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Joe Hill on creating villains

Forums Forums General Writing Character Workshop Joe Hill on creating villains

This topic contains 3 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Mark Walker 1 year, 11 months ago.

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    Shaula Evans

    “The shark in Jaws is the most terrifying bad guy in the whole history of film, and he’s almost never on camera … It’s not seeing him that makes him scary. And I think if you look at a character like Hannibal Lecter — Hannibal Lecter was never more terrifying than in Red Dragon, the first book in which he appears, and he’s only in it for about 14 pages. And he’s almost as scary in Silence of the Lambs, where we only get him for about 25 pages — he’s on screen with Jodie Foster for only about 12 minutes … The problem with Hannibal Lecter is there’s been book after book since then … and familiarity breeds contempt. The more we know about Hannibal Lecter, the less terrifying he becomes and the more comfortable we are with him. You can see the same thing in an even more exaggerated way with Darth Vader, who was the baddest ass in all the universe in the first two Star Wars films. But we had the prequels, and we had Return of the Jedi, and we found out that he was a whiny, pathetic teenager with mommy issues, and he just wasn’t scary any more.”

    — via Geeks Guide to the Galaxy

    What do you say? Do these insights help you write your antagonist? Does the relevance depend on the genre you’re writing?

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    A friend of mine has a theory that villains and monsters aren’t scary if you know what they want. So the knife-weilding villain in a slasher movie isn’t scary; you know what he wants (to kill teenagers) and therefore you can defeat him. But ghosts are scary, because you don’t know what their motives are – and how do you defeat something you don’t understand?

    I think that’s a pretty good rule of thumb…


    Shaula Evans

    Oh, Debbie, I really like that.

    We just watched two “what’s going on here” movies in a row: The Awakening and The Perfect Host. In both movies the protagonist struggled to understand and identify the real nature of the problem and that definitely raised the suspense and scare factor of the stories. (Both movies have their weak points but are enjoyable to watch and have a lot to teach screenwriters.)


    Mark Walker

    Yeah, I would go with that Debbie… soon as you can rationalise a purpose or someone’s (something’s) purpose you can figure out a plan of attack….without that you are helpless… you can’t guess their next move.

    That is what makes Kurtz so terrifying in Apocalypse Now…he has lost his mind completely and, while he is “just a man” we don’t know what he is thinking or why he is doing what he is doing…putting us completely at his mercy.

    Shaula – perhaps that is why The Woman in Black is so scary….as it takes us a long time to understand that perhaps she isn’t terrorising us, but simply anguished at the loss of her child! ;-)  Sorry that was a cheap way to say I had posted about the Woman in Black in the Film Club as I am really keen to know what you thought of the ending as per our discussion a week or two ago….I’m just nosey!

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