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What is a villain? A villain is the dramatic antithesis of a hero, and therefore has the following four attributes:


He is the Antagonist


He is the Influence Character


He is second in prominence to the Central Character


He is a Bad Guy


By our definitions for this article: The Antagonist is the Principal Impediment in the plot - the chief obstacle to the achievement of the story's overall goal.


The Influence Character is the most persuasive character - the one who argues the devil's advocate position regarding the personal or moral issue the story seems to be about.


The Second Most Prominent Character is the one who stands out most strongly among the players, save for the hero.


The Bad Guy is the standard bearer of immorality - the character whose intent is to do the wrong thing.


Putting it all together then, a villain tries to prevent the goal from being achieved, represents the counterpoint to the audience position in the story, it the second most prominent character, and seeks to do the wrong thing. Now we can see that when we created a hero who was a bad guy and another who was an antagonist, we were actually borrowing attributes from the villain. In the same manner, the villain can borrow attributes from the hero. For example, we might fashion a character with the following four attributes:


Antagonist


Impact Character


Second Most Prominent


Good Guy


Such a character might be a friend of an anti-hero (who is a hero that is a Bad Guy), trying to prevent him from making a terrible mistake. Imagine that the anti-hero is trying to achieve a goal, represents the audience position, is most prominent, but has ill intent. The Good Guy variation on the villain would have good intent and would therefore try to thwart the anti-hero's evil plan (antagonist), change his mind (impact character) and would be the second most prominent player next to the anti-hero.


Another variation on the typical villain might be:


Protagonist


Influence Character


Second Most Prominent


Bad Guy


In fact, it is this combination that is used most often in action/adventure stories. This character gets the ball rolling by instigating an evil scheme (protagonist/bad guy), tries to lure the "hero" to the evil side (influence character), but is second to the "hero" only in prominence.


As we can see, swapping attributes between the hero and villain opens up a world of opportunities for creating more interesting and less typical characters. But, these are not the only ways to swap attributes. For example, just because the hero is a Good Guy doesn't mean the villain has to be a Bad Guy.


Suppose we have the following two characters:


Typical Hero:


Protagonist


Main Character


Central Character


Good Guy


Atypical Villain:


Antagonist


Impact Character


Second Most Prominent


Good Guy


Here we have a story about two people, one trying to accomplish something, the other trying to prevent it. One representing the audience position in the story, the other being the most influential with an opposing message argument. One is the most prominent; the other second in audience interest, but both believe they are doing the right thing.


These two characters are dramatically opposed. They are in conflict, both externally and internally. Yet each is driven to do what he believes is right. So who is right? Well, in fact, that is what a story built around these characters would be all about!


Indeed, the author's message would center on convincing the audience that one of these characters was misguided and the other properly grounded. Such a story would provide an excellent opportunity to explore a moral issue that doesn't easily fall into black and white clarity. It would stand a good chance to come across as deep, thoughtful, and provocative - and all by simply having two Good Guys duke it out.


At this point, it should be pretty clear that if you've only been writing with heroes and villains, you haven't been doing anything wrong, but you have been limiting your creative opportunities. And yet, we have barely begun to explore the ways in which characters can swap attributes to create more variety and interest.

How to Write Villains

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