On Heroes and Villains

I recently read an article about writing villains. It said something interesting about them, about why they are so important.

The article said that without the villain, the hero is nothing. The conflict that the villain creates makes the hero interesting. Heroes are predictable and boring when circumstances are regular. The hero’s chance to shine and show off are brought about by the villain.

Well, that’s just not true.

If the hero is only unpredictable and interesting when confronted with the villain, there’s a problem.
The reader has to root for the hero as a person. Before the main conflict begins the reader must be invested in the hero. The reader has to cheer them on into the sunset, not just because of the victory, but because the reader likes them and wants to see them go on their next adventure or enjoy their happy ending.
It’s true that an epic moment between the hero and the villain can really show the hero’s prowess, but no one will care if the hero is boring.

Let’s look at an example:

(But what example? There’s too much to choose from. Alright, here we go, use the classic)

Aragon. The reader meets him in Bree.

(from giphy)

Going by….the book, (because we are talking about books after all), the reader doesn’t see him with the villain (or a villain, Bill Ferny not being counted) until the encounter with the Nazgul on Weathertop, which happens a few chapters after his introduction.

But Aragorn is still interesting. The reader sees his intelligence, his strength, and his general-awesomeness. I am going to just take the first few pages and go no farther than the  first chapter he is in.

Here’s what is looks like:

The reader is first intrigued by the introduction. A man sitting in a corner, in a muddy cloak, smoking a pipe, and staring at Frodo. Nothing gets better than that. He sounds cool. Some dangerous dude wandering the wilderness called Strider.

(No villain.)

*Pulls out copy of book because I can’t remember the exact sequence*

Next, he invites Frodo over to talk to him. Things get interesting and a little shady. Aragorn then proceeds to make a joke about the ring. “You have put your foot in it! Or should I say your finger?” The reader learns that this character is also interesting because he has a snarky sense if humor and knows a thing or too.

(No villain.)

He calls Frodo by Baggins instead of the undercover name that Frodo has been using. Aragorn says they have to have a talk later. So, Aragorn is shown to know a lot of things, and to be very straightforward.

Yep, the reader is liking him.

When Frodo and Aragorn talk, things just keep getting better. In fact, there’s a whole chapter named after him, Strider. We find out he knows Gandalf, and there’s some weird deal about this broken sword.

( No villain, but plenty of character.)

Now, a mysterious character with a lot of wit and sarcasm can be easy to make interesting without engaging with the villain. But of course, there are always more ways to do it. I would give more examples, but I think this is enough for now.

Thoughts? Comments?

~ Bernadette out.




2 responses to “On Heroes and Villains”

  1. In the fanfiction world, I’ve noticed there’s a lot of stories about the heroes that don’t involve the villains at all. There are plenty of examples of protagonists that are interesting without a villain. But I don’t think that’s what the quote is talking about.
    At least in the action/fantasy/sci-fi world, an idiotic villain that isn’t defeated quickly makes the heroes look like idiots. The challenges that the heroes face need to actually be challenges, otherwise they can look like idiots, drama queens, or other things that can ruin the stand alone interesting part. So yes, the interesting part of the hero needs to stand alone outside of the villain, but the villain/challenge needs to be big enough that the hero would be challenged without her/him being an idiot or completely inadequate.


    1. Your brought up a really interesting point about the importance of a villain being actually challenging to the hero, otherwise the hero won’t shine. You could say the villain has to be complementary to the hero (I know that is a weird way of saying it) Great thoughts, thank you for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

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