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Writing Villains 1 – Personal Villains and Obstacle Villains

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We all know jerks are selfish and obnoxious but what are they really thinking? We’re continuing our look at storytelling with fantasy and sci-fi author, Benjamin T Collier.  Today Ben is talking about writing villains in your story, specifically Personal and Obstacle villains.

“To be clear, when I say “villain” I do not exclusively mean “the antagonist”. Most stories have only one antagonist, but many stories have several villains. In classical literary terms, the Antagonist is generally the primary character (or thing) that gets in the way of what the Protagonist wants most in the story. If the most important thing to the Protagonist is his family, the Antagonist will be someone threatening his family. If the Protagonist wants to win a competition, the Antagonist will be his final opponent. But in a story where the Protagonist has several obstacles to face, the Antagonist will be the one most directly responsible for those obstacles. For example, if the hero is fighting a terrorist group, there will be several villains to face off against, but not all of them are ‘the Antagonist’, the Antagonist will be the one leading the group. In some competition stories, the Antagonist may not necessarily be the final opponent, but the one coaching the opposing side.

I’m gonna talk about a few different types of villains over the next few posts. But I wanted to start off by addressing one of the most central elements to writing believable villains in the first place – the difference between Personal Villains and Obstacle Villains.”

Personal Villains and Obstacle Villains

“The Antagonist is there to create tension. The hero wants something, and the Antagonist gets in the way or causes a disruption. This is a normal part of story-telling. Where I see writers stumble in this area is when villains are written purely as obstacles and not as people, and I’ll explain why this is troublesome. In stories, obstacles exist for one reason – to be overcome. People exist for countless reasons. The reader knows this, so whenever a character is written as little more than an obstacle, a thing to be hated and overthrown, the reader quickly gets a sense of where the story is going and how it will end up.

But when the villain is written as a person, meaning when the character feels like a living, breathing human being with emotions and history and dreams, then suddenly the possibilities become a lot more complex, and the reader has a greater sense of wonder for how things will turn out. There’s more tension.”

Find out why personal villains need to justify their actions and what jerks are really thinking on Benjamin’s blog…

Cover of The Storyteller's Handbook by Benjamin T Collier

You can find The Storyteller’s Handbook on Amazon.

Happy Writing.