What do you think there needs to be, to make a great villain?

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Say you were making a game or movie or book, how would you write the villain? What do you think a Villain needs to be considered great? What kinda of characteristics, motives, actions and so on would they need?

Me personally I think a villain needs to show themselves often in the show/game/series, I've never felt the ones where you see them once in the beginning and at the very end were good at all.

I think motivation is key. We have to fully understand their motives and reasoning, or they have to be insanely evil and unreasonable to work. A shaky understanding of why someone might do something is what leads to the moment where you go 'But why would they do that?'.

I think the most important is a sense of threat. We have to feel they really are capable of doing some real damage, even if ultimately we all know the hero will prevail.

Unpredictability. Their actions should be along with their character, but you shouldn't be able to predict what they're going to do.

A personal drive, an uncaring/cruel nature and a really, really good back-up plan each time.

Take Lelouch in Code Geass, the battle aint over until your opponent gets cocky, then confused, then mindfucked, then humiliated.

Motivations that actually make a lot of sense, if not necessarily sympathetic.
A good villain should have you going "actually, I can kinda see how he got that conclusion."

Furthering that idea, convincing fallibility.

The villain needs to be written by Greg Wiesman, and the villain will be an almost unstoppable Magnificent Bastard Chessmaster.

Don't believe me? Check out David Xanatos and Nerissa from Gargoyles and W.I.T.C.H. respectively, two of the best villains ever written.

A top hat, a monocle, and a curly, long mustache. Very important to any villain.

image

Not having the damn plot device for almost all the events of the game or movie or whatever. I'm so sick of villans who can orchestrate an election 1500 years in the future but somehow forget to do good death traps or account for a plucky group of do gooders.

Captia: Mad science
Awesome.

A big part of what I think makes a great villain is that they need to be the antithesis of the hero, but still similar in enough ways to make them have a strange kind of bond.

For example:

The Joker and Batman: Batman is stern and serious, the Joker is giggling and hysterically happy. They're both incredibly intelligent but they use it for totally different methods.

Similar thing is present in the BBC series Sherlock where Sherlock Holmes and Jim Moriarty are both full-on geniuses but the way they use that genius is diametrically opposed. Plus Sherlock is all business and no bullshit while Moriarty is a wise-cracking, somewhat unbalanced jerk-arse.

Plus being played by an awesome actor is definitely a plus.

On some level, you have to be able to empathise with them and/or understand why they do what they do. Having a villain who has read and understands the Evil Overlord List helps too, because then you aren't yelling "Just SHOOT him, you stupid bastard!" at the screen.

Smithburg:
Say you were making a game or movie or book, how would you write the villain? What do you think a Villain needs to be considered great? What kinda of characteristics, motives, actions and so on would they need?

For me the villain needs to be as defined like a hero in the game/story. The villain should be on their own "hero's journey" through the game, with their own allies, goals, failures, and lessons to learn similar to the hero. The exception is the villain should serve as an antagonist and may use methods that are morally wrong to reach those goals, when compared to the hero.

For example, say a hero comes to a town that is having trouble with bandits. One obvious quest that would fit this hero's archetype is to get into the bandit lair and defeat them. If you take that same scenario and gave it to a villain, that character might make a deal with the bandits that they will stop raiding the village in exchange of having all the women given to them as slaves from that village. Both reach for the same goal, but both have different methods (and morally questionable) methods to reach that goal.

They should be unpredictable, have realistic motivations, not be completely inherently evil, and be genuinely threatening. Often, when you turn a story around and look at it from a villain's perspective they actually don't seem evil at all, just someone with their own motivations and agendas, often more moral than the protagonist. Take the Bourne films, for example. The villains (Treadstone, Blackbriar etc.) are trying to eliminate a lethal weapon that they believe has gone rogue and is a danger to civilians and the CIA alike. Sure, they aren't perfect, but people can forget that Bourne himself was a professional killer.

Another example is Sauron. Why shouldn't he have the One Ring? He made it, for heavens sake! I think Sauron was perfectly justified in what he did, especially considering the amount of collateral damage the 'good guys' did to his lands and armies. It's just because he's black.

They either need to be comic-book-over-the-top-silly evil (only for movies meant to make you chuckle of course) or they need to be human. That means not just evil but a character motivated by life. The guy in the black hat things YOU are in the black hat much of the time. For example, I think the Camp out on wallstreet folks were villains. They were doing evil things, but they were of course doing them for what they believed to be good purposes and they think they are the white hats. They aren't bad people (mostly) just average people with a different perspective doing what they think they need to do.

The villain has to be someone you can respect, and have qualities you'd admire in a better person.

First thing first, a kick ass theme tune!

Other than that, there are different ways to make a villain interest wheather it's his/ her charismatic, motivation or just being badass about it.

Depends. Sometimes being deeply sympathetic makes a villain great as you can feel yourself feeling sorry with him. Sometimes it it being utterly terrifying that makes him stand out. Sometimes it making an argument that makes you question who's right.

Heroes come in a variety of shapes and so should villains. Stories, the best ones, tell something that makes me care. villains should help facilitate that.

So depends. Checklists don't make art great.

A good villain should have a good motivation, one that you might even picture yourself having. But a good villain should also be someone that you fear, someone who might actually defeat the hero. Or the villain could just be an Eldritch Abomination that has motives that the human mind cannot understand. I prefer the more human one.

370999:
Depends. Sometimes being deeply sympathetic makes a villain great as you can feel yourself feeling sorry with him. Sometimes it it being utterly terrifying that makes him stand out. Sometimes it making an argument that makes you question who's right.

Heroes come in a variety of shapes and so should villains. Stories, the best ones, tell something that makes me care. villains should help facilitate that.

So depends. Checklists don't make art great.

Yeah, I'm going to have to agree with this gentledude right here. Every time I tried to nail a good villain's characteristics down as something necessary, I could think of some other great villain that doesn't fit.

This is concerning specific characteristics of the character, though. As far as general rules of writing go, though, the villain being written incoherently, with plot holes or something to that extent is never a mark in favor of him (or, rather, the writer).

I enjoy villains that could actually be viewed as heroes if through a different point of view. Make their motivations actually make sense and, if possible, have the audience actually sympathize with them. What really makes me angry is when we get all the heart wrenching information after the villain is already dead. I don't want to feel guilty and bad only after the fact. I want to feel bad and dread it the moment I see it coming. I want to feel sad the moment that the hero draws his weapon to kill the villain. I want to hate the hero for killing the villain but at the same time realize that it was necessary. And for the love of god don't spell it out for me by having the hero say "If only we were under different circumstances...." or some other drivel like that.

My dream is to make a story that comes in 2 parallel books/movie/game/ect that cover the same events but each has their own 'hero' with the hero of the other book being the villain. The plot will be complex, both sides will be justified, characters will switch sides, temporary alliances will be made, and in the end at least one of the 2 will die. I don't know when I will do this or what quality it will be, but I will do it.

That being said a character like the Joker is always nice every once and a while. But really he isn't a character, more of an intrinsic force everyone has to deal with.

Believable motivation:
Five kids kicking a dog for fun is bad motivation

Now the same five kids kicking a dog because he attacked one of them is better motivation

Remember, no one is a villain in their own story

A British accent.

Personally, i think The Joker is the perfect villain;
- highly intelligent psychopath with a warped, sadistic sense of humor(eccentric prankster).
- Purple suit FTW!

I invite you to this very, VERY educational read on how to create a great villain by Rich Burlew, creator of Order of the Stick.

Seriously, read this article.

http://www.giantitp.com/articles/rTKEivnsYuZrh94H1Sn.html

TheBobmus:
I think motivation is key.

Do you have any idea how happy I am that this is the first response?

Yes. Motivation is the single most important factor in writing a villain. We've seen what happens when a character has no motivation and just does bad things "because he's evil". The result is a really fucking boring, poorly written character.

Case in point:

First a backstory. Something that somehow makes us feel how the villain feels. What he was.
Second Reason. I want to feel like in any other situation i could side with this villain. That his goals truly are the answer.
Third Motivation. A villain that will do his rule no matter what others think.

Optional: Evil stach and or Monocle.

They have to be a character, fully rounded but we dont always need to know everything about him
two examples of good villians who were more memorable than the hero

Bill the Butcher, Gangs of New York, we knew why he was the way he was and at times almost agreed, but he is still brutal and a flat out villian

the joker from dark Knight,
he didnt need a reason to do the things he did provided he did an excellent job enjoying it.

a good villian is charasmatic

It depends.

It depends on a lot of things...but I'll say it primarily depends on genre, because genre effects so many other sorts of things.

A black and white world needs a different sort of villain than a shades of gray world.
A swashbuckling four-color hero like Flash Gordon needs a different kind of villain than a moody anti-hero like the Punisher.
A slasher horror film needs a different sort of villain than a soap opera.

Alexis Colby from Dynasty or JR Ewing from Dallas are iconic memorable villains...but so is Jason from Friday the 13th...or The Car in Duel. Pyramid Head in Silent Hill 2. Baby Jane in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? The Joker? Sure. But also Ming the Merciless.

Some villains are unstoppable with no motivation, humanization, or backstory...and that's what make them work best. Some are humanized, tortured and misunderstood...and that's what make them work best.

But it has to be appropriate to the story. Some folks get irritated when their villains are given backstory, justification, and humanization...they just want to hate Joffrey from Game of Thrones and wish torture upon him. Some folks get irritated when they don't know the inner life of the villain--Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre leaves them cold. Some want snarky one-liners from Erica Kane, other want massive violence from alien invaders. Some want Darth Vader level iconic imagery, others want the face of the mundane like the Mayor in Buffy.

There is not universal good villain, as there is not universal good hero.

Context is key.

It really depends. I've seen villains with good ideas executed horribly (Well, I never really saw anything like that) and I've seen stupidly evil villains just for the sake of being evil, but are played so well that I just have to forgive them (See: The Joker).

Charismatic enough to be likable.

Evil enough so there's no doubt he/she's the villain, but not so evil that he/she becomes hateful.

Smart enough to evade capture.

Unpredictable or carefree enough to be scary.

Flawed enough to be beatable.

ReservoirAngel:
A big part of what I think makes a great villain is that they need to be the antithesis of the hero, but still similar in enough ways to make them have a strange kind of bond.

Couldn't have put it better myself. I've often found that some of my absolute favorite villains happen to have some really kick ass heroes to counter them, and likewise some of the weakest villains (in my eyes anyway) didn't have particularly interesting or engaging heroes to fight them. The relationship heightens tensions throughout the story and further develops the characters. Of course I like villains that have unique traits and all, be menacing, calculating, all that fun stuff, but it's his or her interactions that can easily make or break them.

Raika:

TheBobmus:
I think motivation is key.

Do you have any idea how happy I am that this is the first response?

I aim to please. However, I also charge in the currency of internets. Or cookies.

Worgen:
Not having the damn plot device for almost all the events of the game or movie or whatever. I'm so sick of villans who can orchestrate an election 1500 years in the future but somehow forget to do good death traps or account for a plucky group of do gooders.

Captia: Mad science
Awesome.

Somehow your avatar fit that statement. I've seen you before but the way you said that made it sound like it flowed well with the avatar.

OT:

Villains must be able to accomplish quite a bit, or at least enjoy what they are doing. The thing is a sense of threat. The Joker is great for his humor and ability to blow someone up whenever he wants or queen Myrrah has an entire army of locust ready to take you down.

Hammeroj:

370999:
Depends. Sometimes being deeply sympathetic makes a villain great as you can feel yourself feeling sorry with him. Sometimes it it being utterly terrifying that makes him stand out. Sometimes it making an argument that makes you question who's right.

Heroes come in a variety of shapes and so should villains. Stories, the best ones, tell something that makes me care. villains should help facilitate that.

So depends. Checklists don't make art great.

Yeah, I'm going to have to agree with this gentledude right here. Every time I tried to nail a good villain's characteristics down as something necessary, I could think of some other great villain that doesn't fit.

This is concerning specific characteristics of the character, though. As far as general rules of writing go, though, the villain being written incoherently, with plot holes or something to that extent is never a mark in favor of him (or, rather, the writer).

Indeed. I would even go on to say that the best way to test how great the villain is, is what was he meant eo evoke and do and how do the audience see him as. I can take plot holes or inconsistency of character if the villain works, if when I'm meant to feel terror I do, when I'm meant to cry "Punch that fucker in the face!" I do.

I imagine how deeply unsatisfactory that is to any aspiring writer however.

There are lots of different things that make a good villain, but what I feel makes the best villains is the belief in themselves that they are doing the right thing.

As a few examples...
Arcanum's Kerghan
Green Lantern's Sinestro
Preacher's Herr Starr

All fantastic villains.

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