Villains and Anti-Heroes

March 17, 2008 at 6:34 am | Posted in character, hero, Jessica, writing | 2 Comments

I have been kicking around RWA for a few years and am so proud to say that I have learned so much during this period of time. The more I learn, I realize there is more and more that I really don’t know, which, for me, is a challenge I find both vexing and exciting.  

When I have those A-HA! and WELL, DUH! moments, I feel such pride for making such strides to those points of recognition.  

I can only speak to my experiences in romance writing circles, and in that context I think I can safely say that we all share a common vernacular. GMC, POV, Hero’s Journey, etc. Having been around writers during these years I developed a basic understanding of what these things are, but it wasn’t until I stumbled across some pretty stellar examples where I felt like I truly got it

 When I wrote my first book I had not yet found RWA or any mentors in the writing world and point-of-view was not something I grasped. I sheepishly realized how flawed my first book was when mentors and friends explained the basics of POV to me. However, it wasn’t until I read the three stories found in Lori Foster’s Fallen Angels book that I visually understood point of view. I highly recommend these stories as great and clear examples of how to handle POV.  

I had a similar A-HA! moment when I heard our upcoming April Honorary Heartlette, Eileen Rendahl, speak on the Chick Lit Hero’s Journey. I felt like I got it in a much better and different way after hearing Eileen speak and reading her books.  

So what do either of these examples have to do with villains or anti-heroes? I have learned that having a concrete example is one of the best learning tools for me. And the most excellent example of the villain or anti-hero I have yet to come across was in the Spike TV series The Kill Point

If you have not yet seen it, I don’t want to play spoiler, but the series stars Donnie Wahlberg as the cop who catches the call when John Leguizamo’s character and a group of his men rob a bank and things go horribly wrong.

It’s a crime drama, so naturally his show pits right against wrong. We see the side of the law . . . in this case we see Donnie Wahlberg as the level-headed hero. We count on him to diffuse the situation, save the day, restore order. We see him having to navigate the demands of work and family, the egos of his bosses, the tangled net of bureaucracy, the intrusive weight of the FBI . . . even the power and influence of the most successful in-town business owner. We sympathize with the competence and integrity of our hero, secure in the knowledge our hero will defeat the bad guys in spite of the additional obstacles he faces.

But just how wrong are these bad guys? John Leguizamo (called Mr. Wolf), as the captain of the crew, is the head ‘bad guy’, thus starring as the villain in this show. We know that robbing banks is bad and in that way he broke the law and deserves to be punished. But as the audience learns why – what his goals, motivation, and conflicts are – sympathies start to turn. At least mine did.

His backstory revealed injustice, grief, courage, and responsibility. His own struggles with right and wrong made sense to me. His being constantly kicked while down, yet still getting up and fighting back was something I found . . . heroic.

I found myself rooting for Mr. Wolf. I wanted him to get away with the heist, with all that money, to disappear and find his happily ever after. I wanted people to forgive him his transgressions and to heal his hurts. His character was so compelling, drawn in such an effective way, I couldn’t help but want him to win. For me, this was a stunning visual example not just on how to create a villain, but how to draw and layer all characters and their complexities.

In his book, The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler says that villains are the heroes of their own stories. In The Kill Point, the characters have been created in such a way where the lines between hero and villain blur . . . to the point where the villain truly could be the hero of not only his own story, but the entire story. Only the obvious points of the law clearly delineate the difference.

When I see such stunning working examples of writing, I sit back and say — “Oh, how I wish I could write that!” So I keep my eyes open for learning opportunities and I keep practicing and persevering.

May you have lots of your own A-HA and WELL, DUH moments . . . may you find them in pleasantly unexpected places . . . and may you keep writing!




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  1. This entry on a Hero’s Fatal Flaw from the Title Magic blog is a great complement to today’s post . . .

  2. And here’s another great post from Writers Unboxed on creating villains with a snippet attributed to Donald Maas . . .

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