Wednesday, April 27, 2016

X is for Xerxes

X is for Xerxes. He was a bad guy. When you write villains, how do you identify them as such? First and foremost, bad guys do bad things. Xerxes is a good example of a classic antagonist. The historic figure of Xerxes is a despot intent on world domination. (Classic baddie) In the movie 300, his villainous traits are amplified. He becomes a (literally) larger than life, morally corrupt, arrogant malefactor.
                From time to time I read or watch villains who just don’t make the cut. In an effort to humanize them or give them at least one redeeming quality, the writers make them “bad guy lite”. But how bad is bad enough? I suppose that depends upon your genre and audience.


                The best villains are those who are able to pull off a bit of humanity but remain unredeemable. Heath Ledger’s depiction of the Joker is a perfect example. He made us smile, even giggle a little when he walked away from the hospital in the nurses uniform, pressed the remote and nothing happened. His reaction was comical. 

Then the hospital exploded and you knew that he’d just murdered countless innocents. He also arranged for a guy to have a bomb implanted in his body so he could explode at the police station. He was a truly bad guy.  And yet in his last moment on screen, he was human again. I give the actor more credit for this accomplishment than the writers. It was an inspired performance.

                Xerxes as we see him in 300 was much less nuanced. He wanted to rule the known world. He amassed an army to accomplish his plan. He cared for nothing and no one, including his own men, which might stand in the way of his goal. He believed that it was his right because he saw himself as a god.
True believers are scary bad guys. These are the ones who believe that the evil they do is for the greater good. They believe that no sacrifice is too great to achieve their goals. That is where they lose their humanity.

The worst of the worst are the villains who enjoy the suffering of others.(See Ramsey Bolton in the Game of Thrones novels) If you are writing horror, this is your guy. I find a villain of this caliber horrifying and no fun to write. There are no layers past his insanity and bloodlust. But he does make excellent gore, if that’s your thing.


A good antagonist is not always easy to write. Xerxes gives us something of a template from which to begin. X is for Xerxes. #atozchallenge
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