Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Crushing the Villain

So, you've birthed the most contemptible villain to ever scourge a keyboard (let's call him Bob) and now it's time to get rid of him. Act three rolls around and you still don't know how you're going to bring Bob to his knees. Thwarting him isn't enough. You want to crush him.

Question posed to Wordplayers: do you catch him or kill him?

Why does the author think there are only two doors?

Door (1) Kill him. Okay, we got that one. But, let's come up with something clever like death by gold bricks (Mask of Zorro), death by corn (Witness), strap the villain's shoulder holster to a maverick missile on a Harrier's wing (True Lies), or take him out with a deadly accurate hat (Goldfinger).

Door (2) Catch him. But don't JUST catch him. Find a clever way to catch him and that doesn't mean just any ol' chase scene. Are there even chase scenes left to write that we haven't already seen? How about we hang Bob with the bra of the stripper he just murdered and only cut him down when he confesses?

Door (3) Villain lives a life worse than death. Maybe he catches the disease he was using to poison the community's water supply, has to live without arms and legs, or murders transvestites and then somehow becomes one. How? I don't know. That's for the writer to figure out. Remember how miserable Red was when he was paroled in Shawshank Redemption? Death was preferable to life. In one Twilight Zone episode, a swindler's holy water made him blind.

Door (4) Suicide. Okay, this one could rob the audience of the satisfaction of seeing justice served, but it doesn't have to be that way. Maybe Bob kills himself so his nemesis won't get the glory.

Door (5) Villain escapes. Done right, it could work. Hannibal Lector did it in Silence of the Lambs and it ended the film on an odd mixture of trepidation, disappointment, and relief.

Door (6) Leave the Door Open. Did he live? Did he die? Did he escape? A lot depends on the genre of the film and not every story can be crafted in a way that the audience would accept this type of ending, but it it can work, especially in horror films and films like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters.

Door (7) Accidental Death. Talk about cheating the audience! But, maybe you don't think the audience would accept the protagonist with blood on his hands and this will work better.

Door (8) Villain Undetected. The audience knows, but most of the players don't. This is a toughie and off hand, the only film I can think of is Presumed Innocent where the killer turned out to be a protatonist, but there must be others.

Other doors? I'm sure I've missed some. Aliens take Bob (X Files) or Bob goes into a vegetative state after taking his own wife off life support, or maybe Bob suffers memory loss when the old woman that he is swindling decides to bludgeon Bob with a can of turnip greens. Maybe he becomes mentally retarded or hypnotised into thinking he's somebody else.

These are more than two options here. It doesn't have to be as simple as catch him or kill him or as silly as aliens and turnip green cans. Some stories will require the simple resolution but others demand a more creative downfall for the villain.

What are some doors I've overlooked?

UPDATE: Karl Moeller added catch and release - find a way to help the villain change inside, permanently, in a way that's clear to the meanest understanding. And then have your Hero Team turn the villain loose.


oneslackmartian said...

How many movies have you seen where the hero leaves the villain to live a life worse than death, but the villain has to rise up again just so the hero can kill him?

Accidental death could work if you have a film that is really showing how chaotic, random, and disconnected the world and events are.

How about a theme that is “Can’t get no satisfaction,” so the villain jumps to his death before the hero can get his revenge. But just before the villain hits the ground, a bus plows into him—driven, of course, by the hero’s sidekick.

OH, wait, “I can’t get no satisfaction.” That’s a double negative.

I’m going to have to rethink that Stones song.

MaryAn Batchellor said...

No, no. The hero walks away and the villain jumps later to escape the sidekick only to be plowed into by the hero driving the bus except the villain actually didn't jump, but fell as he was having a heart attack on the way down and is already dead when the bus hits him but the hero doesn't know it so the hero thinks he killed him and the sidekick thinks the hero killed him but the little old lady knows she killed him because she put nitro in the turnip greens she force fed him.

oneslackmartian said...


That's what I meant ;)

Konrad West said...

Great post.

Hey can you turn on full text RSS, so I can read your blog in Google Reader? I'm too lazy to actually go to your website except when commenting. ;)

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Sure, I know exactly how to do that....I think.

Slain said...

MaryAn ~ sometimes, you can adapt a real-life character to become the villain in a story

..if you have the misfortune to know such a devil, godforbid!!!

MaryAn Batchellor said...

I have known a few such devils and it's makes for a good villain to draw on, true enough.

Slain said...

::wry smile:: makes 2 of us.