Good Heroes Need Good Villains #authortoolboxbloghop #amwriting

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Thank you Raimey!


At a writer’s conference a few years back, I sat with a literary agent and pitched my story. She mentioned my villain struck her attention the most. My villain had a goal equal in weight to my Lead. Then she mentioned lots and lots of writers forget to focus on the goal and the arc of the villain.

So today, I’m using some thoughts from The Marshall Plan Workbook. I’m focusing on the craft of the Opposition, a word Marshall uses in lieu of the Villain, and the importance of strength and equality for both the Lead and the Opposition. I’m also thinking of Khan as an example of interesting Opposition.

Four Basic Points From Marshall’s Plan to Consider

The Opposition As A Person

Marshall states, “Nothing stirs readers like person-against person conflict.” (Page 77)

I pondered all the books and movies I’ve liked the most. Avengers, The Archived, Panic, and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. Some of my favorites involve magical possibility. All of them involve human faces. Sure, some phenomenal stories have been written with natural disasters and animals leading the opposition, but largely I do agree with Marshall. I think human opposition does “come across most effectively.”

And Khan. Is he human? Or he is he a divine being without weakness?

Wikipedia states Khan is, “a genetically engineered superhuman.” Now I’ve never seen the first appearance of Khan with the early Star Trek movie. But I do like the new version of Khan. I like seeing a human figure as the shell to all his power.

Opposition And Lead Must Be Equal

This point made me think again. True, the reader wants a good fight. True, the writer needs enough action and reaction scenes to develop an effective plot. Marshal states, ”an opposition who’s an equal match for your lead is believable to readers.” If one or the other is so far advanced, why doesn’t the story just end? A fair point. A last fair point, “Think first of your lead’s special skills and talents that will help her achieve the story goal, then bestow your opposition with a large enough share of the same talents that your lead will be given a real run her money—a run that will keep readers turning the page.”

And Khan? I had a hard time justifying if Khan was indeed equal to the Lead, Captain Kirk. Khan seemed to win at manipulation with high stake issues. Kirk seemed to win with his crew and loyalty. He surrounded himself with talented people with different talents than the ones he seemed to have. Khan didn’t seem to need anyone, with a gift of regenerative blood. He seemed super strong. He seemed to evaluate weakness better than most. So it’s still a toss up to me.

Opposition isn’t Always Evil, Just Opposite

Marshall states, “The reason the ideal opposition is someone already known to the lead is that this is usually how life really works.” When I think back on all my own goals, it’s true. And Khan? I guess his existence was known previously to the start of the movie. Spock certainly knew him. His awakening was fast and public.

An Invisible Opposition Exists

Murder mystery genres face invisible Opposition. The lead does not know the opposition. The Lead is terrorized by an invisible opponent. The whole plot strives to uncover the opposition and solve a case.

A last important Marshall Question to consider:

Why would this character oppose my lead?

For more information on the Marshall Plan Workbook, here’s an amazon link to purchase the book. You’ll love the resource. I certainly do.

Any other Opposition thoughts? Any thoughts on Khan and Kirk? I’d love to hear them 🙂

About Erika Beebe

Author, dreamer, and a momma to a couple of wonderful kids, I try to live life everyday in hope and inspire others along my way.

Posted on October 17, 2018, in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. A well-rounded villain definitely makes the story more exciting. I’m thinking of the first four seasons of Arrow right now… Great post 🙂

    Ronel visiting on Author Toolbox blog hop day: Running Your Author Empire

  2. Enjoyed and learned from your post, Erika. I’m a big fan of equal forces squaring off at each other in novels. Having recently written my first murder mystery, it was more difficult to achieve. In this case, as you point out, good is facing unknown evil and the author needs to build on this suspense.

  3. I’m a big fan of the Marshall Plan. That was my first effort to organize my writing the way readers wanted it. It’s an older plan and I don’t hear much about it so I read your post with relish.

  4. Loved the point where you say that the antag is not always evil. I don’t think they ever are. They have different history. Maybe a skewed vision. But evil. No. They are the hero in their story.

    Great post!

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  5. Khan was a great opposing force in both movies and the original series. That’s a good tip about villains.

  6. Always good to remind myself that my villain needs just as much attention and backstory as my heroes! Thank you for the great, quick lesson 🙂

  7. Such great points in here. Thanks for turning me on to The Marshall Plan. I’ll have to check that out. I’m also pondering all of my stories right now, just to make sure I’ve got equality in the opposition. 🙂

  8. I’ve always like the saying “the villain is the hero of their own story”. I’ve always preferred sympathetic antagonist where if you look, you could see where they’re coming from, even if you don’t agree with it.

  9. I definitely agree that villains can be easily overlooked. In many ways I feel like a good litmus test for a villain is to outline the story from their perspective and see if it looks like a viable story. There’s a wonderful concept, I forget who first introduced me to it, that most stories, if told from the villain’s point of view, are essentially tragedies, and by the same token a tragedy is essentially a typical story of victory if told from the point of view of the villain.
    And I think there’s real merit to formally investing a comparable amount of energy into the villain, including how, from their perspective they are in the right, or there is no right, and the “hero” just doesn’t realize that yet.
    Villains themselves are such fertile ground. Many of my favorite stories are really born of the villain, with the hero rising in response to them. There was a wonderful rendition of Batman where someone discussed that, how the villains themselves caused Batman to come into existence as a reaction to their presence.

    • I like the idea of outlining the story in the villain’s perspective and that seems true, how tragic stories stem from an analysis of the villain. I am thinking of Poe and Shakespeare and the eerie qualities in their pieces. The villain would certainly warrant tons of action and reaction scene writing. And then I think of a modern story, suicide squad how the villains came together for personal goals and then actually grew into a team. I thoroughly enjoyed the twist in character. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Adam 🙂

  10. Thanks for your thoughts and I saved the link to the Marshall Plan. One thing I am curious about, what do you think the best way to explore the villain is when you’re writing from 1st person protagonist POV?

  11. Villains are so fun to write, but you have to watch, or they’ll take over the story!

    • The villains are a little scary for me. Sometimes I find myself facing some really hard questions and researching topics that aren’t so pleasant. They must feel real, and have to feel real for me as I write 🙂

  12. This is so true – I love a story with a good villain, and love that you point out the necessity for equality in capabilities and resources; if one or the other is seriously at a disadvantage we need to show how they manage to survive in order to become their opposite’s equal!

  13. Louise@DragonspireUK

    Great points to consider 🙂
    I love reading stories where the villain has a believable goal and interesting backstory. I only hope I can create such awesome villains myself, and I plan to outline the story from their perspective in the hope it helps bring them to life 🙂

  14. Good point about the opposition not having to be evil but just on the other side of an issue. There is more interesting conflict when the reader must figure out which side they think is more worthy of “winning” what has been presented in the story. My favorite villains are the ones with whom I can sympathize and agree with to some degree.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

  15. I hadn’t heard of the Marshall Plan workbook. Thanks for pointing it out. Also, congrats that an agent liked your villain. That’s an amazing accomplishment. You must have a talent for bad people – evil laugh here…

  16. Victoria Marie Lees

    These are great points and great questions to ask while developing a storyline, Erika. Thanks so much for sharing these with your fellow Toolbox writers. I’ll need to check out the Marshall Plan workbook, too. All best to you!

  17. Great post! I’ve been hearing a lot about the Marshall Plan lately. Seems like it’s helped a lot of writers. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Excellent questions here. A strong, at par, human villain goes far in creating a gripping story.

  1. Pingback: Creepy Villains, Strong Superheroes and Deceptive Music Boxes #IWSG #amwriting #Musicboxes | Cloud Nine Girl

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