Friday, September 26, 2008

We Need the Darkness

Yesterday I talked about the royal family as a plot device. We like the royal family because it represents the wealth and power that we would like to have, but simply making the protagonist a member of the royal family doesn’t make things very interesting. It is quite the opposite. The wealth and power that the royal family represents is what we want our protagonist to have at the end of the story. During the story, we want the protagonist to be fighting to gain, regain or keep that position. For that, we need a villain.

A villain can come in many different forms, but he should be equal in power to the hero of our story and he must have an edge. The edge that the villain has is usually that he has no qualms about doing some things that the hero will not do. In a western, the hero and villain may be equally skilled with a gun, but the hero won’t shoot a man in the back while the villain will. In fantasy, a sorcerer may do battle with a king. They are equals because the king has an army of people fighting to protect their homes, while the sorcerer has and army of evil trolls or something, but he sorcerer has an edge because he will call for the corpses of his fallen enemies to fight for him, while the king will respect the dead and bury them before moving on.

Villains don’t require a lot of depth. In some books, we don’t even see the villain until the last chapter when he tries to kill the king and promptly dies. Up to that point, all we know about the villain is hearsay, so we don’t know much more than he is evil and his goal is to kill things and break things. We don’t want our villain to have a lot of inner conflict. We want him to be sure of what he wants and how he is going to get it.

Shadow is the realm of our villain. Do you remember Bill Sikes from Oliver Twist? He did his work at night. Fagan also hid himself away. The Artful Dodger came out during the day, but he wasn’t as evil as the other two. A novelist may not think about light and dark in quite the same way a movie maker does, but it is still a very important thing to use. In a way, the villain is trapped in the darkness. Everywhere he goes it is dark. The hero crosses between light and dark, but the hero is much more vulnerable in the darkness. The kill the villain, the hero much cross into the darkness, overcome his weakness and remove the villain, all while withstanding the temptation to remain in the darkness.