Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and the Uninteresting

Sorry to vanish. Life intervened. Back. Miss me?

Over the weekend, I went to see a movie, which will remain unnamed, since I have a code against dissing things on my blog. (If you can guess the movie based on my remarks, I might not confirm it, but you should feel very pleased.) I'm not writing a negative review; but, I feel like I compelled to mention the movie anyway.

This movie had both an antagonist and a villain. They were separate individuals with separate reasons to hate the MC and work to counter his motives. They occasionally worked together, but they were not the same guy.

One thing I noticed half-way through the movie was that the antagonist really bugged me. Not just his personality, which was somewhat annoying, but all of him. Every scene he was in made me roll my eyes and consider ducking out for Sour Patch Kids.

It took me a only a little while longer to figure out why. He didn't change. Ever. Throughout the whole movie, the antagonist was always the exact bloody same.

That. Got. Old.

I'm sure, if you've been working on writing for a while, someone has told you that characters, over the course of a novel, need to grow and change. They cannot remain exactly the same. Readers will find that uninteresting.

When it comes to bad guys, I don't ask that they have periods of great moral development or that they experience some sort of deep internal change or that anything really meaningful and emotional occur with them. But, they cannot remain the exact same bad guy the entire time. Things need to change.


Because, for the MC, things must change, stakes must rise. And one of these ways in which stakes can/should/must rise is for the bad guys get more powerful. Otherwise, the MC is making steady progress against an unshifting enemy, which leads to the feeling that the MC is sure to win. That's not good.

The reader should not feel like the MC is certain to win. The reader should be sitting there thinking, "Oh, sweet sugar cakes, the MC is doom. There's no way they survive this." Stakes should be up there, or there's no reason for the readers to keep going.

During the movie in question, the villain changed. His motivations increased, so he acted more dramatically, which made him a more interesting and threatening villain. That makes me happy. The antagonist did not change or develop any new motivations. He had one goal throughout the whole movie and continued to approach it in the same manner and with the same level of tenacity. That makes me not happy.

In books, a similar situation would be equally frustrating. Characters need to have increasing motivations. They need to become more dedicated, more threatening, more determined. There should be more.

How do you feel about motivations over time? How do you feel about characters who do not grow?


  1. Since I don't go to the movies often, I won't have to stress that I'll accidentally see this one.

    I prefer characters who grow. Somehow.

    Great post!

  2. Characters definatley need to grow. Or at least change somehow (perhaps shrink?). It's one of the most basic things of storytelling - even if you think they don't change, really they do. Same goes for all major characters in a story. The greatest villains/antagonists are those who change, who seem human, who have, perhaps, redeemable characteristics that emerge somewhere along the line (great illustration: Melissande from the Kushiel-Series by Jaqueline Carey).

    And I can't tell what movie that is...hmm....

  3. I know the movie you're referring to and know what you mean.

    I guess I have more of a problem with characters that change too much over the course of a much so it's unbelievable. Yes, people can change, but there are limits.

    Good post!

  4. Good point, and especially useful as I begin to contemplate my own antagonist. I'll be sure to keep this in mind. Thanks.

  5. I don't know what movie you're referring to, but I felt this way when I watched Avatar. The static bad, bad villain really got on my nerves. The only thing that changed about him was that he used bigger toys through the movie. I did like the movie, though.

    There's some great points in here. Thanks!

  6. Stina -- It wasn't actually a bad movie, so you'll probably enjoy it should you accidentally turn a corner one day and find yourself in a showing of it. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Tessa -- I don't know if I've ever seen a character shrink, but I think that would be very interesting to watch. If you ever come across a book/movie/traveling improv show in which that happens, please let me know.

    DL -- You must be psychic. Okay, you do have a point about the believability of the change. Things should be kept within reasonable parameters or the reader will still be rolling their eyes at the character. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Vicki -- I'm glad the post was useful to you. Thanks for stopping by. :)

    Glamis -- I see your point about Avatar. There were some issues with that villain. Though I don't know if the toys can get much bigger than those walking soldiers he was inside. Those things were huge. Thanks for dropping in. :)