How a person writes their story is individualistic and one way is no better than another. Whatever works. Even before becoming a journalist I was telling stories from the hip—no notes, no outline. Stories appeared then as now as mental motion pictures flowing down my arms and onto paper. At first I used a pencil or pen, and then in eighth grade took a typewriter class. I don’t think my teacher ever thought I’d ever master that contraption, but over the next couple years my fingers learned to fly over Mr. Royal’s keys. By the time I graduated from high school and entered journalism those fingers were smoking at 70+ words per minute with 90% accuracy. That was important in that occupation. From notes taken in the field and during research there was a deadline to meet and an editor cracking a mean whip. Somewhere during those formative years of going to the movies, watching TV, and reading novels, I internalized the basic elements of a successful story so that after doing preliminary research and maybe jotting a few notes, putting down the story was simply sitting in front of a keyboard and pounding away. The result is that a novel-length, rough draft can be kicked out in ten to fourteen days which drives some of my co-writers in NaNoWritMo nuts. Does that mean the story is complete? Is bread done before it’s cooked?
The novel currently under construction is done drafted. (sic) Now, it’s time for the first of many edits, and that doesn’t mean spelling, punctuation, and grammar. In previous eFiles I put forward certain things a writer should consider, especially about creating characters. These first series of edits will focus on those and other points coming in future eFiles. Over the next week or so I want to focus on the two most important characters – the hero and the villain. In this story they are François (the pirate Dolphin) and Lord Chudleigh (the kidnapper). (Yes, I identified a second hero in the last post, but I am still waffling about his true role, and have put him on the shelf.)
Ideally, the hero and villain are a reflection of one another. The only thing separating them is their moral center or purpose. A villain isn't being evil just for the giggles. The Joker in Batman, Voldemort in Harry Potter, the Emperor in Star Wars, or Hitler in WWII didn't behave badly just because. They and every meaningful guy in the black hat thinks they are doing right, that they are the true hero in their own, twisted vision of the story. That is how a writer should approach the villain. We are talking Yin and Yang here, better known since ancient Greek times as the unity of opposites. (see: Dramatica: The New Theory of Story - 4th ed. available as a free pdf at http://dramatica.com/resources/assets/dramatica-theory-book.pdf. This book and a whole lot more is available online at: Screenplay Systems.)
One of the most standout exchanges explaining this relationship between hero and villain appeared in the movie, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. This occurs between French archaeologist, Dr. René Belloq and Dr. Henry Jones, Jr.
How odd that it should end this way
for us, after so many...
stimulating encounters. I almost
regret it. Where shall I find a new
adversary so close to my own level?
Try the local sewer.
I know you despise me. We always
hate in others that which we most
fear in ourselves. And you and I
are very much alike.
Now you’re getting nasty.
We have always done the same kind
of work. Our methods have not
differed as much as you pretend. I
am a shadowy reflection of you. But
it would have taken only a nudge to
make you the same as me, to push
you out of the light.
There is a certain amount of truth to this; the recognition
of it flickers across Indy’s bleary eyes.
[Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Screen Play by Lawrence Kasdan, pg. 49, 1979]
This understanding makes writing the hero and villain much easier. The more you know about one, the more you know about the other. While not necessary, it would be nice to show that they created each other. For instance, look at Batman I. Young thug, Jack Napier, kills Bruce Wayne’s parents launching Bruce on a crime fighter career. In adulthood, the two meet and Jack falls into a vat of goo and comes out as the Joker. Toward the end we have this exchange:
You made me. You dropped me into that vat of chemicals, remember?
That wasn’t easy to get over.
You killed my parents. I made you? Well, you made me first.
[In My Story Can Beat Up Your Story, Jeffrey Schechter, Ch. 5)
In the story under development in conjunction with this eFile, that relationship has been accomplished. The villain of Order of the Brethren is Lord Chudleigh, son of Commodore Chudleigh who appeared in the preceding novel, The Urchin Pirate. In Urchin, the commodore lured pirates to a “treasure” island with phony maps in order to sink their ships and hang survivors. The Dolphin engages the commodore’s ship. That engagement begins François’ reputation as a pirate. In Order, we meet his lordship, the commodore’s son, who seeks to destroy pirates, but in particular reek revenge on the Dolphin for his father going insane and early death because of what happened. Indirectly, they made each other.
During this first edit I am going to look closely at the villain. He must be the hero of his own story, powerful, ruthless, and committed enough to drive the conflict, a dark reflection of the hero’s wants, needs, and desires. A really good example of this is the sleazy, hateful villain, Lord Cutler Beckett from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. The writers and actor did a marvelous job. You want to slit that guy’s throat before he gets off his white horse.
While it might be nice to have the two face off during the story, in this case, each is going about their business hundreds of miles apart until the very end, and then may or may not actually come face to face. (I’ve drafted it both ways and weighing what to do.)
Next time, I’ll go a bit further into developing these two gentlemen and how to handle their long distance relationship.