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 How Ed Greenwood writes villains...
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Wooly Rupert
Master of Mischief
Moderator

USA
31496 Posts

Posted - 03 Mar 2015 :  04:51:36  Show Profile Send Wooly Rupert a Private Message  Reply with Quote  Delete Topic
I'm hoping this discussion goes better than the last one... I'm sharing this mostly to give folks a bit more insight into the hows and whys of Ed's writing.

I was emailing Ed on something earlier today, and he tossed out this bit of info; he also okayed me to share it.

quote:
Can't say I disagree with those who hate my villains, but I think they're missing the point: I make EVERYONE in a book look like bumblers, the moment they try clever planning. Because * I * hate books where unrealistically complex and impossible plans unfold like clockwork. ;}

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xaeyruudh
Master of Realmslore

USA
1822 Posts

Posted - 03 Mar 2015 :  14:56:44  Show Profile  Visit xaeyruudh's Homepage Send xaeyruudh a Private Message  Reply with Quote
There's a lot to be said for putting some humanity in characters. I wouldn't want it to get to the point where readers feel like the characters are idiots, and the "right" course of action is always plain to see... but I don't feel that way reading Ed's novels because he also has a lot of blinds and foils. There are always unstated plans and unrevealed secrets in the wings. There's depth, and plenty of the puzzle that isn't visible to the reader at any given point in the story, and that prevents boredom and superiority complexes from settling over me. Works for me, anyway... evidently not everybody.

I for one like to see villains make mistakes sometimes, because it gives hope the side of right and justice. I like the good guys to be imperfect too, because it creates a purpose for the story... it gives hope to the bad guys. I don't really like the backdrop that the good guys will always win, because it breaks the suspension of disbelief, but I think Ed and RAS and others do a great job of obfuscating that eventuality. In the midst of their stories, I can generally forget about the inevitable victory at the end and just enjoy the trip.

I wonder if some of the critics are looking back after finishing the books, and going "psh, Elminster always wins. What a waste of time." Or Drizzt, or whoever. The ending isn't the point. It's everything between the beginning and the end... and in my opinion flubs and foibles are part of telling a good journey. The less fallible the heroes and villains are, the less constantly-wrong they are, the less point there is in telling/reading the story.
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Artemas Entreri
Great Reader

USA
3085 Posts

Posted - 03 Mar 2015 :  15:53:18  Show Profile Send Artemas Entreri a Private Message  Reply with Quote
It's nice to see characters make mistakes. Makes them believable.

Some people have a way with words, and other people...oh, uh, not have way. -Steve Martin

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Seravin
Senior Scribe

Canada
851 Posts

Posted - 03 Mar 2015 :  16:44:11  Show Profile Send Seravin a Private Message  Reply with Quote
My problem with Ed's villains, well...not just villains I guess, is that he will go into an incredible amount of detail about a baddie..say a Zhent wizard, give him massive backstory and henchmen and lines and motives and whatnot, only to have them mean nothing to the story and die pretty much just like that to Spellfire or mowed down by a Knight or a Chosen. He's the only Realms author that I regularly find myself thinking okay if this character has no impact to the plot and is not going to live outside of this book, why am I learning about his past and motives so much? I find his books have thin enough plots that make little sense without going into tremendous characterization and backstory on villains who are killed off without any resistance without making any impact.

I wish Jeff Grubb would write again for the Realms. He had Ed's skill of lore building in the Realms, and wrote great plots and characters in those Realms.
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Eilserus
Master of Realmslore

USA
1390 Posts

Posted - 03 Mar 2015 :  17:37:51  Show Profile Send Eilserus a Private Message  Reply with Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Seravin

My problem with Ed's villains, well...not just villains I guess, is that he will go into an incredible amount of detail about a baddie..say a Zhent wizard, give him massive backstory and henchmen and lines and motives and whatnot, only to have them mean nothing to the story and die pretty much just like that to Spellfire or mowed down by a Knight or a Chosen. He's the only Realms author that I regularly find myself thinking okay if this character has no impact to the plot and is not going to live outside of this book, why am I learning about his past and motives so much? I find his books have thin enough plots that make little sense without going into tremendous characterization and backstory on villains who are killed off without any resistance without making any impact.

I wish Jeff Grubb would write again for the Realms. He had Ed's skill of lore building in the Realms, and wrote great plots and characters in those Realms.



I could be mistaken, but I believe it's one way for Ed to give us NPC's to use in our own campaigns. I know I've written pages of details of spells, magic items, and NPCs from his novels. The Knights and Shadowdale trilogies were awesome for this.

Edited by - Eilserus on 03 Mar 2015 17:38:36
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xaeyruudh
Master of Realmslore

USA
1822 Posts

Posted - 03 Mar 2015 :  20:06:50  Show Profile  Visit xaeyruudh's Homepage Send xaeyruudh a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Tangent regarding poofing characters... we don't know, in real life, who is going to be important to our lives. If books were different, then books would be shallower and more boring.

I can't speak for any author's motives, or for the way others read stories, but I possess the characters when I read. I read Spellfire from Shandril's perspective or occasionally Narm's. I read the Elminster books from inside his head and heart. I am Drizzt when I read books about him. This means I experience the story from "on the ground" and it works for me because when I "meet" a new character I don't know whether they're going to matter or not... and I like that. The other extreme (which I'm sure you're not asking for; I'm just saying it to illustrate the opposite side) is a world mostly devoid of detail because statistically almost none of the details in the story matter to the plot. Trees, nope. Grass, nope. Sky, nope. 90% of the NPCs and 100% of the buildings, nope. If all of that gets stripped out because who cares, then we just have a series of events and appearances, and while we might not know exactly what's going to happen at the climax, we do know exactly who is going to be involved. "The author says this guy has black hair... this is an important character."

Again; honestly not trying to be an asshat. Just saying (1) I would demand a refund if I had the misfortune of buying that kind of book, and (2) I think there's value for the reader in having every character appear to be potentially significant, even above and beyond the DM-value that Eilserus points out. All of those characters have pasts, after all, even if they don't have futures... and as the crazy efforts to preserve storylines through the Spellplague show, they might have futures too regardless of how dead they appear to be at the end of any particular book.

Edited by - xaeyruudh on 03 Mar 2015 20:08:16
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Mothor
Acolyte

5 Posts

Posted - 03 Mar 2015 :  20:30:47  Show Profile Send Mothor a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Hmmmm, from what I noted(I could be wrong) there are way to many arrogant villains that lack any signs of true magnificence or wisdom and just end up getting offed in a very anticlimatic manner.

It is true that overly complex plans hardly ever go as they meant to since there are way to many factors. If something unexpected happens then the plan could end up ruined during step 2...or even 1.

Why do not villains stick to a bit of simplicity then? Or attempt villainous goals that are still kinda in the gray area and so prevent super powerful good guys from joining forces and smashing them.

Or how a dude like Manshoon who was killed like 100s of times never learned a measure of humility nor real respect towards those that offed him? Why not learn from your mistakes and stop underestimating others? Does it mean that being a villain automatically equals excessive pride and foolishness which cannot be tempered even by centuries of staying around?

Another thing that makes me wonder is how so many powerful wizards(to put an example) managed to live long enough to reach such levels of power while staying immature and petty? One would expect those who are to full of pride to be killed early in their apprenticeship.

Edited by - Mothor on 03 Mar 2015 20:38:06
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Tanthalas
Senior Scribe

Portugal
489 Posts

Posted - 03 Mar 2015 :  20:37:10  Show Profile Send Tanthalas a Private Message  Reply with Quote
First let me get this out of the way: I hope Ed's statement puts to rest the argument that "it's the editor's fault", which gets tossed around far too much. I hate it when people use this blanket statement in response to any criticism directed against an author.

As for Ed's reasoning: it's as valid as any other option that an author uses to build his stories. I'm actually in the opposite end where I prefer intricate and meticulous plots being carried out. This doesn't mean that everything goes 100% as planned, in fact, it's more entertaining to see how characters react when a wrench gets thrown into their plan and they need to improvise to make things work. I just think that Ed goes too far with this because at the end it doesn't look like the heroes won, but rather, that the villains lost.

Curiously, my favorite depictions of Elminster have always been when he's written by Ed, because he has Elminster making mistakes and being human. Other authors using Elminster usually make him too perfect. So why don't I have a problem with heroes being idiots? Two reasons probably:

- Since usually the heroes win in his stories (and yes, this is due to editorial guidelines for Realms novels) the villains end up being more idiots than the heroes.
- Contrary to the (far to often) assumption that several people made to just brush off my views, I actually like it when the heroes win. I just want it to feel like the heroes won more due to their efforts and not the fumbling of their enemies.

Sir Markham pointed out, drinking another brandy. "A chap who can point at you and say 'die' has the distinct advantage".
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DandelionClock
Seeker

67 Posts

Posted - 09 Mar 2015 :  13:39:08  Show Profile Send DandelionClock a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I've only started reading Ed Greenwood recently - and I mus say I like this exact thing, although it's a bit early to pin it down exactly, and I might later change my opinion.

The villains are NOT cleverer than the good guys. Finally. There's a lot to be said about a formidable villain, but there's this trope that the good guys are naive and the bad guys are smart and cunning - why shouldn't they both be both, at times? Why not be an evil failure?
As for, why do they not learn humility after havin been offed for the 100th time - that totally fits my experience with most of humanity. Maybe it's the field I am active in right now, maybe I spend too much time on the internet - but honestly, the last thing people tend to do is search the fault within themselves, take responsibility for their shortcoming, and not blame them failing about them over and over again on mitigating circumstances and the fact that EVERYONE ELSE is misinformed, mean, brainwashed, or supported unfairly by higher powers.
Everybody wants change, but nobody wants to change. Banal, but true. Villains - just like you and me!

(I also liked that *everyone* got to be human, kind of. People are allowed to cry. Or when "my" first Ed Greenwood villain died - the Shadowsil - and he went to extra lenghts to be kind to her while she died, wether she deserved it or not. That right there was "good" alignment, going those extra steps. We tend to asign "good" to every character that doesn't kill children and occasionally shows a redeemable trait if we find them fascinating, to the point where I found it hard to explain the alignment system to a friend, and a few days later I stumbled upon that part of the Spellfire trilogy and remembered. I also found it nice that the Shadowsil counted on it, and was glad about it, instead of having an allergic reaction to kindness out of principle.)
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xaeyruudh
Master of Realmslore

USA
1822 Posts

Posted - 09 Mar 2015 :  15:25:07  Show Profile  Visit xaeyruudh's Homepage Send xaeyruudh a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I think the Shadowsil is a special case; she has positive history with Elminster... shared memories and emotions. It's been a while since I've read those scenes, but I think his alignment showed in his shielding and guiding the younglings in confronting the Shadowsil, in spite of his love for her. I don't know that he wanted her dead, but it works even if he did; doesn't make him evil. The point is that once she was downed, love took over. Due to their history, he would have probably reacted that way regardless of their alignments. Just my 2 cents.

Edited by - xaeyruudh on 09 Mar 2015 15:26:52
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DandelionClock
Seeker

67 Posts

Posted - 09 Mar 2015 :  15:28:36  Show Profile Send DandelionClock a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Although he does advise Narm not to let anyone die alone, so it sounded, believably, like it wasn't just personal history alone. That, and the background of betrayal would have probably made some characters even angrier at her.
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xaeyruudh
Master of Realmslore

USA
1822 Posts

Posted - 09 Mar 2015 :  16:24:32  Show Profile  Visit xaeyruudh's Homepage Send xaeyruudh a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Quite true, the advice is Good and good.
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