Writing Advice: The Key To A Great Villain

Writing Advice: The Key To A Great Villain

Animated films do this really well.

Note: This article contains spoilers for Pixar’s Up, Dreamworks’s Kung Fu Panda, and Pixar’s The Incredibles.

It’s undeniable that villains have fans, sometimes even more fans than the heroes. But what is it that makes a villain memorable, beyond the awesome songs and general badassery? What makes a villain an essential part of a story?

A great villain is facing the same problem as the hero. Both the hero and the villain have a way of dealing with the problem – sometimes the same way, sometimes a different way. In order for the hero to win, they must overcome the problem in a better way than the villain.

Animated films in particular use this hero-villain dynamic to great effect. For example, in Pixar’s Up, Carl Fredricksen (the hero) and Charles Muntz (the villain) both have the “can’t let go of old dreams” problem. Carl is fixated on fulfilling his childhood promise to take his wife Ellie to Paradise Falls, and Muntz is still – after an implied seventy years! – obsessed with capturing the elusive bird and regaining his reputation as a great explorer. For both men, the focus on the old dream holds them back from having any new ones, or even recognizing any path towards happiness besides the one they’ve trod for so long. Muntz never lets go of his old dream, but Carl finally does – which allows him to defeat Muntz, rescue his friends, and go off on new adventures.

Pixar isn’t the only studio that follows this formula, of course. Dreamworks’s Kung Fu Panda focuses on two characters – Po (the hero) and Tai Lung (the villain) – who share a “self-worth” issue. Despite Po’s happy-go-lucky demeanor and Tai Lung’s constant displays of strength, and their shared dream of becoming kung fu masters, over the course of the movie it becomes clear that they each don’t think very much of themselves. Though selected as the “dragon warrior,” Po doesn’t believe himself worthy of it. And despite Tai Lung’s great skill, he took being denied the secrets of the Dragon Scroll so personally that he waged war on his home, and to this day seems desperate to beat approval out of his father-figure Shifu. Po finally gains the ability to defeat Tai Lung when he learns that there is no “secret ingredient” to greatness – the Dragon Scroll is blank. Tai Lung insists to the end that there must be a secret that he is being denied access to. And, in the end, Po emerges on top.

Let’s return to Pixar for one more example – The Incredibles, because I’m so excited about the upcoming release of Incredibles 2. In this movie, Mr. Incredible and Syndrome have an “obsession with glory” problem. For most of the film, both characters prioritize the glory associated with being a hero over the “do good and help society” aspect. Mr. Incredible repeatedly puts his family’s safety at risk in order to relive the “glory days.” Syndrome flat-out kills all other supers so that he alone will have the world’s adoration.

As a matter of fact, every character in this film has some connection to this conflict between prioritizing glory or good. A cape looks cool, yes, but as Edna Mode will vehemently tell you, it is not safe, and certainly not worth risking your life and loved ones for – but she leaps at the chance to “design for gods” once more. Elastigirl firmly prioritizes the safety of her family over the thrill of hero work, which has the unfortunate side effect of raising children who have never been free to explore their full potential. Having all characters tied to a film’s central issue helps make everything feel purposeful and linked together, as one coherent story.

By the end of the film, Mr. Incredible gets his priorities straight, and works together with his family to find the proper balance between being great and doing good. Syndrome, on the other hand, puts the public good, the safety of the people close to him, and his own safety so far down his list of priorities that it kills him.

Cover Image Credit: Wingblade Reviews//YouTube

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A Playlist From The iPod Of A Middle Schooler In 2007

I will always love you, Akon.

Something happened today that I never thought in a million years would happen. I opened up a drawer at my parents' house and I found my pink, 4th generation iPod Nano. I had not seen this thing since I graduated from the 8th grade, and the headphones have not left my ears since I pulled it out of that drawer. It's funny to me how music can take you back. You listen to a song and suddenly you're wearing a pair of gauchos, sitting on the bleachers in a gym somewhere, avoiding boys at all cost at your seventh grade dance. So if you were around in 2007 and feel like reminiscing, here is a playlist straight from the iPod of a middle schooler in 2007.

1. "Bad Day" — Daniel Powter

2. "Hips Don't Lie" — Shakira ft. Wyclef Jean

SEE ALSO: 23 Iconic Disney Channel Moments We Will Never Forget

3. "Unwritten" — Natasha Bedingfield

4. "Run It!" — Chris Brown

5. "Girlfriend" — Avril Lavigne

6. "Move Along" — All-American Rejects

7. "Fergalicious" — Fergie

8. "Every Time We Touch" — Cascada

9. "Ms. New Booty" — Bubba Sparxxx

10. "Chain Hang Low" — Jibbs

11. "Smack That" — Akon ft. Eminem

12. "Waiting on the World to Change" — John Mayer

13. "Stupid Girls" — Pink

14. "Irreplaceable" — Beyonce

15. "Umbrella" — Rihanna ft. Jay-Z

16. "Don't Matter" — Akon

17. "Party Like A Rockstar" — Shop Boyz

18. "This Is Why I'm Hot" — Mims

19. "Beautiful Girls" — Sean Kingston

20. "Bartender" — T-Pain

21. "Pop, Lock and Drop It" — Huey

22. "Wait For You" — Elliot Yamin

23. "Lips Of An Angel" — Hinder

24. "Face Down" — Red Jumpsuit Apparatus

25. "Chasing Cars" — Snow Patrol

26. "No One" — Alicia Keys

27. "Cyclone" — Baby Bash ft. T-Pain

28. "Crank That" — Soulja Boy

29. "Kiss Kiss" — Chris Brown

SEE ALSO: 20 Of The Best 2000's Tunes We Still Know Every Word To

30. "Lip Gloss" — Lil' Mama

Cover Image Credit: http://nd01.jxs.cz/368/634/c6501cc7f9_18850334_o2.jpg

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My AP Environmental Science Class' Cookie Mining Experiment Shows Why Capitalism Is Destroying The Planet

Who cares about the environment with profits this high?


With the AP exams in May approaching quickly, my AP Environmental Science class has wasted no time in jumping right into labs. To demonstrate the damage to the environment done by strip mining, we were instructed to remove the chocolate chips from cookies.

The experiment in itself was rather simple. We profited from fully or partially extracted chips ($8 for a full piece and $4 for a partial) and lost from buying tools, using time and area and incurring fines.

This might seem simplistic, but it showcased the nature of disastrous fossil fuel companies.

We were fined a $1 per minute we spent mining. It cost $4 per tool we bought (either tweezers or paper clips) and 50 cents for every square centimeter of cookie we mined.

Despite the seemingly overbearing charges compared to the sole way to profit, it was actually really easy to profit.

If we found even a partial chocolate chip per minute, that's $3 profit or utilization elsewhere. Tools were an investment that could be made up each with a partial chip, and clearly we were able to find much, much more than just one partial chip per tool.

Perhaps the most disproportionally easiest thing to get around were the fines. We were liable to be fined for habitat destruction, dangerous mining conditions with faulty tools, clutter, mess and noise level. No one in the class got fined for noise level nor faulty tools, but we got hit with habitat destruction and clutter, both of which added up to a mere $6.

We managed to avoid higher fines by deceiving our teacher by pushing together the broken cookie landscapes and swiping away the majority of our mess before being examined for fining purposes. This was amidst all of our cookies being broken into at least three portions.

After finding many, many chips, despite the costs of mining, we profited over $100. We earned a Franklin for destroying our sugary environment.

We weren't even the worst group.

It was kind of funny the situations other groups simulated to their cookies. We were meant to represent strip mining, but one group decided to represent mountaintop removal. Mountaintop removal is where companies go to extract resources from the tops of mountains via explosions to literally blow the tops off. This group did this by literally pulverizing their cookies to bits and pieces with their fists.

They incurred the maximum fine of $45. They didn't profit $100, however.

They profited over $500 dollars.

In the context of our environmental science class, these situations were anywhere from funny to satisfying. In the context of the real world, however, the consequences are devastating our environment.

Without even mentioning the current trajectory we're on approaching a near irreversible global temperature increase even if we took drastic measures this moment, mining and fracking is literally destroying ecosystems.

We think of earthquakes as creating mass amounts of sudden movement and unholy deep trenches as they fracture our crust. With dangerous mining habits, we do this ourselves.

Bigger companies not even related to mining end up destroying the planet and even hundreds of thousands of lives. ExxonMobil, BP? Still thriving in business after serial oil spills over the course of their operation. Purdue Pharma, the company who has misled the medical community for decades about the effects of OxyContin and its potential for abuse, is still running and ruining multitudes more lives every single day.

Did these companies receive fines? Yes.

But their business model is too profitable to make the fines have just about any effect upon their operation.

In our cookie mining simulation, we found that completely obliterating the landscape was much more profitable than being careful and walking on eggshells around the laws. Large, too-big-to-fail companies have held the future of our planet in their greedy paws and have likewise pulverized our environment, soon enough to be unable to return from.

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