Deja Vu Blogfest

It's Friday, and today we are participating in the Deja Vu Blogfest hosted by Lydia Kang, DL Hammons, Creepy Query Girl, and Nicole Ducleroir.

Before we get to that though, I wanted to let you all know, we will be taking this coming week OFF from blogging for the holidays. This is so we can log some extra progress on projects and read some more 2011 books in preparation for the YA Superlative Blogfest, taking place the last week of December. We'll be blogging all week starting TUES. Dec 27.

So, we'll miss you and we hope you miss us too! Until then, we want to wish you all HAPPY HOLIDAYS and MERRY CHRISTMAS! (We'll likely pop in on Christmas with a merry doodle.)

ON TO THE DEJA VU BLOGFEST! Here's what it's is about:

Ever feel like you know you missed that one kick-ass post of a favorite blogger somewhere, somehow?

This is your chance to do some major catching up, and re-post a favorite blog post of your own that NEEDS to see the light of day one more time.

And on December 16, re-post your favorite/most informative/most life-changing announcement/most ANYTHING blog post you want to re-share with the world.

Click the Deja Vu Blogfest link to see all the other participants!

So here from the depths of our archives, all the way back from 2008, Alz's post On Plausible Villainy!

(NOTE: We realized as we searched through our archives that NOT ONLY did we use to make Posts of Substance, but that these posts were REALLY LONG. So you've been warned. Essay ahead. OR you can TL;DR scroll to the end of the post after the cut for our 2011 summary.)

For kicks & because Lydia requested a doodle:
Krispy's 2011 villainous crush, Loki.

Iago of Shakespeare's Othello is widely touted to be the epitome of villainy. Why? Because he's just so damn evil. The dude's got it down on Othello and wants him to suffer, suffer, suffer, and suffer some more for good measure, and manages to contrive Othello's downfall with a smiling face and everyone's full trust. Why does he do this? Because somebody else got promoted, not him, and Othello gets to take the brunt of the blame. There's not really much reason beyond that given for his absolute hatred of the Moor. Dim-witted Othello trusts Iago completely which fact of course Iago takes shameless advantage of in order to manipulate and betray his "friend", and this is supposed to be why Iago is the quintessential evil villain. And because Shakespeare is revered as such a noble figure within the realm of English literature, and he's been dead for centuries, and scholars say so, it seems to be one of those general "facts" of the academic world.

Iago's kind of one-dimensional if you just take him straight out of the play.

No, seriously. Think about it. Iago haaaaaates Othello and wants to nail his tender bits to the wall and to make him suspicious of and despise his wife so that he'll smother her with a pillow and then feel terribly, terribly guilty about it when she finally dies of it a half-dozen agonized soliloquies and dialogue exchanges or so later. Cassio got promoted instead of Iago, and this fills Iago with vitriolic rage and loathing for Othello's littlest skin particle, never mind the rest of him. Speculation as to why he hates Othello so damn much is all well and good, of course, and ripe pickings for fanfiction (leave the temptation to slash alone, please, oh gods please leave it alone), but within the bounds of the actual play itself—let's face it, there's no real concrete reason given why Iago loathes Othello so much. We're just supposed to concentrate on the fact that Iago feels betrayed, the loathing is there, and now he's acting on what he feels and doing what he does best: being a manipulative bastard. He can gain dimension for possible reasons, and this is where the analysis and interpretation takes place, but there are characters who come off to me as deep and full of inner conflict and motivations and twists and turns of psychology that form an elaborate pretzel-knot, and then there are those who just leave me going double-you-tee-eff. Needless to say, Iago's one of the latter.

An Iago-type villain holds thin water nowadays, having become a stereotype: "You passed me up, so I'm-a kill you, you son of a bitch." I mean, most villains seem to be ambitious and aspiring towards power (for either destructive I'll-show-them-all-and-destroy-the-world or constructive I-can-make-the-world-a-better-place purposes), or because they've got vengeance cooking hot on their brains (this is Iago, who takes it to an extreme), or they lust after fame/infamy, or they're lusting for somebody that they can't have or want to impress, or they're just insane (which though it can be done well is more often used as a cop-out, like the typical oh-it-was-all-just-a-dream trope), or sundry other reasons. But it's a rare villain indeed who exists simply as a plot device of Sheer and Absolute Evil for the Sake of Hating So-and-So For a Reason of Some Kind. I mean, check out the Wikipedia section talking about Iago's possible motives—about the only clear and text-citable reason for hatred is that he was passed up for promotion. (Granted, it's been a while since I've read Othello, but I'm pretty sure I remember Iago having not very many clear reasons for his absolute hatred of Othello.)

Thus there are "evil" villains. But there are also villains who are not so much villains as antagonists, opposing the protagonist without necessarily being what you'd nominally call "evil". Look at the works of Hayao Miyazaki. His films are notorious for having villains who turn out to be not quite so villainous after all—they may not exactly be paragons of pure goodwill and altruism, but they tend to have a decidedly human air of reasonability about them. Check out the invading force in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Lady Eboshi of Princess Mononoke, or Yubaba of Spirited Away. I'll not post spoilers here, but they are human (or have humanizing qualities) as much as they are villains, and they're not pointlessly evil—or even exactly evil at all, since "evil" becomes a matter of perspective. As characters, they come off more multi-dimensional than Iago right off the bat without a great deal of analytical or interpretive work—and to my mind, if you need to work really hard to even identify (much less deconstruct) a villain's motivations and mental workings, then that means you're probably stretching things.

Want an example of a more one-dimensional "evil" villain? Check out Baron Von Rothbart of Mercedes Lackey's The Black Swan. He's a magician with a vendetta against unfaithful women—but why? The blurb on the back of the book says it's because he considers his wife's death some years previously to be the ultimate betrayal, but this isn't mentioned anywhere within the pages of the actual book, and it's a sad, sad day in literary heaven with the analytic angels of fiction weeping tears of blood when we have to turn to the summary on the back of a book in order to figure out character motivations within the story. (I mean, come on—I'm pretty sure the authors frequently have very little or nothing to do with the blurbs on back covers and on the insides of dust jackets, and there's been more than one occasion where the back blurb actually got facts about the story inside wrong.)

But back to Von Rothbart. The only hint we have of this wife's death = ultimate betrayal thing is a brief passage from Von Rothbart's daughter's perspective concerning violets. Yes, violets. Apparently Lady Von Rothbart loved violets (which the daughter Odile vaguely remembers) but there are no longer any violets growing on Von Rothbart's land because he has every patch of flowers found rooted ruthlessly out. (The poor woman doesn't even get a name—by calling her "Lady Von Rothbart" I've already given her more name than she gets in the story.) As far as I recall, that's the sole mention of any kind of wife-related angst, and the only possible hint of motivation for his going out and stalking young women to see if they're unfaithful, transforming them into swans when he finds them cheating on their men, and then kidnapping them away to his estate where they spend their days as swans and their nights as women clad in thin silk dresses. (Personally, I think Von Rothbart is a power-mad pervert with a major fetish for swans and cheating wives and way too much time on his hands, but I sadly have the feeling that my interpretation right there is giving him more character than is really there.)

So what of Krispy and I? We've been working on the "villains" lately. Motivation, background, and personal history, ambitions and deceptions and relationships with other characters. Several times we've had to back up and rethink character structure and motivation, and we're probably going to be zigzagging back and forth for a good while longer yet. Developing a plausible villain is tough work, particularly when there is a surfeit of villainous clich├ęs lurking like potholes to trip up unwary feet. We want more dimension than simply single-minded ambition or a single life-changing tragic incident in the past, and I don't think either of us has brought up madness as a suggested motivational force or excuse for a character's actions. These elements can be present, but they have to be well-done and they can't be reason enough alone—not without turning said characters one-dimensional, or two-dimensional if they're lucky.

2011 TL;DR summary: There are different kinds of villains out there, but plausible villains are dang hard to make.

Also, we were really ambitious with our posts back then. Uh, I guess we devolved... Sorry?

Who are your favorite villains/antagonists? What makes a plausible one?


Lori M. Lee said...

I'm glad you reposted this :) I love antagonists who show complexity and humanity.

Angela Brown said...

Nice re-post.

One villain that I loved is Zuko. He wasn't really an evil person. He wanted his honor. He thought the only way to get it was to fulfill his's father's fiendish banishment request and find the long hidden Avatar.

Zuko eventually saw the error in his ways and found his own better path to redeeming his honor.

Now, the firelord. That's an evil bastard through and through. Even to the end, when mercy had been shown upon him, he spat upon it as weakness. He is the viliain I love to hate.

Spanj said...

I guess the thing to remember is that no one is entirely evil. Someone might seem that way, but they might also be really kind to their mother, or feed the birds in their garden. Great post.

julie fedderson said...

This was fantastic! I'm a huge fan of the complex villain, because after all, no one is complete evil 24-7. Plus, they have to have some motivation to hate or else it just comes off hollow.

Barbara Ann Wright said...

My favorite villains are the kind I can understand. I know an author has done a good job when they can make me feel sorry for a bastard.

Helen Ginger said...

I want antagonists to be three-dimensional. Not paperdolls or just obstacles thrown in. I want them to be believable, maybe even a tad relatable. But in the end, I want them to get their just dues.

Lydia Kang said...

Strike me pink, I gotta doodle! Sweeeeeeeeeeeeet.

This was an epic post and I loved every word of it. Why don't you guys have a book I can buy, already? I love your writing.

Thanks so much for joining the Blogfest!

Julie Dao said...

I love this re-post! Villains are so interesting, although I've never really written a REAL one. But I suppose what makes one plausible to me is whether I feel for him or her. I have to get why they do what they do. If they're just evil because they're evil, there's no connection or depth there and they fall flat for me. But if I am scared of them or hate them, yet I still understand their motivation, then THAT is a great villain to me.

M Pax said...

Villains depend on the story, but their motives must be solid.

Sophia Chang said...

I love when Alz goes on and on! Your voice is always awesome.

Krispy - dude I totally cried when I saw the War Horse trailer! Yes, let's go see it but I'm going to be a blubbering mess. You can't laugh at me until I'm done blowing my nose.

Brenda McKenna said...

I love discussions about villains! I especially liked the Wicked Witch of the West when I was growing up. And Malificent. Great post--I'll have to think of my Favorite Villains list now!

Alison Miller said...

Great re-post! And so glad you're participating in the Superlative blog fest! It will be tons of fun!

Sarah said...

I enjoy villains who I feel for, who I could almost like except for whatever nefarious evil they're plotting. This is a great repost! Glad to meet you through the blogfest!

DL Hammons said...

I write mysteries/suspense/thrillers, so villains are a topic high on my list. This was an excellent post, well researched, un-biased, and entertaining. I find some authors make the mistake of creating a villain that is too relate able! For me, the best are the monsters wearing smiles!

Thank you for re-posting this for our blogfest! :)

Unknown said...

What a great idea! Especially, since I just found your blog. Now I didn't miss out on this great post. I think the villains that really resonate with the human side of ourselves are the ones that are believable and memorable.

Golden Eagle said...

I love your example of Hayao Miyazaki; the villains in his movies do have a human element to them, despite any first impressions.

Great post!

I hope you have a great blog break. :) Happy Holidays!

Margo Kelly said...

I'm a new follower visiting from the DejaVu Blogfest. Nice to meet you!

Katy Upperman said...

Great repost! I love a complex villain. My favorite is Ty from Lucy Christopher's STOLEN. Never have I rooted for a "bad" guy so hard!

Thanks for joining in on the Superlatives Blogfest... can't wait to read your posts!

Creepy Query Girl said...

It is a complicated balance to creating a villian. I think the best ones are the ones you love to hate- you're rooting for the good guy but the bad guy has too much charisma to want him dead- just defeated:)

Lost_without_a_Map said...

You know, the villains always have the best 'powers'. It always mystifies me how the 'good guys' with their meager powers always win.

Kristy Shen said...

I've always found villains more interesting than heroes. Great post!

Krispy: thank you so much for your awesome comment on my blog :) I'm glad the blogfest lead me to your blog as well :) Count me in as a new follower!

Anonymous said...

Nice post! I need a villian who is vulnerable...you know, so you kind of feel bad when/if he/she loses.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic re-post.

I tend to enjoy comic book villains. I love reading the backstory on how they became twisted, mutilated, changed, etc.

Happy holidays.

Elliot MacLeod-Michael said...

My favorite villain of all time is Nurse Ratchet from Kesey's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Just personifies evil.