Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Villain is your Friend (Story Craft Part 4)

As humans, we need an excuse to change and grow. A life with no challenge or struggle is boring and meaningless. We need conflict as feedback to detect if we are headed in the right direction. But more importantly we need a villain, because without a clear and present bad guy... who are we?

The nature of the villain is really about what makes a hero, and at the heart of any good story is direct conflict with the hero. Without conflict, our hero simply gets what they want and there isn't much else to talk about.

You would never tell someone about that time you went to the grocery store and bought your groceries, then came home, put them away, and watched TV for the rest of the night (see you're already falling asleep to my boring story).

You would, however, tell people about the time you were driving to the grocery store and some asshole in a black truck cuts you off and then slams on his breaks to cause a fender bender. When that fails, he speeds off into the distance. Then you continue to the grocery store unharmed only to see the same truck park sideways across four spaces. You slowly walk through the isles of the store fearing that you might run into this person. Who could he be? How will I know it's him? You finish your shopping, head home, and guess who bought the house right next to yours? As you put your groceries away you try to not listen as your new neighbor yells and beats his girlfriend (or even worse, his kids). There he is, your villain. This moment makes a hero. This moment you decide to do something about it. The conflict drives you to change to restore balance. The villain is the opposite of you.

This is basically it. The archetypical villain is the antitheses of the hero. The villain will use their dirty tactics and superior powers to defeat the hero. The story you tell is about the hero overcoming the villain as an obstacle while having to face their flaws to do so. The hero is weak and not ready to face the challenges at the beginning, but grows to defeat them by the end. Capturing the simplicity of this moment is very popular amongst artists today. You can cite image after image of the small man facing the very large monster in the distance.  How could he defeat such a thing? Well, he has to, somehow. He's the hero. He is us.

When designing heroes and villains it's easy to think of the yin and yang symbol. The hero and villain are opposite but together create a whole circle. Story happens when there is imbalance in the yin and yang. The villain will seek to bring imbalance and the hero will seek to restore it. For the villain to do this they must obtain some advantage and this can easily be conveyed in your work. Acquiring ancient armor, or releasing an evil force, or stealing the supernatural aid that was given to the hero can provide many visual ways to show imbalance and conflict. But the easiest way to do this is to think about what the motivations of the hero is and create a villain in direct conflict with that.

Now creating a story to sell to Hollywood may not be your job here, but to have a underlying structure for building effective and creative artwork is. The info I've provided in the last four posts has been only to introduce you to the prospect that professionals don't just slop paint on a canvass until a story pops out. They have the fundamentals of storytelling rolling around in their brains that allows them to create freely. Just like learning to drive allows you to move about your town freely. You don't think about driving, but the principles are there.

When approaching your creative work or a concept just start with the question, "what's going on here?"  If nothing is really going on, then you need to start again, but if there's motive and conflict... then I think you might have the beginning of a story. From there, anything can happen.

The End. 

Thanks for reading, I hope this was helpful.

Here's a little conflict. This time the hero is big and the villain is small. How cute.

No comments:

Post a Comment