Eventually I told her, “You have to get away from him. You have to go away, and get a lawyer, and let the lawyer do all the talking. Because if you stay with him he’s going to keep pushing until he makes you kill him. That’s his goal. That’s his final program—
he wants you to kill him.”
The Worms Of Heaven
I’ve been reading–I finished American Ghoul, and it was very good, I may actually write and official review–and watching television, mostly CSI and Dr. Who, and doing some writing. I’m behind on my Legendary Author Battles, I hope to catch up this weekend.
I have been thinking about heroes and villains in the abstract, and the question of which one is really in control of the narrative. That’s an overly simplistic way to look at things, of course, but I think there is a core question that we, as writers, need to examine as apart of any traditional conflict driven good guy/bad guy narrative.
Does the hero defeat the villain because of who the hero is, or because of who the villain is?
Give that a moment to sink in, and I’ll expand upon it. Because the question isn’t about winners and losers in a quotidian real world sense–who gets the girl, who winds up dead–it is about who is the prime mover in the conflict narrative.
I think there are “hero stories” and “villain stories” and I think it’s important to know which one you’re writing. The Indiana Jones movies are, in my opinion, an example of a “hero story”. Can anyone even name an Indiana Jones villain? They are just kind of generic bad guys–Nazis, evil archaeologists, cultists. They aren’t who you remember–you remember the Man With The Hat. Dr. Jones, Jr. stood for something, honesty, integrity, reason.
On the other hand, Star Wars would not have been the same without Darth Vader. The Empire could have been opposed by any random collection of rag-tag freedom fighters, because the Empire needed to be opposed–the narrative was driven by the existence of the Death Star and what it represented.
Raiders Of The Lost Ark was a fight for something, while Star Wars was a fight against something.
Obviously there is a continuum involved–a well-crafted story will strike a balance between what the protagonist is fighting for and what she or he is fighting against. I do believe, however, that most of the time one or the other is more important to the story.
Sherlock Holmes had Professor Moriarty, who was a foe truly worthy of Holmes’ steel, but on the other hand, Holmes is in a lot of stories without Moriarty. But a story of Moriarty without Holmes? Not much point.
I think that a lot of writers fall into making a story about the villain without meaning to. The hero is supposed to be the good guy, and the good guy doesn’t do nasty things to people without a good reason. So they make sure that the bad guy is a really bad guy, kicks puppies and makes fun of people with speech impediments. “See,” they say, “my hero wouldn’t blow up just anybody–the villain deserved it.”
In the end, though, doesn’t that put the villain in control? I think that can be a trap for a continuing character, making the author come up with villains who need defeating and turning a series into “The Monster Of The Week”. The end result can be seen in the Batman comics, with increasingly bizarre characters who seem to have no purpose in life other than forcing Batman to defeat them.
To be interesting, I believe that a hero needs to own her or his own actions. Much of what they do can be a reaction against the actions of the villain, but those reactions should be based on the hero’s choice to remain true to her or his self, and not be something forced by who the villain is.
Otherwise the bad guys win.