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'Good' People Do Nothing

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, March 11, 2023

Wrapping up this series of character designs for antagonists, villains, and even protagonists with toxicity as their flaw, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the toxicity of inactivity.

The motto is well known- all that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.

Now, there's a lot more nuance than this, and I'm saying this as a person coming from a family and having spent almost 20 years of my life doing everything I can for what evil I see not to advance. Good people can't always do something. Sometimes situations are such that evil can't be stopped without some serious organization, cooperation, and determination from a bunch of good people.

Other times, good people don't even recognize that what is advancing is evil, perhaps even until it's too late, or at least too late for certain things to be averted. Still other times, good people may be too afraid to do something, or think they're incapable of doing something, or do things that aren't effective, and a zillion other things that would still allow for evil to advance.

This is NOT about such situations.

The antagonist or villain that falls into the category of toxic inactivity is the individual who:

1. can do something
2. knows they can do something
3. knows how to do that something
4. knows that if they do that something, evil will be stopped
5. and do nothing on purpose.

They're the subtlest type of villain if played right, because doing nothing isn't loud unless it's front and center. People often overlook a villain that makes life hell for others just by letting preventable things happen, exploits other people's lack of awareness, and then just pretends to be distraught at the damage, the chaos, the horror or the heartache unravelling around them.

It's easy to call out the footballer that willingly does nothing to stop a goal, but how are you going to know about the dude that saw an athlete be slipped spiked water and says nothing, resulting in that athlete being disqualified after a urine sample?

Toxic inactivity doesn't usually come without any other toxic traits to accompany it. It's very likely that all the other styles of toxicity will also be manifesting one way or another, in different measures. But if you're looking to design a villain as invisible as possible, someone that can truly surprise your audience even with the buildup, you might want to consider designing one who doesn't scheme very actively- they just bide their time to let things unravel when circumstances are just right.

They may not correct another character's misconception. They may not give proper information. They may not give proper information in time. They may not be on time when they have to be.

And this inactivity may be their only evil deed- they may be the lovely old lady that bakes pies for everything the entire story, or the mentor, or the loyal friend, or any other highly loveable and accepted character… that does nothing when they can, should, and would if they weren't a villain.

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PaulEberhardt at 9:49AM, March 12, 2023

I've actually got a soft spot for these characters because they're so great for black comedy. Not that they didn't work well in more serious settings, too. Either way, whenever they go into inaction, things get really interesting, especially when you can't be sure which side they're on. Because if you ask me, they're not ALWAYS villains. Granted, doing nothing on purpose is a dick move that requires a lot of cold-bloodedness and/or malice, but you can get that with a picaresque hero or a Byronic hero or any other type of anti-hero, as well as an ordinary hero who chooses not to be merciful to a villain (e.g. during the fight the villain falls into a pit of quicksand, the hero sits down on its edge and with an evil grin uses the handy piece of rope only to wave goodbye). A mentor might let his/her protegee run into misfortune for educational purposes, which much later in the story turns out to save the day - but I think we covered that under the header of "tough love", right?

bravo1102 at 8:37AM, March 11, 2023

Self fulfilling prophecy? Warn of something, know it will come and warn only those who will not listen. Willingly play Cassandra but make sure to be the one who helps Clytemestra kill Agamemnon and then Orestes kill Clytemestra and survive the whole mess instead of succumbing to it.

Corruption at 7:50AM, March 11, 2023

Sometimes there is a type of character who choses to do nothing because it furthers their own plans. Take Dumbledore in some HP fanfic. He could get Sirus a trial as head of the Wizardmot, but does not because that would lessen his control over Harry. This is different from just choosing not to do anything in general as they are choosing to further their own plans. An example of what you are after is the city government of New Orleans. They knew of the cannels being silted up, and the wetlands going. They knew how to fix it, and what would happen if they didn't. They chose not to because it would take decades to take effect . . . decades before Katrina hit. These are different. One has inaction taken for a reason, the other is inaction taken due to a lack of reason. Yet they can look very much alike.

Ozoneocean at 5:48AM, March 11, 2023

@Bravo - exactly. Describes politicians who know about climate change, CAN do something but actively choose to oppose it so no one can do anything.

bravo1102 at 5:24AM, March 11, 2023

Do nothing. Let it happen. Then we move in and pick up the pieces and create the world we want.

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