The Opposing Force
Last week in Friday Fiction, the prompt lead me to question the role of ‘hero’ and the ‘villain’ when I looked at a scene which swapped between each of their view points. Nothing earth shattering there – a technique often used by authors. Quickly, for the sake of clarity for those who do not follow or participate, the nature of FF sees the author writing their story in a flurry, with little editing and sometimes this leads the story to be not as polished as it otherwise might be if it were published on another site or submitted into competitions or for print media. The main purpose being a flow of creativity with polishing coming at a later stage.
The feedback I received got me thinking; as my story purposely confused the line between who was the ‘bad guy’.
Do stories actually need a villain in order for it to work?
After some research and musings, I believe that any story (worth reading or creating) needs the build up of tension, release and some sort of resolution or lingering question in order for it to be emotionally accessible for its readers. The most popular form of tension within a plot is caused through the disharmony between characters or the setting itself. The villain, it would seem, can come in many guises. They don’t need to be as obvious as the melodramatic tall man in a black cape, twirling his mustache; threatening to tie the mayors daughter up on the rail line.
It is through the introduction of this opposing force that becomes the compelling reason stopping the lead getting to what they want to easily. The villain in your story does not have to be a person – it can be something within the environment, the physical environment such as the weather, an internal conflict or emotion, a conflict of interest within the lead character, a group or company standing for something that the lead doesn’t like or is opposed to. If your opposing force is to be an entity such as a person ,it is an interesting exercise to list the things you love about your ‘villain’ and climb into their skin to give you a more empathic view of their world, their challenges and a peak into their past.
The interesting point for me was when I began exploring the opposition in some better known stories along with my perceptions of their motivations. Looking through fictional and real history, there are very few true pure evil characters, Darth Vader has his reasons and views of the world as did I am sure Adolf Hitler, Attila the Hun and Lucretia Borgia (as misguided,deplorable or socially unacceptable we may judge them now). The wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz was grieving for her sister who had unfortunately been squashed flat by Dorothys house, giving way for some of her decisions and dreadful one liners. A more recent fictional character with swinging villainous tendencies is Professor Snape in the Harry Potter series.
Friedrich Nietzsche (and Arnold Schwarzenegger) famously said “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.” No doubt this can be applied to your characters where the strength of a story is often only as strong as the characterization of the opposing force or villain. If your lead character is to succeed in whatever their quest is for the story you have set them, they must battle their way out of entanglements – but only after series of setbacks. Struggle is the essence of drama and it must be won the hard way….otherwise great epics can never be written.
Image courtesy of Flikr