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The Secret

2 December 2013

I’ll tell you the secret. When you begin with a character, you want to begin by creating a villain.

Dorothy Allison


11 Comments to “The Secret”

  1. ” … sometimes.”

    • I’d say often or usually, at least in genre fiction. One of my most common faults is starting a story without really understanding who the villain is… the story then gets stuck until I figure it out.

      A lot of the time the villain is driving the plot, so they’re more important than the protagonist.

      • Even more generally, if you don’t have at least a general notion of the forces in opposition to your protagonist… that way lies Mary Suedom. :)

      • True, but I have greater success in figuring out my protagonists first, and then seeing who or what is forcing him or her into action.

        Also, a lot of genre fiction doesn’t have a villain, unless war or natural disasters, for example, are classified as villains. In this case, I think that Marc’s notion of “opposing forces” is much more appropriate than “villain,” which is probably what’s bugging me about the quote.

        I just think that most of the one-size-fits-all writing advice sucks. :D

        • Indeed.
          “Opposing forces” or “challenges” fits more genres and subgenres.

          Many of the best SF stories are about solving problems, going places and doing things, or just surviving a hostile universe. No villain or even antagonist in sight.
          One of the great SF novels of the 20th is Poul Anderson’s TAU ZERO, which has no villain or antagonist. Just a bunch of humans being human while grappling with the laws of nature.

          Conversely, I’ve seen a fair share of otherwise fine stories brought down by an artificially-injected conflict where none was needed.

          • Well, he couldn’t have written Tau Zero without knowing that the villain was the speed of light :).

            (If I’m remembering the story correctly)

            • You remember the story correctly.
              But the speed of light is what let them live. The hero!
              The “villain” was the random meteoroid that landed them in the mess. ;)

              (I also thought of THE COLD EQUATIONS– short story version– but the movie, while watchable, confused the issue.)

        • sometimes… the hero and the villain are the same person.

          • That’s pretty much the case with the short story I wrote over the weekend; the apparent villain is really an innocent bystander, and the protagonist is really the villain, but doesn’t realize that himself.

  2. Huh. I actually did that with the trilogy I’m working on now (something like halfway through book 3). Maybe I should try to do that deliberately in the future. Villains are fun!

  3. It seems silly to me to assume there is a villain at all.

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