Thursday, March 21, 2013

Conflict, Villains, and Motive - Oh My!

This may sound familiar to some of you:

"Whut a' we gonna do tonight, Brain?"
---"The same thing we do every night, Pinky; try to take over the world!"

Sometimes I feel the same way when I'm recommending a book to someone:

"So what's it about?"
---"Well, you know, the usual, ____ is trying to take over/destroy the ____."

If you couldn't tell from some of my previous posts I'm a big fan of Villains, but I also write YA Fantasy, and upon close inspection of many antagonists a reader could easily transfer villains from one book to another. Sometimes you feel like they all want the same thing.

It's the box that Fantasy has put itself in. There needs to be a wicked King/Sorcerer, a traitorous apprentice, a Dark Emperor, etc... The Lord of the Rings wasn't a metaphor for civil rights, The Immortal Secrets of Nicholas Flamel didn't allude to the terrifying nature of living in a war-torn, savage land....the list goes on. Some villain, somewhere, in some place is trying to take over/destroy something, and our world will suffer for it.

I couldn't have that.

I would love to hear of an author whose world began with a villain and she/he created a hero to combat it, but that wasn't the way with me, and I've yet to hear a behind-the-scenes story where that has come to pass.

I had my jumping off point, which gave me Bianca, Scarlett, and Oliver, but then I had to ask "Why?"

It would have been very simple to say "Well, because _____ wants to be King." or "____ wants to destroy the world."

But it wasn't that easy. My love for a twisted, fallen-from-grace Bad Guy overwhelmed me and during the outlining process I discovered a Villain who was more complicated than my main characters - two of them, actually.

Not that I don't love a good "Take over the world" story! Don't get me wrong, I'm not disrespecting any choice you as a writer make, or your favorite book, or anything else. I'm simply stating what my story ended up being, and how happy it makes me.

There's a certain challenge that comes with a complicated, three-dimensional villain: accessibility.

I recently watched Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (as those of you who follow me on twitter know). The depth of each character in that film, the grittiness, the realism of each heart is everything I want my characters to have. But Hunchback is one of the least remembered or successful classic Disney films.
I believe because the conflict was so real and dark that the target audience (children ages 6 - 12) didn't really latch on to it, or didn't understand it.
The villain was fueled by lust, and disfigured moral ideals! Perfect!
The hero wasn't the handsomest, best, or brightest - but was nothing but pure goodness. Perfect!
The damsel in distress didn't fall for the hero, could best a man in combat, was smart-mouthed, and almost fearless. Perfect!

But it didn't work. I can ask a 9 year old girl who Ariel is and she'll tell me excitedly, "The Little Mermaid!". I can ask the same 9 year old girl about Esmeralda, and I'll get this face:


....So as I crafted the first installment, and discovered the entire story arc of the series, I understood the Adult nature of the conflict, the convoluted motive, and I hear the voice of an antagonist that - at times - almost convinces me that he's in the right, and that I've written this story from the wrong perspective...
But I have to water it down for now; my girls start out as 12 (they have their 13th birthday within the first book). The villain is so sinister and insidious that if Bianca, Scarlett, and Oliver actually met them in the first installment there wouldn't be a series. The villain would win.
There are great stories out there that follow the Fantasy Formula and become bestsellers, there are those that reject it altogether and are fantastic successes - the opposite is also true on both counts.

All that to say, the characters I created have to live and breathe for me - even the Bad Guy, and I hope yours do too!

Who is Batman without the Joker?
Voldemort's quest for immortality is one of the greatest stories of all time.
Yeerks attempted to subversively enslave humanity.
The Evil Queen was maddened by jealousy.
The Wicked Witch of the West really wanted her dead sister's awesome shoes.

Could your bad guy conceivably win? What made them bad? Is there more to your fantasy story than good triumphing over evil? What is Evil to you? Is there a negative consequence of Good triumphing in your story?

Until we meet again...

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