Whatever happened to stories that distinguished the hero from the villain by the color of their hats? White for the hero, black for the villain. Where are the villains stroking their handlebar mustaches and laughing maniacally while tying the helpless, hapless heroine to the train tracks? And where the heroes galloping up on a white horse at the last possible second to save said heroine?
For me, reading Sir Walter Scott’s Lochinvar—I think in high school—changed forever my perspective of what a hero could be. Lochinvar comes too late to the wedding, forcing him to steal the fair Ellen from her family. Is kidnapping heroic?
I’ve written about the character milestones I use as a way to organize character arcs. In my latest work in progress, I discovered—with amazement—that my hero and my villain had virtually identical histories.
Both lost mothers. Both had emotionally unavailable—absent—fathers. Both had conditional love and support from replacement mothers. Both were sent far from home to learn their craft under the same demanding and morally-suspect teacher. Both were forced to accept culturally defined roles that curtailed their freedom.
The difference between them, what made one the hero and one the villain, had more to do with conscious choices than with nature or nurture. Neither was born inherently good or evil.
Leaving me to ponder—am still pondering—the difference between them. Resiliency? Stubbornness? Positivity? Sheer dumb luck?
The challenge for me is to sort through the little choices they made and will make as I tell the story. I need to sketch their emotional connections to those choices, to get at what motivates them to be hero and villain. I’m a bit daunted.
Meanwhile, the query quest continues. No news on that front, but I hope there will be soon. Please keep fingers crossed for me.