Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Conceal Your Villain

Under the flames, I call to you...

Rose petals lift on breathless wind

Red lies and black blood interlace

The circle has begun again

And flames conceal my face

- Citadel (By me!)

This is a very special installment of Nintendo Made Me a Writer! (Go check out the others on the left sidebar too!) Know why? We have a special guest - Amnesia: The Dark Descent! Say hello!

Oh, did I mention it's a horror survival game? Oops. :) From the creators of Penumbra (Frictional Games), Amnesia is a first person survival that scared the living hiccups out of me. I know most of you probably aren't a fan of horror - I certainly wasn't (note the past tense) - but as an author and a gamer I was incredibly impressed by this game.

How on earth can that relate to writers of non-horror? Well, by Villains.

After a long hiatus, I am proud to reintroduce -

Legend of Zelda Taught Me How to Write, Part 5: Concealing Your Villains. (With guest appearance by Amnesia: The Dark Descent)

This is how to make your villains scary and keep them that way, and it functions on one practical idea: keep them hidden. Not every villain needs to be scary to be effective, but for the ones that do, this is a good rule to keep in mind.

Amnesia: the Dark Descent realizes this, as one game reviewer said - "Amnesia understands that a monster stays scary the less you see of it." - Zero Punctuation

Should you write an entire novel without showing the villain? Not necessarily. But let's look back at our rule, shall we? The more your villain is directly visible, the less frightening he is.

When you see a villain, you see his limitations. But that doesn't mean the villain is inactive. Was Sauron absent in the Lord of the Rings? Heck no. Was Voldemort in HP? Heck no. Ganon is only visible in the last few moments of the game, during the boss battle, rarely before.

So when should villains 'show up'?

A) Dialogue between characters

B) In the effects of their actions

C) Supernatural communications.

A) Pretty self-explanatory. After a supernatural storm has destroyed an island in Wind Waker, the guiding character leads Link to Jabun, the water god. The two talk in the ancient Hylian language for awhile, confusing Link, before the guiding character says, "Yes, it seems Ganon has returned. There can be no other explanation." *shiver*

In Amnesia, Daniel, the MC, has (you guessed it) amnesia. But he left himself notes, notes that tell of this horrible man named Alexander who lives deep in the Castle of Brennenburg. The notes begin to reveal his immortality. As an unnamed monster chases Daniel down through the castle, the notes become more and more uncanny.

B) When a reader is allowed to imagine the scenario their own way, it's more powerful. Leaving the murder scene to a reader's imagination by showing a mutilated corpse can sometimes be much more impacting than describing the death in detail.

Here you can use puppet villains - or inforcers.

In Ocarina of Time (and others) Ganon uses an inforcer named Puppet Ganon. This puppet is more difficult to beat that previous bosses and fights in the same style that Ganon does. But when the dust settles and Link stands victorious, sweat dripping from his brow, an evil laugh echoes in the chamber. Oh yes, we are reminded, that was a puppet. What will the real villain be like, if his shadows are so powerful?

Amnesia takes this to a new level. The majority of the game is spent running in terror from those puppets, their power is sufficient to kill Daniel a hundred times over. Fear of Alexander himself is almost forgotten. Until...

C) Supernatural Communications.

Daniel has flashbacks of memory. We hear Alexander talking to him in his memories - a companion. But he's evil? Right? Right? (hint: villains can also be terrifying when you think maybe, just maybe, they could be in the right.) Alexander's monsters chase Daniel further into the castle, and we hear Alexander speak. Oh, another flashback.


No. It's not a flashback. Holy cupcakes above, Alexander is here!!!!! No... no... but he's talking to me! Mad hatter's mercy! He's TALKING TO ME! In real time! Yeah, it scared the crap out of me. It'll scare your readers too. Alexander communicates with Daniel, trying to dissuade him from his course, by snippets of his voice in certain rooms. Plus 50 to terror.

Legend of Zelda uses this more rarely. It isn't, after all, a horror game. But memories and dreams that have to do with the villain play a powerful part in Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask.

This post is already too long, so here's a summery for you skimmers!

Do not let your readers see your main villain if you want him to remain scary. Never ever ever ever ever ever define his limits. Not until the end. The less you see of a monster, the scarier it is.

So there you go. Thanks Amnesia! We'll see you Friday for the blog about immersion!!

And, as always, I love you, Legend of Zelda.

And, as also always (hehe), I love you readers.




Stina Lindenblatt said...

I don't write horror and haven't read any in a while. A very long way. As in I don't remember the last time I read it. But these are great tips. You don't see the villians in my novels either. They're there. You just don't realize who they are until it's too late. Just like in HP. ;)

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm a total wimp and never read horror - but I'm getting better. I'm getting drawn in by some of the different types of suspense I read :)

Hidden villains is a great idea!

Talli Roland said...

I'm with Jemi - I'm a wimp! I don't read horror, but I think your idea is a good one. :)

Christina Lee said...

This is some good stuff!!!!! helps writing the suspense parts for me--so thx!

Lisa Gail Green said...

You know, I can't help but think of Jaws here. Didn't you never see the shark? You're right, the imagination builds a scarier picture than any we could paint. In a horror film, we're scared the most when waiting for something to jump out of the dark. Good point!

Missed Periods said...

Those are some really good points. I'll have to think about it, but I am pretty sure that those tips could apply to characters who aren't "villains" (if you're not writing that kind of book), but also to the antagonist.

Small Town Shelly Brown said...

I like this A LOT! I'm going to think about ways to write out my main villain from some of the scenes and focus on the puppet more.

aquarium supplies said...

Damn.. Amnesia really scares me a lot, the protagonist is completely defenseless !