Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Hate the Villain

Since some readers of my blog might not click on the comments, they might miss out on the discussion I've had with my friend Gary concerning villains. This has to do with posts I've made previously about what I've learned in writing classes (at conferences) about heroes and villains. The conventional wisdom is that fictional heroes must have faults that they overcome, and fictional villains must have some amount of virtue lest they become cardboard characters, someone who is not believable. I began this discussion because of my observations of Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, a villain who seems to have no virtues, and thus successfully defies the conventional wisdom.

I have concluded that the experts are wrong. The hero does not have to have any virtues. The villain must simply be someone the reader dislikes, even hates. As Gary said in a comment to an earlier post, let his/her evil traits be very evil, exaggerated even, so that we can see our own negative traits in contrast to his/her. "Yes, I have my faults, but Voldemort is much more evil than I would ever be."

So now, what do I do with my villains? In In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People I have two villains: Tony Mancini, a New York Mafia Don, and Colt Washburn, a Chicago Mafia Don. Both have their eyes and hooks into the protagonist, Chicago Cubs pitcher Robo Ronny Thompson, a naive farm boy who breaks into the Big Leagues. I have Mancini as being too nice to be a Mafia Don. He grew up with some refinement and a distaste for violence. He dislikes having to resort to killing as a business solution. Yet Thompson's success could mean his downfall, and so he sets in motion things that are evil, while hating doing it.

Right now I don't really have anything in Colt Washburn's character that would mitigate his evil. But Thompson's success would mean his success. He would win his eight figure be with Mancini, bringing about his downfall and possibly take over his turf. So Washburn, who was a Chicago street thug who worked his way up to be the head of the Chicago rackets, employs the evil powers he has to try to guarantee Thompson's success. The twist is that the nicer Don is doing all he can to bring about an evil result, and the more evil Don is doing all he can to bring about a good result. Well, if you consider the Cubs beating the Yankees in the World Series a good result, which most of America would.

So what to do? I'm only 15,000 words in to a planned 80,000 word novel. I could easily change either Mancini or Washburn. I could find a virtue for Washburn, or I could make Mancini more evil than he is. I guess I'll think about it some over the holidays, and maybe get back to work on the novel in the New Year.


Gary said...

So who is the protagonist? Or is it not clear to you yet? And what is Thompson's role in this story? Is it more than a plot device to pit the wise guys against each other and their own characters? Maybe if you make Thompson not so naive and pure you will have a more complicated set of interactions and even some room for comic relief to the obvious tension inherent in the idea.

David A. Todd said...

The protagonist is Thompson. He goes through a character arc from country bumpkin to tempted farm boy in the big city. He must balance his rural Kansas Christian values against sudden fame, wealth, and temptations in the big city. He is the unwitting pawn of the two Mafiosos, the one who is trying to distract him from pitching well so that he can win his bet, and the other, smarter Don who knows what the first is doing and works to combat his tactics.

I think there is room for comic relieve. The NY Don throws sexy bimbos at Thompson. The ChiDon counters with one of his female operatives playing the role of Iowa farm girl—which she was till being led astray in the big city. She also has a character arc to go through. When NYDon manipulates Thompson to be busted at a drug party, ChiDon counters with a chance to work in an inner city ministry.

All the while, Thompson ascribes these to chance, not realizing the manipulation. He becomes astranged from his parents, who believe he has left his values at the city limits. He befriends a newspaper reporter (Chicago Tribune) who later turns on him with a story planted by NYDon and later turns again to expose the Mafia corruption swirling in his life.

The two Dons are sort of co-equal bad guys.