sage: Still of Natasha Romanova from Iron Man 2 (zombie joe and paul gross)
[personal profile] sage posting in [community profile] ds_workshop
Several people seconded an off-handed mention of doing a post on writing villains -- and LOTS of us are doing either Due South Seekrit Santa and/or Yuletide this holiday season, so this is hopefully a very timely and relevant post. Feel free to pimp this far and wide because I'd love to get a good range of discussion going in the comments.

First I'm going to share my meandering thoughts, and then I've got a bunch of questions for us to consider.



Okay, first, I spent a lot of time in comics fandom, so when I think of villains, I first think of Joker, Penguin, the Riddler, Poison Ivy, Lex Luthor, and so on. THEN I think of scary-as-fuck villains like Hannibal Lechter. And then I think of bumbling villains like Boris and Natasha on Rocky & Bullwinkle. And then I think of the Master on (the new) Doctor Who and how desperate, fearful, and intimate his relationship with the Doctor is.

And I also think of the first rule of superheroes -- which is that a hero is only as awesome as his primary villain is formidable. And so a regular hero is only as cool as the strongest force we see him defeat. Think about Die Hard. Bruce Willis' character has to beat all the people trying to stop him, AND beat the setting working against him, AND beat the clock. The bad guy alone isn't all that scary, but all the combined forces are.

In Due South, it seems like most of the villains are femme fatales, comedic blowhards (poking fun at the US), or anonymous guys we don't care about. The guy who killed Guy Rankin? I still don't know why he did it. The bad guys in MOTB? After dozens of viewings, I remember their motive but I can't even begin to see them pulling off a Federal Reserve heist. Frank Zuko? I remember Irene clearly, but I barely remember Frank at all and can't remember why he and Vecchio hated each other even before Ray became a cop.

Meanwhile, Victoria and Lady Shoes (Denny Scarpa) are impossible to forget. A lot of that (and this entire subject) has to do with gender. The gaze of the camera follows women, and focusing on a femme fatale or a female victim or a hot female witness lets a director establish the presence of the bad guy (in the background) while misdirecting viewers and controlling the way the mystery unfolds.

But fic doesn't work like that. In fic, bad guys are HARD. In comics fandom, at least one could use the extant villains and ride on their canon scariness. But how do we come up with awesome villains for DS fic? Okay, let's broaden the question: How do we come up with villains that don't suck?

I don't know. I do know that watching crime procedurals on TV has taught me:

1. Most crimes are committed by family members/loved ones of the victim (assuming the victim is an individual).
2. Most motives are love (hate) or money (greed).
3. A detective's job is to narrow down who had motive, opportunity, and ability.
4. Bad guys are obvious unless you have some good red herrings around to suspect as well.
5. If you get organized crime involved, then you still have the money angle, but it's hidden a lot more creatively and the stakes change dramatically.
6. If the bad guy is a member of law enforcement, then all traces of evidence are likely to be destroyed before our heroes can collect them. *cue race against time*

But I don't have much experience writing villains, and when I have, they haven't been scary or interesting unless I was free to play with the supernatural. I've written some physically menacing thugs, but they were just random assholes, not bad guys with strong enough personalities to earn a starring role.


So let's talk about how to present well-drawn bad guys. What awesome bad guys have you read or seen onscreen? Name some -- from fic, novels, movies, television, comics, pop culture, whatever. What makes them effective villains?

What characters still creep you out, months or years later? Why?

What different sorts of villains are there? How can a writer use different sorts of villains in the same story?

Do you like villains better when we understand their motivation all along (and can maybe empathize) or when they're faceless blanks to be revealed at the end? What kind of story is served by each format?

What experience have you had writing bad guys in your own fic, and what pitfalls did you have to deal with? What do you know now that you wish you'd known then?

Obviously, no one has to answer everything, but I'd love for this to be a round table discussion. Please jump in with whatever grabs you, whether your examples are Due South-related or not.

Thanks! :D
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