Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Villain Monologue

The villain monologue isn't traditionally all that prevalent with traditional fantasy, but it's a staple of mystery. Since urban fantasy is usually centered around a mystery, and since urban fantasy is infiltrating other subgenres of fantasy, I am seeing it more and more.

The Incredibles did a delightful mockery of the villain monologue. The gag starts here:

Lucius: So now I'm in deep trouble. I mean, one more jolt of this death ray and I'm an epitaph. Somehow I manage to find cover and what does Baron von Ruthless do?
Bob: [laughing] He starts monologuing.
Lucius: He starts monologuing! He starts like, this prepared speech about how feeble I am compared to him, how inevitable my defeat is, how the world will soon be his, yadda yadda yadda.
Bob: Yammering.
Lucius: Yammering! I mean, the guy has me on a platter and he won't shut up!

And it leads to this:

Mr. Incredible: I was wrong to treat you that way. I'm sorry . . .
Syndrome: See? Now you respect me, because I'm a threat. That's the way it works. Turns out there are lots of people, whole countries, that want respect, and will pay through the nose to get it. How do you think I got rich? I invented weapons, and now I have a weapon that only I can defeat, and when I unleash it . . .
[Mr. Incredible throws a log at Syndrome, who dodges it and traps Mr. Incredible with his zero-point energy ray]
Syndrome: Oh, ho ho! You sly dog! You got me monologuing! I can't believe it . . .

I have noticed two types of monologues:
  1. When the hero tries to keep the villain talking, so the hero can figure out a way out of the fix he's in.
  2. When the villain is simply bragging, as above.
Either way--and let's face it--the villain monologue is simply a way to infodump the reader with any missing pieces to the plot puzzle. My preference would be that the hero figure most of it out for himself. It might make the novel a bit longer, but as long as the action keeps coming, I can't see that as a bad thing.

The monologue usually occurs in first-person novels, or in close third-person, where the villain doesn't get any time as the POV character. It doesn't usually happen in traditional fantasies, where you know who the villain is and your job is to stop him/kill him/render him harmless. But when you have twisty plots, I can appreciate the fact that it's difficult to communicate all the twists to the reader without resorting to a monologue.

I mostly see monologues in the lighter mysteries. I don't recall any monologues in the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series, or in Maisie Dobbs. Both novels feature smart heroines who manage to figure it all out, with a bit of help from their friends. And I love both series.

What do you think of villain monologues? Good? Bad? Indifferent?

* * *

I have something special planned. I have started working on a One Year Later series of guest posts. I already have four authors who have agreed to participate. For these posts, I have asked the authors to tell us about their first year as a publish author. I plan to cover both authors that I have coverd before, as well as authors who will be new here. I hope you enjoy it.

Check back tomorrow for the first installment!


Maria said...

Strangely, I prefer monologues to changing POV all the time. Yes, in some writing it's painfully obvious that it's an infodump--but in some ways, it's just expected. I don't usually mind it all that much, especially if it is handled gracefully.

POV, however, is a very quick way to make me put a book down. It requires an attention shift, which gives me time to...go get something to eat. Go outside and check the weather. Check my email. Too many shifts back and forth and I don't finish the book.

Shrug. Everyone is different and some things work for some readers that won't work for others!

Mulluane said...

The one year later idea is fantastic! I'm looking forward to that one.

As far as monologues go, I read fantasy and like you pointed out, generally you know who the bad guy/girl is and usually (not always) they play their roles from afar. Now info dumps in general, I hate. I'm a fan of showing, not telling and I HATE "Well you know Bob...." type scenes where Bob gets a description of stuff he has known from birth.

On the other end of the scale, I love it when info dumps are handled with skill, reality and inventiveness such as a person who could not possibly know the information getting it told to them for very logical reasons.

LOL, hope that made sense!

Tia Nevitt said...

POV doesn't bother me. Maybe that's because I read lots of genres, and head-hopping is more common in other genres. And it's pretty common in the classics.

Clever infodumps are always appreciated!

Merc said...

I like POV... I think I tend to prefer it to monologues, as, frankly, anywhere someone DOES start monologuing, all I can think of is The Incredibles. ;)

I think it's more fun when monologues are used a bit tongue-in-cheek, but if you set up the fact the villain talks like this, all the time, I'll buy it. What I find annoying is when the villain is prattling on in a monologue and hasn't done this before, and is only doing it because the author needs to explain everything about the Master Plan. :P

I want to smack them and tell them to hurry up and shoot the hero already.


That's just me though. If done well, I can enjoy a monologue, info dump or conversation.

But, like I said, I will always associate that with Pixar's movie now ;) which, ahem, sometimes it makes it hard to take monologues seriously.


Tia Nevitt said...

That's me. When I run into a monologue nowadays, I think of Syndrome.

ediFanoB said...

I look forward to your One year later series.

I didn't watch the Incredibles.

Anyway monologues are like a lot of other topics partly a question of personal likes and dislikes.

In case you don't like monologues in general you also won't read monologues.

Kelly Gay said...

Great post!

And can't wait to read what you have in store for us tomorrow! :)

Tia Nevitt said...

It's up now! Enjoy!

Tia Nevitt said...

"In case you don't like monologues in general you also won't read monologues."

I'm not really sure I caught the meaning of this. In the context of this article, I meant a monologue in the term of a villain infodump. The makers of The Incredibles coined the phrase; I just followed along.

Janet said...

I hate any kind of artificial infodump. If the story is set up so that passing on the package of information is entirely natural in context, that's fine.

The villain monologue isn't necessarily unnatural. The desire to gloat is very human. But the device has been so overdone that it really requires a deft hand to seem fresh and believable. As a writer, I would avoid it.

Tia Nevitt said...

I actually thought they handled Syndrome's monologue very well, even when they weren't making fun of it.

superwench83 said...

I agree with Janet in that the villain monologue is overdone. But sometimes they work. The really poor ones stand out terribly, but with the good ones, I don't even realize that there's a monologue going on. Like I just finished reading Brandon Sanderson's The Hero of Ages this morning, and until I read this post, I never realized that he used this technique.