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Above Suspicion

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, June 5, 2021

There's nothing more satisfying than writing a twist villain. The person that everyone trusts or nobody suspects, who ends up being the mastermind for all the evil stuff that happened all along.

The person that everyone defers to for advice, that leans on for support, that is there to carry the heroes through their weakest moments and knows them the best…

…and uses that knowledge to subtly but devastatingly ruin their lives, destroy their plans, make sure they never get to their goal or save what needs to be saved.

Until, of course, they're revealed.

Or are they?

There are some stories where the villain that poses as the good guy is never revealed, and gets away with it. We watch him/her walk away smugly as the Plot's Ruins smoke in the background.

But often, the main characters do realize it was him'her all along. Usually, it's a big moment of horrific realization, and then the villain drops their ‘good guy’ mask.

That scene can be the jewel in the crown of a story's plot, or it can be the letdown or even the source of the audience's frustration.

In Disney's Frozen, the twist villain Hans does not offer the same gleeful gasp as Wreck It Ralph's King Candy. In fact, Hans caught a lot of flak as the worst twist villain and a cheat on the writer's part regarding how he was presented to the audience.

The reason for that is that Hans gives no clues that he may not be all he seems. The biggest culprit for that is the notorious boat scene where he smiles goofily at Anna (while she's not looking) as if he's truly falling for her like any garden variety Disney Prince.

The twist villain is an excellent trope, but it works well only when tiny hints, in the dialogue, in the behaviors, in the body language and in the choices the cover villain makes can give away that he/she is actually a villain. The point is for them to be subtle enough to be generally overlooked when the story is enjoyed for the first time, but when read/watched for the second time, all these hints will be jumping out at the reader/viewer with an ‘ahhh how did I miss that before’ sensation.

And of course, if a twist villain is done right, then some people in the audience will guess the villain's real nature before the big reveal… AND THAT'S OKAY. If someone is an evil bastard, SOMEONE will get wind of it no matter how good they are, in literature and in real life. The point is how many, how fast, and how much it will matter in the long run.

So have you got any twist villains in your story? How are you handling them until the big reveal, if there is one?

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usedbooks at 2:57PM, June 5, 2021

I like well-done twists, villains that seem like good guys, good guys that seem like villains, comic reliefs that are secretly highly skilled, etc. I used to hate writing villains and was very bad at it. I killed off my early attempts and now I enjoy it. I'm not great at twists, though. There is a "secret" head of the crime syndicate, but not really a major/obvious player, and I don't know when or if that person will even be revealed. Basically, an unseen force (though this person is present in the story sometimes), and I like it that way. I did reveal a major bad guy, who is close to one of the characters, but he never had a likeable personality to start with. I guess the weird thing about Used Books is that everyone is pretty sincere. You can mostly take them at face value. (At least, for the audience.)

Andreas_Helixfinger at 1:17PM, June 5, 2021

SPOILERS: Best twist villain I can think of, going back to Hideo Kojima, is Liquid Snake posing as Master Miller in Metal Gear Solid. Throughout the game our protagonist Solid Snake is talking to Master Miller as a trusty adviser on the local flora or fauna of Alaska over the radio. He seems like somebody Snake can really depend on, giving him advice on how to take out bosses and even aids him further by unveiling things that Snake has been kept in dark from. However. When you fight Liquid Snake, the main villain, in a boss fight Master Miller cannot be reached for some strange reason. And then, when Snake have been tricked to activate the nuclear equipped walking battle tank that Liquid and his goons gone to so much trouble to get up and running, Master Miller suddenly calls Snake and the big reveal comes. He was Liquid Snake this whole time in disguise now telling Snake "that he has served his purpose and he may die now" locking him up in the control room filling it with deadly gas.

Corruption at 6:36AM, June 5, 2021

@Gunwallace, I do not think Anakin is a twist villain, as he was a good guy until corrupted. One thing I hate about this type of character is when it is just used for shock value, and in something like soapies and some comics is not even planned. An example of a good twist villain might be someone aiding the good guys against a dark lord because they fear what the Dark Lord would do. They might know other people who fear him, and some are not that nice, but they aid the goddies. Turns out the guy helping them was just using them to remove competition and having the heroes weakened and killed off. Betraying heroes is a good goal for them. Using the heroes as pawns? Even better! Just remember, the best way to backstab someone is to have their back. Another twist villain may be a ruler who seems nice to everyone, but that is just because his hidden henchies make sure all who might cause problems to him die secretly. If exposed: "All for the stability of the kingdom" Yeah, right.

MOrgan at 4:40AM, June 5, 2021

A good twist villain was the murderer in Agatha Christie's The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. What I hate in twist villains is when they essentially have two personalities, the person they pretend to be before the twist and a completely different person after the twist. At least 90% of a character's personality should remain the same before and after the twist.

PaulEberhardt at 4:09AM, June 5, 2021

Initially, I used to like the multiple twists in the Harry Potter series where it works both ways several times, but at some point halfway through it became first old and then downright annoying. This trope suffers when it's too predictable just because it's the kind of plot that calls for a dramatic reveal like that at some point. For some reason, I found this to be a weak point in quite a lot of Star Trek episodes (original, TNG, DS9, Voyager, you name it) - which to my mind shows that even generally quite competent writers may fall into that trap, especially when they have to work under rather strict formulaic constraints like those required by a TV show.

Gunwallace at 2:48AM, June 5, 2021

Watching the prequels and finding out Anakin was the bad guy ... totally didn't see that coming. He seemed so nice and well adjusted.

dpat57 at 1:55AM, June 5, 2021

This made me think of Walter Donovan in Indiana Jones 3, urbane, super helpful, until Indy learns he's working with the goddamn Nazis. But Donovan isn't just a Nazi flunky, he's using them to get the Grail, which offers everlasting life. A secret (up to a point) villain but with his own agenda and goals. Re Hans, I think he was really just very good at his job, and people should appreciate the years of training from professional spymasters that probably went into this. I was surprised there wasn't a military force waiting just across the border, ready to move on his signal. Or maybe there was and I was just too brain-damaged by then to realize.

bravo1102 at 1:28AM, June 5, 2021

We should examine a series that was all twist villains. Scooby-Doo.

hushicho at 12:34AM, June 5, 2021

Twist villains are not often done well, and I can't say I'm very fond of them. It seems, most usually, a lazy way to try and give the villain a kind of sympathy or make their position understandable, but it's mostly shorthand, as it really was with Hans. Though I also should mention that he gave a few clues that he wasn't a good guy long before the heel turn came. I think the story was rather limited by its fairly short run time, so I suppose they had to use shorthand in a lot of places.

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