The success of a story largely depends on how well the writer uses the protagonist’s outer and inner journeys to prove the theme.
But it’s not all just about the protagonist. Behind every successful hero lurks a relentless and resourceful villain.
Novice writers tend to develop their heroes and villains separately, instead of crafting them as polar opposites of a single narrative entity.
If your hero is a clever, clean-cut, Kung fu expert you need a powerful villain to stand up to him. Pacific Rim, is filled with battle-hardened heroic types, manning highscraper-tall machines. The writer had to come up with monster-size villains to threaten them.
The more powerful your hero, the more powerful your villain needs to be in order to generate risk, suspense, and excitement — to dangle the possibility that he may indeed defeat the hero.
Strength, of course, is not merely physical. In Ordinary People, the mom is a formidable and relentless opponent whose implacable determination to take custody of her young son drives the plot forward.
Although villains are crafty and tireless plotters, they are not 100% bad. Remember, villains don’t see themselves as villainous. They feel justified in doing what they do — in their minds, they are merely seeking revenge, righting a wrong, balancing the books, for a perceived injustice perpetrated against them.
Additionally, a successful villain knows how to punch the hero’s buttons. He takes advantage of the hero”s weakness. If your hero is a rich stockbroker, the villain is an even richer businessman who manipulates the market to bring him down. If your hero is a champion boxer, his opponent is a seven foot, three hundred pound Russian giant.
Remember, then, that the hero and villain form a single unit. Identify the hero’s weakness and the villain’s strength, and have the villain take advantage of that weakness — until the last moment when the tables turn and the hero uses the same technique against the him.
Lastly, have the final confrontation play out in the villain’s lair — the place that is most advantageous to the villain. It will raise the tension and fill your readers or audience with dread. Providing you have chosen an up-ending, it will also make your hero’s final victory that much sweeter.
The hero and villain are polar opposites. They form a single narrative unit. Use the hero’s weakness and the villain’s strength to complicate the plot and heighten tension. Reverse this technique to achieve your hero’s final victory.
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Image: Les Haines