My Malicious is too Cheesy

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dios4vida
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My Malicious is too Cheesy

Post by dios4vida » December 2nd, 2011, 11:39 am

Hi all - and welcome back to the normal world, Nanoers!

I'm working on the scene where my protag first meets my antag. It's a pretty typical set-up, wherein the protag is captured and taken before the antag. The antag will try to recruit the protag to her cause (she truly believes she's doing what's best for the world, no matter the cost) and the protag will, of course, say no. Like I said, nothing too out-of-the-ordinary.

My only problem is that every time I try to have my antag speak, it sounds so comic book villain. All I'm missing are the 'mwahahas' and wringing hands and bubbling acid in the mad scientist's laboratory. I want her to sound malicious and almost deranged - she is planning to kill a huge number of people in order to create a 'renewed race' so she doesn't exactly have her priorities straight. She'll threatened my protag, and in his fashion he'll try to mouth off to hide his fear. I've written this scene at least half a dozen times, but it never sounds genuine. It sounds forced and cheesy.

Does anyone have any advice for writing this so it sounds awesome instead of awful?
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polymath
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Re: My Malicious is too Cheesy

Post by polymath » December 2nd, 2011, 12:41 pm

Consider a villain-nemesis-antagonist's role in narrative. Oppsosition is a first principle. A heroine's several refusals of a quest is a parallel and similar first principle. Building on first principles, second tier principles, like a hero, an opponent with flawed nobility is a three-dimensional dramatic persona. A three-dimensional opponent has noble ambitions, causes, goals, agendas, yet they're eminently flawed in ways readers can access. And nobly flawed personality and behaviors, and idiosyncracies and idioms. Give the opponent a measure of unique motivations and stakes and nobility and flaws and a measure of opposition readers can relate to, a somewhat sympathetic villain, in other words, and Barb's your aunt.
Last edited by polymath on December 2nd, 2011, 12:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: My Malicious is too Cheesy

Post by Sommer Leigh » December 2nd, 2011, 12:44 pm

Oh man, these kind of scenes make me cranky. When I just know the writing isn't great, especially the dialogue, and I have no idea how to change it!

1) I find a book, movie, or tv show that has an equivalent scene that I think is done exceptionally well with great effect. I dissect it to figure out why I think it works.

2) I rewrite the scene/chapter entirely and come at it from a different angle. I'll change the setting, the pace, the descriptions, what the characters are doing, and I'll play around with what they are trying to accomplish. I'll rewrite it pretty much opposite of what's not working. This usually works like a dream, sometimes it just gives me ideas for improving the old scene.

Definitely listen to your gut. *Something* about the scene isn't working, and forcing it will probably make you miserable. Maybe try not to make the antag sound deranged, make her sound genuine. Impassioned. Absolutely convinced. Make her sound like "Muahahahas" wouldn't be appropriate. If she thinks what she's doing is a good thing, consider trying something like this - Write the scene as if she's trying to convince the protag of something else, like raising money for a homeless shelter, an orphanage for war orphans, or convincing the city to save the old beautiful public library from demolition. These are probably easier for you to write passionately about. Then, see how you can meld that passion into this horrifying act of destruction instead. She doesn't need to sound deranged for us to FEEL that she's gone off the deep end.

I think I read this idea in one of Margo's posts: decide what the one thing is that your character would absolutely never do. Then figure out what would make them do it. In this situation, the protag would never ever help the antag with this master plan. Knowing what you know of your protag, what could the antag say or do that would convince your protag to go along with it? That way it makes it very difficult for the protag to say no.

Hope those ideas help! Good luck!
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Re: My Malicious is too Cheesy

Post by Gypson » December 2nd, 2011, 5:30 pm

Without having read your WIP, my advice would be to ease the reader into seeing how maniac this villain is. Instead of starting off all "muahahaha I'm evil", try introducing the villain as a seemingly normal person with a few odd quirks. Use dialogue to gradually reveal inner character and motives. Surprise the reader by peeling away layers that hide increasing levels of horror.

I'd also try (if your tone and genre permit it) writing the villain more seriously, as in, letting the villain take him/herself seriously. Let the villain be dignified. Let him hold his cards close to his chest. This might be a "less is more" situation.

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Re: My Malicious is too Cheesy

Post by CharleeVale » December 2nd, 2011, 5:36 pm

I've always thought that the key to a good villain, is that they don't think they're a villian.

Maybe deranged isn't what it needs to be. Maybe it needs to be clinical - She has has her priorities exactly straight. She's killing people, and she knows she is, and she doesn't care. That's always been far scarier to me than an out-of-control villain.

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Re: My Malicious is too Cheesy

Post by MattLarkin » December 5th, 2011, 8:27 am

I agree with Sommer and Charlee. She doesn't need to seem derranged at all. When the reader realizes what her plan will cost, and that she's accepted they'll be all the more appalled. As we talked about before, it could be the case that you don't want it clear she's an antagonist right away, too.
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Re: My Malicious is too Cheesy

Post by Quill » December 5th, 2011, 10:33 am

I had that issue with my villain at first, too. I solved it by humanizing the villain. Cartoon characters are simply those drawn in too broad a stroke. By imagining the character's backstory and how she got to be the way she is, one can tone the character down and make her more realistic. That will actually make her more chilling, too.

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Re: My Malicious is too Cheesy

Post by Hillsy » December 6th, 2011, 7:14 am

I'm guessing you already know about the "villain-as-hero" theory, so something that jumped to mind that's a little more practical (and lifted straight from an Julian Assaunge interview I saw)...

Assuming he's human: Focus on the positives. Anytime someone has to make a judgment call, then there's every chance someone will be adversly affected by it. However, people make those decisions because they instinctivly feel the positives outweigh the negatives. As such the language of someone will rarely revolve around the negative details. When the negatives arise, if they arn't emotioanlly engaged in the negative aspects ("A few million people are a small sacrifice compared to the billions.....blah blah") it highlights a methodology of marginalisation that we, perhaps, understand more.

A cracking example is "Needful Things" (the film version sticks in my mind a little clearer). The justification for driving a town into utter self-destruction is almost non-existent. In the end scene the character of Leland Gaunt refers a lot to the fact he did nothing but offer the townsfolk something they wanted, at a price they might be willing to pay. After that it was the townspeople who made the final choices that brought the town down. Simpe. Gaunt did a good thing by fulfilling their desires for them, something no one else could do. He talks about human desire, about other people covetting material things, and so on. He doesn't mention once (I think) about what his motivations are. The result? He seems reasonable and it's the world that's screwed up.

The difference between a sociopath and a "normal" person is often the level of emotional entanglement in any given situation. "Normal" is choosing to eat the last biscuit, knowing someone else will have to miss out. Super-Villains use the same level of emotional engagement, just on a scale that is several orders of magnitude more serious than missing out on a biscuit.

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Re: My Malicious is too Cheesy

Post by AnimaDictio » December 6th, 2011, 11:50 am

Hillsy, I had a similar issue with my wip. It has three villains. The Boss, the Lieutenant, and the Underling (not actual character names.) All three seek to prove their merit by destroying the protag. (The protag is having a bad day.) The Lieutenant wants to overthrow the Boss and enlists the help of the Underling. The Underling only agrees because he's afraid of the Lieutenant. At the end of the story, the Underling rebels and tries to help the protag sort of like Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi. Soon after, the Boss brings down the pain on everyone.

I ran into several issues. Though at first the Underling was afraid of the Lieutenant, by their 3rd or 4th scene working together to destroy the protag and undermine the Boss, they became a little too buddy-buddy. I wanted their relationship on edge, such that at any moment one might kill the other. Also because, in the back of my mind, I knew I would partially redeem the Underling, I was reticent to make him fully evil.

My critique partners weren't impressed.

My solution was: less is more. I was trying to achieve too much with their words. I chose fewer words and let their nature shine forth in their actions. Then those few words were much more meaningful. For example, the Underling is a widely traveled, sophisticated, rock n roll loving genocidal maniac. So I just showed his dynamism and murderous tendencies in earlier scenes and then let him make veiled threats to the Lieutenant in their scenes together.

Critique partners loved it.

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Re: My Malicious is too Cheesy

Post by polymath » December 6th, 2011, 12:01 pm

Much can be said about the persuasive appeal powers of understatement.
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Re: My Malicious is too Cheesy

Post by Mira » December 6th, 2011, 2:44 pm

I like the advice on this thread.

I want to add a few ideas. I think you need to get to know your villian more. Who is this person you call "villian"?

Try some "get to know you" exercises.

Amp it up. Maybe you want to be dramatic here. Add a few bwah ha ha. Camp it up alittle, just for the fun of it. See what comes out. Maybe your villian has a charismatic or flamboyant personality.

Get into your villian's head. What do they eat for breakfast? Do they shower every day? What do they do to help them fall asleep? What is their favorite color?

Become your villian. Be the villian in the scene. What do you want to say to this idiot (hero) in front of you. How do you convert him to your cause? What are you feeling? Are you impatient? Hopeful? Do you like the hero? Do you like anyone? Do you try to get people to do things through intimidation? Seduction? Manipulation? Pressure?

Who is this person you call "villian"?

Hope that's helpful! Good luck - and don't worry. You can also try just coming back to it later. Sometimes things become more clear as you work on the rest of the story. Let your unconscious work on the character abit.

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Re: My Malicious is too Cheesy

Post by Sanderling » December 11th, 2011, 11:38 pm

Mira wrote:I want to add a few ideas. I think you need to get to know your villian more. Who is this person you call "villian"?
I really like Mira's advice here (as well as many of the others above, especially Charlee's and Quill's). I remember reading at some point so long ago I no longer remember the source that there are very, very few people in the world who think of themselves as evil or do something bad because they take joy in doing bad things. Most of them either see themselves in the right, or they know they're wrong, but if it benefits them personally quite frankly they don't care (they're dishonest or cruel/heartless, but not evil per se).

Every single character needs to have their own backstory and their own motivations, and this includes the villain(s). When drafting my current WIP I developed a backstory for my villain, a reason she does what she does to my heroine, and making sure it was something that would (hopefully) make the reader grudgingly allow some sympathy for the villain even as they hate her for her methods. The villain needs to feel like all the other characters - only with their priorities all messed up. Some people are just simply born cruel or selfish, but many, including (I would argue) the most convincing villains, are made that way by how they deal with experiences. I think the most important thing you can figure out about your villain is their backstory - how did they come to be the way they are, desire the things they do. Once you know that, I think the dialogue will flow more easily.

So in your case, why does she want to make a 'renewed race'? What happened in her past to make her believe that the current race is bad or polluted? Try Googling "why Hitler hated Jews" - the Holocaust didn't happen just because Hitler wanted to test out his new gas chambers and he picked a name out of a hat to decide who to pick on.
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Re: My Malicious is too Cheesy

Post by JohnDurvin » January 11th, 2012, 12:23 am

Two suggested solutions and one helpful guide:
1. When I'm having trouble with dialogue getting all stereotype-y or generic, I pick a voice for them. It might be a famous actor, a non-famous actor, a co-worker or relative--anything that fits the part. Then you decide what they're trying to get across, and imagine this person delivering the line.
2. Or, maybe that's not the way you want to go; maybe if a maniacal supervillain is what she's been so far, she should keep it up--and be conscious that she's doing it. I refer you to what tvtropes.org calls "lampshading"--rather than turning down the brightness, you hang a lampshade on it so everybody sees it. (Or something like that; I'm not sure who came up with the name.) So perhaps as the hero enters, she's got her head thrown back, clenched fists raised to the sky (or even "milking the giant cow", as theater-types put it), mwa-ha-ha-ing to her heart's content. Then she looks at the hero and asks, "like my evil laugh? I've been practicing. Freaks the hell out of people down at Whole Foods." Just depends on how crazy you want to go.

And if you're having trouble with villain characterization in general, Rich Burlew wrote an awesome article on the subject here: http://www.giantitp.com/articles/rTKEiv ... 4H1Sn.html. It's written for people creating campaigns for Dungeons & Dragons, but most of what he says applies to other areas of creative endeavor--first pick the villain's driving emotion, then what triggered that emotion, then their goals. Good luck!
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