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Mulled wine and the Flash Club

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N J Sturgess

Oct 24, 2019
Hi guys,

I'm just about to rewrite the bit in my MS where they first meet the bad guy. I have a good grasp of the character but I want to make him as utterly vile and unlikable as i possibly can.

One of my others is unlikable in an anti-hero way but I want this guy to be Voldermort+. Not some sort of Bond/Scooby Doo villain that he's been previously. Has anyone got any tips and pointers on literary themes that'll help to make the reader utterly despise him?

Make him the mirror opposite in values to your protag. And he should have his own goal. But vile? You should ask why? That could give you more than you need.
I agree. Also, maybe show him lacking morals.

It might help if you work out his motivation for doing what he does. Why is he doing what he's doing and what is he getting out of it. Whatever it is could be quite dark. Esp if he's totally committed to everything he does.

What's his background? How has he arrived at being who he is? This doesn't necessarily have to go into the novel but it might flavour the character.

Also, how far is he willing to go? Sometimes the scariest people are the unpredictable ones; the ones who will go where 'normal' characters wouldn't dare to tread. As long as he has the right motivation for going this far, it'll hopefully work. Unpredictability can be menacing. People often avoid such persons. We can't quantify and pigeonhole unpredictable people as we never know what they'll do next, or are willing to do next.

I think the reason why baddies turn into Bond villains is because they are written over the top and are given obvious bad traits. Bond villains usually have no motivation beyond wealth or power (I'm talking about the earlier Bond villains. They've become better in recent years). I think wealth and power are too 'global'. In my view, a good baddie becomes darker if his/her needs are more specific; a specific need they must have fulfilled and are willing to go the whole mile for and further. If it is wealth, what specific thing do they gain from the wealth beyond a full bank account? It might be a twisted need. Can that need ever be fulfilled, or will the baddie always want more? Wasn't The Joker (2019) quite dark? Bond villains aren't complex. But I reckon, villains need to be. Hannibal Lecter for example is psychologically quite complex. And he doesn't just want to kill and eat people. He wants to enjoy them with a chianti and some fava beans.

Sometimes the threat of what they might do is scarier than seeing them do bad stuff. ie. the woman in Misery (I forget the name - played by Kathy Bates). She was fairly unhinged but didn't do 'all that much' to the guy (if I remember right?) apart from the foot scene which I'd rather forget.
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She murdered the policeman who came looking for him.

What kind of bad guy is he? What's the context of the meeting? Is he an outright criminal, or someone who hasn't ever been caught breaking the law, but is no less nasty for that? There are vile people who lead normal lives.

Gratuitous cruelty will give the game away every time. Think of Hogarth's cartoon.
I think the coolest trick is to try to get the reader to sort of like the villain, in-spite of themselves. To return to Hannibal Lecter: although he was monstrous and frightening, he was charismatic. I guess the same could be said for The Joker. So, give them some redeeming qualities too, rather than just vile through and through.

This is how I handled the introduction of the villains Nick and Leo in my MS. For context, Alex has just murdered a man called Yorick for them:

Alex is in an office in Manchester. Nicholas is standing by one of the tall windows, bathed in sunlight, looking saintly, almost. He's holding what looks to be a real skull aloft in one hand, 'Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well,' he says.

Alex stares at him, her face blank. 'That's not Funny.'

'I fucking told you she wouldn't like it,' Leo says. He's in the back. Alex hadn’t even noticed he was there until he spoke. She turns around in her chair, and all she can see of him are two stretched-out legs and his gorilla-hands holding up The Financial Times.

'You normally love this kind of stuff,' Nicholas says.

'I know. I'm in the middle of an existential nightmare.'

Nicholas puts the skull down on the desk. It makes the right noise, like the way Alex might imagine bone on wood to sound. It looks right too: Tobacco coloured, not milky-white like the skeleton they had in her science class at school, and the teeth weren't all even, like you'd expect if it were fake.

Nicholas says, 'Some dead actor donated it to my wife's theater company so that they can use it in productions of Hamlet, and he'd still get to be a part of it. Can you believe that? I wonder if they waited until he decomposed...or if they peeled all the skin off, plucked out his eyes, and scooped his brains out.'

'Who do you want rid of?' Alex says.

'That's what hurts. He's one of our own. He's been running our bar down on Union Street for years. Our accountant noticed discrepancies with the books. Turns out the guy's been skimming off us since day one. I would've roughed him up, but our man here wants him dead.'

'I would've walked in there and shot him myself, if I'd had my way,' Leo says.

'Well, you can't. Alex is going to make him disappear.' Nicholas makes a gesture, like an old-time magician, puff!
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"I do only what is necessary to achieve the goal."
The 'what is necessary' can show either heroism or evil - how far is this person willing to go? Why? What pushed that button so the achievement has more value than the goal?
It's like the curse: May you live an interesting life. Doesn't sound like a curse to hear it at the beginning of the adventure, but to choose adventure before [?family, connection, community, love, etc.] will show the true character.
And it can be very interesting if the main character comes to the point where they also consider the dark path in order to achieve what they need ... do they turn? or can they be redeemed? We are all only one step from a choice that will burn our souls if our need is greater than the purpose [not sure if that's the right word, but that saying is probably still out there in some form or another; the original quote behind: from the sublime to the ridiculous].
There are several differences between Misery the book and the filmed version, not the least, that the author has his foot amputated, not broken!

Differences between Misery Book vs Movie Page 1
I've only ever seen the film, but I'll check the book out, thank you. (The perfect thing for the Xmas list, right? He he he. Manic Joker laugh. ;):):eek::clown-face:)

@Paul Whybrow, I'm assuming you've read it? Which did you prefer, the book or film? In which version was she more menacing?
No one is all good or all bad. Even Hitler loved his dog and enjoyed painting.

I favour creating villains of many hues:

In my WIP, the antagonists are mercenaries hired to kill big game trophy hunters. Their paymaster is an African politician aiming to declare independence for his province, using the reservations on his land for income; the killings are an extreme example of marketing! Thus, my killers are both evil and doing a good thing for the planet.

If you don't know it, @ N J Sturgess, take a look at Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test:
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I've only ever seen the film, but I'll check the book out, thank you. (The perfect thing for the Xmas list, right? He he he. Manic Joker laugh. ;):):eek::clown-face:)

@Paul Whybrow, I'm assuming you've read it? Which did you prefer, the book or film? In which version was she more menacing?
I preferred the book, partly because I thought that James Caan was miscast as the author Paul Sheldon. Also, I was able to process reading my name easier, than hearing Kathy Bates say it! :eek:
It's a tricky one, but my opinion is don't set out to make the villain despicable. Let that grow out of his/her motivations. To me, the best villains are the ones with goals that, from their point of view, make sense. Whether this grows into a general philosophy or just that they have selfish motivations, it's up to you, but there's the old saying that every villain is the hero of their own story. If your villain believes what s/he is doing is right, they will automatically be pushed to do more and more horrible things to achieve that goal, and we'll like them less and less.
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Pop-Up Submissions – Best of The Year

Mulled wine and the Flash Club