Villains and Heros
Stories are an integral part of our culture as humans. Why? Because our lives are a story. Every story has a hero. In your life YOU are the hero. The hero has the most important job in the story -- to lead the story! If the hero doesn't lead, then the story will be dragging the hero along and the story will be boring. Think about this in terms of your own life. Are you leading your story? Are you being a hero? Or are you letting life happen to you?
Now think about the story you've been working on the last two weeks.
- What does your hero want? It's okay for the hero to express the want -- "I want adventure in the great wide somewhere!" Belle from Beauty and the Beast
- Is your hero leading the story? How?
- What are they learning?
- Are they better or worse for having gone through this experience? Could be either and that's fine.
Some of my favorite animated heroes are Mr incredible, Sid from Ice Age, Panda in Kung Fu Panda.
In analyzing what makes a good hero I thought about the things that made me like these heroes.
1. Relatability. I can relate with all of them. I'm a dad so I definitely related to Mr Incredible. The moment when he saves his family from the bad guys just before Syndrome showed up is what every dad does for his kids regularly, perhaps more so when the kids grow up and are calling home for help because they are in way over their heads.
Sid had heart. He couldn't just leave the baby behind. He's a bit lazy too, just like me, but ultimately it was because of him the job got done.
Panda was kinda dorky but he knew what he wanted. I feel the same way. You get knocked down by others who are bigger and better than you but you keep trying. I think that happens to all of us.
2. Likable. I liked Bob Parr because he was good. He was always trying to help the helpless. I liked Sid because he was just plain funny, and Panda got my affection because he tried so hard. He was a true underdog. I wanted him to win!
3. Flaws. A hero needs a flaw. That's what gives him something to learn. A direction to go. Bob yearned for the glory days, and that's what got him in trouble.
Sid was too stupid to take care of himself. He needed others who would tolerate him and in return they got a loyal friend.
Panda couldn't stop eating. He had a definite want but was always getting in his own way. It wasn't until Shifu showed him how to use his weaknesses to his advantage that he could get out of his own way and go onto becoming the Dragon Warrior.
4. A Villain (or at least a foil). Villains are what makes the Hero stronger. They force him to get out of his comfort zone and be better!
In a lot of ways, villains are just like the heroes. They too have a driving force behind their actions, The hero makes them stronger and sometimes even has a hand in their creation (think revenge stories). They are often stronger than the hero, but alas, they have a tragic flaw, usually pride.
One of my all time favorite Disney villains is Frollo from Hunchback. He had the air of respectability as a priest, yet he was rotten to the core. He was the opposite of everything he represented on the outside. Really great internal conflict.
Some of the things that make a good villain are:
1. Interesting/cool. Often villain is more interesting than the hero. Think of Darth Vader. He was way cooler than Luke Skywalker. He could choke people with his mind! plus he looked cool.
2. Principled. They don't have to be good principles but they need some guiding force that makes them do what they do and we need to understand that. Villains don't think they are the bad guy.
Think of Javert in Les Miserables. He was in the right technically, Jean Valjean was a convict that needed to be brought to justice. Javert's guiding principle was the law. In his mind, there was no mercy.
If you aren't familiar with this story go watch the 1998 version with Liam Neeson. Written by Victor Hugo (who also wrote Hunchback) it explores justice and mercy beautifully. The villain, Javert, does something true to his character in the end that is just awesome.
3. Threat. The audience needs to believe that the villain is actually a real threat. We need to believe that he can defeat the hero.
Remember the scene where Bob grabs Mirage and demands Syndrome release him? Syndrome calls his bluff! Mr. Incredible gives up and is defeated! Such a great scene.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of what goes into a good hero and villain, but it should get you started. I've covered the basics.
Remember you have no story unless you have two opposing forces working against each other. We respond to a story as soon as it gets polarized. A lot of story work is figuring out what a story is trying to say. Once you figure that out go back and add that to every scene. Make sure you have conflict in every scene.