Podcast

224 – Threatening Villains

The Mythcreant Podcast
The best villains are super scary, from Star Wars’ Darth Vader to Avatar’s Azula, but they don’t get that way on their own. Storytellers have to make the right choices in order for their villains to be threatening, and it’s a task many struggle with. Join us as we talk about the fundamentals of making your villains threatening, and all the ways they can lose that threat. Plus, why can some villains get away with killing minions while others can’t?

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Transcription

The Master

The Mayor

Glory

The Three

Buffy

Angel

Inverse Ninja Theory

Darth Vader

Kingpin

Kylo Ren

Rey

Killmonger

Palpatine

Sauron

Hela

Viren

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Transcript

Generously transcribed by Bellis. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants Podcast with your hosts Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock and Chris Winkle. [Intro Music]

Oren: And welcome everyone to another episode of the Mythcreants Podcast. I’m Oren and with me today is…

Chris: Chris.

Oren: And it’s just the two of us this week, we are trying out a different format seeing just two hosts. So let us know what you thought of it in the comments.

The other thing that I want to talk about just briefly is that we are currently taking volunteers to do transcribing of the podcast because we really want to have transcriptions and we know other people want them too, but at the moment we don’t have the ability to produce them ourselves. So what we are doing instead: Mythcreants will pay for software to make an automated transcript and then we will take volunteers, anyone who’s interested, to clean it up and make it something that’s actually readable because the automated transcript will give you a giant block of text. Which is hilarious to read because it doesn’t know what we’re saying half the time, but it’s just not something we can post on its own. So if you’re interested and would like to give the gift of the Mythcreants Podcast in transcript form to the entire internet, then you can go to mythcreants.com/transcribe.

All right, now: I am a bad guy and I’m very scary! You can see how scary I am because I am very large and I smash things. I have accomplished my goal, yes?

Chris [sarcastically]: Oh no. How scary. I’m pretty sure after I defeat you, you’ll just go into a corner and be like, “Yes. It has all gone according to my larger plan! Mwahaha!”

Oren: Yeah, absolutely. I definitely can’t ever lose.

[laughter]

Oren: Okay. So today we’re talking about making your villains threatening. This is something we’ve talked about on the blog a little bit, but it’s very important and it’s something that a lot of storytellers struggle with.

Chris: It’s surprising how many stories fail this, and these are stories, often, that are done by professional writers that work for big budget studios and everything. The number one thing your villain needs is to be an effective antagonist and is to feel like they could defeat the hero. It’s really what it boils down to [laughs], but that just doesn’t happen in many stories. And we’ll talk about the reasons for that. But without that: good bye bye tension. And that makes the story boring. So it’s a pretty big failure.

Oren: So there are basically two things that your villain needs to be threatening. Chris covered one of them, which is, they need to feel like they can defeat the hero. And it shouldn’t be like, maybe they’ll defeat the hero, it should be pretty clear at the start of the story that they will defeat the hero if they clash in whatever the conflict of the story is. Maybe it’s fist fighting, maybe it’s space battles, maybe it’s high stakes debate, I don’t know. Whichever it is.

And then two, they have to have goals that are worth opposing. Sometimes they don’t.  Sometimes they just kind of want to do their own thing. And it’s like, “Oh, well, okay. I guess. You’re kind of a jerk, but I don’t really care if you do what you want to do or not.”

So those are the two things that villains really need. But there are sooo many different ways that they can lose them.

Chris: Probably the biggest mistake that I see reoccurring over and over again is, people seem to get mixed up the difference between a villain that is threatening and one that is just vicious. If I just show my villain murdering puppies or something, doesn’t that make them threatening? It’s like, well, no, it doesn’t.

It’s not actually that hard to convince the audience that the villain will do bad things. If your villain says I’m going to go kill somebody, usually the audience believes them, unless they have a reason not to. So you definitely don’t need viciousness to explain that the villain is going to do harm. What you need is them to be competent enough to successfully complete that harm.

Oren: Right. And in most cases random acts of cruelty are actually self-defeating in terms of making a villain threatening, because: What do these random acts of cruelty actually get them? In most cases all they do is turn people against them. And that actually is a sign that they are less competent. That’s actually a weakness that the villain has.

Chris: Yeah. One of the things that I’ve noticed, it’s very simple, but it’s actually surprisingly effective: is making your villain polite. And the reason why this is so good for villains is, well, first of all, it breaks conventions. So readers respond much better to villains who are not rude, because if the villain is rude, they seem like a one-note caricature. And if they are courteous, they seem like a character that has multiple dimensions. But the other reason why them being polite is so effective is because it’s very, very rarely in anyone’s interest to actually be rude.

Usually being polite is frankly just the better strategy. And it shows that they have enough control of themselves to execute what is actually the most logical tactic for them to take. And that being cool enough, not getting angry or upset, says a lot about how confident they are in themselves and how in control they are.

Oren: And so to illustrate a lot of these points, I want to take two villains and compare them.

Chris: Mh-hm, let’s do it!

Oren: And these are both from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. The first is our season one villain, the Master.

Chris: Oh, he’s just the worst. He’s so bad.

Oren: He is! He’s the worst at everything. And we’re going to compare him to our season three villain, the Mayor. So the m&m villains, as it were.

[Chris laughs]

Oren: And so first let’s talk a little bit about why the Master just fails as a villain.

Chris: Yeah, well, mostly because he sits underground doing nothing except for having monologues for the whole season.

Oren: Yep. So he does almost nothing. And yet every episode he’s sending minions to try to kill Buffy. And this is a particular weakness of television shows that have to do a monster of the week thing. It’s not as big a deal in novels, but it does still happen in novels. If the villain tries to kill the hero over and over again and keeps failing? The idea that they are strong enough to defeat the hero will just go away. Even if you say they’re super strong, even if you give them all the power of the gods and even if you arrange it so that the hero is always escaping by a lucky coincidence, if you do that enough times, it will eventually just feel like the villain can’t actually win.

And that actually was a problem with Glory in season five, is that Glory is way stronger than Buffy and unlike the Master isn’t stuck underground, but she eventually has the same problem of, she keeps trying to kill Buffy and failing and then Buffy is still alive. And eventually we’re like, “Okay, yeah, whatever Glory, you do you.”

Chris: Yeah. Which brings us to the Mayor in season three, because one of the best attributes of the mayor is: His goal is not to kill Buffy. He has a completely different goal, which means that he doesn’t have to spend his time failing to kill her because the protagonist is, of course, unkillable in a show.

Oren: Right. And it’s also very impressive because the Mayor is not actually very powerful. Like at one point I think he becomes unkillable. I think he can regenerate after a certain point, so he’s hard to kill, but he’s not super strong, right?

He actually works through minions, which is extra hard. It’s extra difficult to make a villain who works through minions threatening and he manages it. And part of that is just because he’s so convincing and nice, and he convinces Faith to join him, and he can actually succeed sometimes at what he’s trying to do.

Chris: I do think that when you’re thinking about minions, how you use the minions is important.

Oren: Yeah.

Chris: One of the things that you want to do to try to avoid having the villain just kind of lose their threat level as the story progresses, is have a sort of ramp of bigger and bigger threats that your hero can face. But people move too fast. You have to start slow. Instead of having the minions just be basically fodder at the beginning where you want to see the hero beat people up, instead, the minions should actually be able to defeat the hero at the beginning of the story.

If you start by making the minions feel threatening and then the hero has to level up in order to defeat the minions for the first time? Then that’s very different than having a bunch of mooks just pile on and like… Well, we call it the reverse Ninja effect where, since the hero always has to win, somehow the more of them, the weaker they are, because they are always balanced against the hero. If we give that up, if their goal is not to kill the hero, but something else, the hero can end up having to lose the battle and run away. And that preserves the threat of the opposition.

Oren: There’s a really funny web comic called Dr. McNinja, where the bad guy employs inverse Ninja theory against Dr. McNinja by making a bunch of ninjas of clones of him so that he’s suddenly super weak.

[Chris laughs]

Oren: And then he has to deploy a counter trope where he makes himself look all weird and different and he’s like, “I’m not a Ninja anymore. I’m now the Lone Survivor and I’m fighting these Ninjas. So I’m super powerful!”

Chris: The Daywalker!

Oren: Yeah. Yeah, no, it’s perfect. I love it.

But back to the Master: The Master also does the whole “random acts of cruelty” in a way that’s supposed to make him threatening. My favorite is at one point he’s like, I’m going to send these minions called the Three, and they are super badass vampires who wear armor.

Chris: They’re the only vampires who have thought to put armor on themselves so somebody can’t just take a wooden stake and put it through their hearts. That’s what makes them badass. [laughs]

Oren: Yeah, they’re actually really strong and they beat Angel and Buffy.

Chris: Angel and Buffy have to run from them, which in this show is like, unheard of.

Oren: Right. And so they’re really badass, but Buffy barely manages to get away and then they have to retreat because of daylight. And then the master kills them for failing. And it’s supposed to be kind of a joke moment where he said: “Their deaths will bring me little pleasure, but sometimes a little is enough.” And it’s like [disappointed], oh god damn it…

Chris: In some situations I can see how the storyteller might think that seeing that minion battle the big boss and the big boss easily crushes them is supposed to demonstrate the boss’s superiority, you know?

But in this case, the Three are just sitting there, waiting for judgment. They’re not fighting back. So it proves nothing that he was able to just murder them. Cause they just laid down, ready to die. And they were still threatening. It was the weirdest thing ever. Whereas all of the other mooks just get beaten up by Buffy all the time.

Oren: Yeah. It was like they realized these guys are too strong and they have to be killed some other way. It’s amazing.

The only time I can think of that I would ever say a villain killing his minions didn’t make him less threatening is actually Darth Vader. Because Darth Vader’s in a situation where he has like a million Imperial dudes. He has way more Imperial dudes than he knows what to do with. And so numbers don’t matter to Vader. And so if someone fails, he’ll just kill them and be like, “Oh, maybe the next person will do better.”

Chris: Right. It’s partly that we have a movie with a budget for a huge warship and tons of extras, where I suspect in Buffy, we have a little cave with some vampires. We don’t have the budget to show an endless throng of vampires. So it’s not like all of those vampires look replaceable. If the villain kills a lieutenant and we know that they have a finite number of lieutenants, they’re just weaker.

Oren: And the lieutenants are also individually the ones going out to fight Buffy. Whereas Vader, it’s not like when– Vader’s not wiping out a whole Stormtrooper army when they fail to conquer the rebel base. He’s wiping out– he’s killing like one or two commanding officers. And again, that doesn’t actually make him more scary. I know everyone thinks it does. It doesn’t. It’s actually kind of neutral in terms of threat, it really works more to establish his choking power.

Chris: His choking power makes him more threatening, but not the fact that he actually kills a lieutenant with it.

Oren: Right. Which is then weird, cause he doesn’t actually use it against the heroes, which I always thought was funny.

[Chris laughs]

Oren: It’s like we went to all this trouble of establishing his choking power and then when he finally fights the heroes, he just doesn’t use it. So that’s amusing. But overall, just say “No” to killing your minions, it’s almost never a good strategy.

Chris: Yeah. The villains that bug me the most when it comes to just getting out of control and doing damage are Kingpin and Kylo Ren. We should have a whole conversation about Kylo Ren.

I’ll just say that for Kingpin’s part, he just gets really mad, and he’s the villain of Daredevil, the Netflix Daredevil. He just gets really mad and he’s got basically opponents in organized crime. People he has uneasy alliances with and he just gets really mad and kills a leader. And then the guy’s brother comes after him because of course he does. And it’s a really incompetent move.

Oren: And it’s weird with Kingpin because he is specifically doing everything wrong, where he is vicious when he shouldn’t be, where he kills this brother for no reason, but then he’s weak and conciliatory when he actually needs to be putting on a show of bravado. Because he meets all the other crime bosses and they’re all like, “Kingpin, are you actually going to do what you said you were going to do?” And Kingpin’s like, [in a snivelly voice:] “Ah, I don’t know, man. I just want to be nice.”

And it’s like, these are all hardened killers. You need to show some backbone when you’re dealing with them. And so Kingpin is weird, he gets it going both ways and I don’t really understand him. I thought for sure the reveal was going to be that his lieutenant dude was the actual mastermind. And that Kingpin was just a strong dude that this mastermind uses for fighting. But no, that’s not what happens. That guy does die and there’s not really any– or he gets taken out of the picture somehow. And there’s not really any implication that it really hindered Kingpin in any way.

Chris: And I think that might just be the problem of, they wanted to make Kingpin sympathetic, and they didn’t know how to combine that with his threateningness, right?

Oren: Right. That’s actually a big problem. A lot of villains lose their threat because the author wants to make them sympathetic. And sympathetic villains can work.

Chris: A good example of what it looks like when it’s successful is Killmonger from Black Panther.

Oren: Yeah, absolutely.

Chris: Killmonger is a really, really good villain. He is both somewhat sympathetic, we can understand where he comes from and why he has the opinions he does, and he has a backstory that builds sympathy, but he’s also threatening enough to carry the plot. But that’s a really tricky thing to do that most storytellers, unless you’re real sure you have a handle on this,  probably shouldn’t attempt.

It’s not that being sympathetic and threatening are necessarily 100% at odds with each other. But I do think that you’re not going to get the most sympathetic villain if you need them to carry the story as in, be the actual big bad at the story. And you’re not going to get the most threatening villain if you also need them to be sympathetic.

And so Killmonger is in that sweet spot where he’s enough on both sides, but I think that’s a hard thing to manage and balance.

Oren: Black Panther is also a very specific situation where Black Panther set up opposing views, and Killmonger represents one of them and his view is not inherently wrong. Within the context of the film, the idea is that he’s being too extreme with it. A lot of people would argue he’s actually not.

But within the context of the film, that’s supposed to be the idea, is that he has taken a legitimate view, that Wakanda needs to do something to help the various people in the world who are suffering, people from Africa to be honest, and that that is actually a worthy idea. That’s true. And he takes it too far and is like, ”We’re going to do it by starting a giant war in a world that has the Avengers in it.” It’s like, that seems like a bad idea Killmonger. But you know, that’s how it works with Killmonger.

Most stories don’t have that. Like for example, going back to Daredevil, Kingpin–it sounds enough like Killmonger, I’m getting them confused–but Kingpin does not actually have a sympathetic motivation. It looks like he might at first, cause he talks about wanting to “save the neighborhood”, but then you find out he just means gentrification. That’s his motivation: He just wants to kick everyone out who lives there and build a new fancy upscale place so that his rich friends can move in. Maybe in the author’s mind that was sympathetic, but if you actually understand how gentrification works, it’s not.

Chris: If you think of the neighborhood as a collection of people who live in that neighborhood, you’re not saving the neighborhood. Yeah.

Oren: Right. That’s one of the reasons why Kingpin was always going to struggle to be sympathetic. Same thing with any villain on a fairly black and white show, right? Like, very few Buffy villains are sympathetic.

Chris: Going back to Kylo Ren. I think this is also one of the big issues with Kylo Ren. It’s because they’re clearly trying to make him sympathetic and majorly failing to make him either sympathetic or threatening. Which is, if you try to do both, that’s what you might end up with, if it’s not done correctly.

In Kylo Ren’s place, he’s not sympathetic because we don’t even know why he decided to go to the dark side. He’s just randomly on the dark side. We don’t have the sympathetic backstory that Killmonger does, or the purpose that Killmonger has. He just– he’s dark for some reason, whatever. And then he has these temper tantrums, all over the place, and that just does not look competent.

But biggest thing, when we went and saw The Force Awakens and we saw that Rey beat Kylo at the end, injured or not, that was a very, very bad sign. We were immediately concerned about that because he seems like a big villain and the protagonist after one out of three movies should definitely not be able to beat him in a lightsaber fight.

I definitely do not object to Rey being able to use a lightsaber. She has more background in that kind of thing than Luke did, but beating Kylo is another thing entirely.

Oren: Yeah, it’s a very personal contest and Rey wins. And after that, there’s really no serious concern that she can’t beat him again. If they had immediately transitioned into Kylo Ren’s redemption arc in the next movie, then maybe that could have worked.

Chris: Right. He needed to be a lesser villain, the sympathetic villain. A lot of times there’s a combination where we have the most threatening villain who is the big boss who is really providing most of the threat for the story and then we have a lesser villain that is more sympathetic. And at some point in time, they switch sides. That’s a formula that works pretty well, so that we have one villain that’s threatening one that’s sympathetic. So Kylo could have been the lesser sympathetic villain, but right now that doesn’t seem to be where this is going.

Oren: It’s certainly not what happened in Last Jedi. Who knows. I think that’s what they’re going to do in Rise Of Skywalker–I think it’s called–Episode Nine, because they’ve already established that Palpatine’s going to be back. So I think we’re just going to try to redo return of the Jedi. Cause Vader is the primary antagonist for One and Two– or excuse me, for New Hope and Empire. You could argue he is actually the secondary antagonist in New Hope after Tarkin. Then in Return of the Jedi Vader is the secondary antagonist because Palpatine is the main guy now. And so they bring in Palpatine– And that’s what it looked like they were going to do in Last Jedi with Snoke. [sarcastic:] But, oh no, they subverted our expectations.

Chris: Yeah, best case scenario: Kylo was just a really ineffective villain for Last Jedi, but then the next movie moves on to something else.

Oren: Right. And Last Jedi is actually a great example of a thing where the villain wins despite being entirely unthreatening. And it just feels kind of unsatisfying. It’s like, yeah, wow, okay. The resistance got their ass beat by that guy. Somehow. There’s like 12 of the Resistance left. This just feels bad.

Chris: Again, having a villain that is supposed to be threatening: They are scariest if you stay farther away from them, don’t demystify them, don’t let your audience understand them. Just have them look like a big, scary shadow in the background. This is the Sauron method, of the Lord of the Rings. There is, I think, one spot in Lord of the Rings where we actually hear Sauron talk and it doesn’t do Sauron any favors.

Oren: What about recursive Sauron in the new Hobbit films? Didn’t that make him scarier?

[both laugh]

Chris: If anybody doesn’t know what Oren is talking about: In the new Hobbit films, there’s a scene where we look into the Eye and there’s a shape of Sauron or a dude in there and then it expands, like the pupil, and then we see another dude and it expands. And this lasts a surprisingly long time where we’re just looking at this recursive dude inside the Eye. It’s a very strange thing.

Oren: Another way to make your villains threatening is to–this is a formula that we’ve actually seen work a number of times–is to just have them win for the first few parts of the story. Have them go up against the hero, the hero gives it their all, and the villain kicks their ass. And then the villain achieves objectives and then turn it around at the end. Now the big risk here is that you won’t be able to credibly turn it around at the end. That’s a problem.

But if you can, then you get Thor Ragnarok, which has one of Marvel’s better villains. Hela is her name. And one of the reasons she’s more threatening than either of the other villains from the Thor movies–I don’t even remember who the bad guy in Thor Two is. He’s a dark elf, I think–is that Hela starts the movie off by fighting Thor and kicking his ass and breaking his hammer. And it’s like, “Oh, wow. Okay. That’s badass!”

Chris: And it’s important enough to the plot that then we spend a chunk of time with him recovering from that.

Oren: Right. And so then we have to do the turnaround at the end. And in Ragnarok they actually did the work to set up how that was going to happen. So it didn’t just feel like a last minute “Oh, I guess we beat the bad guy now.” Which is definitely a problem that I’ve seen in some other stories. But that’s a good way to do it, if you can pull a solid reveal there at the end.

Chris: Another thing that is a surprisingly common problem is, just don’t make your villain a caricature. You know, like: “Ha ha ha, I’m playing with a knife now! I’ve got a swishy cape.” [laughs]

It’s surprising how many stories do this. But if your villain seems like a caricature, it really does make them feel less serious and therefore less threatening. Doesn’t make them feel like they are actually going to win. Again, I think it’s the viciousness versus actually competence thing, where competence is what you need for the villain to feel threatening.

Oren: Yeah. I mean, there’s a delicate balance in visual design between a villain who looks intimidating and a villain who looks like he’s trying to look intimidating.

[Chris laughs]

Oren: And I’m not a visual designer, so I can’t a hundred percent tell you where that line is, but I can tell you that a lot of Babylon Five villains go over it in the wrong direction. It’s like, we see some guy walk onto the station and he’s in all black and he’s frowning super seriously. And it’s like, “Oh, wow. I guess that’s the villain. Where did that guy come from?”

[laughter]

Chris: Guy’s definitely the villain, we can spot him a mile away.

But I think it goes back to what you said about: Really the villain needs a goal that is worth opposing. And as long as the villain has that, and the villain is competent, it looks like the villain could succeed at that goal, it’s actually unnecessary to have any of that, like, dressing, have any of the black clothes. I mean, you can do a little bit, it’s not like it’s going to immediately ruin your villain to have some of those things, but in the end, they’re just window dressing. They’re unnecessary. There are plenty of good villains that just don’t look like much.

Oren: Yeah, because they’re trying to do a bad thing. If anything, it creates contrast. It’s like, “Hey, he’s a normal looking person and he’s trying to blow up the world.” But yeah, he’s nice. He’ll offer you some tea. He’s still a bad dude though!

Chris: It’s probably not going to help if your villain is, like, a nerd that’s getting ordered around at the office or something like that.

Oren: Oh yeah. You don’t want to show them being that normal.

Chris: I mean, having them wear normal clothes and not look villainous is great. You probably don’t want to have them in interpersonal dynamics where somebody else is…

If they’re going to, again, carry a story, right? For a villain of the week, somebody who’s getting bossed around at work and has a superpower and then suddenly gets mad and starts unleashing it, might work for like one episode, but it doesn’t carry a larger story.

Oren: Yeah. And in general, I would say that if you have to choose between sympathy and threat, choose threat. It is possible to have both. Chris has talked about the idea of having the sympathetic villain and the threatening villain. You can do both, you can do that. It is even possible, if you are really into it and really devoted, you can create a villain who is both sympathetic and threatening, but a lot of stories that isn’t going to work for.

And if you have to have one or the other, you got to pick threatening. Your villain: It is better that they be feared than loved.

Chris: Yeah. That creates the tension in your story, which is a critical part of your story. The sympathetic, that adds some emotional nuance. It’s nice. It’s not story critical.

Oren: Right. And if you try to make some villains sympathetic, it can even get really annoying. Like Viren in– what’s it called? Dragon Prince. Where sometimes Viren is the super bad dude who wants to murder children. And then other times it’s like, “Oh, look at Viren, he’s having a hard day at work.”

[Chris laughs]

Oren: He can’t convince the other human kings to side with him. And it’s like, that’s a weird sequence.

Chris: Viren is just really inconsistent. He’s just not a consistent character, which is a big problem that they’re having with the Dragon Prince, but they don’t seem to know what personality they want him to have. He seems to continue to switch personalities. But yeah, I think you’re right. That’s another problem that wouldn’t be there if they just chose him to be threatening and weren’t trying to make him sympathetic.

Oren: What’s funny is that Dragon Prince could be a story with a villain who is sympathetic because the cause he’s championing is sympathetic. It just wasn’t able or willing–I’m not sure which–to pull that off properly. Cause it’s got this whole political conflict between humans and elves. So we could have had Viren be the guy who wants to fight the elves and is just going too far. And I think sometimes they think that’s who Viren is. And then in other scenes he’s like, “Yes, make sure the princess don’t come back.” For, reasons. And it’s like, Oh, okay. Sure Viren, I guess. [laughs]

Chris: One last thing I want to talk about is villain viewpoints, because when we go back to novels and written works this is a major problem that we see frequently, which is that, writing in the viewpoint of the villain often ruins the villain.

And I think a lot of writers just do this out of habit. And I know that scenes with villainous characters, especially on TV shows and movies–which, a lot of writers learn storytelling by watching those things–is frequently used to establish tension. We have the hero doing their own thing. We go to the villain, villain’s like, “Har har har! Soon, the hero will be mine!” And then we go back to the hero again, and that’s supposed to raise the tension. And it can raise the tension of the story.

I generally think that usually in most written works, it’s better if you have the protagonist facing the problems directly, as soon as possible. Instead of having a dark figure lurking in the background, making plans. But the biggest issue is that when you’re working in the point of view of that villain, you are demystifying that villain, which often makes them just less scary. But also a lot of writers just aren’t prepared to have the villain under that kind of microscope.

The villains are in the background so usually less thought is put into their character development. Oftentimes their plans are not quite as solid as the hero’s plans. And also writers just have trouble with characterization because, you know, how does an evil person tick anyway? That’s just kind of hard to grok.

Oren: How is evil?

And then the worst is when the author tries to do a downward arc for a villain who was already evil. It’s the weirdest!

[Chris chuckles]

Oren: I hadn’t actually seen that before, until I read one of the books–I forget which one it was–it’s the second to most recent book in The Expanse. Cause the last book in The Expanse came out recently and I haven’t read it because I was so weirded out by the one before where the villain starts off as the kind of guy who would feed his own people to monsters because they weren’t super attentive on watch. That’s the kind of villain we’re talking about.

And then throughout the course of the book, he goes on a downward arc and we spend a lot of time in his head as he becomes more evil. And I’m like, why…? Why! What was the point of that? What were we seeing that made that page space worth spending time on? It was very strange. And I feel like it should have been from the point of view of his lieutenant, who has to watch his superior officer become more deranged and has to make the choice of whether or not to kill him. That could be potentially interesting. But just watching a bad dude get more evil, it’s like, “Eh.”

Chris: So I would say that usually in stories, if you can find a way for the protagonist to be involved with the problems–threatening problems–that is usually the best thing to do, because then you don’t have to leave your protagonist’s side. You can continue bonding with your protagonist, but also your protagonist is usually taking proactive actions that deal with that threat. Usually you’re going to get a more compelling, more riveting story by doing that.

But if you do need to leave the protagonist’s viewpoint to explain something that’s happening with the antagonist, the point of view of the minion is almost always better than the point of view of the villain, because the minion doesn’t have to understand everything the villain’s going through. They only see what you want them to see. The villain is still threatening to the minion usually and the villain can still be mysterious and all of those things. But the minion is usually responsible at some level for enacting the plan. So the minion can know whatever you want them to know. So that’s definitely a better way to go.

Oren: All right, with that, we are going to close this podcast because we are out of time, but before we go, I just want to thank two of our patrons: First is Kathy Ferguson, who is a professor of political theory in Star Trek. Second is Ayman Jaber, you can find his stuff on thefantasywarrior.com.

Those of you at home, if anything we said piqued your interest, you can leave a comment on the website at mythcreants.com and we will talk to you next week. [Outro Music]

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Comments

  1. Richard

    Your itunes feed is not updating properly. I get an error stating the network connection reset.

  2. Star of Hope

    I Thought the Master in the transcription was the master from Fallout 1. Because that villian is threatening and morally grey. He is the best villian in the Fallout series in my Opinion.

  3. Oren Ashkenazi

    Thanks to Bellis for transcribing this episode!

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