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The Villain Drives The Story

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Author Steven Pressfield has a theory.

 

Quote

 

Here’s my answer. It might not be anybody else’s answer, but it’s mine.

 

Resistance gives meaning to life.

 

Or to put it in narrative terms:

 

The villain gives meaning to the story.

 

Think about it. If there were no villain, there’d be no story. If there were no Shark, no Terminator, no Alien … if there were no Coriolanus Snow, no Noah Cross, no Hannibal Lecter, we writers would be up a tree with no way down.

The villain drives the story.

The villain gives meaning to the story.

 

 

Who or what is your story's villain?

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First, a theological answer - 

He stated that Adam and Eve dared to steal a share of God's divine nature. Ok, fine. But he goes on to name, Free Will, the Knowledge of good and evil, the capacity to create. I submit that he's batting .300. Adam and Eve already had the free will to choose to do good, or to disobey the One Rule. They also had the capacity, since they were 'made in His image', to create. I don't believe that our creative bent is a result of the Fall at all, and see no biblical justification for that view.

 

Also, i take some umbrage at the idea that the Fall was a great thing for us as humans, though I can see his point as writers. More on that later. I'll give him cred that we love God more, for we have been forgiven more. If there were nothing to forgive, if we were sinless, I suspect we would love God because it's how we are wired, but seeing the wreckage behind us, we love Him 'more', for we are rescued, redeemed, in spite of ourselves.

 

Okay, diatribe over, off the soap box.

 

From a writer perspective, a story without conflict, without stakes, is not a story. If there is no risk, if there is no resistance, if there is no antagonist, there is no plot. Might as well pack up the typewriter and play Frisbee Golf.

 

On my novels, the villains:

Lynvia:

Kever, regent sitting on the throne of Lynvia. A plotting, several moves ahead chess player who has been making hidden moves to permanently place himself on the throne since long before the story began. The reason for the death of the old king in a 'hunting accident'. A frustrated duke of a border region, who has been responsible for keeping invading armies at bay, with little to no thanks or appreciation, no recognition. A man who murdered his own father in ruthless ambition to move upwards. 

There should be better redeeming qualities in him, an internal struggle, some good involved. But his heart is black with ambition and past sin, and he charges forward to his own distruction.

 

Bubba, a hopeless town drunk, running out of his inheritance and one foot ahead of the law, learns accidentally about a possible gold mine opportunity, a genie in the bottle, if you wish, that could make his wishes come true. He begins almost one-dimensional, hopeless and hapless drunken comedy relief, a bumbling villain. But through the course of a wake-up call, he becomes through the series a born-again, contributing member of society, a redeemed ornament of God's grace. 

 

Tark, king of the Western mountains, a ruthless black dragon, and the reason the dragon lands are split into two kingdoms. A human hater, a rage-filled ambitious Conan, this dragon forges ahead based on his own strength and ability to elicit fear in dragon and human alike. Overconfident and pride-filled, headed for a fall of epic proportions.

 

Dimension Doors of Destiny:

Garivan; plotter, devious, a baron who rules through fear and intimidation, subterfuge and assassination. Fatal flaw is overconfidence. Betraying your own henchmen on a whim, his instability will be his undoing.

 

Professor Pilfer: an intellectual, a thief, his driving force is revenge for being exposed as the charlatan he is. His destiny is joined inextricably to Dr. Shaklford, a brilliant physicist. This relationship seems born from too many viewings of the Fantastic 4. 

 

Lyra: an animated, intelligent vine, with the ability to rapidly grow and cover everything with sour grapes. Dangerous, vengeful, distrusting, plotting. Her redeeming feature is that all along, distrusted and shunned, she just wanted to lead her people to a better future. 

 

Charles Walther: tycoon turned regional governor, aimed to become world dictator in a post-apocalyptic society. An immeasurable wealth, still the promise of additional wealth draws him. A user, a manipulator, greed is his fatal flaw,

His redeeming feature is that, in private, he is tormented by guilt at the many who 'have not' for the few that 'have'.

 

Sorry, that covers about 8 books total, TMI I am sure.

 

 

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Heh. I didn't quote the Genesis section because I didn't agree with it, but I take his meaning.

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3 hours ago, MisterChris said:

hidden moves

 

3 hours ago, MisterChris said:

ruthless ambition

 

3 hours ago, MisterChris said:

ruthless

 

3 hours ago, MisterChris said:

rage-filled ambitious

 

3 hours ago, MisterChris said:

Overconfident and pride-filled,

 

3 hours ago, MisterChris said:

plotter, devious

 

3 hours ago, MisterChris said:

overconfidence. Betraying

 

3 hours ago, MisterChris said:

instability

 

3 hours ago, MisterChris said:

revenge for being exposed

 

3 hours ago, MisterChris said:

Dangerous, vengeful, distrusting, plotting.

 

3 hours ago, MisterChris said:

distrusted and shunned

 

3 hours ago, MisterChris said:

user, a manipulator, greed

 

3 hours ago, MisterChris said:

tormented by guilt

I picked out your descriptors to give a condensed view of a villain.  

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There's a major problem with Mr. Pressfield's hypothesis-  his only evidence for it being true is the fact that he enthusiastically supports his own idea.  

 

Look, I don't read stories because of the villains, I read them because of the heroes.  And no, to me, the measure of a hero is not the villain he or she faces.  It's their character and their actions that define them.  That's what pulls me in.  The two dimensional idea that a hero needs a villain is just lame.  Villains have utility in certain types of stories and the element of conflict can be critical, but not, certainly not necessary.  Conflict against the forces of nature could be taken to be representative of a hero/ villain conflict, but only by someone so tied to the idea that the villain drives the plot that can't look at it any other way.  Forces of nature are not sentient, nor do they risk their very souls by their violent action.  The wind, to put it another way, is just the wind.  It's not a villain unless the interpreter of all things literary is compelled to view the dynamics that way.

 

Remember the story "Leinigen versus the Ants" where a man's plantation is being overrun by soldier ants?  It is a man against insects kind of story, but must we really make ants the villains?  I think, from his article, that Mr. Pressfield would, but only so he could continue to rail about his idea that the villain- rather than the hero- advances the story.  I just don't agree with it.  

 

In the scriptures, it's the heroes of the faith I go back to read about, not those who embrace wrong doing.  How about the rest of you?

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I'd just say this - without conflict, there is no story. Whether it's a villain (Man vs. Man) or some other force to push against (Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Self) there must be conflict. And while not all of my favorite stories feature a villain, most of them do.

Pixar's latest, COCO, has a fascinating villain in that he doesn't appear to be the villain for most of the picture. When his true colors were finally shown, it wrapped up a boatload of tantalizingly loose ends.

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