On Writing Fiction and Really Evil Villain Possibilities

I have a Very Evil Writing Idea.

Got through a nasty patch the other day; I’ll spare you the grisly details, just say “stomach bug” and you can take it from there. But once the world stopped spinning quite so much, it got me thinking.

(Yes, that’s a curse of writing.)

I see a lot of injured characters in fiction, but not so many ill ones. On the one hand, that makes perfect sense; who wants to read about the hero being sick, really? And injury is fast to inflict, may or may not be fast to take care of depending on your setting, tech level, healing magic/advanced tech, you name it. So it’s potentially not a “carries through to the end of the book” factor.

On the other hand… bad guys are supposed to be evil. And, one would hope, inventive – otherwise it’s not nearly so interesting to watch the hero beat them bloody.

So. You’re a bad guy, with magic or tech at your disposal, but not necessarily high-powered advantages. You need to beat the Hero, but you don’t have the strength to fling one spell/laser bolt/whatever to kill him.

So… what about an incapacitant?

Seriously. I don’t care how strong the paladin is, how mighty the wizard, how sneaky the thief – if you’re tossing your cookies from here to Sunday, you will have a very hard time avoiding the demon who wants to make mincemeat out of you.

Heck, forget even something that drastic. What about itching powder? Buh-bye spell concentration.

So here’s my question: do you think villains don’t use this in fiction because they’re just not evil enough? Or because authors aren’t?

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69 thoughts on “On Writing Fiction and Really Evil Villain Possibilities

  1. I think it doesn’t get used much in fiction because it would be an absolute pain to write. A reason my plot got stalled was because a major, nonnegotiable part of it was dealing with a baby from start to finish. Good grief, that is hard.

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  2. A lot of authors are looking for the big, flashy in-your-face things. To make your readers jump, flinch, and cry. But to use the small, common things in a sneaky manner- it’s cheating. Unless the hero does it, then it’s awesome. Or a “What the Hell, Hero?”.

    Honestly, I want to see villains who are truly cunning. And a hero that is crippled, couldn’t possibly amount to anything, and pulls it off anyway. A sickness makes the character human.

    In Bleach, my favorite character is Juushirou Ukitake. He is constantly fighting a lethal sickness, since he was young I believe. Most people would resign themselves to being smothered in cotton, safe. Yet look where he climbed to!

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    1. *Nod!* I’m as fond of flash and bang as anyone, but I also like “horseshoe nail” bits. As in, the small advantages/disadvantages that make a big difference. Heck, what’s Alibaba facing down Kogyouku in Balbadd but him taking advantage of the fact she actually didn’t have a lot of power, and pushing logic to its tortured limit. Awesome.

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  3. I think there’s three things going on. One is that illness hits people very differently (For instance, I’ve worked 8 hour shifts with the full out flu. Maybe not well, but I could definitely focus and fight enough.) I mainly worry about being sick because it’s against the law to go to work that way, not because I can’t work. Well, except asthma attacks, but that’s it’s own thing in fiction.

    Two, itching powder and the like feels a bit juvenile. Prank level stuff, not serious villain, which it seems a lot of them go for. (And Plague seems like evil mastermind, but it tends to also be “threat the heroes are preventing” more then what you seem to be looking for)

    Three, most bad guys won’t have the equipment for it. I think it would kind of detract from the main boss battle to be sick, and against minions…well.

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  4. The closest to this idea that I’ve ever seen in fiction is when the villain deliberately takes away something of the hero. Be it power, abilities, status, family etc.

    Of course it’s only used as an explanation as to why the hero has to start from rock bottom and work their way up to eventually triumph against the bad guy..

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      1. Few possible reasons: the hero escapes due to (reason) or the villain is driven off by a third party before they can manage to finish the job

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      2. RE: Few possible reasons: the hero escapes due to (reason) or the villain is driven off by a third party before they can manage to finish the job

        Or, killing the hero was never the goal or the point; the Hero just had something the villain needed for some reason. I have stolen you (insert thing here) so that I may complete this ritual, now I shall let my men leave to somewhere to recover or not, but I have no more need of you, useless random probably-a-peasant. Aren’t you so lucky that my dark God does not demand your life as well?

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      3. There’s always the old sadist explanation. Wants to draw it out s l ow l y and watch the hero’s suffering. The problem is usually keeping it going because heroes have friends who come to the rescue.

        a more creative one is the villain won’t kill for ‘morals’ but anything short of killing is a-ok, and it’s only more fun if the hero comes back against him again. (Villain as cat?) Where the only way for the hero to win is block everything the villain does and otherwise refuse to engage. Which might be possible to write but would be harder to make interesting. OTOH, a sufficiently determined writer can make anything work (for some number of readers). I recently finished one I enjoyed a lot, where for most of the book we only saw 1 (yes, that’s one) character, the same one, caught in a trap and figuring a way out. Other people were seen in dreams, if that.

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    1. >but in that case, if they’re really Evil, why not just kill them? Explanations are necessary!>
      Because it’s more Evil(tm) for the villain to steal the Hero’s precious thing and fly off laughing into the night. It’s not like the hero could ever muster the ability to defeat him/her after what had been taken from them.

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  5. Getting someone drunk before murdering them happens a lot in old stories.

    I understand that there are legitimate challenges in making effective use of biological weapons in RL.

    Currently, lethal weapons are significantly more reliable than non-lethal. (Non-lethality isn’t certain. Stopping power isn’t certain, especially with disassociative analgesics.)

    I suspect that if one has the opposition use something temporary that isn’t preparation for immediately using something lethal, it is very easy for it to come across as sandbagging. Maybe depends on the genre and reader expectations.

    It’d work better in a setting with quasi-magical poisons and witches sending illnesses.

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    1. *Wry G* At least half of those legitimate challenges are saner heads saying “stop the bleeping mad scientists before they kill us all….”

      Yeah. Fantasy setting – I suspect that’s the possibility I was poking. Especially given Rashid’s ultimate fate in Magi – so very convenient for Al-Thamen, that….

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      1. Yes, that timing is very suspicious . . .

        Probably anything in a place or happening to people Al-Thamen has an interest, no matter how natural looking, should be gone over with a fine toothed comb. One made of razor wire.

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      2. Agreed! Especially given that Sinbad depended on Rashid for a lot of advice in setting up his trading company, and then his country. And we know Al-Thamen was out to get Sinbad. How better to weaken him than take out one of the few people who could make him listen to reason (sometimes)?

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  6. I think the idea of itching powder is pretty neat myself. Uncontrollable sneezing or coughing is also debilitating without being lethal. If your villain is a trickster and wanted a quick getaway…I really do hate stories that have to make villains stupid in order to make the hero look better.

    I think the other reason why real illness is used so rarely in adventure fiction (my own term) is it tends to invoke pity, compassion. It may not be the reaction you want to have in the middle of a firefight. There are any number of great stories dealing with the ill and dying, so it’s not like fiction as a whole doesn’t deal with it.

    And then there is a thriving number of thrillers that do use illness as in “man-made (or alien) pandemic apocalypse”

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  7. Probably should depend on the villain’s goals. Most villains in story seem to want to kill the hero . . . but what if the villain didn’t want the hero dead, just out of their way for a while?

    Then, a spell that makes them sick but shouldn’t be lethally sick would be quite useful.

    Also depends on how they can make the hero sick. Because presumably the villain doesn’t want themselves and/or their minions they need for the job to down with the same bug. Especially if its lethal.

    The itching powder and the like is kind of childish and a lot of villains seem to have thing about looking and acting cool but might suit a villain who, like I said, doesn’t actually want to kill the hero.

    From the POV of Shinichi Kudo, the Kaitou Kid could be considered a villain. And he’d definitely use itching powder on both Shinichi, any other non-police detectives, the cops. I say could be because I think Shinichi considers him a criminal and a serious pain in the behind but not a villain.

    You don’t have a murdering murder who murders to be the villain of the piece. For the most part, being the villain simply means you and the hero either want the same thing and only one of you can have it or you have opposing goals and the villain is simply someone with reasons for their position and actions who is nevertheless in the hero’s way (and from their POV, the hero of the story is the villain).

    Or maybe too writers have forgotten to ask questions like “What do they want?” “What are they willing to do to get it?”, “What aren’t they willing to do to get it?” and importantly “Why?” often enough when doing the planning stage and developing their characters.

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    1. Ooooo, that leaves the possibility that the villain accidentally makes the hero too sick, necessitating the villain to go the Big Damn Heroes route. Because the hero generally is less of a pain then he could be, and his usefulness outweighs his tendency to be annoying thorn.

      (Also, pretty sure Kaitou Kid, contrary creature that he is, likes Shini’chi. And the Task Force. Kid is more of an antagonist then a villain.)

      Now there’s a thought, think Bleach beat me to it, the villain is on the heroes side. Like I said, Bleach beat me to it with the Twelfth. Would be tricky to write too..,

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      1. >>(Also, pretty sure Kaitou Kid, contrary creature that he is, likes Shini’chi. And the Task Force. Kid is more of an antagonist then a villain.)>>

        Oh he is definitely more of a antagonist in Detective Conan (with Shinichi / Task Force playing the role of antagonists in the Magic Kaitou) than he is a villain. The black tenchcoats are the villains.

        I was just talking about perspective – how the character’s actions COULD be viewed.

        Most of the characters know that Kaitou isn’t a villain. BUT some of them do view the Kaitou Kid as more villainous than he actually is. Like from her comments, Aoko certainly does.

        Probably not helped by the fact that it seems like almost nobody has noticed the antics of the people in black (and I’m a subscriber to the fanon theory that the ones Kaitou is fighting and the ones Shinichi are fighting are the same group because organizations like that tend to be extremely territorial and they have very similar goals and ability to get away with stuff).

        I’m sure he does like them too – after all, we’ve seen how Kaitou reacts to people he doesn’t like and/or hates. Doesn’t change the fact that he is still a massive pain in both of their behinds.

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  8. I think one of the reasons it’s not used all that much is because author’s don’t want, or are afraid of, the backlash if they don’t portray an illness correctly. Because let me tell you as a person who has been fighting a chronic illness for seven years, a lot of the stuff that heroes get up to, especially the big and flashy, is nearly impossible for a chronically ill person to do. In some illnesses case it’s not even just ‘incredible’ but downright ridiculous that characters have done what they’ve done. Which right there, is another reason why people don’t use it. It’s tiring having a disease. Your body is fighting 24/7 which takes energy, and fatigue is often a side effect of medication, and wracking pains can be very debilitating. For a lot of people even thinking takes a lot of energy, and even if it doesn’t pain is very distracting, for a novel that doesn’t work. Unless the hero is in a coma and the entire story is in their head.
    For villains using something like a plague, that’s a bit more widespread, both geographically and physically. In the case of genetically engineered diseases I think you can do almost anything you want within the laws of nature. It’d be good for tension at least.
    It’s a hard subject, but it someone managed to write it accurately and still have action and suspense I think that it’d be a great story, that’s a big if though. I think you could do it though!

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    1. *Nod* Even when it’s just allergies and not serious illness, yes – something like that takes “spoons” (as some put it); a certain amount of your time, energy, and concentration is tied up with just dealing with everyday stuff.

      I agree it’d be really difficult to portray well in a novel – especially to portray in such a way that we’d still want to read it! I was thinking more along the lines of “given all the other horrible things that happen to characters in the middle of saving the world, why shouldn’t a hero have to deal with the stomach flu from heck?” 🙂

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      1. Mmm, yeah. I do think there could be a lot of suspense and tension from a main character who was dying from an illness, that constant clock over their head, and having to sit out battles being like watching a train wreck but being unable to scream.
        When it comes to basic bodily functions in books though they tend to be ignored. I think that’s because it’s hard to find the balance between boring who wants to read about colds and allergies, to ew I already have this in my daily life, and enough focusing on the ‘whiny’ protagonist where is the action. But having the flu, or a women’s period explored but not harped on, enough to make it realistic and relatable would be a great read! For villain’s though it’s hard, next to impossible really, to give someone a cold. The Flu being a virus though is pretty easy, all they have to do is cultivate the virus and inject it into his bloodstream (to my knowledge, I could be laughably wrong).

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  9. Adding to what the others have said, I would also note that it’s usually easier to prevent a cure than to cause a targeted illness. I’ve seen this used quite a few times in stories, where the hero is sick and the villain manages to prevent him from getting his medicine, thus weakening him at the worst moment.
    Without “sufficiently advanced tech”, it’s pretty hard to have a setup that allows the villain to reasonably cause a targeted illness that only hits the hero (and not everyone around him, or the villain and his minions) that doesn’t leave your SoD broken as to why he couldn’t just kill or directly incapacitate the hero. And even the cases where “sufficiently advanced tech” exists to target the hero directly with an illness or other such incapacitant, the setting usually makes it be easier to just kill the hero directly (or for the hero to get healed quickly).

    One of the few cases where an illness or other such incapacitant would be reasonable is if the villain doesn’t mind collateral damage and merely wants to keep the hero hindered stealthily. Introduce a flu or something like that into the hero’s community, so it looks like it’s just a normal “everyone’s passing a bug around, just spend a few days in bed with some aspirin” thing. And even then, mostly for the sake of getting a chance to sneak around and do stuff without being watched, and without it being obvious what was done.

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  10. There’s also the slippery slope of bio weapons to account for. If The Villian looses a supper bug on the hero, there is going to be collateral damage for everyone /around/ the hero — can we say pandemic? — and there is not a 100% chance that said bug will not find a way to turn around and bite The Villian hard. If I recall correctly, Dimmie (spelling?) from your story Upon A Firey Steed found this out a bit more literally than I’m thinking…

    Now, if The Villian does a target specific curse that cannot easily be rebounded back on the caster — or if it is rebounded, has a magic clause that keeps it from effecting The Villian to the same extent as the hero — then… Then you dodge the slippery slope, but wind up right back with a, “find a McGuffin to save the day” scenario.

    Hum. Thought. A villian whipping up a curse laced flu bug genetic locked to the hero unable to mutate into a pandemic level problem? Hero gets knocked out of commission until heroic immune system rallies (IF it rallies; depends on the bug), no threat of pandemic to terrify all and sundry, no pesky McGuffin…. But that brings you right back to, “Why not have a story about the hero catching the flu and the Villian takes advantage?” Save in this case I think the Villian might get some villain brownie points for setting up a round of Xanitos Speed Chess.

    At least mortal combat lets you take an Alexandrian solution to the problem. *shruggs and grins*

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      1. When a card carying member of Club Evil gets ahold of it, even the common cold can become a pandemic.

        I’m also presuming the hero is somewhere on the levels of Epic rather than Average Joe, at which point the common cold really won’t slow them down unless the villian is…. creative. Which immediately cues me to run for the isolation bunker because ack.

        Now, if it’s an Average Joe, common cold would work without bio weapon panic. Or without a villian needing to inflict it, which negates the original question to a degree…

        Minion: “Why did you inflict Hero with a cold?”
        Villian: “Because I could! Mwa- haha-haha!” <- petty villian, not awesome Evil Genius.

        Though it's just as likely I've been playing too much Xenoblade Chronicles X and am overthinking things. That game gives my bunnies Grade A Deep Thought carrot juice, I swear….

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  11. I wanna see a hero doing this. Maybe a Magehero specializing in sinus headaches? Just apply to badguy before Spell Of Doom,watch out for the falling watermelons!

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  12. Doesn’t have to the hero being sick beinh the villain’s direct fault. The villain could just take advantage of the fact that their opponent had the bad luck to get whatever cold / flu / stomach bug / etc that was going around.

    Because unless your hero is entirely immune to disease, sometimes people just get sick.

    Or the villain in a previous encounter was sick but determined to do this thing TODAY and in the course of their encounter exposed the hero to whatever nasty bug they caught. Hero then gets sick.

    Because sometimes people just get sick. No evil plan unless you count how Mother Nature likes to remind everyone whose in charge.

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    1. I think that ‘the hero happens to be sick and has to fight the villain/monster of the week anyway’-plot is actually not that uncommon. I also think it’s better suited to visual media, where you can just give visual clues for colds/flu/stomach bug, that probably detract less from the story.

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      1. I think it is possible to pull off the sick without bashing the head in with bluntness. It “merely” requires a more subtle prose than Americans are used to. Casting the right mental image while being subtle would be a challenge.

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  13. Hey – I’m new here so hello everyone. My reason for why that sort of trope might be uncommon from an author would be that, in addition to everyone else’s excellent points, if the villain has the axis to the hero to give them the flu or put itching powder in their clothes a more effective goal would be to use that access in a different way – a killing poison, hallucinogenics, access into the hero’s mind if magic is assumed, curses of bad luck etc… (these off the top of my mind and I’ve seen them all to greater or lesser extents. (though it’s still not the most common trope). The other plot hole an author might see in that idea is that the villain might be saving that access or that idea for when it’s most needed – because once used if it’s found out then you can bet a canny hero is going to plug that hole in security (removing the spy, new wards, more self awareness, learning how to heal from that threat etc…). And villains often have a public moral issue. Voldemort couldn’t poison Harry (though arguably all the issues with the scar count under your idea) because that would (if it got out) tell the Wizarding world that he couldn’t beat Harry in a fair fight. Now the villain doesn’t want to fight Fair but he often has to make his sheeple think he is – or at the least that he has brute strength on his side. Keeps the sheeple from getting Ideas.

    Still it’s not a common trope for the KISS reason of: because fiction often gets segregated: common sense and subtlety and ‘dishonorable tactics’ over in the political intrigue worldbuilding, big Boss fights, epic showdowns and personal power ups in the superhero shoot em up bang bang type aisle. Game of thrones vs. Naruto. Or another example: death note vs. Bleach.

    Not sure if that all makes sense so I’ll leave it there.

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  14. I remember reading an Avengers fic that was kind of along these lines. Everyone got sick with a mild flu. Those with enhanced healing kept not getting symptoms and the virus kept evolving inside their bodies until it could overwhelm their immune systems. Steve was the last to succumb and his virus had become a super bug. It turned out that it was the super bug which the villain (who turned out to be one of SHIELDs scientists who was utterly lacking in morals) wanted. I can’t remember the title, but this is one of the few stories I can think of that used a disease as a realistic weapon.

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  15. My thoughts range more along the range of a mental dont-want-to-go-there type of thing. I have seen side characters or rarely a main character with a degenerative disease (example Bleach) but other than that it is a rare thing. I could see something like that used in the Vorkosigan ‘verse though because of the subtlety. That and if it is ttuly a disease (as opposed to nannites or something) then targeting becomes an issue unless you don’t mind a wide target range. Worse than poison that way.

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  16. There is always the route of the villain doing it by accident, of course. Or the hero. That said, if it’s an accident, then it definitely isn’t going to be a tidy, targeted thing.Then you’ve got to figure out how the population reacts to it in it’s midst. And spreading.

    If it’s lethal, there’s going to be a real panic. If it’s just really, really inconvenient, then you’ve got something a bit more interesting.

    Try looking up the Corrupted Blood Incident from the World of Warcraft. The psychologists loved it.

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  17. I think it’s not so common for some of the reasons already discussed, primarily tedious writing. It got me thinking, though, that I don’t remember many books in which the hero(es) paid much attention to their water supply beyond its existence. Seems to me like a perfect setup for a GI bug. And while I’m thinking of it, why isn’t there more dysentery in fantasy armies?

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    1. Probably because a lot of people don’t really read history. One of the leading causes of death in the Civil War, for example, was sunstroke.

      And yes. Exactly. Magi starts out in a desert. You get a stomach bug in that environment, you could be screwed but awful.

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  18. History has some of the best story fodder, though. People need to pay more attention. I have an ongoing rant on how the probability of infection gets ignored in too many circumstances. It’s not a big issue in real life to most writers, and I get that it’s undignified to have your hero die from that scratch he got hacking through a thicket. It could raise dramatic tension in a lot of situations, though, besides adding to realism.

    In a desert, you don’t even have to be the one with the bug. If someone’s been sick near, say, an oasis, you get the fun situation of deciding whether or not to drink the water.

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    1. *G* It does indeed. I love poking odd bits of history – like samurai in Mexico in the 1600s. They were there!

      And yes. So very much. If you had reliable healing magic that could kill infections, the healers would be considered one of the most valuable assets a fantasy army had, flat out.

      The oasis scenario in specific – if you don’t know how to purify water, you have big problems, yes….

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  19. I’m loving this discussion, so I’m delurking. =) while it is still uncommon in fiction isn’t it far easier to simply poison the hero? Not all poisons are deadly, maybe the villain just wants to make sure that the hero can’t come to the party. Actually I think that’s common to competition based stories, night before the big game/dance off/race, star player (or secret weapon) mets ‘friendly’ who takes them out celebrating and gets them dead drunk, or high or something.

    Ice Princess, the coach/mother of another skater took the hero to buy new skates before the qualifying event, in order to make her fail. (Although why the hero didn’t know you shouldn’t wear new equipment without breaking it in first, I have no idea.)

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    1. *Snrk* You reminded me of a bit from one of the later Action Man eps – after it went from “aimed at young teens” to “aimed at much younger kids”. In that ep Action Man goes to pick up a lost piece of equipment, “Ah, my lucky helmet!”

      Everyone I talked to who’d watched the first eps promptly gave up then and there. Because the way Alex Mann went through equipment and explosions, there was no way he could have a helmet long enough for it to be lucky!

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  20. If were just trying to incapacitate the hero temporarily then food poisoning could work. The drawbacks are it varies on how long it takes to hit…i’ve seen everywhere from 3 hours to 16 hours. The symptoms also vary depending on the amount you got…just cramps, throwing up, diarrhea. However if you have a bug in the hero’s hideout then you can go rob the jewelry store when you know for sure they’re incapacitated…on the other hand don’t underestimate heroic willpower.

    Also if the hero’s party is traveling a lot and they started from say somewhere that has decently clean water there’s a good chance some of the party will end up with some variation of traveler’s diarrhea. Of course again the timing appears fairly random with that.

    You don’t even need a potentially poisoned oasis you just need a dead animal upstream a piece.

    As for itching powder…I actually want to see a hero use it on the evil vizier or magician. Can you picture Aladdin having gotten itching powder in Jafar’s robes and in the middle of a monologue Jafar starts twitching because he’s trying desperately not to itch?

    Whoops that ended up a bit longer than planned ^^;

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  21. Heh.

    Won’t work for “Cuddly!” (my upcoming Camp NaNoWriMo story), but this discussion has definitely got me thinking, and the Bunnies grabbing interesting tidbits. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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