Heroes and Villains: The Relationship
Follows: The Villain
Heroes and villains. The good guy and the bad guy. The protagonist and the antagonist. A character or characters that’s stories are bound together until the very end. In this series of essays, we’re going to be looking at how to make interesting heroes and villains. For this third and final essay, we’re looking at the relationship betwixt the two.
We’ve looked at how to make interesting villains and heroes but there’s one more aspect that you need to look at to complete your story: the relationship that the two share. If we look at The Joker and Batman, they fight each other because they fight each other. The Joker has done some horrible things to Batman and those around him over the years, and represents chaos against the order Batman is trying to uphold. They are opposites and yet the same: both operate outside the law and the norms of society, neither show their true faces nor publicly reveal their real identities, each of them is obsessed with the other. The motive for each is dynamically juxtaposed to the motive of the other, and this causes them to be drawn towards each other like the opposite ends of magnets.
Let’s take a look at Dexter and The Ice Truck Killer from Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. (He’s actually referred to as the Tamiami Slasher in the book). While the hero and villain dynamic between the two of them has been done to death at this point, it still works. Spoiler Alert! The Ice Truck Killer, Brian, is Dexter’s long lost brother. The two of them witnessed their mother’s gruesome murder, Dexter was adopted into the Morgan household where his murderous nature was almost nurtured into a positive outcome; while Brian (who, unlike Dexter, remembers what happened to their mother) does everything he can to search for his brother, whilst becoming a serial killer. Brian wants his brother back. He wants to be a family again and he wants Dexter to shed the life that was forced onto him, including the morals that came with that. That makes a very interesting, engrossing story line and the dynamic that Lindsay creates between the two of them has stayed with me for a long time after reading the book. Especially when, unlike in the TV series, (Spoiler Alert!) Dexter lets Brian get away at the end of the book.
How do you go about creating an interesting dynamic between the hero and villain? Much like when crafting your heroes and villains, it all comes down to motive and backstory.
Your heroes and villains have their individual motives for why they’re doing whatever it is that they’re doing. What you need to focus on to fester an interesting relationship between them is why are they interacting with each other. There will always be plenty of other villains for your hero to target, why in one of the most important moments in their life—the story you’re telling—do they pick each other? Quite often the relationship between the two will be that they interact because you say so. You put the two of them together and they interact with each other because they interact with each other. There may be some arbitrary reason for it but, ultimately, it is arbitrary. If you want to create a lasting, worthwhile relationship between your hero and villain, they need to have a reason for doing it that’s as worthwhile as the relationship you’re trying to create.
The backstory and motive of your hero’s and villain’s relationship are very closely linked. They’ll need to have some kind of linked backstory that informs their motives. It doesn’t have to be some grand backstory where they were childhood friends, something went wrong and now they’re mortal enemies. That works too but you don’t have to do it like that. For your hero and villain to have a relationship, they need to have an actual relationship. It’s up to you to create this backstory for them, but the backstory should feed into the motive. Your hero and villain were work colleagues until your hero screws the villain over to get a promotion. The villain turns to a life of crime to make ends meet and, ultimately, gain revenge on the hero. Your hero wants to stop the villain because they know the situation is, at least in part, their fault. Backstory leads to motive, which creates a lasting dynamic between the two of them.
It’s never going to be easy to create villains and heroes that defy the norms of morals and have a relationship that make people care about them both. But it can be done and it is certainly worth it in the end. You will have heroes and villains that stay with the reader for some time to come. You’ll create a story that is memorable for all the right reasons. Give it a shot. From a writer’s point of view, as well, it’s a lot of fun to do.
© 2016 David Chitty
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.