11.10.2006

Why Miss Snark loves Satan***

Why I Love Satan

1. He started out on top of the world and fell
2. He hangs out on burning lakes without his hair catching on fire
3. He's a leader of devils
4. He cheats on Death
5. He's not much on Divine Intervention to solve his problems.


you'll notice I don't love Satan cause he's evil.

You might think about that when you're creating villains.


This post is inspired by three query letters describing the villian as "evil". Evil in and of itself is boring. Fallen and flawed angels....that's where it gets interesting.

***And can someone please bring Bonnie some smelling salts, I think she fainted dead away at the title to this post.

63 comments:

Jean said...

Smelling salts offered.

I struggled with this until I realized the villain didn't see himself as a villain. He's a regular guy, justified in what he was doing -- at least to his way of thinking. In fact, in his mind, he might be more heroic than the hero.

Villains became much easier to write and understand.

macadam said...

"evil".

Is Miss Snark a Brit? From across the pond? Have we just been given a clue?

my my. evil indeed.

gcs said...

...question is: does Satan love Miss Snark as well?

Consider:

1. Pure evil in itself is not good enough for Her
2. She hangs out unharmed on enormous Slush Piles that Her gaze set on fire
3. She's an advisor of certain devils
4. Death wouldn't dare cheat on Her
5. She favors those who don't rely on Divine Intervention

:)

Zany Mom said...

Sometimes the protagonist is a villian, but you root for him anyway and hope he doesn't get caught...

Maya said...

Both Jean and Zany Mom are right.

Whether a character is a villain or not depends on whose POV the story is being told from. When the Wicked Witch of the "Wizard of Oz" tells her own story in "Wicked" (becomes the protagonist), the reader's response to her is completely different.

There are no shortcuts to building believable characters.

The antagonist doesn't necessarily have to be "evil"; s/he simply has to oppose the goals of the protagonist.

When I'm critiquing, nothing makes me crazier than characters without clear-cut goals and motivations. All of a sudden, after a night of sex, a character who's been playing the field for years is suddenly "in love" with no explanation given for this ephiphany. I lose interest immediately.

The same dynamic is at work when a writer calls the antagonist "evil." Instead of taking the time to build a believable character with understandable motivation, the writer tries to shortcut with the word "evil" and with a bunch of descriptions about leering looks and snarling comments.

Caricature does not equal characterization.

The Unpretentious Writer said...

Evil for simple evil's sake is lousy.

It's like on that old cartoon show, 'Captain Planet'. It never made sense to me, because the bad guys were always saying "Oooh! I'll pollute this river and befoul this rainforest! Mwa-ha-ha!", but there was no reason behind it, no monetary gain, nothing. Who, with an army of henchmen at their bidding, throws garbage in a city park instead of taking over the world?

Real evil, real villianry, is born out of man, not out of 'Satan'. It is a man saying, "I hate such-and-such people, so let's just kill them all!" It is dark and it is sometimes unthinkable, but it is human.

Ooops, sorry MS, lecture over, heh.

Stacy said...

My praying mother and my churchgoing sister are currently in intensive care because of the title of this post, and they haven't even seen it.

A villain or antagonist has to be INTERESTING. Show me the formative incident that twisted him beyond redemption. Show me what he's like when he's in love, kissing and cuddling his sweet babboo one minute, ordering bloody death the next. I like that, I really do.

Kim said...

I've always said that I love villians... For the most part, they are so complex that they can't help but be interesting. Give me a **good** villian over a dull, white-bread hero any day because he (or she) is bound to be much more fascinating. Especially when, as Jean commeted, he (or she) doesn't seen himself as evil - like Javert in Les Miserables - he's the villian even though he's (as he sees it) just doing his job by upholding the law. Or even Captain Hook, in 'Peter Pan'. Peter's responsible for the guy losing his hand so, as Hook sees it, revenge is only fair.

Bwaahahaha (laughs while twirling pointy moustache)

Anonymous said...

The best portrayal of Satan in modern times is in Mike Carey's Lucifer.

I like Satan because he is one hardcore sardonic mofo.

Ray Goldensundrop said...

This reminds me of William Blake and that all my friends will be in hell, where the good party will be. You know, if what they tell you is true, which it isn't.

I sometimes like antagonists who are evil due to ignorance rather than power hunger, but greed always works. It's so genuine. The last interesting villian was one of those incomprehensible artists who liked to collect parts of his murder victims in jars. He had high ick factor with intelligence beyond morality. Shooting the turd dead was satisfying for both the reader and the protagonist.

Not that any of this actually happened. It was in a book, a novel as a matter of subtitle. It could have happened, and that's important.

Another interesting recent best-selling novel had the antagonist being the protagonist too, fighting against himself. That one's so genuine as to jerk a tear. There's a happy ending too, pefect for this time of year.

Yet one other novel has an antagonist who is simply going by his society's norms, which involves cheating on the wife and treating her badly, by her society's standards. I'm still reading this story and wondering how the heck this thing resolves. It's a page turner. I don't have the patience for reading anything else.

Whoa, I've been Snarkadized.

cudd said...

Yikes, that title threw me off too... I think I'm okay now. I get what you mean, but yeesh, o.O Did you have to scare us like that? Maybe I'm just local to too many true satan-worshippers... there are some weird kids these days.

Richard White said...

Kim,

Nice Snidely Whiplash imitation!

Villains have a reason for what they do. Now, some are evil for evil's sake . . . after all, sociopaths need love too, (well, not really). OK, would you believe a sociopath needs to be a well-developed character in their own right to be an interesting antagonist in a story. Just randomly going around killing people to give the "hero" something to do is not a very interesting story in my mind.

Rei said...

Miss Snark is now stepping into Limyaael's territory ;)

Only good things can result.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

LOL...*she fans herself and inhales deeply* It was even worse than that! LOL!

A friend told me that you had mentioned me, I swiftly clicked over in starry anticipation, thinking that you had seen my interview at Novel Journey this morning...and was greeted with that title!!!!

Well after I picked myself up off the floor and cleared the spilled beverage that not only ran down the monitor, but oozed in between the keys...I read the post.

Miss Snark it is not nice to mess with a sister's heart like that...LOL!

Anonymous said...

i'm a praying churchgoing person in intensive care. miss snark!

i'd be offended if it weren't a. true and b. well...so...miss snarkish.

Dave said...

Milton wrote the greatest villian - From Paradise Lost:

"Farewell happy Fields
Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrors, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be changed by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less than he
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav'n."

archer said...

Evil is best when it's tempting. Don Giovanni is the best villain. He blasphemes, murders, has sex with anything female that's not bolted down, suffers not a pang of remorse, and makes it seem worth going to hell for. No, that's not right. He makes going to hell seem like the only thing a real man can possibly do. Maybe it is.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Oh, and as an afterthough...now that I'm standing up straight...kim do you realize that in the original version of Peter Pan...Peter Pan was a murderer!

Steve G said...

Smelling salts. That's good for a laugh. Miss Snark, do you mind if I wish all of the veterans a super day tomorrow. If you do, just delete this comment.

Thanks

Nick said...

So how are those evil lessons with Satan coming, Miss Snark?

I'm assuming he's your best pupil...

-Nick

Frustrated Reader said...

Speaking of villians, can anyone give me some recommendations of good mysteries? I love Agatha Christie, but I've never found another mystery writer that I liked nearly as much. I especially dislike the books that pretend to be mysteries, but are actually thrillers or stories that just happen to have a mystery in them. Basically I like mysteries from which I get all the clues because the detective spends most of his or her time just going around and talking to people. Then in the end when the detective explains what really happened I kick myself for not seeing it earlier. Suggestions?

Christine said...

My villians are greedy, overly ambitious people who want something.

They're all different, but have this at their core. Some are greedy for money, some for power, some for an object, (I don't write romance, so not greedy in a lustful way) but always greedy.

It's the classic Seven Deadly Sins complex.
Because sins are, well, evil.

julie said...

Frustrated Reader: Have you read the Inspector Morse mysteries by Colin Dexter? The TV series was good, but the books are even better. My favorite mystery authors contemporary to Agatha Christie are Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham. If you enjoy Christie, you may also enjoy them.

Bugwit Homilies said...

I don't beleive in Satan, but I love him just because it pisses people off so much.

jimmy the hyena said...

That great Satan factor works wonders for any of you boys living over seas if you know how to play it. Like usually a girl will say where you from? and you say hey me I'm from all over. Then she insists like where? so you say the USA. Then she'll come out with "oh are you ashamed with it?" then of cours the standard beigist recently graduated from a prestigious liberal arts college answer is..."no I'm proud of my countries' traditoins of individual expression but of course I'm against the current administrations belligerent policies.." hey fool wrong goddamn response. Here's what to say,"yeah well it's just like some sort of mafia organization ya hafta just randomnly kill some people now and then so that they respect you" see her eyes light up......

Kim said...

Richard - It took me a few moments to realize what you meant by Snidely Whiplash. Now, mind you, I'm blonde AND on cold medicine, so things need to be explained reaaalll slow :)

Bonnie - I did NOT know that - I tried reading the original to my daughter and (i'm so embarrassed to admit this) it bored us both to sleep... But now I know - maybe that'll make reading it a little better??? (and should I root for Hook??)

This is why I love this blog!

Rashenbo said...

HAHAHAH! I love it!

Kim said...

My mother's a rabid Agatha Christie buff and she swears Ngaio Marsh is almost as good...

Maya said...

Frustrated Reader: Another vote for Dorothy Sayers here.

writtenwyrdd said...

I just read Requiem for the Devil, and the book was great. The best thing is it is in Satan's pov. Now, our anti-hero Satan is a pretty likeable guy, and although he is never really shown as EVIL in capital letters, he does some evil things like they are every day events...because the ARE everyday events. And to him he has his reasons and it makes his decisions justifiable. In that sense, he's a normal guy like all villians are normal guys in their own minds. That tickled me, because it's pretty much how you have to treat a believable evil character.

My one disappointment was that Satan has a bit of...character change, for lack of a better word. I don't want to spoil it for you if you wish to read it. I was sort of hoping for Milton's version Take Two.

Anonymous said...

I have a theory. Miss Snark, I know your first name. Write Satan backwards, and you get Natas... You must be Natasha. Yes! All the clues are there! Russian judge, child with Evil Editor...

Southern Writer said...

Oh, good lord. I'm about to send a link to your blog to someone who is just beginning to learn what it takes to become published, and I can only imagine what he's going to think when that's the first heading he sees.

Oh well, he may as well find out about you from the get-go.

Anonymous said...

Read Victor Hugo's Les Meserables. There are no “villains”, just people who believe that they are right and struggling against others that feel the same. It's a great book.
(and it makes a fine musical too!)

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Oh, dear. I'm guilty of this. I have a malevolent, evil, little, greasy, nasty man in Pixie Warrior who is really just vengeful. He sees himself as wronged by everyone. He sees his pranks as misunderstood. He sees his repine as only taking what should be his.

Yes, I admit to using "evil" to describe him. He is meant as a parody of villains, but not as an obvious parody.

Termagant 2 said...

Frustrated, I like Roberta Gellis' medieval mysteries and Robin Paige's Victorian series ("Death at..."). I wanna be all these writers if I grow up.

And, just for the record, Cthulhu cthucks.

T2

Dave said...

The only people I know who created a Jesus figure who is fun, disconcerted, frustrated and enjoyable are the loonatics Trey and Parker who do SOUTH PARK. Their Jesus isn't stuffy, one-dimensional or forever serious. He's kinda human and lost but he has a good heart. Their Satan is lots of fun too because he married a fluffy-sweater Twinkie.

Go back to one of the oldest tragedies in in literature - Oedipus the King - he isn't evil, but he did kill his father, marry his mother and have children. That's A most despicable crime. But Oedipus is tragic and not evil.

Anonymous said...

Let's see:

Miss Snark loves George Clooney.

Miss Snark loves Satan.

OMIDOG!! George is Satan!

Hmmm . . . That's kinda kinky.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

In a theological sense, there is a difference between Evil and Wickedness. The Hebrew word most often translated "Evil" in the Authorized Version (King James) means "calamity." God is said to create evil for his enemies, but what he creates for them is calamity in recompense for their Wickedness.

Wickedness is ... well, just bad, and it's an intentional wrong act. Calamity can be a divine punishment, or it may be a mere accident. The engine that drives much of social structure and history is the interaction of this kind of "evil" and true "wickedness" salted with a bit of umm let's just call it Divine Vengeance. It makes for fun fiction too.

Didn't know we pixies knew this stuff, did ya?

Do I hear a little pixie princess muttering, "I bet this gets a response...."?

Anonymous said...

^^^^^ Dave, do you mean the Jesus who got into a Mortal Kombat-esque fight with Santa Claus, and who stormed an Iraqi torture camp with automatic weapons.. cos that Jesus is definitely NOT stuffy.

My general rule of thumb is that everybody thinks they are the hero, even if they are the villains.

Especially if they are the villains.

An-on-i-moose said...

Frustrated, I know a lot of people who love Elizabeth George and Elizabeth Ironside. Dorothy Sayer is very good too. Caryoln Hart's "Letters from Home" is supposed to be excellent and was nominated for a Pulitzer. Also, Jacqueline Winspear is supposed to be good (the Maisie Dobbs series). Margaret Maron is very good, but start with Bootlegger's Daughter (not quite the classic mystery that you might be looking for, but still a good read).

Just some suggestions from your fuzzy antlered friend.

Anonymous said...

I read The Screwtape Letters when I was twenty-one and it was fascinating...almost titillating. My daughter-in-law gave me a copy for Christmas last year (a whole bunch of years later) and I tried to read it again: snooze-fest.

I think Satan and evil in general are more interesting to young people than to us jaded, been-there-got-the-autographed-commemorative-program types.

But then, heroes are pretty boring now, too...

Send gin.

Dorothy Sayers, Arthur Conan Doyle.

~no added Pulp

jadepark said...

I LOOOVE this as a nitty gritty craft lesson. I'm posting it on my blog.

nice anonymous said...

Satan is always best played by Jack Nicholson.

But it's true that Milton gave him the best dialogue & the finest part in his works.

Anonymous said...

But, Sha'el, Princess of Pixies ~

You just gave your mean little fellow a reason for being evil: he feels put-upon by everyone else. There really are people like that, so it's no stretch of reality to create a fictional facsimile. :-)

Meanwhile - I think we're all in agreement that a fully-dimentional villain is soooo much more interesting than nasty for nasty's sake. One of my villains is your classic expansionist: invade, kick ass and conquer, and crush any hint of resistance. BUT ... he has reasons and motivations that he thinks are wholly justified. He's not a villain - he's a patriot! Likewise with another set of my baddies - they think humankind are a plague set upon the earth, and wish they'd stepped out of the ether to crush humans clear back in the stone age.

So, yeah, they're bad in regards to what my "good guys" want, but they're heroes to the people on their side of the field. Besides, writing interesting villains allows me to excersize my hidden inner evil-ness ... heh heh heh heh heh ....

Gina Holmes said...

Gina Holmes of Novel Journey here. I just had to see what the heck this post was about because I had a few visitors from here and the reference showed up as "love satan", or somethint to that effect. I'm a little relieved that it wasn't my name on some weird ritualistic hit list. Ha. Interesting discussion.

kathie said...

Great Post...and the comments were awesome, too. Love when I get free workshop in the space of ten minutes!

Ishak said...

Incidentally, who do you all think are the greatest fictional villains?

Books, movies, TV shows, whatever... who are the meanest of the mean?

My picks:
Dr. Hannibal Lecter
Count Dracula
Darth Vader
Grendel's mother
the Joker

Conduit said...

I agree on Hannibal Lecter, even though the post Silence of the Lambs movies have watered him down a little. In the Red Dragon and SOTL novels he's such a well drawn and compelling creation. I think Thomas Harris is hard to beat when it comes to villians. Francis Dolarhyde is every bit as frightening as Dr Lecter, and his madness and self-delusion are entirely believable.

The antagonist in my own WIP is presented in third person limited, so the reader's perception is his - and yes, he sees himself as the good guy, though his actions prove otherwise.

On the other hand, my protagonist is no saint. He's an alcoholic for a start - hardly original, I know, but it's such a commonplace thing in the real world that I don't mind using that as a facet of his character. He's also burdened with a great deal of guilt from his past. That feeds the story, providing motivation for wht he does.

Good discussion, this.

Word verification - DUREQZ. Say that out loud and you've got a famous brand of condom!

Anonymous said...

I'm an actor. One of the things I learned in drama school is that you're never, ever, ever playing the villain. Even if you're Iago, who IMO is one of the best psychopaths in literature. Your character is always right. If you're not fighting his corner all the way, then your portrayal will degenerate into a bunch of 'villain' stereotypes. It's the same in writing, except that you have to be able to fight every character's corner at once.

There's a logic to everyone's actions - and that includes psychopaths; their logic is nothing like a human being's, but it's very much there. What makes a villain scary is when that logic is thorough, detailed, convincing and deeply twisted.

sundae best said...

Best fictional villains, hmmm. Without repeating those mentioned above, how about Annie Wilkes in MISERY? I can't think "seriously depraved" without Annie popping into my head, armed with syringes and an ax.

Chumplet said...

Anonymous Actor, you give a good point. Many writers pen in an antagonist and paint him/her with a goopy, evil brush without stopping to wonder WHY that person careened down the 'wrong' path.

If the writer doesn't make an effort to get into the antagonist's head and make him truly believe what he's doing is right, the reader won't believe it, either.

If it's done well, the reader may actually feel sorry for the bad guy.

Kim said...

Best villian?

Hmmm.... there are so many good ones...

I like Dr. Evil as best clueless villian.

But for serious villian - ok - maybe he's not the best, per se, but Montresor from 'The Cask of Amontillado' makes my blood run cold. He bricks Fortunato up in the catacombs without a second thought... yikes...

I'm sure there are others that I'll think of later and say, "Damn, why didn't I name him/her?!"

Anonymous said...

Although it had some serious writing flaws, Jacqueline Carey's two-book Sundering series was interesting in that it flipped the expected fantasy conventions on their heads. Is Good really Good when it means an unchanging status ruled by rigid gods of light, and a loss of free will? Is it a good thing for the dark lord to be defeated once and for all, just because you've been told it is?

Steven Brust's To Reign in Hell is a story of God's tyranny and deceit from Satan's point of view, and how Satan battles for Truth.

IIRC, there was an old Twilight Zone episode that featured a band of freedom fighters set on assassinating the leader of the enemy forces set on destroying their land and way of life: Abraham Lincoln.

SF has a long history of seeing things from the "villian's" POV.

Aconite

GutterBall said...

One of the things I learned from the cancelled TV show Firefly is that every character, no matter how infinitesimal or bad, thinks he/she is the hero. It's a humanity thing: we all think everything is about us.

The plucky sidekick? He's the hero. The "bad" guy? Yup, the hero. The hooker with a heart of gold? You guessed it.

However, my favorite stories are often the ones where the actual hero doesn't think he's the hero (usually because he doesn't want to be). Those are always fun because they're so built on character. It's instant internal conflict. Great stuff.

Maya said...

You all are hitting on exactly why I prefer to think in terms of protagonist and antagonist instead of hero and villain. If I think of hero and villain, it's too easy to fall into stereotypes.

Part of the genius of people like Jimmy Stewart and Stephen King is that they take ordinary people and make them seem extraordinary. Readers and/or viewers can't help but put themselves into the "ordinary" guy's shoes and think, "What would I do in a situation like that?"

Dave Kuzminski said...

Maya, I so agree with that, especially the part about using ordinary people. I try to do that with many of my characters because then some obstacles are already built in. When the ordinary person steps up to do the right thing under those circumstances, it's truly heroic.

Stacy said...

If i can back up a bit to Annie Wilkes from Misery - she was deluded, certainly, but I wouldn' agree that she was depraved. That's a word saved for the gals and fellas who do bad things for the PLEASURE it gives them. It also implies that the wrongdoer is willingly acting against the moral standards of the group. So a human who behaves like a vampire=depraved, but a vampire who acts like a vampire=not depraved. Hannibal Lecter who has been discussed further up this thread is an excellent example of depravity. He just likes to kill people and eat their brains because its fun and tastes good too.

Semantics is fun.

Anonymous said...

For mysteries that are mysteries try Dashiell Hammett and Ellis Peters (Cadfael or her other series that I'm blanking on at the moment).

Sean D. Schaffer said...

That's a point I never thought of before. I guess it shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that an evil villain is quite redundant, but I know in my own case that I have trouble with redundancies. Thank you for posting this, and I'll try to be less redundant in the future.

Ciel said...

You know what "villain" I like? Severus Snape from Harry Potter. It's not sure whether he is a bad guy or a good guy but he is so complex! :) I just love him!

Frustrated Reader: try P.D. James' novels. I like "An Unsuitable Job for a Woman".
Never saw the mystery in Dashiell Hammet's works though. Maybe it's just me but he bores me to death. He's also nothing like Agatha Christie and if that's what you like you might not enjoy Hammet. Still, I guess everyone who likes mystery should have read "The Maltese Falcon"...

Class factotum said...

In one of my Shakespeare classes in college, my professor had us cast the plays as movies. For "Othello," we wanted to put someone ugly as Iago, but Prof Huston said no! Evil was beautiful and seductive. You can't tell someone is evil just by looking at him. He suggested Robert Redford for the role. (This was in 1983 when Redford still looked good.)

If evil were truly ugly and depraved with no redeeming qualities, why would anyone ever choose it?

Anonymous said...

Best fictional villain?

Angus Thermopyle of Stephen R Donaldson's Gap sci-fi series.

Most interesting hero? Same guy.

writtenwyrdd said...

From best villian to best villiany, I would nominate the society of The Handmaid's Tale. Brrr. Creepy. How good intentions of a religious leadership turn evil and ugly.

That book scares teh crap out of me.