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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

The Difference Between Heroes and Villains

By Steven Pressfield | Published: November 22, 2017

 

We’ve seen in prior posts that villain and hero are often opposite sides of the same coin.

Villain or hero? Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty in the 1978 "Blade Runner"

Villain or hero? Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty in the 1978 “Blade Runner”

Hero believes X; Villain believes Opposite-of-X.

Hero seeks Outcome X; Villain seeks Outcome Opposite-of-X.

Does this mean the Good Guy and the Bad Guy are equivalent?

Is the hero really no “better” than the heavy; he just happens to believe something different?

What separates the Good Guy from the Bad Guy (at least some of the time) is the Good Guy is capable of sacrificing himself for the good of others.

In fact, the climax of many great stories is exactly that.

Bogey puts Ingrid on the plane to Lisbon.

Huck Finn tears up the letter that he believes will save himself while condemning his friend Jim.

The 300 Spartans die to the last man at Thermopylae.

There are exceptions. “The Guru” (Eduardo Cianelli) in Gunga Din, knowing he can’t escape his captors, steps to brink of the pit of vipers and turns back to face the three British sergeants (Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.)

 

GURU

You have sworn to give your lives if necessary for your country, which is England. Well, India is my country, and I can die for it as readily as you can for yours.

 

And he leaps into the pit.

Which makes us think, “Hmm, maybe the Guru is not the villain after all. Could the villain be England’s unjust colonial domination of India?”

Another seeming villain who sacrifices himself is Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), the replicant leader in the 1978 Blade Runner. Roy’s choice in the climax on the rooftop of the Bradbury Building is to save the man who is trying to kill him, Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) while he himself expires of the wound he knows is mortal. [P.S. Here’s the story of Rutger Hauer changing the dialogue the night before the scene was shot.]

 

ROY BATTY

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

 

That’s not a villain speech, is it? It’s a hero speech. It tells us (though the filmmakers themselves may not have realized this at the time) that the villain in Blade Runner is not Roy or his fellow replicants Pris (Daryl Hannah), Leon (Brion James) and Zhora (Joanna Cassidy), whose only aim is to survive the four-year life span they’ve been doomed to by their creators, but the idea of manufacturing human-like slaves in the first place. In other words, the villain is Mr. Eldon Tyrell of the Tyrell Corporation—and all those who went along with this concept.

The Seven Samurai are willing to give their lives for the villagers.

Clarice Starling enters Buffalo Bill’s den in pitch blackness to save the killer’s captive, Catherine Martin.

Sydney Carton takes Edward Darnay’s place beneath the guillotine in A Tale of Two Cities.

Those are heroes.

The hero is capable of the ultimate sacrifice.

(more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Start With the Villain

By Steven Pressfield | Published: November 15, 2017

 

There’s an axiom among screenwriters:

 

Start at the end.

 

What they mean is, “Figure out your climax first (Ripley blasts the Alien into outer space; Moby Dick takes Ahab down to the depths), then work backwards to figure out what you need to make this climax work.

Don't you hate this guy? (Even Donald Sutherland hates this guy.)

Don’t you hate this guy? (Even Donald Sutherland hates this guy.)

I’m a big believer in this way of working—and its corollary:

 

Start with the villain.

 

Once we’ve got Anton Chighur (Javier Bardem in the movie), we’ve got No Country for Old Men licked. Once we’ve got Hannibal Lecter, we’re halfway home in The Silence of the Lambs.

It’s natural to want to start at the beginning and start with the hero. Let’s introduce Raskolnikov, we tell ourselves. Let’s intro Huck Finn. But all too often, this way of working runs out of gas halfway into Act Two. We find ourselves asking, “What did I think this story was about? Where were we going with this?”

Answer: identify the villain, then regroup around this axis.

In The Hunger Games, the villain is the corrupt, soulless “system,” embodied by Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), the commander of Panem.

Let’s start with him.

Pin his picture to the wall.

Place his index card above all our scenes and sequences.

Bad Guy Snow tells us what our heroes (even if we haven’t conceived them yet) must believe in, how they must act, what temptations they must face, and by what means they must fight him and overcome.

Whoever Snow is, our Good Guys are the opposite.

Whatever Snow stands for, our heroes stand for its antithesis.

When we start with the villain, we have a leg up on our climax as well (again, even if—especially if—we don’t know yet what that climax is.)

How does knowing our villain help? Because

  1. We know that the hero must duel the villain in the climax.
  2. We know that the climax must revolve around the story’s theme.
  3. We know that the villain embodies the counter-theme.

In the climax, our hero has to face Doc Ock, Immortan Joe, Bane, the Alien, the Predator, the Terminator.

  1. Hero and villain duel in the climax over the issue of the theme.

When we get our villain straight in our mind—when we know who he is, what he wants, what his powers and vulnerabilities are—we are working from firm, solid ground when he attack every other part of the story.

Start with the villain.

(more…)

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Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Everybody Loves the Bad Guy

By Steven Pressfield | Published: November 8, 2017

 

Shakespeare, Milton and Dante all understood villains. They loved villains. Their villains are their greatest creations.

The Bible is loaded with spectacular villains, as are all cultural myths from the Mahabharata to the Epic of Gilgamesh to the saga of Siegfried.

Is he the greatest villain ever?

Is he the greatest villain ever?

Great villains eclipse even the heroes who vanquish them.

Flash Gordon was a pale shadow alongside Ming the Merciless.

Clarice Starling was cool, but who could forget Hannibal Lecter?

The villain not only steals Paradise Lost but walks off with the most unforgettable line.

 

SATAN

Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.

 

Film directors relish villains because villains light up the screen. Actors love to play Bad Guys. What onscreen outrage could be more memorable than crushing a half-grapefruit into your wife’s face, as James Cagney did to Mae Clark in Public Enemy, or, as Richard Widmark’s unforgettable act of villainy in Kiss of Death, pushing an old lady in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs?

Wait, what about him?

Wait, what about this guy?

James Bond always goes up against diabolical villains, as do Superman, Batman, Spiderman and Iron Man. How many franchises (Alien, Terminator, Jaws, Predator) are driven not by heroes but by villains?

The more years I labor in the storytelling racket, the more I appreciate the value of a great antagonist.

For you and me as writers, our bad guys may be more important even than our heroes.

[For the next few weeks we’re going to return to our series on Bad Guys, which we started a while ago and then moved off from for our “Reports from the Trenches.” More on villains next week.] (more…)

Posted in Writing Wednesdays
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