Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Villain's Story

What is a story? There are several different ways to look at a story. How we perceive a story helps us to set our goals when writing a story. One way to look at a story is as the actions of the villain as told by the lead. We often think of the story as being the lead’s story, but when we consider how much of the lead’s life we ignore we might question that. However, when we look at it as the villain’s story it begins to make sense.

Look at the story of Cinderella for example. Her father is gone. It isn’t clear why. The storyteller may throw some reason in there, but it doesn’t really matter why he is gone and yet that would have been a very important event in Cinderella’s life. The reason we don’t put much emphasis on that event is because it has very little to do with the story we’re telling.

Stories are about disturbances in the lead’s life, so that’s why it becomes the villain’s story as told by the lead. If we take all the stuff that villains do to a particular person and bind it together, we come very close to having a story. So what that tells us is that when we’re looking for the stuff that should be in the story we would do good if we would just include that stuff that involves the villain and leave out the rest. Consider how much backstory that would eliminate if we start with the villain.

Of course, we do have to have a little context, which is why we are told about Cinderella’s father. The storytellers seemed to think that we needed to understand how Cinderella ended up with a wicked step-mother. Even there we see that the story begins with her father marrying the villain, staying with the rule that a story is the actions of the villain as told by the lead.

Just by having our narrator follow the lead while trying to tell the villain’s story, we eliminate many of the problems that we face with stories. It reduces backstory. It keeps the tension tight. It helps us determine where to start. It also tells us where to end because once the villain has been defeated or the villain defeats the lead, the story is over.