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Wanderer D

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  • Thursday
    So do you ever feel...

    ...taken for granted?

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    Isekai Skip

    Just a heads-up, I'll be missing this week's update. I might be able to finish the chapter tomorrow, but even if I do, I'll hold on to it for a buffer in order to minimize these occurrences.

    Sorry for the inconvenience!


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  • 6 days
    Hey, Dad

    So, it's been two years. A lot has happened since.

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  • 4 weeks
    Ok! So I lied!

    So, I totally intended to write only 7 parts for Isekai/SG1. But then I got to a point where if I didn't do something, I wouldn't be posting again for a second week, and if I rushed it, I was going to intentionally cut short certain things that had to be in the chapter (otherwise I would be cheating my readers!)

    So... um. Yeah. Part 8 next week?

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  • 5 weeks
    Sunset's Isekai

    Hey guys, quick update: last week was brutal work-wise, and unfortunately I wasn't able to finish the last chapter of the SG-1 crossover as intended. I've worked most of it out today, but I haven't finished it yet. I briefly considered splitting this last chapter into two, (effectively having a total of 8 instead of 7 chapters) but it doesn't feel right.

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On writing compelling villains · 3:46pm July 27th

Let's open a discussion with the man himself: JMS

What makes interesting villains for you? I guess from the video we could also discuss what/who is a monster, and who isn't.

What examples have you seen on TV where all of this applies and changes your views a little about who does what?

A recent cartoon I can think of is the Netflix She-Ra Reboot. An older example is obviously Babylon 5.

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Comments ( 16 )

Ooo the writer of some Episodes of the real ghost busters and Babylon five.. Also the writer of one more day ahem but not going to hold that on him.

Hmm.... Kinda thought the same way.... But meh.

A recent cartoon I've seen is Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts, the villain in that show, Scarlemagne. He's a really good example of how to take what starts as an entertaining villain and eventually expand on his character to make him more compelling and sympathetic.

Technically not TV since I'm thinking more of the story arcs that haven't been animated yet, but I've really latched on to Attack on Titan's villains recently. There's one in particular where his little story arc is he starts out thinking he's the hero and it's not until several heinous actions that he realizes he's not, which kinda fucks with him a lot, and twisted my perspective on him to the point where I don't think I can call him a villain anymore.

As for what makes an interesting villain in general, I'd sort of argue it's about the same as what makes an interesting character of any other role, since "villain" is ultimately a label you're applying to a character. Motivations and values and junk like that are pretty much always a good place to start.

Hasbro is a villain in one of my stories but I have him/it disguised as the great deceiver (no this isn't a pun I'm serious):pinkiecrazy:

Lord Viren from The Dragon Prince is a pretty good villain. He's sympathetic, tries to be a good father (even if his... questionable priorities make him fail), and starts down his dark path intending only to keep humanity safe. Alas, he's been blinded by his hatred for elves/dragons and hunger for vengeance, is driven further by lust for power, and is seemingly willing to do anything to get his way. He's unquestionably a villain... but one you wish could just see the error of his ways.

Haven't finished the 3rd season yet so there may be a surprise I haven't seen in his future.

I've seen a lot of media where the writers try to do this, but they tend to fall over on either making the bad guy cartoonishly evil to balance their motivations, so you don't empathise with them too much, or they just... tell you that you should feel some sort of sympathy with these people, without actually giving them any real, concrete motivation for their actions.

On a sort of related note, there's media that appears to be accidentally getting its hat backwards and acting like that's normal. The wife and I have talked about this a lot, after we both came to the conclusion that every single one of the Sword of Truth novels seemed to be written from the perspective of a bad guy who thinks he's the good guy. The hilarity was, it wasn't intentional. Richard Rahl is a legitimately evil man, who spends most of the book series slaughtering entire villages of innocents for no reason, summarily executing people for arbitrary crimes, and dooming huge chunks of his world the environmental catastrophe, but he's convinced he's a justified force for good in his world. The series ends in a way that any rational person would think was meant to reflect his ultimate descent into the very form of evil he'd fought to escape from, but no. No. The reader was supposed to see it as a good thing that he took on the mantle of his mass-slaughtering, world-enslaving, child-sacrificing father while his newly acquired subjects ritually devoted themselves to worshipping him like a demi-god.

As an antagonist in some other story, he'd be amazing.

Villains are usually my favorite character in any story. Sometimes they're even more interesting than the hero. I'm reading a couple stories now that have a villain as the protagonist. It's rather interesting how the authors of Nefarious (video game/webcomic) or A Practical Guide to Evil (web novel) have managed to make their villain characters the underdogs that you want to root for. Because even though they have an army or a giant robot, it is fate that they are truly fighting against. Because in stories, the hero always wins. They are genre-savvy enough to know this, but fight anyway and even manage to win with the reader (or at least me) cheering the whole time.

Also there's something satisfying about following a character that isn't bound by morals. Those goody-goody white knight protagonists get so annoying sometimes.

Yeah, I know you said TV shows, but I haven't seen a TV show since MLP. I don't want to schedule my life around when a show will be airing and I'm staying away from what I'm calling the "Streaming War" with all these competing services full of exclusives out for subscription fees.

I've finished Season 3 and it pretty much made me sympathize with him a touch more. Honestly, he feels like Xehanort and Danzo if they were more competently written.

Courage the Cowardly Dog has a great cast of villains, but the highlight for me has always been Dr. Zalost. Zalost is a mad scientist who suffers from chronic unhappiness. You might call it depression, or intense melancholy, but the point is that Zalost is unable to retain a sense of happiness, and his line of thinking then is that if he can't be happy then other people shouldn't be happy either. He's a man who suffers constantly, even as he decimates a whole town with weird magic cannon balls that afflict them with unhappiness, even when it looks like he'll get what he wants. In fact, he doesn't stop suffering until Courage defeats him with magic plums that relieve him of his unhappiness.

Side Note: Zalost has a big mutant rat henchman who suffers much like Zalost, but whereas Zalost is openly disgruntled, the henchman has a hard time expressing any emotions whatsoever. When Zalost eats the magic plums he expresses joy with an intensity he had not known before, but when the henchman eats the magic plums he cries. Yeah.

Maybe HAL9000 from 2001 Space Odyseey, or anything similar to him. He had a mission and he only wanted to get it done efficiently and to AI's the mission is their goal, their dream in life and achieving it is the only thing that matters to them.

Writing compelling villains is, frankly, the easiest thing in the world, and I struggle to understand how many seem to find it so hard.

Villains don't need to be relatable, realistic, under/overpowered, flawed, human, fleshed-out, anything like that. Many of those things often help, but they aren't actually necessary for a villain to be compelling. For a villain to be compelling, the only requirement is that they are


No one remembers the name of the hero in Mean Girls (it was Cady). Everyone remembers Regina George, because she owned every second she was on the screen, to the point that the movie is even named after her. No one cared about any of the vampires in the first season or so of Buffy. The moment Spike showed up, forgoing pretentious ritual in favour of an axe and a trenchcoat, everyone went wild. The moment people remember most from The Dark Knight wasn't the Joker fighting Batman, or the morality play he set up with the rigged ferries, it was the magic trick with the pencil. Because it was fun!

Gul Dukat, Queen Chrysalis, Scar, Blofeld, Freddy Kruger, Magneto and Mystique, Hannibal Lecter - these are all characters who are most iconic when they're smiling. Smug, condescending, psychopathic smiles, sure, but smiles nonetheless.

I think part of the reason people go so wrong is in mistakenly thinking they're writing/filming/coding real life. They aren't. The purpose of a story is, more than anything else, to entertain us. And a villain's most important qualification is that they're entertaining.

Perhaps that's a better way to phrase it than that they're fun. Fun is probably the easiest way to achieve them being entertaining. But it comes in other flavours, too. Dr. Gaius Baltar twisting the truth with such charisma that he manipulates everyone around him. Kim Jong Il singing about his loneliness. Davy Jones playing the organ with his beard. Agent Smith's hammy overacting. The relishing of misdeeds in everyone Charles Dance plays. Ramiel screaming geometrically.

The point is that in real life, you wouldn't want to be anywhere near someone like Sheev Palpatine. You'd want Anton Chigurh to be locked away as far from you as possible, and never released. You'd be crying out for Adagio Dazzle to be punished for her misdeeds.

But in fiction, all that matters is that they're entertaining. And that's why we think far more highly of those three than we do of Sauron, or President Snow, or the Pony of Shadows. That's why we remember Heath Ledger's Joker more than Aaron Eckhart's Two Face in the same film, despite both being superb performances. That's why Ghostface became a horror icon, while the killer from I Know What You Did Last Summer was forgotten.

Make the villain entertaining to the audience, and the audience will want to see more of them.

My answer is you write the villain that makes sense for the story. Some random related thoughts;

- The mantra of that video is a very popular one, but it's not universal. Certainly not in real life. Sometimes people don't think they're the hero of the story. Sometimes people legit see themselves as monstrous. Sometimes this leads them to start actually being monstrous in how they treat others, because, well, abandon all hope ye who enter here. If you've already fallen, and you know you'll never change, what's the point in pretending anymore?

- Sometimes people do evil for the sake of things other than misguided good. Some people really are that broken, cynical, and selfish. Some people are just stupid.

- Realistic villains are not always good villains, and good villains are not always realistic. You cannot make a more "unrealistic" villain than General Butt Naked, a real ass human who claimed to worship the devil and lead around a whole platoon of coked out naked child soldiers he'd abducted from villages he'd raided... but it would also be harder to make one more stupid and inane.

- Stories don't always need "good" villains or villains at all. If you're story uses an antagonist as a foil to explore its themes, having a complex villain with a nuanced, sympathetic viewpoint is all but mandatory. Naruto is a good example. If your story has themes of empathy and redemption, nuanced, sympathetic villains are also necessary. MLP and She-ra come to mind there. If your story on the other hand deals with how people react to conflict or trauma, or focuses entirely on the protagonist's mindset through events, you don't need a "good" villain or even a villain at all. Sauron is kind of a byword for bad antagonist writing, but the fact that Sauron is a "bad" antagonist misses the forest for the trees; the story is about Frodo and his journey, so unless something about Sauron as a character informs that, spending time fleshing him out wastes time... time Tolkien felt better spent describing the height of every bush in the Shire, but, still.

- I guess ultimately we're wrapping around to the original point; write the antagonist that fits for the story you're telling. In art, as in all things, form follows function. Consider the what it is, exactly, you're trying to say or explore. Consider how an antagonist fits into that. Consider what kind of person they'd need to be to get your ideas across. Consider how they got there. Or, hell, don't. Sometimes a character makes a story rather than the other way around - but always know how all your pieces fit together and what kind of picture they paint and be cognizant of if you want that or not. The world is wide enough for all kinds of people, good and bad, and the same is true for stories. There is no one formula for success. There is no one good way to write everything, just good ways for writing some things, and other good ways to write other things.

One cannot mention JMS without B5.
Honestly it was probably his defining work and it will always be so, which is probably a blessing and a curse.

Probably for exactly the reasons he outlines here.

Duuuuuude, yes. The Dragon Prince is by far one of the best examples of not just a good villain but storytelling in general. So much good stuff in store for you in the 3rd season, just you wait. Also, Netflix confirmed they're greenlighting seasons 4-7, allowing them to finish the entire series the way they wanted.

Get hype!

I see a lot of sympathetic villains being mentioned, but I don't think sympathy is a requirement. One of my favourites is Palpatine from Star Wars, the prequels -including Clone Wars- in particular. There is absolutely nothing redeeming or sympathetic about Palpatine, but his cunning and strategy make him a villain to remember. Seeing him moving his pawns across the board, carefully placing each piece where they need to be, removing distractions, eliminating risky factors, working around setbacks, until with one final swoop he clears the board and declares himself the victor is an absolute joy to watch every time.

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