One of the best science fiction movies of the 50’s is arguably Forbidden Planet. Many of the 50’s movies were cheesy with visible strings, plastic rockets, cheesier costumes, and poor acting. Forbidden Planet stands out by a mile with state of the art technology for the time. Any good science fiction work will accomplish one thing: make us look introspectively at ourselves.
The storyline of Forbidden Planet, for those not familiar is an adaptation of The Tempest by William Shakespeare. This is one of my all time favorite movies!
So what do monsters from the ID have to do with the connection in my brain? Hang on we’ll get there. Enjoy the scenery along the way.
I was watching – sort of – Burn Notice on tv while I was writing. I was having a continued flash of my “rockin’ it” writing that I blogged about yesterday, and only occasionally glanced at the tv. Anyone else need background noise? Michael Weston always comes out on top in each episode, yet the bigger fight of discovering who burned him has continued to elude him. That got my little brain in high gear, as my villain is hell-bent on his path of destruction. He is so focused on destroying his nemesis – my hero – that he fails to see the bigger picture. Suddenly I was engrossed in the show and well, the actor is attractive anyway. My gears are turning, I”m taking mental notes as Michael does what he does best, all the while explaining to the viewers what he’s doing. I nudged my cantankerous villain to pay attention here, maybe things won’t have to end poorly for him.
He hissed at me and went back to his plans of destruction. He really should have paid attention, it would have helped him in the end.
OK, hang on because we’re jumping tracks for a moment. My daughter had a friend over, and the discussion came up about writing. My ears of course perked right up. The younger daughter prepared a snack – toast with Nutella on it. I couldn’t resist.
I asked the girl ” Did my daughter tell you what happened to Kyle when I gave him hazelnuts?” (For those who don’t know Nutella is made of hazelnuts and cocoa) This led into the conversation about how Kyle (my hero from first WIP – FAERE GUARDIAN) had a severe allergic reaction to nuts and ended up in ICU from anaphylaxis. He also received blunt trauma to the head, but that’s a different matter.
She looked at the snack and set it back on her plate. My daughter explained that Kyle was a character in my book. A few minutes later, she asked me what some of my hobbies were. “Devising take over the world plots and the demise of my perceived enemies.” OK, in my defense I was deep in the zone of my villain’s motives and frame of mind.
I hope I didn’t scare her too badly. I think the awkward laugh after my statement might have been over the top. Later when I took her home, I had a chance to talk with the girl’s mother. We hit it off pretty well. We talked about our geekiness and about the sci-fi things we liked; the Doctor Who marathons, the Red Dwarf series, and Star Trek conventions. I explained to her mother that I was a writer and I maybe might have scared her daughter earlier. As I explained it to the mother, I think she understood but I’m not convinced that my daughter’s friend will be returning to my home.
OK, back on original track now. The conversation with this teenage girl came to my mind as I’m watching Michael Weston get out of yet another impossible situation, and glanced internally at the villain I had created in my ID. He had a long way to go to be truly scary. I thought about the exchange with my daughter’s friend, and laughed. Pretty sad when a midwest housewife was scarier than a villainous dragon.
It was time to go to my think spot. He had to be more. Had to go deeper, darker, scarier to get a villain that was not just fun house scary, but your worst nightmare come to life scary. I have had some intense nightmares, so I started looking there. What is it that makes something scary? What characteristics make a really bad villain? What motive would my villain have to have to psychologically terrorize my reader? Don’t worry, I don’t unleash his specific brand of madness on the readers, but I want them to get a glimpse of his potential.
Master of the macabre, Stephen King made his name by employing the psychological terror in his work. The monsters from the ID are truly the most terrifying things we can imagine. Hmmm, I had to take a break from my writing. It was time to probe the other 90% of my brain and breathe some truly frightening ideas into my character. He really should have paid attention earlier.
Victims of abuse or torture become immune to the fear after a while. A victim can be turned to an abuser when a line is crossed. Such is the case with my villain. Erik’s mother was a bit of a sociopathic dragon you see. She inflicted her specific poison upon Erik for years contributing to his psychopathic tendencies. Of course madness is genetically inherited in some instances as well. There’s a certain amount of sympathy you can’t help but feel for the child that was Erik, the formative years of a young dragon being tormented and poisoned by an insane mother. It was all very sad, it turned him into a true monster.
For the good of all humanity whether it be in the dragon realm or human realm, monster’s simply can’t be allowed to terrorize and destroy the harmonic balance of the universe.
No power in the ‘verse can stop me now that I’ve unleashed my monster from the ID. MWAHAHAHA!
So who are you? Edward Morbius or River Tam? Neither one of them laughed much, though I understand the first one told a lot of dirty limericks.
Neither! Some similarities to both, but uniquely my own creation.
Well, one was a respected linguist with a hot daughter, and the other one was a 90 pound girl and went around beating up people when she went crazy. The only thing they had in common was Miranda. hehe.
Getting villains right is always a pain in the butt. The thing is, how nuanced do you want them to be? Compare Dr. Lector to The Joker. Both are crazy as hell, totally insane. Yet, you could dine with Dr. Lector–don’t look too close at the food, though–and there’s a good chance you could walk out of his house alive. With the Joker you never know what you’re going to get.
One of the things I ran into during my years of role playing were Game Masters who created a “bad guy” who was, frankly, so over the top “bad” that they might as well walked around with a tee shirt saying, “Say Goodnight to the Bad Guy!” You knew they were the bad guy because they just were.
One game I ran, one of the major non-playing characters was a 3,200 year old vampire who was believed to be Helen of Troy. In ever other game run by others, she was always this Amazonian killer who was usually one comment away from killing everyone in the room. Sure, she could do it; sure, she was totally evil. And that’s how they played her.
Then came my turn . . . and they first time they met her, they encountered a 5′ 1″ woman with an olive complexion, green eyes, dark hair, and who spoke in a very cultured, calm voice. She never freaked out; she never made threats to people. If anything, she was charming as hell to everyone–which was something a vampire like her was suppose to be.
This was my interpretation of the game “bad ass”, and a few of the players objected. My reasoning was: women were not that tall three thousand years ago, and someone who was 5′ 1″ could have been considered tall. She’d had three thousand years to learn her way through the world, and even though she was incredibly powerful, she also had to be presentable to the world while at the same time maintaining a low profile.
And as far as being totally evil . . . as I told my players, “You know what the true mark of a bad ass is? You don’t have to show it. You don’t have to telegraph it. All you have to do is whisper a name, and the chances are that person will be dead before morning.”
Writing “evil” is always tough, because there are so many ways to go. But getting into the Id is a good start.
Excellent points you bring up Raymond. Whether everyone agrees with my “evil” villain or not; it is my own interpretation.
I completely agree with the height thing – 5’1″ could have been considered tall.
You touched on one of the issues with my character – Erik is a relatively young dragon. Youth often are impulsive and haven’t learned wisdom. HIs 21st century self is more distinguished and learned since the medieval days which the bulk of this book takes place.
Yes, excellent points all!
“No power in the ‘verse” … too right! 🙂
And I concur as well, Raymond.
The building of believable and flawed and not-over-the-top villains is something gaming has taught me. There are times to have a balls-out obvious wicked person in plain sight, sure, but that ain’t always the case.
Finding a balance between truly evil and just…misguided…is something I’m dealing with in WIP. The big bad (well, he believes he’s the big bad) isn’t really evil at his core (though his sidekick…totally is the obvious villain-type) but at the same time… what he does is pretty much unforgivable. Shades of grey. We’ll see how it all comes out in the wash.
Anyway – great (and entertaining!) post, Ellie.
I think the over the top villains aren’t “evil” just bad guys who are good at being bad. True, scary evil has almost always appeared to me as the quiet, unassuming, person in the corner. You have no idea that behind “Norman’s” smile is the rotting corpse of one of the people he’s killed, stolen from its grave and now sitting in the basement. :-).
Great post. I’m rethinking my next villain because of it.