I know quite a few Russians and they turned out to be awesome people!

Chris, a hero indeed. But still, he did things that in real life would get anyone else killed by a snipers bullet. He kidnapped people and out their lives in serious danger. So yeah, there are gray areas but fines lines too that are often crossed. This is great conversation. I love it!

Hart Johnson said...

I really love complex villains. They sure are hard to write, though. When i've written a good, complex villain, I always feel compelled to redeem them... I guess maybe that's not horrible, but that isn't usually what I start a book with the intention of doing!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Alex .. finally got here .. and Steve .. Misunderstood Villains .. I think I misunderstand them all .. I just read and enjoy .. now I'm learning all the villainhood there is .. and films I've never heard of .. I do live in England! One day I'll catch up - sounds like lots of good movies out there .. not sure about the nightmares to follow ..

Cheers - enjoyed this and the various types .. Alex .. I wait for your outtake next week! Cheers to you both .. Hilary

Colene Murphy said...

Awesome post! I love relatable/misunderstood villains. Vigilante's are my favorites though. You can't help but cheer them on.

Lynda Young said...

I think the bad guys are interesting because they are a little different from the norm. Great post :)

Stephen Tremp said...

Hart, you're a decent human being!

Hilary, try Netflix. It's great!

Colene, I love to cheer for vigilantes. Who doesn't?

Lynda, I'm a little different from the norm and very likeable.

M Pax said...

Can't have a great hero without a great villain. All success to you Stephen on your new book.

Stephen Tremp said...

Okay, so I'm very different from the norm, nobody likes me, and the police are chasing me. Hey, I'm just misunderstood.

SAMUEL PARK said...

Very good post, and very timely, as after I read the post I began to think about how villains (and heroes) have been shifting lately, and we're moving more toward the ambiguity of the 70s. Very good insights here, and enjoyed reading them. So nice to see you support Stephen's work, too!

Lydia Kang said...

Nice post guys! I also like villains that aren't cookie cutter and straightforward.

Copyboy said...

I agree. The best villains are forced into it. To me it just makes the story more interesting. And the villain takes on that MacBethian quality.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Stephen always has interesting things to say. I like to see depth in bad guys instead of pure evil.

notesfromnadir said...

Glad to see more Falling Down fans here! I liked that movie a lot, as I did both Kill Bill movies.

Really an excellent post as your point out that villains don't see themselves as villains.

Jai Joshi said...

That's when I find villains most interesting - when they have their own sense of right and wrong and their following that. It may be warped or twisted or different but it is a code.

Dexter's my obsession.

Jai

Stephen Tremp said...

MPax, nice to meet you and thanks for stopping by.

Samuel, an astute observation. Seems like these come and go in cycles.

Lydia, I agree about the cookie-cutter villain. Hollywood and authors understand they have to keep coming up with something with a different slant when it comes to villainy.

Copyboy, nice Shakesperean comment. We haven't talked about Shakespeare's villains. This would be a blog series all its own.

Susan, villains like the Joker had little depth. They were pure evil and that was enough to develop the character.

notesfromnadir, I love these themed villains like Kill Bill and Falling Down. Like Susan stated about depth, these characters have plenty of that.

Dempsey Sanders said...

Really enjoyed ths post, John Q and Falling Down are both movies I really enjoyed because the villain wasn't intending to be villain, it just happened that way. Great observations here.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

One of my favorite villains is Professor Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. She does not see herself as a villain, which supports your point beautifully, but she is a villain all the same. Draco Malfoy is another villain in this same ilk.

Jemi Fraser said...

Realistic villains are so much fun - to read and to write about! :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Hart, I'm sure you give your villains a good twist!

And V from V For Vendetta is a great example of a 'villain' one roots for - although to me, he wasn't a villain.

Chuck said...

Uma Thurman was so badass in the Kill Bill series. I'm gonna have to watch them again this weekend.

Mason Canyon said...

Great look at villains who sometimes think of themselves as victims. Some of those you can't help but pull for.

Mason
Thoughts in Progress

Stephen Tremp said...

Jai, I like the way you stated that. Nicely done.

Dempsey, life throws us a curveball sometimes and a great story emerges that we never expected.

Jeffrey, can you believe I have yet to read a Harry Pooter book or see one of the movies. No particular reason. I just haven't.

Jemi, the more real the better. Just look at real life dictators over the past 100 years.


Cuck, I have both Kill Bill DVDs. Been a while seen I seen them. Now I want to watch them again.

The Old Silly said...

Well done article, Stephen! John Q was a perfect example of a 'good' bad guy, as well as all the other situational villians you brought up. And I agree, many 'bad guys' do not think of themselves as bad guys. For example, Islamic 'terrorists' do not think of themselves as terrorists at all ... they think they are the good guys, 'freedom fighters' for Allah's deliverence of justice against the unbelieving persecuters of their people and religion.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by and supporting Stephen!

Laura Eno said...

I agree that the villan needs to be complex, just like the hero. Great post!

Jamie Gibbs (Mithril Wisdom) said...

I really need to see Falling Down; I've only seen a single clip but it looks like a great movie. I'm one for having villains that are just as complicated as the heroes, since whether 'good' or 'evil' they're still only human (well, in most cases anyways).

Julie Musil said...

Stephen, such great points. I learned this important lesson when I read "Plot & Structure" by James Scott Bell. He even refers to the villain as the opposition just for this reason. Great stuff! And you mentioned some old movies I'd love to see again.

Abby Minard said...

I always love finding out the reason the villain is a villain. Nine times out of ten it seems to be something deeper than just being mean.

Vicki Rocho said...

Great post! I love the hamburger scene in Falling Down! hahaha...

I also like Luc in French Kiss. Essentially he's a thief. He stole a necklace, his brother's credit cards, and cars/motorcycles....but in the end we just wanted him to get his vineyard...

Stephen Tremp said...

Thanks Alex for hosting me! And thanks to everyone who stoped by. Its always a great experience to stop here. You have an awesome army of followers and commenters.

Bob Sanchez said...

I guess I have a slightly different take on villains. To me, they are bad guys, even if they may have some redeeming qualities. The guy who is faced with either his daughter being killed or his killing someone else doesn't necessarily make him a villain. He is someone in a desperate situation, but his underlying character could be either good or bad.

Interesting post, Steve and Alex.

Mary Aalgaard said...

Excellent take on the villian. It works best when we have some connection to the bad guy. It raises the emotions. I popped in to let you both know that I ordered your books for my sons for Christmas. Goes to show you that a web presence/promotion DOES work. Happy Holidays and Happy Writing!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Those are not even villans as far as I am concerened. To want to protect yours is but human nature, and if you have to make a choice between what is yours and what is someone else's why should you choose as others would have you choose?

Pat Tillett said...

So right! To me, these folks aren't bad guys by any stretch of the imagination...
Great post!