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Villain appearances, a discussion

Forums Fiction Characters Villain appearances, a discussion

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  • #133306
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy

    Heya, y’all!

    This is something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot, and I thought it’d be cool to discuss.

    Here’s the question!

    Do villains have to be physically intimidating or unsettling in some way?

    It’s a very common trope, and I notice it in a lot of books I read. This tends to be common in Sci-fi, Fantasy, that kind of stuff.

    Basically, a lot of authors often give villains an unusual appearance. Think facial scars, unusually dark eyes (yes, that’s a thing), anything out of the ‘ordinary’, basically.

    I was wondering why this is such a common thing? Is it to make the mental image of the villain scarier? Is it because you’re usually describing their appearance through the eyes of a hero, who is naturally going to be intimidated by them?

    If you flip this over, why are heroes often described as attractive? Speaking from personal experience, it’s actually hard to write a character that isn’t conventionally attractive, since you’ll get one of two results: People will just imagine them as attractive, or you’ll get the dreaded ‘I’m so plain. (But she didn’t realize she was actually gorgeous.)’ Also, because attractiveness is always subjective, the description will often come from the POV of a love interest or friend, so it’ll naturally be biased.

    I’m just genuinely interested in why this is such a common thing. I haven’t been able to figure out when or why this started, and not a lot of people discuss this, since, frankly, character appearances aren’t that relevant to the plot.

    Can’t wait to hear y’all’s opinions on this!

    "Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark." The Tale of Despereaux

    #133370
    Arindown (Gracie)
    @arindown

    @rose-colored-fancy Love this question!

    My personal theory on the subject is that humans can never be objective about each-other (or hardly ever). How I think people look is often defined by what I think of them. If I meet someone new, I might notice right away that they have big ears (bad example, but…😂), but once we become friends, I’ll probably never notice their ears, but focus on the fact that they have a great smile. The people we love are beautiful to us.

    I think it translates over to books (and movies), but I also think writers/film producers use appearance to enhance our terror of villains, (😆) depending on what affect they want. If you make a villain really handsome (like some of mine) you’re going to need more facts on why the villain is bad, whereas if you just make them look horrifying, our imagination does the rest.

    Can’t wait to hear what ya’ll think about this!

    Not all who wander are lost.

    #133397
    Taylor Clogston
    @taylorclogston

    @rose-colored-fancy Both “evil on the outside, evil on the inside” villains (your Darth Vaders and Witch Kings) and “pristine on the outside, evil on the outside” villains (your suave serial killer in a spotless suit, your red-lipped, voluptuous, evil queen) are tropes I’m pretty tired of in fantasy. It’s entirely possible to design interesting-looking characters without always betraying their entire dark side or the fact that they’re trying to desperately hide their entire dark side. Thanos and Loki had great designs, and a large part of that was not just showing them in one war outfit 24/7.

    People want their heroes to be pretty and their villains to be ugly or scary. People like pretty people and dislike ugly people on reflex. It’s unfortunate and it’s wrong, but it’s the truth. I received more than one angry review on one of the last series I tried to write because I went out of my way to make the love interest ordinary looking and the main character actively ugly. My first reviewer went so far as to tell me it’s bad writing not to have a female love interest be described as the most beautiful woman in the world. (I don’t write on that site any more)

    Lots of readers are dumb and want dumb things. Everyone judges others based on first impressions, and some people are dumb enough to rest on those first impressions.

    Not all of them are. Write for people with enough wisdom and compassion to not demand heroes be pretty and villains be ugly.

    "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

    #133408
    Winter Rose
    @winter_rose

    @rose-colored-fancy

    Great question! These are a few thoughts I had on it:

    Since a villain is supposed to be evil, we often give him features associated with evil. Dark clothing tells readers that this person chose to appear negatively, that he chose to hide from the light and embrace the shadows. Physical features can also reflect villiany. Scars indicate a troubled past and eyes are some of the most memorable and expressive features in people. When  you give a villain exceptionally dark eyes, it is showing that the essence of his personality is corrupted.

    Since heroes are supposed to be the ones we root for, readers want him to be a person they can admire in nearly every way, including his appearance.  People want perfection, so their role models/heroes also have to be “perfect”.

    But like @taylorclogston said, that doesn’t make it right to always have a gorgeous proantagonist. We also have to remember that our good characters’ beauty should be on the inside, regardless of whether they are physically attractive or not.

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 3 days ago by Winter Rose.

    "The best is yet to come."
    ~Origin unknown

    #133416
    sparrowhawke
    @sparrowhawke

    I don’t think villains have to be physically intimidating. They should probably be intimidating or unsettling in some way, or at least intimidate and unsettle their opponent. I’d be much more interested in seeing or reading about a villain who is average-looking or even conventionally attractive than one who is ugly. It just seems like a cop-out to avoid actually developing the character. Just recently my family was watching a show where the bad guy was so decidedly designed to look evil. I already don’t like that show, but that just gave me another reason to make fun of it.

    I don’t think we should all stop writing physically frightening villains, because evil is frightening. But we should definitely think about why we’re doing it, and develop the villain beyond that. And only giving deformities and dark eyes to the villains is rather problematic. I’m not sure why dark eyes are scary though–I’d be intimidated by someone with colored eyes, I think. (I have dark eyes though so I might be biased XD)

    So basically, Evil is frightening, but not all Evil appears so. In my experience, Evil hides itself under positive or at least not concerning traits.

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 3 days ago by sparrowhawke.

    Semper ubi sub ubi.

    #133445
    DeepRun
    @deeprun

    From my research and schooling, I’ve always been taught that they are ratios and relations within art and aesthetics that our brains are preprogrammed to respond to as “beautiful”.  Golden ratio, Fibonacci series and all that.  What’s fascinating is how we can learn to love and find something beautiful that doesn’t align with that.  And on the converse, how easily we can be duped by surfaces and make decisions based on that.  I do agree that keeping with those tropes and mechanisms to indicate evil is easier. Basically lazy IF there’s nothing to back it up. Darth Vader and the Witch King of Angmar are the whole package. They hit the cues for sinister and they deal out the pain.

    But yeah…I think using those evil cues have been overused.  Maybe too because we have a literate society who doesn’t need a solo pictorial representation to say, “Oh yeah, bad guy.”

    Also, in my experience, evil usually hides deftly behind the beautiful.  In fact, I think that’s a preferred method.  The stories that turn those normal tropes inside out always feel more realistic.  Not as cut and dried.

     

    It’s also painful to hear that was the reaction to the leading lady not being a bombshell.  Not good writing for a gal to not be the most beautiful woman in the world? They should read Bleakhouse! Pardon.  Feel very strongly about that.

    Maybe it’s the use of those aesthetic cues should be judicious and sparing?

     

     

    You do not have a soul. You have a body.
    You are a soul. - C.S. Lewis

    #133451
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy

    Wow, y’all have some amazing ideas and theories! I really loved reading them!


    @arindown

    The people we love are beautiful to us.

    You’re totally right, and it’s such a cool thing if you think about it!

    I think it translates over to books (and movies), but I also think writers/film producers use appearance to enhance our terror of villains, ( ) depending on what affect they want. If you make a villain really handsome (like some of mine) you’re going to need more facts on why the villain is bad, whereas if you just make them look horrifying, our imagination does the rest.

    That’s an excellent point! I think it’s easier if you already have a somewhat threatening idea of someone to see them as evil. I’ve found there’s some visual stuff that immediately makes people think “Ha, evilll!” (Mostly high contrast and dark colors) And it’s definitely an aid to get the idea across.


    @taylorclogston

    People want their heroes to be pretty and their villains to be ugly or scary. People like pretty people and dislike ugly people on reflex. It’s unfortunate and it’s wrong, but it’s the truth.

    That’s definitely the unfortunate truth! I do think it’s because we have been trained that way by media, mostly because if you can clue in your reader ‘visually’, it’ll make it a lot easier to build off that. And it’s an unfortunate thing that got thoroughly fixed in media, and now it’s very hard to go against that.

    I received more than one angry review on one of the last series I tried to write because I went out of my way to make the love interest ordinary looking and the main character actively ugly. My first reviewer went so far as to tell me it’s bad writing not to have a female love interest be described as the most beautiful woman in the world. (I don’t write on that site any more)

    It’s annoying that that happened, but it’s very cool that you decided to subvert that!


    @winter_rose

    Since heroes are supposed to be the ones we root for, readers want him to be a person they can admire in nearly every way, including his appearance.  People want perfection, so their role models/heroes also have to be “perfect”.

    That’s an excellent point! If you admire someone on one point, it makes it a lot easier to admire them in other ways.


    @sparrowhawke

    I don’t think we should all stop writing physically frightening villains, because evil is frightening. But we should definitely think about why we’re doing it, and develop the villain beyond that. And only giving deformities and dark eyes to the villains is rather problematic.

    That’s such a good point! I do think some of the tropes that have become standard for villains have some iffy origins. Like, your villain might have scars/ deformities if they’ve done a lot of physical fighting, but that should go for the heroes too! Heroes generally see as much action as the villains, but they tend not to have unfortunately placed scars and for some reason, their injuries often heal perfectly.

    I read somewhere that you should try not to have any physical traits only on the villain’s side. If all your heroes are unscarred, with ‘regular’ accents, and typically average features, but all your villains have strong foreign accents, hooked noses, dark eyes, and scars/deformities, you may need to think about that. If any of the things are on both sides, it isn’t an issue, but any things that are only represented on the villain’s side will automatically be seen as ‘bad.’ Just something interesting to think about 😉

    I’m not sure why dark eyes are scary though–I’d be intimidated by someone with colored eyes, I think. (I have dark eyes though so I might be biased XD)

    LOL, IKR! It’s just…. why?? That is such a weird trope though!


    @deeprun

    Also, in my experience, evil usually hides deftly behind the beautiful.  In fact, I think that’s a preferred method.  The stories that turn those normal tropes inside out always feel more realistic.  Not as cut and dried.

    Very cool point!

     

    It occurred to me to treat this as though I would be working in a visual medium, and how I would design the villains then. This was an interesting new perspective, and it gave me one key insight. I think contrast is what influences villains the most.

    People naturally notice high contrast, and that’s actually a big part of art to attract the viewer’s attention. You see this in tropes like villains with fair skin and light hair having really dark eyes, or even vice-versa. (Although that isn’t as common)

    This is something that has transferred to things like movies. If you look at literally any Disney villain, you’ll see that most elements are purely there to contrast the hero.

    As writers we like using villains as foils for our heroes, making them either opposites or exaggerations of the heroes. We can do the same thing for visual designs. Black for the bad guys and white for the good guys or sophisticated villains to play off against the scruffier underdog heroes are common tropes. But what if we used that principle to keep the effect, but switch it up a bit?

    For example: A hero who wears mainly black set against a villain who wears a bright, multicolored cape that he swirls around while monologuing. Impractical? Yes. Original? Definitely. XD This is just an example I came up with quickly, but there’s tons of other stuff you can do with that.

    It may be more interesting to use the elements of the villain’s appearance that he/she actively chooses if you want to use visual cues.

    It gives you a lot more insight if you see what someone chooses to represent themselves. I’m talking about hairstyle, clothing choice, color of clothing, any jewelry, and even things like posture, and volume of speech. These are things the villain has control over and it says a lot more about his or her personality than things like scars, eye color, or any other irregularities.

    Oh, last thing!

    Maybe it’s the use of those aesthetic cues should be judicious and sparing?

    I read/heard a tip somewhere that it can be easy to fall into making love interests beautiful because you’re describing them through the eyes of someone who likes/loves/admires them, as we discussed earlier.

    A way to avoid that is instead of describing everything as beautiful, you can describe things in more detail than usual. For example, a character mentions that their love interest has flecks of yellow in otherwise brown eyes or faint freckles on their nose. These things aren’t beautiful of themselves, they’re fairly neutral. But it meant the first character noticed these things and thought them worth mentioning in narration. Just a tip I thought might help.

    "Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark." The Tale of Despereaux

    #133472
    DeepRun
    @deeprun

    I’d also like to see pictures of everyone’s favorite villain.

    You do not have a soul. You have a body.
    You are a soul. - C.S. Lewis

    #133480
    Elisha Starquill
    @elisha-starquill

    Now, this is interesting, because for me I tend to ‘like’ intelligent villains, no matter how they look. Actually a lot of the smart ones look really ordinary, like Moriarity (who’s probably my favorite villain, @deeprun. Book Moriarity looks just like your regular old professor. The one in the TV show Sherlock looks like an average guy, to me. But, while on the topic of TV show Moriarity, the way he acts so calm and chill – even laughing or casually chewing gum – at horrifying things or during horrifying times is also what makes him frightening, despite how ordinary he looks.)

    But what makes these intelligent villains extremely creepy is when they are so so so clever and they anticipate everything the good guys do and it just…gives me the chills. At how intelligence can be twisted and used for evil. But at the same time what they do makes sense and it’s all so clever.

    AND THEN when the heroes manage to outsmart even them, I get a huge dopamine rush. 😛

    (I feel like I’m not quite on topic here but whatever XD)

    INFJ ➳ Trinstamentalist ➳ Thalassophile ➳ Chocolate Hater ➳ Daughter of God

    #133549
    Rose
    @rose-colored-fancy

    @elisha-starquill

    But what makes these intelligent villains extremely creepy is when they are so so so clever and they anticipate everything the good guys do and it just…gives me the chills. At how intelligence can be twisted and used for evil. But at the same time what they do makes sense and it’s all so clever.

    Oooh, YES! I love it when that happens! And when villains have an entirely flawless motive and they’ve entirely justified what they’re doing, that’s so much fun to read!


    @deeprun

    I’d also like to see pictures of everyone’s favorite villain.

    Here’s my all-time favorite:

    Bevin Conner from the Ascendence series.

    I did not make the fanart, (Credit to the artist, cause that picture is awesome! I can’t find their name XD)  but it’s exactly like I imagined him and it’s really close to the description.

    I think the author did a really good job of using him as a foil for the MC, Sage, both in character and appearance. Their key differences in appearance are that Conner is a well-off noble, and dresses like it. Sage is an orphan who wears rags like he was born in them.

    Here’s Conner’s description:

    “He grabbed my shirt and yanked me to my feet. Our eyes locked as he lifted me. His were dark brown and more tightly focused than I’d ever seen before. He smiled slightly as he studied me, his thin mouth barely visible behind a neatly trimmed brown beard. He looked to be somewhere in his forties and dressed in the fine clothes of the upper class, but based on the way he’d lifted me, he was much stronger than I expected of a nobleman.”

    This description is cool because it tells us some things about him right off. He’s rich and evidently takes his position seriously. His eyes are focused, and Conner as a person is very focused on his goals. (That was an English-teacher-esque analysis, but who knows? Maybe I’m right XD)  He’s stronger than he looks, and he’s definitely not a pushover.

    In comparison, here’s Sage’s description.

    “Nothing about me was remarkable. I was only of medium height, one of the many ways I’d disappointed my father, who had felt that it would hinder my success. (I disagreed– tall people fit in fewer hiding places.) My hair was badly in need of cutting, tangled, and dark blond but getting lighter with each passing month. And I had a forgettable face, which, again, worked in my favor.”

    You immediately notice the difference between them. Sage is very average looking, but he doesn’t mind, he almost seems to be proud of it, in a sarcastic, slightly bitter way.

    Anyway, I think Conner is a cool villain whose appearance isn’t his frightening feature.

    "Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark." The Tale of Despereaux

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