Okay, this is a semi-rant and train of thought post, because I've had a couple whiskey and I'm Having Thoughts About Things. You have been warned.
There was one thing that always bothered me in villains that monologue in movies (I also see it in how social media trolls seek to portray the opposition lately, which is what triggered this- they reminded me of bad writers).
I'm talking about ideological villains or terrorists, not the delicious, unapologetic, Hans Gruber style villains. Those last ones are *chef's kiss*.
Usually in really typical action or thriller stories, the villain has their monologue scene where they explain their motivations. That is in itself a problem since we don't get to see why a villain is a villain before that monologue, making them potentially cardboard and uninteresting if the rest of their design is uninspired. However, it's not the biggest peeve I have for it.
It's that they usually cartoonishly voice the opposition.
Take any historical era, and look at its movies. Is it the 50s? The villain is a communist or a communist spy. Is it the 90s? The villain wants to protect the environment or stop pollution. 00's? They want to stop frakking or overpopulation sapping the earth's resources. Take your pick.
I think the 80s were an exception to that, where villains were mostly bullies of various types and caliber or people seeking to rob banks or do pretty standard crime on a large scale.
Don't get me wrong. A villain that has some ideas that are perhaps or totally legit, or a cause that is commendable, or a grievance that is valid but takes it too far (terrorists) or goes ‘an eye for an eye’ on previous aggressors is a totally legit type of villain. I have made an article about exactly that sort of villain.
My little rant today is not about those. I like those if they're well written.
My problem is when the villain is the villain ONLY because the writer hates that particular stance, position, ideology, or cause. Is the writer pro-life? The villain is a crazed woman that seeks to make all women sterile or enforce a regime where everyone gets mandatory abortions. Is the writer pro-choice? The villain is a crazed woman that seeks to kill every woman that dares oppose the right to abortion. Beyond that cartoonishly extreme portrayal though that is basically an illustrated ad hominem, no other counterargument is given within the story or by the hero on why the villain is wrong beyond their specific extremism that doesn't extend to the people the villain represents.
These are propaganda films, stories, or comics where the villain is the villain simply because the writer deems it so. Bonus points if they don't even take it too far like the examples I gave- the villain is a villain because they want to advocate for the opposition in these types of stories, like the words they utter are toxic gas.
Same goes for the hero by the way- the hero is the hero only because the writer deems it so. There are main characters that are supposed to be likeable to the audience, but they are really not because they're actually a-holes that are rude, obnoxious, demanding, uncaring, conceited, or support a flawed argument as the writer's mouthpiece. Yet the story demands the audience to like them (to mary sue levels) over the opposition that often comes across as more sympathetic simply by the fact that they need to interact with the main character.
So, it comes down to your politics vs. your characters' politics. Again; don't get me wrong. It's TOTALLY LEGIT for the main character to have the same politics as you. It's also TOTALLY LEGIT for the opposition/the villain to have the opposing politics to yours. (btw in case you're wondering not a single character in WM has my politics…yet)
What is not legit is not doing the work to present BOTH characters as individuals with a personality and character design that is not “Good Politics A” and “Bad Politics B”. As with any character trait, if you write a character as basically one-note Trait Character, they run the risk of being considered two-dimensional or badly written. (basically the same thing as one character's trait being only Girl and only Fat Kid in older hero team stories)
You should at least grant your villain the courtesy of portraying their politics as nuanced enough to be enticing to a large group of people- large enough to be the opposition to your politics, even if it's the common consensus that your politics are the right politics. I'll be irreverent here and say that this unfortunately includes Nazism- protraying Nazism as this weird death cult (it is) that brainwashes people (it does) into being human-hating automatons (they do become that) in its initial stages is plain wrong and brings peoples' guards down that they'll know it when they see it and reject it in real life- when that is unfortunately not the case.
Yes; peak nazis- when they're already on board committing genocide without much rationalization- will sound cartoony if forced to voice their motivations and they are ideologues (i.e. ascribe to nazism for nazism, not for profiteering or other things). However, pre-nazis DON'T sound like that. The earlier in the process they are portrayed, the more legit they're likely to sound in the problems or grievances they have. If your nazi villain isn't yet peaked, write them like their ideology is legit- to them.
I'm not saying it is easy. It's disgusting to do it if you feel strongly against a certain political stance (I've moved on from nazis now btw, but definitely goes for them too) but if you're not looking to make light propaganda, if you're looking to reach audiences on both sides of the fence, you'd need to immerse yourself enough in that political group's culture and style and rhetoric to accurately portray it AND add other characteristics to your villain that make them a person, not a cutout for punching.
They'll probably be a vile person since they're villainous on top of their flawed politics (or a deranged person, or a brainwashed person, etc) but they will have to be a person.
Same goes for the characters that share your politics: they also must be a person- flawed, limited, with motivations that aren't only Heroic Altruistic, with fears and with ambitions and hopes. And they happen to believe what you believe.
Of course, you can't do this for your entire cast (you can, but not everyone does it or can show their work even if they actually do it) but seriously consider doing it for your A and B roles. Your message will be a lot more impactful for it, if you're looking to pass a political message. Even if you're not, people will be thinking about your characters a lot more as they look through their fridge for food.
That's a win, right?
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Your politics vs. Your characters' politicsTantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Dec. 10, 2022
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DylanTale Comics at 9:01AM, Dec. 15, 2022
I've come across people on other platforms who have had these extreme ideologies, one of those people supporting Nazism. I was absolutely shocked because it was the "Mysterio" type of situation where he claimed to support freedom and free speech, but then turned around and revealed himself to be a "Neo-Nazi" (his words). While I confronted him about this before blocking him, it was intriguing to hear his ideology, his thought process, and even what he thought about more moderate people such as myself. I did manage to learn a lot about that extreme side of politics/propaganda. The same goes for when I came across a flat-earther.
DylanTale Comics at 7:36PM, Dec. 14, 2022
I also agree with what EssayBee said, especially tying into today's politics. While I recognize that not all right-winged people are horrible, I can also say that about the left as well. I'm even friends with people who identify with some left-wing ideals or even Socialist ideals, which proves that politics can still exist without the binary view of "you're my enemy because I disagree with you."
DylanTale Comics at 7:34PM, Dec. 14, 2022
I completely agree with your standpoint here, despite the whiskey you had at the moment of you writing this lol. In 2020 and beyond, I've witnessed a society where, like in your explanation, there were certain groups who were portrayed as villains simple because of people in charge who deemed it so, one of those "villainous" groups being Republicans. This also reminds me of and ties into cancel culture and how that has affected those certain groups. I've also witnessed some people having the audacity to blend certain groups together, specifically blending extremists with moderates when it comes to both political sides. For anyone here who has done that or continues to do that, I would like to remind you of the well-known Star Wars animated series, The Clone Wars, as well as a spinoff of that, titled Tales of the Jedi. Both series rail against that blending together ideology and against cancel culture. Those series really emphasize on the "heroes on both sides" idea.
EssayBee at 8:02AM, Dec. 12, 2022
A lot of times, a villain that mirrors a popular viewpoint can do more good than any story moralizing. Such things can force readers to look at themselves and wonder at just what point does a "good" point move into "evil" territory. It's something all of us can benefit from in these days of "binary" morality/views.
Ozoneocean at 7:06PM, Dec. 11, 2022
The use of the phrase "chef's Kiss" is the vilest villainy this side of dastardly Dan and Big Bill Brocias.
marcorossi at 1:14AM, Dec. 11, 2022
If I can salomonically disagree with both @corruption the nazis were not pissed off by PC, they could and did spout racist stuff in Germany well before nazism, the reasons for nazism are debatable but different (IMO largely they had complex economical problems and nazism gave a false solution blaming everything on jews and attempting the colonisation of eastern Europe). @Hushicho understanding someone is not the same thing of agreeing with them, so it is in fact very important to understand the nazis, also in order to avoid to repeat their errors, it is not "justify genocide".
hushicho at 5:43PM, Dec. 10, 2022
I also will note that it is terrifying that someone in the comments is trying to justify genocide by saying that it's understandable, since it's a lot of trouble to be considerate to other people and they don't want to be accused of being against a group of people. So that's cool, super easy to understand the torture and deaths of millions of people -- my own people -- because man, it sure is tough to be a mature adult to other cultures that aren't your own and, I dunno, maybe leave them alone instead of constantly interacting with a group of people you don't like, who clearly don't want you around. It's sure easier to leave people alone than it is to murder them en masse, but what do I know.
hushicho at 5:38PM, Dec. 10, 2022
I agree only in part. It is absolutely not the intention of most people making a statement to try and appeal to both sides of the political spectrum they may be presenting, and there are unfortunately very cartoonish villains even in the world right now. No one gets up in the morning and says "how can I be more EEEEVILLLL today?" but they do get up in the morning and think more about how they can oppress others, silence others, and further their own goals while abusing others. Make it too complex, and you won't teach anyone anything. Make it reductive, and it can come off as fatuous. But I also think it's a bad idea to try and humanize everyone, no matter how horrible they are, and most writers aren't good enough to make it satisfying. Mel Brooks always set out to make nazis the uncool punchline, so no one would want to be them because they're garbage. He doesn't need to make them compelling human villains at any point.
Kou the Mad at 4:50PM, Dec. 10, 2022
The trick is doing so without making a strawman.
plymayer at 4:50PM, Dec. 10, 2022
The best villians don't know they are villians. That said, I want a chair in the center with buttons that control everything. Like Doctor Doom or Captain Kirk.
usedbooks at 8:29AM, Dec. 10, 2022
I'm not thoughtful enough to give characters any kind of politics aside from "be nice to people." Or my hedonistic antagonist who just wants stuff and to enjoy himself. Honestly, he's a fun guy, but very shallow with no morals. It's not exactly a very deep story, tbh, and not deep characters on any side of the coin.
dragonsong12 at 8:19AM, Dec. 10, 2022
It's a personal philosophy of mine that I write ALL my characters from the point of view that they are right. Whether they're heroes or villains and even if their views are ones that I find abhorrent, I try to consider what would cause a person to think that way and how they'd justify it. No one thinks they're the villain, after all, everyone's the hero in their own mind so even history's worst monsters believed they were in the right. I don't like pushing views through my stories (even when it seems otherwise) and I think writing that way makes for more interesting character dynamics. ...admittedly, I'm sure I don't always succeed, but that's how I approach things.
Corruption at 7:17AM, Dec. 10, 2022
Maybe the antagonist's arguments can be spread all through the story. They oppose genetic engineering, and do so be releasing a virus that targets it (like grain spliced with fish DNA getting hit by a virus that targets fish DNA) Maybe someone who sees the free market as dangerous might release WMD taken from cold war bunks and fallen governments, and release them to the crazies in countries that favor free markets. Maybe someone who is against corrupt governments might have targets killed in ways exposing their corruption (and bonus points if it was covered up for their protagonist to discover at the end, making them realize the "bad guy" is only that due to destabilizing corrupt governments [either support lawlessness, or corruption] with their handler knowing supporting corruption)
Corruption at 7:09AM, Dec. 10, 2022
Maybe the antagonist tried doing things legally, but unjust laws/policies stopped them. Maybe they are acting out of desperation. Or maybe they don't care about politics, and just used those who had a political belief they could exploit, or used it as a cover (ala Hans Gruber). Maybe the antagonist is a conspiracy theorist who is trying to stop people spying on him, and is only stopped from releasing a computer virus that will destroy the internet, wrecking the spy systems because . . . well, they were spying on him to find out what he was doing.
Corruption at 7:05AM, Dec. 10, 2022
One scenario I would like to see, but can't remember seeing, is when the protagonist and antagonist both fight for what they believe in, and have compelling arguments, leaving the question of who the 'hero' is uncertain. Take the Nazi villainy proposed in the article. Genocide is wrong, but I can understand why someone would like to take control of an area forcing all the 'minorities' out. The reason is that they are sick and tired of having to watch out for political correctness and other such things. They just want a place where they can live without that, or being accused of being discriminatory due to their skin color (ironic both for what they are doing, and the accusation based solely on skin color is racist in of itself).
Andreas_Helixfinger at 5:55AM, Dec. 10, 2022
That's nuance I think. Most people being familiar with Molly Lusc's character by far might think to themselves "Well, she's a thief and a troublemaker. Clearly she's an anarchist, right?". My answer "NOPE!!! She's actually a moderate. She believes that some regulation is a good thing." I mean--have you ever had to share a diner with a Morphless mutant, wondering if that mutant has taken a decontamination shower before dragging its lovecraftian mess of a body into the diner or, if not, he or she is spreading high-level A2-radioactivity into the kitchen right now:P Molly's not a sheltered citizen. She knows that the platitude "No barriers, stronger together" wouldn't quite work out in the town where she lives, unfortunately:P
Andreas_Helixfinger at 5:41AM, Dec. 10, 2022
Now, I as a person in real life politically identify myself as a social democrat - by swedish standards that is. That is to say that I hang my political hat on a regulated capitalist market (free-market capitalism simply doesn't fly I belive--and let's face it--it doesn't--ever!) along with strong social safety nets that is accessible to all citizens. But Molly I think would be considered a moderate on the political scale of her own nation depending on her approcach to her nation's top concern, that being the spread of mutation. She believes, as opposed to those of her countryfolk that either wants a stricter Morph class system or for it to be abolished completely, that the Morph class system should remain intact, but only to a necessary degree, and she believes that the Morphcare system should remain universal, which it is in her country, and improved ideally, it's quite a buggy system though welcomed by the domestic goverment and most of the domestic citizens non the less.
Andreas_Helixfinger at 5:32AM, Dec. 10, 2022
Great article👍 I know that my comic Molly Lusc makes its own dips into politics now and then, though its the politics that is focused around the unique concerns within the society that my main character Molly lives in (though not without parallells to real life politicall concerns obviously) where different mutants belonging to different classifications are kept varyingly segregated within what is called the Morph class system and mutations are being treated through what is called a Morphcare system. Mutation is the top concern here, yes.
Stahlberg at 4:38AM, Dec. 10, 2022
Yeah check out Ben Shapiro's book True Allegiance for great examples how not to write villains... or basically anything lol
marcorossi at 3:34AM, Dec. 10, 2022
I think one has to distinguish the role (protagonist, antagonist, sidekick) from the moral traits (good guy, hero, bad guy, villain). The natural tendency, let's call it child thinking, is that friendly=good so I and my friends are on team good (and also have good traits) whereas whomever opposes us is on team evil and has evil trait. This is part of our natural way of thinking but in narrative if the author doesn't check this tendence a bit the characters will be squeezed on their roles: since Bad Joe is the antagonist he also votes for nasty party and kills kittens as an hobby and his armpits stink. What happens is that instead of giving to Bad Joe a personality all hos traits have been extrapolated from his role of being the opposition in the story. This is so obviously unrealistic that kills the suspension of disbelief.
bravo1102 at 3:15AM, Dec. 10, 2022
You can really go back to some wonderful propaganda pieces of WW2 going over motivation for the evil Axis types. The Purple Heart about the trial of the Doolittle raiders, Blood on the Sun about the prewar Japanese militarists, the various resistance to Nazi movies like "Confessions of a Nazi Spy" or "The Stranger " . There's often an entire culture of rationalization of evil that is behind such things as Nazism. They really believe it and the process of indoctrination is very interesting. Any number of good works on people just go along with these things and even come to embrace what they are doing even as others are totally repulsed and show remorse but can't escape their own investment into the evil they've done.
InkyMoondrop at 12:26AM, Dec. 3, 2022
These are valid points. I remember watching tv series in the 90s (they were made in the 80s) where the villains were simply punks. They didn't even have an ideology, they just robbed old ladies and beat up innocent people for no reason, because I suppose that's what it means to be punk. :D I dare to say that some of the most nuanced characters I've seen are in Hunter x Hunter, because it explores morality and boy you can forget about black and white in that one. I try to construct my characters as flawed but at least nuanced. A later protagonist who uses and manipulates people but with good intentions, villains whose motivations are relatable and make sense but their methods are problematic... Again protagonists who did awful, terrible things but want to change... I mostly approach these things from the emotional side not the ideological one, but as someone who is a Battlestar Galactica fan, I can safely say I'm critical about my own characters' complexity, even if it doesn't show.