Fix 12: Villain Sue

See, I go away for a few weeks and suddenly I come back super productive.

 

So, let’s talk about the Villian Sue…

 

I’m not gonna lie to you, I don’t really get these. Maybe it’s that I border too close to the line with my characters (as I tend to like writing anti-heroes as much as I like writing heroes), or maybe that I just really love a good serial killer. I’ve been known to have loud discussions about different serial killers, whether historical or not and what constitutes a serial killer. To give you an example of my love for serial killers: I wrote a short play called Joel, which is about a Serial Killer who thinks that God speaks to him and tells him to kill people who are too far gone to be saved.  Joel, if he weren’t insane, would be too damn perfect… no really, he’s too damn perfect. But it makes him interesting and sympathetic is some ways.

 

I like villains. I love a good villain. Talk to me about Iago from Othello. I travelled to London by myself on train just so I could see Iago be the most amazing villain in the history of villains. The closest modern villains is Heath Ledger’s Joker… I mean seriously! So I really, really, really love a good villain. They’re more interesting, need less description (especially for background), and work better when they’re more mysterious. Think about it: why does Iago do what he does? I bet you can name at least three reasons or more from the text, but what’s the real answer? How about the Joker? How did he get those scars? How many different stories did he tell?

 

So, a Villain Sue… again I don’t really get this. The same way I don’t get Ghost World and Luciferians. I just can’t wrap my head around people like these things. I keep having to look what exactly a villain sue is. So why am I talking about them? I don’t know, maybe just so I can talk about villains and how to make good ones.

 

First off the villain depends a lot on what context they’re in. For one Fanfic I’m working on a have an antagonist/villain who isn’t evil. He’s trying to overthrow the current monarch because he believes that she won’t be able to take care of the country. It’s not because she’s female, or even because she’s been kidnapped, it’s because she doesn’t have the education a monarch should have. He loves his country very much, and he’s been raised to be the monarch, to do anything for the country. He loves the King and Queen, and he loves his cousin (the soon to be Queen), but he’s willing to kill them if it means the safety of his country. He’s not evil, he’s just wrong. His reasons are explored as much as the heroes motivations, but it works in the case of the story. He’s not a villain, really he’s the protagonist because he’s driving the story, yet he’s not the hero. The cannon characters are the heroes.

 

This is a perfectly acceptable (and sadly, rarely done) type of ‘villain’. A lot of times people try to write the villain as sympathetic (or at least understandable). The problem is that in doing so they often make the villain angsty, and therefore not interesting. Sometimes the villain takes over the story… which his fine if the author meant to do that. If they didn’t then there’s just a problem. Villains can be sympathetic. I have a story that I’ve been working on for years which is just terribly depressing. There were two kids who grew up together and got separated (thinking the other was dead), then the boy grew up and murdered the new village of the girl. The problem is that the girl’s village was of assassins, and she’s a very well trained hunter. She eventually tracks him down, and when they discover that they’re the one person both loves most in the world, and hates the most in the world bad things happen. The girl ends up (slowly) torturing the boy to death, and is left alone. Really the boy is the villain of the story as he helped to destroy a village for profit, but you like him (in many ways more) than the woman because he takes the suffering as a way of repentance. He ends up dead, she ends up alone. It’s not a happy story.

 

Now, I just talked about villains I have were I explore their back story and at least make their motivation understandable. These can work as long as you don’t push them too far. In the second example the ‘hero’s’ back story is actually much more depressing than the villain, which makes her even more understandable, but also gives her greater focus. She’s the ‘hero’ because it’s her story… and because she drives the plot. She’s the protagonist at least. The thing is that these villains aren’t scary. They won’t keep you up at night or make you wonder about them. If anything they’re just people, just another character in a plot.

 

Villain Sues seem like they both want to be understandable and yet amazingly scary/thought provoking. You really can’t have both. I mentioned Iago and the Joker, two characters in the pantheon of villains, so amazing that you can’t get them out of your mind, and they take over the whole damn work that they’re in. But you don’t know a lot about them. Okay, the writer probably knows their motivation, but the audience doesn’t and it drives the audience crazy. The not knowing sets people on edge in a way that explanation never will.

 

Villains often fall under the case of ‘less is more’, and I mean this is really important.

 

So, for the fix: First off, I suggest you write out a list of things about your villain. Include personality traits, back ground information, powers, whatever. Then look at those things in relation to the plot. Think about what has to come out to drive the plot. Yes your villains fear of heights may help drive the plot (or at least end the villain), but we don’t necessarily need to know it’s because his older brother dangled him outside a window when he was a kid. It makes the villain far less impressive, while a fear of heights will simply humanize a bit and give the hero a way to beat the villain.

 

The problem with the side of work on the villain is that you need to know the plot beforehand. If you decide to take the “No Plot, No Problem” approach then you can’t figure out what’s important and what’s not until you get to editing (in which case you can use the above method). What you can do is remember ‘less is more’, or focus more on the hero’s journey, and how to make the villain scary and not at all attainable to them.  For my book the villain amounts to a satanic nun, and is modeled after something I saw in an experimental film… and then I went above and beyond on the nightmare fuel (again, this character scares me). The reason why she’s so terrifying is that I don’t even know anything about her. No really, I have no idea. She just freaks me out, and even though she’s ‘beaten’, she continues to exist and is a threat. The heroes don’t have to vanquish the demon, only escape. It means that all the threats they faced continue to be threats, and can be frightening even after the stories over. No one ever sees the metaphorical zipper on the metaphorical monster costume.

 

To sum up: you can write out a villain to be as well known as the hero, but you need to know going in that the hero and villain need to share similar amounts screen time without the villain over taking the hero’s role. But when you do that the villain simply becomes another character. Yes the villain can still be threatening or else there’s no point to the hero’s journey, but they will never reach the pantheon. They will never be and Iago. Conversely, when writing an Iago-like villain you need to strike a balance between what is known and what is not known. You need to make sure enough is known that the plot and character’s actions make sense, but leave out enough that the audience is desperately wanting to know more. And it can’t be in the “what the hell just happened?” way, but in the “shit, the play’s over and Iago never told us why he did it… I have to go see this play again and see if I can glean more information!” way.

 

Anyway, happy villaining!

Fix 11: Character Derailment

Today’s fix is brought to you by Neil Gaiman, if only because somehow reading hi TVTropes page gives me energy, and there’s a good chance of me talking a lot about Good Omens. So, let’s get to it.

 

Frankly, this topic’s more likely to apply to Fanfiction than anything else, but if you listen up you can probably learn a few things for your normal writing anyway. Character Derailment can affect your own characters in roleplays or in your own writing. Please keep this in mind.

 

Now, Character Derailment is when you have a character that suddenly starts acting differently to what has been previously shown to be their character, and I do mean suddenly. In fanfiction this pretty common in BL (or Boy Love, Shonen-ai, whatever you feel like calling it) where one character suddenly has to be the girl. Character Derailment is a common trait of a Mary-Sue story (for the sullen love interest suddenly turning ‘good’ because of the Sue) or even of the Mary-Sue (see Cannon-Sue). If the character suddenly starts acting in a way that it is not like them then you have a problem.

 

I’m currently in a Yu Yu Hakusho RP with one of my closest friends. I’m playing Hiei for her (and I always play Hiei, I’ve just never been very good at it, since me and Hiei have never really been on the best terms). It ends up this way because my OC is Kurama love interest/torturer (It’s complicated). She was originally Hiei’s love interest who was supposed to hate Kurama, and then she rebelled and I couldn’t stop her. Either way I am not having a good time with Hiei because I see him as literally being asexual aside from Mukuro. Getting him to be interested in a High School girl has been… interesting. The good thing about RPs (or this one especially) is that we said from the outset that Mary-Sues are okay as long as it’s fun. We’ve now branched out into side characters, so it seems like it’s going pretty well.

 

My problems with Hiei have worked out because I’m not trying to write him for a fanfiction. I’ve been writing a couple of Karasu fanfictions. For reasons I can’t explain even to myself I’ve been in love with the bomb nut since I first saw him. I’m starting to get the idea that it’s because I have an attraction to serial killer characters… as characters but not as real people. In any case I’m having the worst time with him because the version in my head has folded off his arms and decided to go one way that seems contrary to his in cannon personality. My only goal going into writing him was that I wanted to write a non-Kurama based Karasu fic that wasn’t just straight angst and rape (since that’s all his stories seem to be, and I’m sick of it). I’ll admit to my own character derailment, mostly due to the misfortune of my characters running off however they want once I give them free reign, and as I already have two OC characters based of Karasu it was pretty damn easy for him to go insane in my brain.

 

(Side not: yes, I do talk about my characters like they’re real people. I know other writers who do this, but it’s a little bit like having split personalities, except that you know they aren’t real and only live in your mind and they never control you… on the other hand you can’t control them much. You only think that you have control. No, this is not an excuse to simply write whatever, saying your characters did it, but we’ll get to that later.)

 

Character Derailment doesn’t have to be bad per say, that is if you’re going an AU story. I knew someone who wrote a Beyblade/Harry Potter crossover where “Ron” was a Death Eater, and the real Ron was actually Tala. Don’t ask how it worked, but it was interesting. For Ron, yes there was huge Character Derailment, but the writer was spot on for Tala, which made the whole thing actually work when it otherwise shouldn’t have worked at all.

 

I mentioned earlier that BL stories are bad for Character Derailment. This is part of why I think they’re boring. Frankly a gay couple doesn’t need a ‘boy’ and a ‘girl’. There are those that probably fit that stereotype, but sometimes there are two girly-girls, and sometimes you have two strong men. The problem with BL is that to ‘make it work’ the writer has to change the personality of one of the characters.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

 

A couple of weekends ago after finishing Good Omens and secretly wishing I’d created Crowley so I could write him forever I went looking through the fandom. In one weekend I was reminded why I no longer read BL nor PWP… because it’s damn boring (the PWP) or they don’t stick to the character (both). If I have to find one more thing where Aziraphale is pathetic I’ll start banging my head against a table.

 

I’m currently working on a short writing experiment (after having discovered that me and my friends basically created an Aziraphale and Crowley about four years ago) with the problem that instead of having a weak Aziraphale I have a weak Crowley (or weaker). I’m working on it, but I’m also keenly aware of it.

 

A lot of the problem with Character Derailment is that the writer gets in their head their version of a character and end up unable to write anything else. I’m more able to read such things because I can understand “oh, this is well written and understandable for X’s version of this character.” Sometimes I just get tired of having to explain things for the writer. No, not everyone will get the character they’re writing about. I know someone who understands Seto Kaiba really well, but he’s written that character for about six years. It takes time to come into any character, especially someone else’s character.

 

So, what can be done?

 

Honestly, the biggest thing you can do is discuss and practice. The reason why your teachers make you write papers is because in doing so you organize your thoughts, make clear statements, and will probably defend that idea a lot stronger after you’ve spent all that time finding proof for your theory. You’ll also remember it better. I spent a weekend discussing Karasu with a couple of people who write the character really well (if very different from how I do). It was good for me because it forced me to find my own version and interpretation. It also made me realize that with a character with so little known about them it’s easier to come up with varying ideas about them. On the other hand you can have varying ideas about a main character depending on what you choose to accentuate from their character. As long as you don’t forget (or can’t properly explain why you’re ignoring) a part of the character’s specific background and personality just about any interpretation is valid.

 

If you want to get good at a character you should discuss them with other people, and you should practice writing as them. You should do both of these a lot. You also shouldn’t be afraid to give them an OC to bounce off of, as long as it makes sense. For Karasu I let him bounce off of OCs, but only if they end up dead in the end. The thing you have to remember about fanfiction is that what people want is to read more about their favorite characters, that what they can read or see simply isn’t enough. They haven’t been completely satisfied yet. There are theories that fanfiction is a female reaction to a mostly male dominated media, sense there are higher rate of fanfiction for shows that don’t have a stronger female audience (see the difference between the number of Bones fanfics vs Grey’s Anatomy). But what the reader really wants to see is characters they like interacting.

 

There’s really not much wrong with writing your own version of a character, but honestly you go into reading a fanfiction to read about the cannon characters, don’t you? You have to remember your readers. The biggest and best way to get over Character Derailment is to focus on your audience and remember why they’ll want to read your story. Audience is everything, at least in this case that should be your mantra.

 

Okay, that’s enough for my sleep deprived brain to spit out for a while. Night all!