Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Villains and Villainy: The Tyrant

Kicking off the villains series with a vengeance, let’s start with a very popular archetype: The tyrant.
Read any dystopian fiction lately? Then you know all about the tyrant. This villain is the person at the top of the food chain, the ruler of a country who rules with an iron fist. This is the person who inspires rebellions and causes a few lone heroes to stand up and demand justice for the common people. Its no surprise that this villain is popular. They set off conflict on a large scale and often times, taking them down is a monumental task.

But there are ways to write a good tyrant, and there are ways to write a bad one.

I think the biggest danger in writing is the tyrant is making them boring. Its really easy to do, considering how popular this archetype is. In a lot of cases, we may look at the big bad for a dystopian novel, shrug and say ‘seen it’. So they execute people for no reason. So they start wars that sweep across the land, leaving ashes and death in their wake. So what?

What’s important about writing a tyrant is that we get into their head. Because no tyrant really sets out to be a tyrant. That’s what makes them interesting. They set out with a noble cause and ultimately think they are doing the right thing. That’s the key. Don’t just show us reasons to hate them. Show us reasons that they might be justified.

I’m gonna throw out some examples that will not be in my villain spotlight on Friday. These examples happen to be from Avatar: The Last Airbender and the sequel series, Legend of Korra.


In Avatar the Last Airbender, there’s the fire lord Ozai. He’s bad news: a powerful fire bender who is obsessed with conquering the rest of the world and destroying the avatar. He’s got some cool things in his favor. He’s got an awesome design and presence and he’s voiced by Mark Hamil of Starwars and Batman the Animated Series fame. But he’s not that… interesting. He’s just kind of evil. We don’t see why he became this way or why he does most of the evil things he does. He’s an obstacle, but not much of a character compared to his children Azula and Zuko (both of whom I will look at later in this series).


Then there’s Kuvira, from Legend of Korra. This is a woman who clearly has good intentions. She’s tough, organized and disciplined and her soldiers are loyal to her. She does help the earth kingdom, as long as they accept her rule. She pushes her regime on others by force if necessary, but she believes the ends will ultimately justify the means.

Now of course, she’s ultimately as tyrannical as any of the other dictators, but seeing the positive sides of her is important. We see the help she gives and the parts of her that make a good leader. And she’s also just kind of a bad ass. 


Her fighting style is amazing. Though I’m ultimately more interested in the characters of the original show, I can’t deny that Legend of Korra had some really memorable villains.

So are you writing dystopian or fantasy fiction hinging on a tyrant? Don’t just make them evil. Even the worst people in history had virtues. If you want your tyrants to be interesting, make them human first and villains second.

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