Friday, July 3, 2009
Two Sides Of The Same Coin
Do you think like the villain or the hero?
I agree with Shane, that's the only answer a writer can give, because you have to hear the character's voices inside your head before you can put them onto the page. Good writers are neurotic but great writers are schizophrenic.
And besides, the hero and villain should be two sides of the same coin. As Kelli observed, many of life's important lessons can be found in Star Trek, but everything else you need to know is revealed in The Dark Knight. Harvey Dent had the Two-Face character inside him before his face was burned, the Joker just let him out.
We all have that same capacity for evil, and when you're writing from the villain's point of view, your task is to listen to that killer inside you. As Patricia Highsmith brilliantly demonstrated in the Ripley novels, a villain still believes what they're doing is righteous. It's a thin line no matter how you draw it.
And don't we want our heroes to be flawed, human, and vulnerable? Otherwise they get boring fast. Decisions should be hard, even a decision to do the right thing. Maybe because of what they have to sacrifice, or perhaps because their version of justice has nothing to do with the law. In many ways the best protagonists do and say what we wish we could, if only we didn't have to live in so-called civilized society.
By the same argument, we want to like our bad guys. They should be charismatic, unpredictable, or maybe disturbingly close to someone we know, a sideways glance at ourselves in the mirror when the inner demons want to come out and play.
There's a symbiotic relationship between a protagonist and his nemesis, and if both sides of the coin are carved with enough detail, we should be able to relate to them both. And that's where the dramatic tension comes from, because as the two sides struggle back and forth, we often find our loyalties caught in the middle.