Antagonists and Sadists in Writing

In my small hovel of writing friends I’ve found a trend between us involving placing our focus-characters in positions of debility and subjecting them to seemingly endless torture from any form of sadistic villain. If you’re a writer you know, we take interactions with our characters very personally, if we have an antagonist do something mean to a character we translate it as us doing that to a little part of ourselves and sometimes that can affect us emotionally. This can be good or bad. We may use this form of writing as a way to relieve stress and aggression, or this writing may fill us with negative emotions and I’m here to determine what is more likely.

I’ll give there examples from my own writing in which I place a character in a position of debility; Irwin, Jason, and Iszeldier. In the first form, the character is literally chained up and subject to actual torture from which there is no escape for him. In the next form, the character is placed in a position of physical debility, in which a physical affliction is trapping him in a position he knows no escape from. In the last form, the character is being forced to take on a nature that is not his own. In all this cases the characters are being forced to react or change. These tactics are good for emotional battles, physical affliction, and foremost character development. These are not however, the best way to develop character. They should mostly be used as a mid-plot development which may lead to the turning or breaking-point or lead to a self-realization further down the road due to their experience.

Sadism is having an emotional involvement with someone you’re causing pain. These forms of sadism are not easy to write, they require a huge amount of emotional involvement from the writer who must both hate the character enough to do this to them, and empathize with them enough to feel their pain. This is of course about sadism. Who is the one being sadistic, the villain or circumstances bringing the character pain or the person causing those villains or circumstances to act or occur. Since the answer is obviously the author, does that really make me, the creator a sadist? If God were to cause something horrible to happen is it because he is a sadist or that it serves some greater goal? I’m not about to turn this into a theological debate. I don’t kid myself, I’m a sadist.

Disclaimer: for god’s sake, do not go about causing real people pain!

Rabbit trail: I am not claiming that your characters are not real people, every one of them is a small piece of you, your experience, and things that inspire you. They take on personalities separate from your own and in some cases make decisions you can never anticipate. You are the one who writes their life stories, because once the personality is designed and created some characters can guide their circumstances. For one thing, I love mindless banter in stories, that’s then the character’s true heart and personality comes out, when they participate in chatter that is irrelevant to the plot. Arguments too, one thing leads to another and the characters can just scream at each other for pages and pages!

On that note, Villains are probably the biggest problem child of the bunch. In all cases! My villains do unexpected things that I feel like I don’t chose but I write out anyway because something about it feels right… (me thinking) wait… how is it right? It’s evil! Ah… that’s where the sadist in me comes into play. I am becoming emotionally involved with the characters my villains are interacting with and things happen that I don’t plan for. Creating scary, awesome, evil, and well rounded villains is a skill that’s taken me years to acquire and I value these characters for my plot so much.

In my experience, when creating or evaluating a villain be sure to think about their goals, what do they want? Dominance, wealth, or power are usually the three things all villains want. Magneto, power. Loki, Dominance, Carson Dyle (Charade 1963), wealth. Almost any villain can be thrown into that category, but it all comes down to power. They covet something more! Of my new series, my three villains so far do a pretty good job at keeping to those categories (except Jeromy) and I’d advise keeping your villain’s goal something understandable unless you want something really confusing! Julian (TS:No book 8) lusts after power and in the end he gets his desire but at a steep price. Ira (TS:SN book 11) wants dominance but also freedom from the perfect Nova world. And Jeromy… I’m still trying to figure that one out… his goal is pure he just takes a path he shouldn’t have and Jeromy is in every right, a sadist.

Rabbit Trail: there comes a point in a character’s development if you take a certain route where they gain something like omniscience, which is unconfirmed communion with the author’s plans, providing somewhat random tidbits or predictions. I have only three characters who have this kind of power and they’re all sociopaths! Emilie, Cliff, and Jeromy. All of them seem to know a little too much and they provide information the characters probably should know and can’t possibly understand when the information is provided. They can be both good or evil but watch out for these characters! They’re whack!

Back on track, now that you’ve evaluated your villain it’s time to determine if he or she is a sadist. First, you need to observe their actions, when they commit their evil doings do they do it begrudgingly, sorrowfully, maliciously, or sadistically? For Jules, he knew he was making the wrong decision and he did not take pride in it until he had succeeded. For Kimberly (TS:TA-SC books 5-6) she committed her crimes maliciously and as she did this she came to enjoy it, it was not the initial act, but when her plans came together that she enjoyed. However for Ira, he does things specifically because he takes pleasure in them. The whole torture arc with Irwin, occurs because Ira wants revenge on him, it serves no purpose in the grand scheme or Ira’s plans and it is purely sadistic.

For the writer however, it is certainly a gray area, are we doing these things to people we have created because we enjoy it, to serve some purpose or benefit to the plot (obviously not the characters), or is there some part of us who wants to be in the position of the sadist or in the position of debility? I have to be honest with myself in all those queries. I write things to feel them, and to experience them. I do it to have emotional involvement with the characters, to cause them pain and feel their pain. I am equally in the villain as I am in the victim. I am the sadist.

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