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Are Pure evil/Complete Monster villains realistic?:

Welcome, traveller, welcome to Omsk
[up]I'd expect a writer with at least a slight amount of talent to know better than that, though.
It does not matter who I am. What matters is, who will you become? - motto of Omsk Bird
 77 Jewely J, Sun, 11th Mar '12 12:37:52 PM from where the food is
To me there are two kinds of 'complete monster" villains. There's the badly written sort characters who are nothing other than evil and the acceptable sort characters who have motivations , characterization and reasons why they are doing stuff but when you look at everything they have done and all the people who they have hurt in the course of those actions that in the minds of people they are complete monsters.
@ Night: See, I feel the opposite. What's dangerous is refusing to understand someone's motives and just pegging them as "evil". "Understand" does not mean "think it's okay", anyways.

edited 12th Mar '12 8:25:13 AM by RTaco

 79 Morven, Mon, 12th Mar '12 1:31:12 PM from Seattle, WA, USA
Nemesis
@Night: that's about being scared to even LOOK at where the bad things come from. That's covering your eyes so you can't see the scary.

Attempting to understand is not remotely close to condoning. A doctor does not condone sickness by trying to understand a disease. A structural engineer does not forgive collapse by trying to understand why buildings fail.

And I think that those of us who wish to be writers ought to look into that abyss, if we have characters who occupy it. We should understand them. We should know from what roots the evil tree has grown. Ultimately, there may still be aspects of a monstrous character's nature that cannot be further explained, but we serve our stories better by trying to understand what made them.
A brighter future for a darker age.
 80 feotakahari, Mon, 12th Mar '12 1:37:57 PM from Looking out at the city
Fuzzy Orange Doomsayer
^, ^^: I think the point's been made by now. Let's not dogpile Night.
That's Feo . . . He's a disgusting, mysoginistic, paedophilic asshat who moonlights as a shitty writer—Something Awful
 81 Kyle Jacobs, Tue, 13th Mar '12 11:41:02 PM from Connecticut/D.C.
Nice Guy
I kind of try to have it both ways. My Big Bad is hands down the single most soulless, depraved bastard I've ever written, but the people who work for him A) don't know anything close to the full extent of his bastardry and B) all have much better motivations than he does. Said underlings get considerably more screen time than he does for precisely this reason.

edited 13th Mar '12 11:41:28 PM by KyleJacobs

Read Remus! Has nothing to do with wolves.
Forum Villain
My two cents (adjusted for inflation): They're unrealistic without motivations or dark histories. Because such wanton cruelty, hatred, and evil is extraordinarily rare, a Complete Monster IS a psychological aberration, and there needs to be some insight or explanation for his/her behaviors. Take, for instance, a Complete Monster that was executed extraordinarily well: The Joker from Nolan's The Dark Knight. He's universally reviled by everyone for being so damn evil. There's no doubt that he's not evil. But we do know that something terrible happened to him and shattered his sanity. We don't learn what his past really is because he prefers that it be "multiple choice", but we learn that something drove him so far off into the deep end he's completely crossed the Moral Event Horizon. He was, I think, a realistic Complete Monster who was twisted and tormented and tortured so thoroughly by his past that he was almost incapable of being good.

But this all depends on how you view and want to portray a person's character and integrity. Are you going to judge a man by what he is in the dark, or are you going to judge a man by his actions upon the world, the intent behind the actions, and the consequences they have on the world and story at large?

edited 14th Mar '12 10:57:25 AM by Pyroninja42

"Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person that doesn't get it."
 83 Night, Wed, 14th Mar '12 12:17:29 PM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
That's covering your eyes so you can't see the scary.

This is called making unwarranted assumptions. I can sit there and watch the scary all day (indeed I often do), but that doesn't result in understanding. We can describe a Freudian Excuse or piece together things about the doer's motivation from the deed, but that's not understanding, that's conjecture. It's still not predictive.

You think I don't want to understand so I don't. I think we never understood and have fooled ourselves into claiming we do.

We can be sympathetic all we want, we can describe what we think are the causes, but we cannot predict when one person facing crisis will have a psychotic break and start murdering people any better than we can predict earthquakes. (Probably less, to be honest.) We can't predict the behavior of a sociopath any better than that either (hundreds of them, after all, never kill or injure anyone directly). We don't have the model for the existence of wrongdoing for the sake of self gone to extremes; we don't know the formula. In simplest terms, we don't understand it.

Now, if you'd care to make a real argument, about what I really said, then you are welcome to.

edited 14th Mar '12 12:20:12 PM by Night

Trusted Poster of Legitimate Advice (from Wo-Chan)
 84 feotakahari, Wed, 14th Mar '12 12:39:48 PM from Looking out at the city
Fuzzy Orange Doomsayer
^ I'm not sure I understand you, in multiple senses of the phrase. I don't know of an argument for why we can't understand psychopaths that doesn't apply equally well for why people in general can't understand each other.
That's Feo . . . He's a disgusting, mysoginistic, paedophilic asshat who moonlights as a shitty writer—Something Awful
 85 Night, Wed, 14th Mar '12 12:51:14 PM from PSNS Intrepid Relationship Status: Drift compatible
Who you are does not matter.
[up]Can you predict the behavior of the person next to you reliably?

Maybe.

Most of the time, with someone we haven't known long or with a mindset we don't share, the answer is no. So we come up with explanations after the fact. (We do this about a lot of things, we're essentially wired to if neuroscience is to be believed.) But until you can predict with a high degree of confidence then you really don't understand something at all.

You're right in that we don't really understand human behavior yet either, but we're closer to that we are to understanding self-interest gone over the edge to the extent we're discussing. (I offered the extremes of it as an example, but really, you don't need to have recognizable mental disorder to be a dictator; though you do to run a Fortune 500 company.)

edited 14th Mar '12 12:58:38 PM by Night

Trusted Poster of Legitimate Advice (from Wo-Chan)
 86 feotakahari, Wed, 14th Mar '12 1:01:44 PM from Looking out at the city
Fuzzy Orange Doomsayer
I'd like to make a distinction between self-interest and sadism. Self-interested people are easier to understand than normal people, since they operate under fewer variables—when they're faced with the choice between what's good and what's right, you always know which direction they'll go, compared to a normal person who could go either way. The people who're really hard to understand are the ones who do awful things that don't advance their self-interest in any way (and even then, most people can draw parallels with at least mildly evil things they've done that don't really advance their interests.)

edited 14th Mar '12 1:03:01 PM by feotakahari

That's Feo . . . He's a disgusting, mysoginistic, paedophilic asshat who moonlights as a shitty writer—Something Awful
Also known as Katz
So...how does this apply to characters? Are we now positing that you shouldn't bother giving characters motivations because nobody really knows why anyone else does anything, or are we saying you should pretend like you know why people do things even though you don't, in which case it's a purely academic question?

Of course this is all moot, in a sense, because we've already established that whether someone is a complete monster or not isn't governed by whether they have reasons for what they do or not.

Forum Villain
[up]That got me thinking. It would be interesting to have story where two characters are both victims to the same horrible and traumatic event, and for the conflict to mainly be about their response to that. One character, the "antagonist", had a negative/"pessimistic" response: he/she was so utterly devastated by it that his/her morals and ethics and regard to human life were totally shattered, and the event continued to torture that person, twisting their soul into an evil thing, until they became a Complete Monster. The other character, the "protagonist", has a positive/optimistic reaction to it. Rather than being at the whim of the emotional trauma it inflicted, he/she overcame it to become a stronger in principle/more mentally resilient or whatever, until they parallel one another and become diametrically opposed.

Actually, that sounds like it's been done before, but I dunno.
"Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person that doesn't get it."
 89 feotakahari, Wed, 14th Mar '12 6:14:44 PM from Looking out at the city
Fuzzy Orange Doomsayer
^ It's been done a lot of ways, but my favorite version is Darkly Dreaming Dexter. (Of course, that's an arguable case, since even the "hero" of that piece is what would normally be regarded as a monster, but he hasn't broken in quite the same way that the antagonist has.)

Edit: I guess we don't have a page for that. The more famous TV show was called Dexter.

edited 14th Mar '12 6:17:15 PM by feotakahari

That's Feo . . . He's a disgusting, mysoginistic, paedophilic asshat who moonlights as a shitty writer—Something Awful
I made an edit to my character! I'm not sure if this'll help make her seem more real, but I recently came up with a delightful line for Marylin that managed to make even me hate her (I swear I didn't just make it up for this thread); when Jack confronts her in the halls while Toby's talking with the teacher, Marylin says this: "So how soon will you be on the rebound after your boyfriend commits suicide?". Cue Jack getting really, really pissed.

edited 29th Mar '12 6:04:02 PM by CJCroen1393

 
  • Bump*

I believe that several "complete monsters" have existed. Most of these would have been mentally disturbed somehow though. There might be Freudian Excuses, but these people become so awful that we don't care. They might have loved their family and their friends, but that didn't stop them from being monsters to others.

edited 8th Feb '14 4:23:56 AM by Furienna

Pronounced YAK-you-luss
Perfection is impossible in nature. Thus, perfect evil is equally impossible. For a start, being relentlessly, utterly immoral without the slightest redeeming feature usually requires the sort of brain problems that would get a fictional character thrown out for lack of moral agency.

This is not to say that humans can't be seriously evil, of course, but a Complete Monster is an elemental archetype, not a person. They're usually intentionally flat. It also sidesteps one of the nastiest aspects of human nature - that much of the most hideous shit in history was done by either visionaries trying to make the world a better place or decent, mild-mannered sorts just trying to make a living.
Freedom of speech includes the freedom for other people to call you out on your bullshit.
 93 JHM, Sat, 8th Feb '14 12:16:50 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up] Exactly. A psychopath or a murderous sadist is not "pure evil" even if their actions are inexcusably monstrous. They may seem close, but no-one really does evil things for the sake of being evil, even if they believe that they are doing so themselves. And so many people do equally terrible things in the belief that what they are doing is ultimately the right thing or otherwise acceptable because they have conditioned themselves or been conditioned by others to see those actions as such.
 94 Taira Mai, Sat, 8th Feb '14 7:47:25 PM from El Paso Tx Relationship Status: One Is The Loneliest Number
rollin' on dubs
A look back at Dukat from Sf Debris.

Jacob H. Smith, a.k.a "The Monster".

A pure evil villain is a joke because pre-70's Disney and the Hayes Code are so ingrained that "white hat" vs "black hat" is a Dead Horse Trope.

That said, Tropes Are Not Bad.

Lemmie 'splain:

  • A hero can turn into a villain over time. Someone can get so broken that, they pass the moral even horizon. There's a saying about boiling a frog: turn up the heat over time and the frog won't jump out of the pot. Have the story ratchet up the tension on the character. Over time, morally dubious things become more appealing from the character's point of view. As the story progresses the character is now a complete monster. May lead to a Villainous Breakdown.

  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: the Morality Pet is the sister trope. If you have a villain who has lines not to be crossed, or is on the fence, what happens when beloved auntie Rita dies? Because of/in spite of/tangentally related to the hero, it doesn't matter. For some people, even in Real Life, the death of a loved one can break their psyche. So Baron Big Bad may say "let the world burn" after his beloved autie Rita dies.

  • Bigots: if a character sees a group as the other, things, can't even picture them as worthy of even a name, genocide is easy. This isn't hack writng "Mu ha ha! All the people of Planet Pupulon will die! I hate Cute Puppies!" It peppers the character's world view. Again, depressingly, in Real Life, language, laws and the courts can be bent or broken in the service of hate. Have the villain be Evil Cannot Comprehend Good.

  • Indifference to suffering: A Million Is a Statistic ...and so is three, four or even one character. Some monsters just don't care others revel in their cruelty.

edited 8th Feb '14 11:04:06 PM by TairaMai

Wait why was this bumped?

-reads through thread, sees a post I made in 2011- AH. BURN IT BURN IT BURN IT.

 96 SKJAM, Tue, 11th Feb '14 9:36:14 AM from Minneapolis Relationship Status: Cast away
Great and Powerful
The antagonist character may come across to the viewpoint character as a Complete Monster, but the author should know the antagonist's motivations. Often in life, we don't learn exactly why someone chooses to do horrible things, but presumably it seemed like a good idea at the time to them. Thus you can write the villain's actions so they make sense, even if the protagonist is in the dark.
 97 Lunacorva, Wed, 12th Feb '14 6:51:11 PM Relationship Status: THIS CONCEPT OF 'WUV' CONFUSES AND INFURIATES US!
And even in Real Life, I do believe it's possible to commit completely heinous acts for selfish reasons and not show remorse.

 98 Taira Mai, Wed, 12th Feb '14 7:29:45 PM from El Paso Tx Relationship Status: One Is The Loneliest Number
rollin' on dubs
[up]Narcissistic Personality Disorder see The Sociopath.
 99 JHM, Wed, 12th Feb '14 7:35:51 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: I know
Thunder, Perfect Mind
[up][up] Of course. Malignant narcissists, violent sadists, full-on sociopaths and the like exist. But that does not make them "pure evil, " even if they are incurably disturbed and dangerous. Many of these people cannot even properly process the notion of "good" and "bad" actions, or are compelled to violence by factors that they do not understand which are so embedded in their psyches that it can't even be called conscious any more.
 100 Lunacorva, Wed, 12th Feb '14 8:44:38 PM Relationship Status: THIS CONCEPT OF 'WUV' CONFUSES AND INFURIATES US!
So how do you define "Pure Evil" then? Doing nothing but evil actions twenty-four seven?

Becauses that's not being a Complete Monster, that's being Stupid Evil.

edited 12th Feb '14 8:47:03 PM by Lunacorva

Total posts: 109
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