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Help Designing a Villian's Appearence:

So I've been developing the main antagonist of my work for a while and he's been pretty fleshed out. He's got a detailed backstory, motivations, all that jazz. // But one thing I've realized that I've neglected is: exactly what does he 'look like?'
  • Some background about this character: He's a pretty complicated guy. A Bastard Bastard who was son of a former Evil Overlord, he also struggles with mental illness (dealt with realistically) and other issuses. He does some pretty fucked up things over the course of the story (a lot of this is due to inaction) but he doesn't reach Complete Monster territory. The abuse and other shit he's gone through isn't a total Freudian Excuse, but it explains why he acts the way he does. He's a sort of Cry for the Devil kind of villian and dies quite tragically.
    • I'm still not exactly sure what direction to go with him. Do I choose to pull an Evil Is Sexy type thing? (he's one of the more sympathetic antagonists, so that could lead to a Beauty Equals Goodness situation) A Ridicuously Average Guy? Ridicuously ugly? I thought that maybe a Light Is Not Good thing could be interesting, but I've seen White-Haired Pretty Boy far too many times
      • I'm interested in you suggesting a good direction to go in. What's a villian type you've rarely seen before?

 2 Salmon Punch, Wed, 15th May '13 7:48:54 AM from Connecticutt, USA
I never asked for this
Its better to base a villains appearance on his profession, how wealthy/poor he is, how cultured he is, what culture he belongs, whether he likes functional outfits over theatric ones, etc... rather than simply based on his morality. Treat him like you would any other character rather than singling him out into his own little dressing room of evil. Unless dressing in something that has an evil appearance is plot important (IE: the story actually has a reason why he chooses that outfit over a normal one for his position) then he shouldn't dress any different than any other human being who previously was in those same circumstances.

To use a real life example, Louis XVI didn't dress in a Light Is Not Good fashion because he was a greedy hypocritical arse and he wanted the world to know — He dressed that way because of his position, culture of origin, love for flashy outfits over functional ones, amount of wealth, cultural expectations his peers had about the French aristocracy, his own expectations of how the french aristocracy should dress, etc etc...

Remember that an antagonist doesn't need to be visually recognizable as the bad guy from first the glance the reader has of him, so long as his actions, reputation, and/or words are showing his true nature.

edited 15th May '13 12:58:24 PM by SalmonPunch

"You like Castlevania, don't you?"
 3 demarquis, Wed, 15th May '13 8:31:17 AM from Hell, USA Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
The most relevant characteristic isn't his morality, but his approach to conflict, esp. with the MC's. If he relies on brute force, make him big and strong. If he relies on guile, then ordinary looking. If he's a chessmaster, then intellectual, and so on. His appearance should reflect his preferred tactics.
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
 4 Salmon Punch, Wed, 15th May '13 1:18:55 PM from Connecticutt, USA
I never asked for this
[up] Whether that works depends on how realistic the work is. While brute force=big is Truth in Television, non physical attributes like guile, wit, sadism, charisma, tactical preference, etc have no physical indicators other than dress and body language.

A real life example of physical appearance not matching tactics: The worlds deadliest sniper: Simo Häyhä, nicknamed "White Death", a man who killed over 700 invading soviets, didn't look like a brooding silent warrior type or even unusual in any way (at least until he got shot in the jaw) — before the war he looked like.... a jovial farmer.

For a real life example of physical not matching position: If Goya's portrait of the Spanish royal family is to be believed, they looked as far from the adjectives "royal" and "charismatic" as physically possible.

edited 15th May '13 1:19:30 PM by SalmonPunch

"You like Castlevania, don't you?"
 5 De Marquis, Wed, 15th May '13 2:16:31 PM from Hell, USA Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
OK, but that's real life, not fiction. If you want someone to look deceitful, just give them a beard ;)
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
Elvenking
i would say fairly average probably, nothing ridiculous, just another person really. especially if he infiltrates things or the protagonists don't know what he looks like. or better yet, the reader doesn't know what he looks like. let them fill it in themselves. they will know what best fits. best to introduce him as a character before he's known as the villain though.
 7 Bisected 8, Wed, 15th May '13 3:11:21 PM from Red cheese county Relationship Status: I-It's not like I like you, or anything!
Biotech for Beginners
Something that might be worth noting is that when people are struggling emotionally (whether it's because of mental illness or they're just having a hard time) their appearance (or rather grooming and such) is usually the first thing to go. It might be an idea to make him look untidy, unless he's got someone else looking after, or just out for, him. Of course, someone else taking care of his appearance for him could also inform his design...

edited 15th May '13 3:12:30 PM by Bisected8

 8 Salmon Punch, Wed, 15th May '13 6:24:19 PM from Connecticutt, USA
I never asked for this
[up][up][up] Fiction should reflect real life to a degree, unless the story is in a genre that rejects reality. Examples from real life are almost as important as ones from other books, as without examples to draw on from real life the ones in the books would never have formed the way they did. A book that's too unrealistic is also unimersive for the reader, and breaks suspension of disbelief.

[up][up] This

[up] Really good point here.

edited 15th May '13 6:26:56 PM by SalmonPunch

"You like Castlevania, don't you?"
 9 De Marquis, Wed, 15th May '13 7:21:45 PM from Hell, USA Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
Depends. It's really important to create characters that people feel they can relate to- but that leaves open a very wide range of approaches. Many works and genres are known for relying on stock characters that act more as symbols of different aspects of human experience than as "real people", and this is esp. true of works with clearly defined heroes and villains.
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
 10 Matues, Thu, 16th May '13 6:01:41 AM Relationship Status: Reincarnated romance
You should probably start with dark colors and points.

Every bad villian is spiky.
 11 Salmon Punch, Thu, 16th May '13 7:20:10 AM from Connecticutt, USA
I never asked for this
[up]

Spikes of villainy is practically a dead horse trope when not applied to a demon or some other non human. It can possibly work in high fantasy (And I mean Highest fantasy.) but generally there are so many better appearance tropes that its not worth risking the groan factor it gives certain readers.

You cant have a complex sympathetic villain who is also at the same time card carrying, the two tropes simply don't mix: That's why everyone made fun of the (1960 until the 90s) Magneto for condemning those who thought mutants were evil monsters, yet named his group The brotherhood of evil mutants.
"You like Castlevania, don't you?"
 12 Matues, Thu, 16th May '13 8:27:43 AM Relationship Status: Reincarnated romance
[up]

No one gets my jokes.

I was using an odd word choice to imply two statements with one:

Every <Bad as in Truly Evil> villain has spikes.

Every <Bad as in Badly Written or Designed> villain has spikes.

I was angling for the second, while allowing the first to be a note of amusement.
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Total posts: 12
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