The Best Heroes and Villains
(Excerpt from Complete Boot Camp for Fiction Writers)
Motive: The ‘Glue’ of Your Story.
So you have a great story idea. The organic conflict between your hero and villain is priceless, the applied conflict will unfold brilliantly. Whoo hoo you. But did you ever wonder why should my hero even stick around for the fight of his life? Maybe he’d prefer to wander over to Micky D’s for a burger and fries and call it a day. It would be simpler, for sure. Probably way less expensive….. He doesn’t even like the villain, frankly.
The answer to keeping your hero and villain engaged is motive. Motive is the glue that keeps your characters in the game. And the motive had better be a powerful one to see your characters through the pressure cooker you have planned for them, right?
If nothing is keeping your hero and villain together, there is no conflict, and again, there is no story. There must be a reason, a motive that glues these two characters together until the conflict between them is resolved. You must build into your story compelling reasons for your characters to stick with the task at hand.
Glues that Work:
1/ Duty–Character(s) are compelled by professional or moral duty to fight the good fight. (The Last of the Mohicans, Pride and Prejudice)
2/ Location–They are confined together by circumstances and cannot leave one another.(Enemy, Mine, Life of Pi)
3/ Goal–Same goal (prize, win, treasure, prestige, honor). The old ‘two dogs; one bone’ scenario. (Indiana Jones & …, The Pink Panther)
4/ Revenge–Payback for past injury, loss, envy, embarrassment or insult; an ego thing. (Trading Places, 9 to 5)
5/ Love–In defense or protection of a loved one. Very powerful. (The Notebook, Harry Potter)
6/ Honor–In defense of land, country, tradition. Also very powerful. (How the West was Won, High Noon)
Writing Tip: The Best Villains:
The best villains are the ones who could have been a hero if they had chosen a different path.
Show that path choice, that misstep. Can you think of where Michael Corleone made his first step onto a different path? He becomes a corrupt, cold and isolated human being in the end, but we care so much for him, because we see his human side, his betrayers and his betrayals in return and violence that compels action and reaction. We witness his life being sucked away into darkness, see his slow demise. Knowing how he started, watching him abandon each of his ideals, this is heartbreaking to watch. If you were to ask what Michael wants, the answer would be to keep his family safe in a world of corruption. Ask what Michael really wants, the answer would be to live an ordinary, mainstream life separate and away from the family. Michael is actually both the hero and the villain in this story. This is why The Godfather is so riveting. Michael is irrevocably changed by the events of the story.)
A more human villain strengthens your story every time.
The stronger your opposing character, your villain, is, the better your story. While creating your villain, ask yourself what is his ‘super power’ and how does this help him get what he wants. Like your hero, your villain should have an Outer Story and an Inner Story: what he wants and what he really wants. Attention paid to your villain will pay off in a more intense, believable struggle and reader engagement.
Other ways to create a well-rounded villain:
- Show moments of vulnerability
- Place him in jeopardy
- Make him, for a time, the under-dog, the long-shot, the one no one believed in
- Give him hardships
Writing Tip: The Best Heroes:
The best heroes are those who are the most human. Invincible, perfect, confident and unshakable heroes are distant, unrealistic and most importantly, unrelatable. Your reader won’t be able to connect with this hero and live out their actions through the events you have set up in your story.
I’ll let you in on a little secret.
Your reader, as they follow along in your story and your hero’s struggle to do good work in this world is imagining herself doing these things: being the hero, making these choices, saving the world, falling in love with the dangerous man, solving the perfect murder mystery, escaping the tyrannical despot with the two orphaned children, breaking the code in time to save the battalion, and on and on. If all these events are ho-hum, work-a-day, finished up before their first coffee events to your impossibly perfect hero, your readers will drift away.
By reading your story, your reader is living vicariously through your hero’s adventures. Make that hero human, above all else; as human as your reader. Give your hero an Outer Story and an Inner Story by answering the questions: what does she want and what does she really want? By making your hero human, you make their heroic choices and acts that much more exciting and tentative, and actions your reader will be experiencing along with your characters. Will she or won’t she? Can she or can’t she?
Other ways to create a well-rounded hero:
- Show moments of vulnerability
- Place her in jeopardy
- Make her, for a time, the under-dog, the long-shot, the one no one believed in
- Give her hardships
Noticing something here? A little déjà vu, perhaps? I knew I wouldn’t slide this past you. Your hero and villain should be a good, solid match for one another–the light and the dark side of the same coin works amazingly well–with plenty of glue keeping them in the struggle. The push and pull should be strong, the outcome not at all predictable.
Keep your reader turning those pages ….