Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Villain Is Me

How often have we heard that the reader must identify with the protagonist? He must be a likeable character—save the cat and all of that. But what about the villain? We often see villains as evil itself. And as we think about the perfect villain we may come up with a character that we despise in the worst sort of way. This is not the way to write a book.

The villain is the most important character in a story. Even when he isn’t in a scene, he is driving what happens. Look at Satan, the great villain of the Bible. Remove him and the story would be very different. Eve would’ve never eaten the forbidden fruit. Job wouldn’t have suffered. Israel wouldn’t have turned against God. Jesus wouldn’t have died. Victory over dead would have never occurred. But with him there, we see how great a victory it is that Jesus accomplished. We may question why God has allowed Satan to do what he does, but that may be our answer. Satan shows us contrast between evil and good.

Now, stop and think why that is important. If we identify most with Jesus, the protagonist of the story, then Satan is just an evil person who causes us trouble. If, however, we identify most with Satan, then we see that the contrast points us in the right direction. It begins were we are and shows us victory that will lead us into what we will become.

When we look at normal villains, we find that the purpose of the villain is not to cause the protagonist trouble, but the villain shows us who we are. As we cheer for the protagonist to overcome the villain, we begin to realize that the villain is me. For the protagonist to win, he must defeat the person that we are. It introduces a change that should take place in our own lives.

Think of the superhero stories in which the villain is bent on taking over the world. Our hero puts a stop to it and the story is over, but look at how we identify with the villain. We may not want to take over the world, but we often consider what we would do if we were in charge at work or in some other organization. We want to implement our ideas and show people how much better it would be. The villain taking over the world has just pushed that to a greater level.

Or consider a jewel heist. Hopefully, you’ve never robbed a jeweler, but have we not considered what life would be like if we had more money than we have now? Just how much could we get away with? But we don’t really identify with the gumshoe because we don’t go around solving crimes. And we don’t really identify with the victim because that would make it too close to home. I learned a few years ago that people who have gone through divorce didn’t care to read my books when my protagonists dealt with that issue. The villain is me.