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The Villain-Hero Relationship

Charlie Holmberg

The villain of any story should be just as important as the hero. Why? Because the bad guys are the either the ones making things happen, or the ones trying to stop things from happening. They’re the ones taking over the galaxy or beating up your friend in the hallway. They capture princesses and lock them in towers. They take over the bodies of potion professors.

Villains create a need for the hero to fulfill, and they can do this in one of three ways. First, they can do it passively. The villain is trying to stop the hero from achieving his goal. Second, they can do it actively, where the hero is trying to stop them from achieving their goal. Third, they can do a little of both. This is more like a game of chess, where the hero makes his move and the villain reacts, but then the villain makes her move, and the hero reacts. This is done with try/fail cycles.

Now, every good story consists of try/fail cycles—the hero needs to achieve something, tries one way to achieve it, and fails. But when she tries a different way, she succeeds! And then moves on to the next try/fail cycle until her goal is reached. Villains also need to have these try/fail cycles. They succeed when the hero fails, and fail when the hero succeeds. These cycles compete and overlap with one another to create an interesting and believable plot.

So, how does one make a baddie as efficient and awesome as Darth Vader?

There are three things every villain needs: competency, motivation, and a clear goal that directly conflicts with the goal of the hero. We need to know what he wants, why he wants it, and how he’s going to get it. When the villain doesn’t know what he’s doing, the hero doesn’t know what she’s doing, either.

Let’s dig in deeper:

· Competency: What makes this villain a real threat? Is she a super-genius? Does she have a black belt in karate? Is she remarkably talented in the same field as the hero? Does she have an alarming amount of loyal social media followers?

· Motivation: Why is this villain trying so hard to succeed? Does she hate the hero and wants to see him fail? (Why?) Does she need to win prize money to cover the cost of something? Does she need to take over the kingdom or else everything her father worked for will be for nothing?

· A clear goal that directly conflicts with the goal of our hero: This ties in very closely with motivation. If the villain hates the hero and wants to see him fail, then her goal might be to best him at school elections. If she needs prize money to save her dying cat, she might try to win the local talent competition, even if it means cheating. If she needs to preserve what her beloved father worked for, she’ll scheme, lie, and fight her way to the throne.

The stakes and motivations are raised significantly when the antagonist and protagonist have either directly opposing goals or the same goal. The more personal the villain’s goal is to the hero, or the more personal the hero’s goal is to the villain, the more intricate the relationship between the two. The more intricate the hero-villain relationship, the deeper the conflict. The deeper the conflict, the better the book.

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