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Person Vs. Person

Updated: Aug 20, 2023

Enter the villain. The antagonist. The counter to the heroes and heroines. The bad one.

Something becomes relatable and visceral when we introduce person versus person stories, because we recognize the villains in our own lives. They are less abstract than person versus nature or deities. We know what annoys us. We know the kinds of people, situations and personalities that rub us the wrong way. We have a collection of stories from friends and family when they have been rubbed the wrong way, mistreated or belittled.

Iron Man Vs Captain America

Villains make us squirm, because often there is little we can do about them in our real lives. THAT is the kind of unpleasantness we should want to take onto the page with us.

Evil landlord? Terrible tenant? Evil boss? Lazy worker? Manipulative significant other? Schoolyard bully? Thief or mugger? We can all call to mind the person that sets our blood to boil. They are villains in our life story, just as we might be villains in someone else’s.

In literature the antagonists are often broken into two broad camps. The first is an antagonist who is relatable. They think they are the hero of the story, and they are not trying to be bad, they just stand in the way of the hero for some reason. The second kind is a true villain. Someone who is duplicitous, evil and in the way, because that is what they enjoy doing and for little other reason. To be clear, both of these are valid forms of villain.

Modern writing and modern movie making has in my opinion moved strongly in the direction of not evil, so much as misunderstood, and while this was an underexplored aspect, the evil for evil sake still works. Readers love to hate a villain. This is not the same as a simple-minded villain or a villain without motivation. The evil villain can have clear selfish motivations and engage in getting them in the most heinous ways. They can be crafty and intelligent and difficult to defeat without being an ounce relatable.

Just so a relatable villain doesn’t need to be decent in their methods. Humanity is replete with examples of people who have done terrible things in the name of ideology. A less common old school thought experiment is called the Auschwitz Guard Dilemma. In it you would imagine what it takes to be a guard in one of the prison camps such as Auschwitz. What kind of mental gymnastics must you do to justify your day job throughout the rest of your life? Previously perfectly normal people served as guards at these camps. Outside of this context many of them were good parents, or good friends to their neighbors. They were clearly the villain in someone else’s story, many millions, and committed terrible crimes. But they were not necessarily evil for the sake of itself.

As you create your villains, think about which kind of villain you want. Why do they stand in the way of the protagonist? What can they do to stop the protagonist? What is their motivation?

Go create your antagonists, but always remember, endeavor to never be the villain in someone else’s story.

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Anna Varlese
Anna Varlese
22 jul 2023
Obtuvo 5 de 5 estrellas.

I like the way you've related this to real life.

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