King Oblivion, Ph.D., has a doctorate in the Nefarious Sciences from Ocean Trench Fortress University. He is also monarch of the tiny Eastern European nation of Explosia, a title he won in a month-long Rochambeau tournament nearly half a century ago. In his spare time, he enjoys macramé and telling his various minions to avoid referring to him as “Dr. King.”
MattD. Wilson has written humor for websites including McSweeneys.net, Cracked.com, NationalLampoon.com, and ToplessRobot.com. He runs the Internation Society of Supervallains website at The-ISS.com. He is also one of the Bureau Chiefs who run the FaceAPStylebook Twitter account, and cowrote the accompanying book, Write More Good.
Matt, rumor has it you have insider information on the drives that make a man plot to take over the world. Are there certain characteristics you have discovered in the dark dens you visit with Dr. Oblivion (no offense if he prefers His Majesty the King Oblivion Phd...I've never addressed questions to someone of his reputation)? Or does he have certain habits or warps that make him extra dangerous? How might writers learn from your glimpse into his world?
One thing you notice pretty quickly about King Oblivion is that he offers little opportunity for anyone around him to finish, or even really start, a sentence. He dominates every conversation, if you can call them conversations. So when he's dictating, it can be difficult to find opportunities for input. Sometimes, you just have to write in what you can and hope you don't get turned into a statue for a week.
Through the years I'm sure you've encountered a few wannabes. Yawn. What are some differences between wannabe bad and really rotten to the core? Do you have any suggestions to make over a character who just isn't a believable bad guy?
I can't really speak to believeability, since no one in my family believes that King Oblivion forced me to ghost write this book for him, but for effectiveness, I'd say a sense of theatricality makes all the difference. Bad guys who do things the direct way or the easy way are a big snooze. If you're writing meglaomaniacs, you need to make what they do...you know...mega. Planet-scale. Something they announce while they do it. It helps if it's also humanly impossible.
There's nothing wrong with making an antagonist sympathetic or misunderstood, but last-minute changes of heart are almost always cop-outs, especially if they're prompted by remembering some childhood trauma or something. People don't have switches that change them from good to evil. There's got to be more to it.
A truly rotten nemesis makes the heroes all the more heroic. Tell us why you think the bad guy can raise the bar on a whole plot?
Great villains can make stories better in two big ways, as I see it. First, they give the audience something to be passionate about. People can certainly feel anxiety about a bus full of kids hanging off a cliff, but their hatred for the person who put the bus there is likely even stronger. If bad things just happen without cause, there's nothing to focus on after the situation is resolved. Having a bad guy to hate makes for the real catharsis.
The other way is that bad guys add this great air of mystery to so many stories. Think about Dr. Doom or Darth Vader. These are guys with full-face masks that we only learn about in bits and pieces. Sure, Spider-Man wears a mask, but we know who he is from the get-go. We spend the whole story with him. Villains give the audience the opportunity to ask, "What's his/her deal?" They're fascinating characters.
What are some of your favorite baddies (film, literature, etc.) and why? List some characteristics that really give them that X factor?
I mentioned Dr. Doom. He's probably my favorite. There's just so much you can do with him. The Joker. Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men is the best movie bad guy in a long, long time, and he's pretty intimidating in that book, too. Sauron's a great villain. What all those bad guys share is what I talked about a minute ago, this mysterious aura.
Costumes and sidekicks? What is really necessary in the realm of rotten?
Costumes are important. We're talking about people who want to demand attention here, and need to make a big first impressions. Sidekicks are more of a superhero thing. Henchmen are the villain's purview. They need lots of cannon fodder.
Since most of our readers write novels, their villains need to be of a more subtle variety, do you have tips to help writers tap into the realm of supervillainy without having to visit a hideout?
The same things that motivate supervillains can motivate anybody, just to a less grandiose degree. Greed, revenge, sadism, a skewed sense of morality. People don't need complex backstories to explain why they do bad things. Sometimes people just do bad things because they can, or to do what they deem to be fair or right at any given moment, or maybe just to prove a point.
And as amazingly cool as super powers are, can you give us suggestions for super powers on a more psychological or sociopathic level?
It's pretty astonishing how persuasive a person can be if he or she just learns to read someone's body language and subtracts the emotion from a conversation. It's not fully mind control, but it sort of is.
What behaviors have you seen in heroes that make your cheer for the baddie?
Well, you know, they think they're just such hot stuff. Who are you to decide what's right or what isn't, billionaire in a bat costume? Also, heroes whine a lot. I hate whining.