Tag Archives: writing villains

So, I’m writing a story where the main character is being targeted by a really powerful demon (lol), but the mc only has basic training and hasn’t died yet because his enemy is basically playing with him. Could you give me some links as to how I can improve my character, so he won’t get pwned anymore and so that he can eventually beat the demon? I want the fights to still be realistic but I know nothing about fights. Thank you for your time!

I loathe questions like this. Not just because of “lol” and “pwned,” though those aren’t doing you any favors.

We get a lot of questions that boil down to, “how can my character win against vampires, werewolves, demons, or the cyrokinetic, space monkeys that took over the med-sci annex.”

The problem is, “demon” is a basically meaningless term. Unlike most kinds of monsters, you can’t really narrow this one down. Demon could range from an ill-defined monster, to the former agent of a monotheistic deity that was directly responsible for creating the universe your characters live in.

Bonus points in that we’re talking about a “powerful demon,” which is exactly as meaningless. Powerful in comparison to what, exactly? More powerful than a talking rat with glowing red eyes, but no other supernatural powers?

If you’re talking about demons of the fallen angel variety, then there’s a pretty decent chance nothing your character can do will affect it. Something directly involved in writing the laws of physics, and capable of entering or leaving the world on a whim probably isn’t going to be particularly impressed with your right hook, or a nuclear detonation. This is assuming it has a physical form at all, and isn’t simply a possessing entity.

If it is a disembodied spirit that possesses its victims, there’s not much your character can do to harm them. Especially if the demon can jump bodies on the spot. At that point all your character can do is hurt their friends, while the demon messes with them. Or, end up getting possessed themselves, and watching as the demon murders their friends and loved ones.

If you’re talking about a physical being that ported in from some kind of exothermic afterlife, then sure, your character might be able to do something. Especially if you just mean, “powerful” in the physical sense. Of course that kind of a demon could easily be enormous.

It really depends on your setting.

So, what can your character do? Get his teeth kicked in. Outside of games, demons are almost never about piling on more force. They require your characters to be more intelligent, more cunning. It’s a creature you can’t punch, or chainsaw to death. You probably can’t outwit it. Your character needs to be careful, and look at the situation they’re in. Also, possibly, the exact moment your villain completely loses control of the situation… assuming they haven’t been a demon the entire time.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of heroes who survive based on the villain’s largess. Maybe it’s just that I don’t have the requisite supervillain mindset (or actually read a few Evil Overlord Lists). I mean, honestly, if you’re a maniacal supervillain who refuses to off the hero, you’ve no one but yourself to blame when they inevitably come up with a last minute plan to foil your schemes. If it was me, I’d just wax them and be done with it. Nothing good can come from letting a hero wander around your territory making little messes.

-Starke

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What do you think of a character who has plot armor as their magic power? Like, they can get shot in the shoulder but not the head, so they dodge towards the head rather than protecting it. I feel like it might be a fun sort of twist on a genre where the character can’t die regardless of in-universe acknowledgement, but I’m worried some would find acknowledged plot armor boring even though they already knew the character would live even if the character didn’t know they had plot armor.

It’s not plot armor if it’s following the internal rules of the setting.
I’ll say this again: Plot armor only applies when you’re breaking the rules of
your own setting to get a character off the hook. A character who cannot die
because of in-universe reasons doesn’t have plot armor.

Having characters that are immune to harm is a pretty significant writing
challenge. It’s not insurmountable, but it does take more effort and care. The
jeopardy your character faces, needs to be a little more sophisticated than,
“what if I get hurt,” and “what if I die?”

Physical harm is usually enough to maintain tension for a normal character.
This can fail hilariously if your audience is so annoyed with them that they
actually want to see your character come to harm, but that’s a unique
situation.

When your character is completely immune to physical harm, you need to think about what
they’re actually doing, and what will actually happen if they fail. One man or
woman cannot be in two places at once. They cannot protect everyone. A cagey
foe can use that against them, distracting them by threatening their friends or
family while enacting their real plan. Or even simply finding ways circumvent
their immunities.

As a philosophical statement, all power must derive from somewhere. This isn’t
really a theological statement (though you can use it as one, if you really
want). For a character who has a power which renders them immune to harm, there
needs to be a cause. A smart villain can use this against your character.
Identify the source, and you can start to understand the limitations, or find a
way to subvert it. A character who receives their protection from some divine
source, might be mislead into betraying their creed, potentially invoking the
wrath of their deity in the process. A character who is protected by a mystical
artifact may only be protected from certain kinds of harm, or from certain
sources. Alternately, the artifact in question may be vulnerable to harm, not
necessarily physical.

A character who cannot be hurt is simply another puzzle for your villain to
solve. A character who is complacent in their immunity and careless with their
secrets is inviting their foes to find a way to break them.

Even a careful character who tries to hide their immunities is still
vulnerable to a foe who starts looking outside the box and finding a way to
stop them. If nothing else works, simply burying them in rubble or concrete
should be enough to slow them down, if the villain has a plan that’s close to
fruition.

They may also look for means to temporarily strip your character’s immunity.
This may be as simple as a separate MacGuffin that renders your character
mortal, or it could be an attack on the source of their power, as I mentioned
above.

Never underestimate the value of a kind word and a human shield. One of the
easiest ways to stop a charging hero in their tracks is to set them against
someone they care about. Turning their friends and allies against them, by
misrepresenting their actions is a legitimate option. It doesn’t matter if your
character can’t be harmed physically, when you can get their best friend or
true love to stand against them. Hell, sometimes just calling the cops or city
guard will be enough to stop an invulnerable hero in their tracks. Are they
really willing to fight their way through innocents to stop your villain? If
so, what will the long term consequences be?

A superhero who turns on the cops, guns down their best friend, and manages
to stop a hitman from assassinating the president has still destroyed their own
public image, and can never go back to who they were before. In the eyes of the
law, they’re still a murderer. Maybe that was your villain’s true goal all
along. Not to kill your character, but to make
them
suffer for opposing your
villain in the first place.

Of course, your villain’s true goal may have been to use your immortal hero as
an example of everything that’s wrong with superheroes, and why they need to be
hunted down and obliterated, or they may have had a plan to spin the entire
situation so they come out looking like the real hero, and use your character
to cement their rise to power.

Having a character who can’t be hurt is an entirely legitimate choice. It
requires a different approach to how you handle them, and it requires a
different kind of story. You can tell some really fun stories with them, the
only limit is how ruthless you want your villains to get.

-Starke

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I need some help, in my novel my main character has a lot of skills with swords but people on my fantasy planet have powers, so when my main character battles the villian won’t it seem usles to use swords when they can use powers?

Okay, I think you’ve mentally ended up in a rock, paper, scissors conflict. Which is it goes round and round until you decide one is inherently superior to the other so there’s no point in using it like rock or paper. Everyone chooses rock, right? So the best choice is paper! What’s the point of using scissors if it’s always smashed by rock? Even though scissors are still a viable option as they cut paper, they get ignored because they’re seen as less useful.

Except, scissors cuts paper. If someone comes to a match expecting their opponent to throw rock and think the best move for them is paper, then you change your move to… you guessed it. Scissors.

Right now, you’re thinking of those swords like some people think of scissors. Useless because everyone else has a rock. So step back for a moment, if your character is surrounded by people with powers and but has none of their own, they put their time in training with swords (or a variety of different weaponry, give them some credit here) then wouldn’t a part of their training also focus on dealing with people who have powers? Wouldn’t that be part of what they’re preparing for as it’s an eventual inevitability?

You have a character who is an underdog. They are absolutely at a statistical disadvantage, which is sort of the point of your story. However, if your characters are at a disadvantage, they don’t need to enter the conflict as if it’s on an even keel. If your hero cannot fight your villain then they must find a way to either:

A) Find aid to defeat them, some way to bring themselves up to their level by way of a friend helping them or through some other means. (If you’re writing a love story then it’s often the lover combining their powers with the hero to empower them.)

B) Find a way to bring the villain down to their level.

C) Subvert the villain’s advantages through some other means.

D) The hero goes to certain death, intentionally playing for time on the hopes or plan that someone more capable is going to defeat the villain.

If you can’t defeat someone conventionally, you find alternatives. If you want a “man to man” kind of fight then you build your hero and antagonist as equals where the skill difference between them is manageable or can be managed by the story.

You can build a very interesting story around a hero going on a quest or finding a way to subvert the villain’s magical powers. They might start feeling that it’s impossible and then through their journey with a side of character development realize that they either 1, don’t need to go through it alone (power of friendship), or 2, they figure out a solution to their problem that they can handle by themselves.

You have to decide that though and you need to come up with it yourself.

What you’ve created for yourself is the old analogy:

“Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.”

And now you’re gotten stuck on it. Your hero brought a sword to a magic fight. It seems impossible when you look at it from that direction. He’s totally outmatched, right? Magic beats swords. Guns beat knives.

However, the fact is that the knife can be quite dangerous in a gunfight, most people who do don’t stand opposite at ten paces and wait for the go signal so the other guy can shoot them. They start close and attack before the guy with the gun has time to draw. Can’t use a gun if you can’t get it out of your holster. It takes time to aim and fire. If the guy with the knife starts within grabbing distance as most muggers do, already has the knife out, and closes the distance then it’s over long before it gets started.

Funny, isn’t it?

Not so much, actually. The knife/gun thing happens in real life and people have died as a result of it. A large portion of people who choose to carry a gun as a form of self-defense get caught up in the same idea you did with magic. That so long as you have the gun, it trumps other weapons. All the hours put in at the shooting range don’t help much if they haven’t been practicing point shooting, quick draws, and learning to be aware of your surroundings.

Statistics, advantages, and conventional wisdom all have their place but when they’re keeping you from stopping, sitting down, and problem solving your situation. If you’ve hit a dead end then it’s time to go back to the drawing board and your setting’s magic system. Powers and magic needs limitations, it’s easy to make it so that they can do everything but not only is that unhelpful, it’s also boring. Sit down and think about limits and weaknesses that you can put on the setting’s magic system. There’s Vancian systems like in Dungeons & Dragons for wizards where they can only perform a certain number of spells per day or ones they’ve memorized. There’s Fullmetal Alchemists’ equivalent exchange.

One of my favorites is from L.E. Modesitt Jr’s Saga of Recluce where the forces of Order and Chaos meant that you could only perform certain types of magic certain ways with nasty side effects such as headaches, backlash, and extreme hunger just for doing it, much less doing it wrong. Chaos mages, though far more aggressive and actively destructive, for example were all doomed to die young and turn to ash. Their magic aged them rapidly. Those who totally immersed themselves too much in chaos could be killed simply by coming into contact with an object created by an Order wizard and even metals commonly associated with Order could be toxic such as an iron arrowhead. Order wizards, meanwhile, build. They can live for a very, very long time if they maintain their rigid orderly lives, but order is also extremely dull. Their creations can be actively destructive, but they themselves are limited to protection. They can only work magic through objects such as a staff whereas Chaos wizards just channel. Both groups need to eat a substantial amount of food or they start to waste away as the magic they use has a direct effect on their bodies equivalent to performing strenuous exercise. They can be blinded or even killed by overdoing or channeling too much magic.

One of Starke’s favorites is Mage: the Ascension (note: not Awakening) an urban fantasy/punk rock RPG system from White Wolf which features a concept called Paradox. Mage’s world is built on a consensus reality and the power of will, if everyone believes that there is no magic then there is no magic except for that one guy over there with a lot of willpower who decides there is and is now overriding everyone else. The trick with magic and paradox is that you can do magic, so long as you don’t get caught. If you get caught doing something that shouldn’t exist according to the consensus then you receive reality backlash that makes the spell go awry. Paradox doesn’t care about your intentions, it only cares if you did it.

This brings us to the “Threefold Law” in Wicca which firstly a real religious tenet and secondly is similar in concept to karma. It also appeared in Gerald Gardner’s 1949 novel according to the Wiki:

“Thou hast obeyed the Law. But mark well, when thou receivest good, so
equally art bound to return good threefold.” (For this is the joke in
witchcraft, the witch knows, though the initiate does not, that she will
get three times what she gave, so she does not strike hard.)

If you use a fantasy magic system in line with the Threefold Law then it’s an ethical test for your mage. You do good with your magic then you’ll receive good, but do bad or selfish acts and you will receive bad in turn.

You may not want something that costly for yourself, but it’s worth going through the fantasy section at your local library and making note of the different magic systems, the costs, and what they affect.

I’m not the biggest fan, but Jim Butcher’s Furies of Calderon starts with a protagonist who has no powers and has to live by his wits. (The first (few?) books anyway.)

So, instead of pondering your hero, ponder your setting and your villain. Once you know how both work, it often becomes easier to see the path out.

-Michi

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Are there any other reasons for a villain to “destroy the earth?” Cause reasons like “to start a new” and “revenge!” is just so boring to me.

Plenty. Before I start though, I’m going to point out, “destroy the earth” is a very cheap narrative device. It’s an attempt to generate tension with the reader by saying, “hey, you live on Earth, you care about living, hey, I’m going to try to make you care by blowing up something you know.” This also runs under the surface of the “New York/Paris/Wherever gets blown up,” and “terrorists will detonate a nuclear weapon,” narrative.

That said, you can uses them. 24 managed to crank out 9 or 10 seasons of threatening to blow up cities or otherwise annihilate western civilization on a remarkably short schedule. But it is a cheap device, and it’s entirely possible to lose your readers on this.

Blowing the place up is probably more interesting than the threat to do so, and can catch your readers off balance. “Of course your heroes are going to save the day, that’s what they… oh…” Just make sure you’ve got someplace to go, once you cross that line.

So, here’s some random reasons:

It was in the way: This might be to create the Douglas Adams Memorial Hyperspace Overpass, or it could be someone just wants to shatter the planet, so the mineral wealth is easier to mine in an asteroid field. It could be the planet is in the path of an interstellar super weapon.

An Accident: This could be your villain is just that bumbling, however it could also be that they really don’t care.

The aliens in Roadside Picnic come to mind as an example of the latter, along with nearly all of the aliens in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. These are beings which barely even perceive humans, or view the as stray pests.

This is also possible as an unintended outcome of some technological development. For example, during the Manhattan Project there was reportedly a fear that detonating a nuclear device inside the atmosphere would result in a chain reaction, burning off the atmosphere.

A similar possibility would be the danger of an engineered bio-weapon getting into the wild and annihilating the population.

Prophesied: I’m throwing this one in here because it’s legitimate, but I’m going to start with a warning: Writing prophecies can be very tricky. They run the real risk of being horribly cliche in their own right. As a writer it can be very tempting to say, “well, yeah, that’s how it will play out,” because you’re the one controlling the future of your setting.

With that in mind, it’s entirely possible to have someone who is trying to destroy the world because they want to summon some apocalyptic horror, or usher in a new golden age for their sect in the aftermath. This could be real, or they could be cribbing off a 300 year old fast food menu, and drawing their conclusions on how to bring about a new era that way.

We Can’t Let The Reds Win:

Scorched Earth is adult version of saying, “if I can’t have it, no one can.” It’s entirely possible to have a villain who would rather see the world burn than in the hands of your heroes, or some third faction.

This could be some variation of WWIII, or it could be a lone crazy falsifying a nuclear retaliation when none is called for.

An Object Lesson: As with prophecies, this one can be tricky to handle. But, if your villain is threatening to blow up the planet to ensure fealty, sometimes it’s just going to be more efficient to get it over with.

If you’re a comically exaggerated super villain: Stop telling me how you’re going to blow up the planet to “send a message” and just do it.

Obviously, you can mix and match these as you see fit. They’re not mutually exclusive. You can have a mix of the above in play. This also certainly isn’t a comprehensive list, so you don’t need to feel constrained by the examples above.

Your villain wants to destroy the world, obviously they feel they’re getting something out of it. You just need to ask yourself, “what is it?”

-Starke

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Strength in Adversity

On the Knight post last week, Brainstormideas made a pretty good point. It was something I glossed over, because I was “doing the math in my head”, and forgot to really explain the reasoning.

@brainstormideas said: If you’re writing a novel, I think this would be an interesting conflict for the story. What with her challenges with training and fitting in. I would certainly read it. If it was too easy it wouldn’t be an interesting read.

This is absolutely true. Your stories need adversity. Without it, you don’t have a story. At the most basic level, creating adversity is trivial; all you need are elements that make your character’s life harder. That’s easy, hard part is balancing that against what your character can handle, to create a compelling narrative.

When you’re creating the adversity it doesn’t need to actually be a physical opponent. It can be an internal failing; hubris and addiction are both classic examples that can create compelling stories without requiring an external foe.

You, as the writer, control your story’s universe. When someone says, “you can’t do this in your world,” that isn’t strictly true. The hard and fast rules that govern the real world don’t apply. They survive as guidelines. “Paint within these boundaries unless you really know what you’re doing when you cross the line.” But, no one’s going to stop you.

You can throw overwhelming force at your character, and have them come through smiling and spouting witty one-liners. No one (outside of an editor) will stop you. But, that also doesn’t make your hero more awesome, or stronger.

Characters don’t suffer adversity the way real people do. Oh, most writers want them to be as close to authentic as they can get, but that’s not the same.

When a real person gets put through hell and comes out the other side, it’s on them. They suffered, endured, and moved beyond it to survive. When a character gets put through hell, they present the illusion of suffering and endurance, but it’s the author who has to move them beyond it. Push too far, and your audience’s suspension of disbelief will break, killing the credibility of everyone below.

Setting the stakes too high, and then wining through authorial fiat is really a loss. Your characters didn’t overcome the challenges you put in front of them; you cheated for them. And, in the process you created another Mary Sue.

Set those stakes to low and you’ll be left with a character that feels overpowered, even if they’re not. They become “giants in the playground,” and even under the best circumstances, your story won’t work unless your characters are picking on someone their own size.

Properly balancing adversity is not easy. You need to present obstacles that look insurmountable, that you can chip away a piece at a time. You need to make sure your characters are prepared for their opposition, without making it look like you tailored them to overcome this specific issue. You need to make it look like it’s still a continual threat even as you close in on your story’s climax.

If your protagonists aren’t supposed to overcome their adversity, just to survive, then you can actually push much stronger adversity at your character. Let me offer an example of how this works, using the Knight question:

If the goal is to present a character who staggers through her training, battered but defiant, then pushing her into training nine years after all of her peers started is actually fine. She’d be somewhere between a pariah and a tourist for her fellow knights. She’d never be fully accepted, but if that’s not the endgame, it doesn’t matter.

You can even do compelling things with her further down the line, where she has the formal recognition, but not the social connections that come with her position.

If your goal is for your hero to overcome, find acceptance among her peers, become a full member of her knightly order in good standing, then starting her nine years late is a bit too far. Just by being put into consideration by a patron, she’s already going to be marked out by anyone who got their “on their own merits,” even if they were really there because of their own backers.

Just being a teenager provides enough internal adversity to hang a story on it in any setting. You can look at the YA section of nearly any bookstore if you want an example of that.

Having her enter training late will add more tension, even if it’s just a couple years. But, asking her to play catch up for a decade of work is overkill, even if the purpose is just for her to never be fully accepted.

We’ve both see this a lot, even in published work, where the adversity is ramped into the stratosphere on the idea that it will make the characters more badass. When you’re setting up adversity, it is really easy to go too far. Creating a villain that is too competent, stacking the deck too hard against your character, and getting a situation where there is no way your hero can win. If you don’t want your hero to actually win, that’s great.

I don’t think The Empire Strikes Back would work nearly as well, if Luke and Leia cheated a win out of the end. The point isn’t victory, it’s surviving, and in the process, it’s compelling as hell.

But, by the same measure, if you do want your heroes to win, you need to balance your antagonists to allow it without just throwing the whole game.

-Starke

FightWrite: Respect Your Adversaries

Remember the bad guys on those shows you used to watch on Saturday mornings? Well, these guys are not like those guys. They won’t exercise restraint because you’re children. They will kill you if they get the chance. Do not give them that chance.

Helen Parr, The Incredibles

There are a lot of quotes I’ll pull from for writing about combat. However, when I think about adversaries this is one from Helen Parr is the one I always come back to. It emphasizes a critical failing that most writers have in the initial setups with their villains, with their mooks, with enemies in general. They spend so much time thinking about the fight with the bad guy that they forget about the bad guys. They forget that whatever conventional rules or moral truths their hero clings to, their bad guy doesn’t have to share. They won’t play nice, they won’t pull punches, and they play by a completely different set of rules.

They will kill you if they get the chance.

Who are your characters adversaries? What do they do? What is their history? A character that has spent their life working as a mercenary and guerilla fighter for African warlords, poaching and running illegal goods is going to be on a very different and darker level than a teen practicing aikido and karate. They live their life with much higher stakes and are likely to respond accordingly. If you’re writing and this conflict set up is just to show that your protagonist is a bad ass, if you take this one on one fight like these characters exist in similar worlds then the scene really does have a problem. (Other than the fact the protagonist probably just opened the door to be greeted by a jury-rigged claymore. Boom.)

All combat histories are not the same, context changes everything. If you want the reader to take your story seriously, then you should take your antagonists seriously. Don’t be afraid to call your protagonist out for their overconfidence. Don’t be afraid to call them out on their protected status. This is especially true when writing about teens and other children facing adult enemies. If your teen has not lived a violent life (or even a violent but protected life) and is out on their own for the first time, they will discover the world they thought they had a grasp on is entirely different. Teens are always in a transitional stage, they are moving into adulthood, they are growing up but not there yet. Respect that they don’t know everything there is to know (even if they think they do), respect that they’re status has been protected by some other force as they grew through childhood and now they’re fair game. If they fuck up, they’re going to have to get themselves out of it and the cost of screwing around can no longer be bartered off to anyone else. Innocence is on the chopping block.

My favorite part about the Helen Parr quote is that it is not about Syndrome, it’s about his minions. The guys we laugh at in superhero movies, the duds, the screw ups, the window dressing, the guys the main characters never really have to worry about. Now, now they have to worry about them. Pixar wasn’t afraid to show us how fragile Dash was when after all his punches to one of the bad guy; it just takes one to knock him off the flyer. It wasn’t afraid to point out that when Violet thought she could disappear into the water and hide, the mook could problem solve by throwing dirt in the water to show her outline. Even though the kids did win, it was made clear that we shouldn’t take these characters lightly. They weren’t people who could be easily beaten by average children and that’s part of what made Violet and Dash’s victories sweeter as they grew into heroes.

If there are enemies in your novel who are dangerous, then they are dangerous for a reason. Pay your respects to these characters by making your protagonists way past them hard. Don’t cheapen the journey by making things easy or the fight one sided. Stack the deck against your heroes and let them find their own way through the darkness.

-Michi

On Villains: Some Thoughts

Personally, I love villains. Whether that villain is physically represented as a person, the crushing weight of external circumstances crushing down the hero, or their own internal antagonist pushing them around by their flaws and fears, a good villain is one piece that a story can’t do without.

What is the role of an antagonist?

The role of an antagonist is to create conflict within the story. This is their primary role. If they are not an acting catalyst for conflict in the narrative, then you’ve got a problem. (Your hero should also be creating conflict.)

Make Them Better Than Your Hero:

What is your hero’s goal in life? What is it they want most in the world? Who do they want to be? What do they want to be good at?

Give those traits to your villain.

When your villain is everything that your hero thinks that they want in life you can create great conflict by having them reevaluate those goals. You worry the reader because we know that the villain is a better X, be that a better leader, a better strategist, a better fighter, or a better politician. It gets even better if they fit into and are good at the things the hero is not good at. Your hero may be the greatest swordsman in the world, but he sucks at world play and politics. This may seem like an advantage at first, except that the villain can control all the inner workings of the city and control public opinion. Where the hero is a battering ram, the villain is a spider plucking at their web. The hero must find a way to get to them, but they have to do that without landing their ass in jail.

A great representation of this strategy (when it’s handled right) is Lex Luthor versus Superman. Lex Luthor is the corrupted version of all the ideals Superman has sworn to uphold. Superman can’t just go battering down Luthor’s door and deal out justice, he has to prove that Lex is in the wrong. But, Lex is protected by government officials and public opinion, every time Superman tries to catch him, Lex slips away. The same is also true for Lex, he sees in Superman all the power that he dreams of having. He wants to be the Lex Luthor version of Superman and it gnaws away at him.

Take Them to the Extreme Edge:

Hero: “I want to be free.”

Villain: “I want to be free and the only way I can be is if I enslave everyone else.”

See the difference?

Some antagonists live in extremes and they take it to the furthest edge. A noble goal on it’s own is just a noble goal and it may even be the same goal that the protagonist has. In fact, if your hero is someone who hates the status quo and wants to be free but is forced by the villain to defend it through the virtue of their own ideals then you have some great internal conflict. In the end, your hero and your villain want the same thing but the ways that they go about getting it is what makes all the difference.

Through the Mirror Darkly:

Some of the best villains and hero match ups are drawn from the same place with the added bonus fear that if the author flipped them around that they would each become the other. I always hold up Darth Vader versus Luke Skywalker in the Original Star Wars Trilogy as one of the premiere examples of this theme.  Vader represents Luke’s possible future, he is what Luke could become and what Luke fears he will become. Vader acts as a looming threat in the narrative, not just to the success of the heroes physical, real world goals but also their spiritual ones. As we learn more about Vader, we know that the monster was a man once and that leaves the possibility open that any Force wielder (in this case Luke) could become him. More than that, once we know the truth, we know that Luke will continue to put himself into danger to save Vader and that brings him into orbit of the villain that acted as the catalyst to make Vader what he is. As the narrative evolves between the three movies, what Vader’s role changes in what he represents thematically. However, without him, the narrative would completely fall apart.

-Michi