Antagonists: When Vice Becomes a Virtue

With spoilers for: The Dark Knight

A few weeks ago, I did a short piece on Jesse Pinkman and concluded that there are many, often conflicting, ways of making a character likeable. Today, I just want to hit that point home a bit, by turning your attention to antagonists – and how they often come with characteristics which make us support them more than we probably should.

Proficiency

You know my powers, my dear Watson, and yet at the end of three months I was forced to confess that I had at last met an antagonist who was my intellectual equal. My horror at his crimes was lost in my admiration of his skill.

This quote follows Sherlock Holmes’ first encounter with Moriarty, and I love it because I think it perfectly encapsulates how most of us react to a good villain. Antagonists are usually the main source of conflict in a story, so it seems to follow that they should be incredibly good at what they do – incredibly good at stopping the hero from achieving his goals. However, by making them this way, writers often endow them with a level of excellence, lacking in most of the other characters, including the hero.

Breaking Bad Salamanca Cousins

A good example of this is the Unstoppable Evil archetype, home to characters such as the Salamanca twins from Breaking Bad. These are the two silent, almost mechanical cartel hitmen, barely with a moment on screen where they’re not shooting someone, beheading someone or trying to find means to facilitate either of those activities. Natural to their line of work, they don’t have much going for them on a moral level – and they aren’t exactly providing the comic relief either.

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Exposition Tips – Part One

Unentertaining.

Unnatural.

Unmemorable.

These are the three enemies of exposition, the three adjectives that most commonly end up describing it. This occurrence seems to be driven by a belief that exposition is inherently boring; the writer ‘knows’ that people hate this stuff and so attempts to get it out the way as quickly and early on as possible.

In the worst cases, the final result is the infamous infodump: a scene in which the audience is smothered with information. This technique is not only unentertaining, unnatural, unmemorable – it is also completely self-defeating, as the boredom induced by it causes the audience to switch off and ignore the stuff they were supposed to be taking in.

JOHN BARROWMAN

Hey, Sy, is this a great life or what?

THE OTHER GUY

Vida loca, amigo!

JOHN BARROWMAN

Louise pays us to patrol these beaches. You know, one of the guys in the harbour told me about this dive spot which is just crawling with lobsters.

[From Shark Attack 3: Megalodon]

(Actually, it’s such a notoriously poor technique that it’s really hard to find genuine examples of it anymore, possibly because scripts that feature them just don’t get made.)

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Exposition doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, learn to tame it, control it and it’ll put you streets ahead of the vast majority of screenwriters. First-

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Joffrey Baratheon: Creating the Hate

With spoilers for: Game of Thrones, Seasons 1-3; Gladiator

Spoilers for Season 4 hidden; no book spoilers

A few months ago, I wrote a short piece on Jesse Pinkman and asked the question: are there any characters you hate because of their childlike nature? One commenter referred me to Joffrey Baratheon from Game of Thrones – and, yeah, fair enough.

Joffrey Baratheon on the Iron Throne

Joffrey’s basically Commodus without the murderous desire for love. Both are the cowardly sons of kings who never really cared for them; both have lives distorted by incest; both seize the throne dishonourably, killing the men who denied it from them.

He’s also, quite appropriately, one of the most despised characters in television history, which is intriguing when you consider how small his part is. (So far, he’s been in each season for less than half an hour – in fact, Season 4 has already given him the most screentime, despite the fact that he dies on the second episode.) So what is it about Joffrey that attracts so much hatred?

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