I am looking for a writer’s workshop about villains. Specifically, what are the rules for villains?
bad guy always have to be an individual villain, a living, breathing person, or can they be present in the story in the form of circumstances—situational villains?
Of Mice and Men tells the story of two pre-Depression migrant workers in California, George and Lenny. George spends an inordinate amount of time keeping the mentally challenged Lenny out of trouble, a feat made all the more difficult because of Lenny’s impressive size, physical strength, and gullibility. The duo find work in a ranch in central California where Lenny quickly earns the unwanted attention of Curley, the son of the ranch owner.
Curley is a great villain. He has a little-man complex, a father who will not let him take over, and a pretty wife who flirts with everyone. He is always in a bad mood and looking for someone to bully.
The Grapes of Wrath tells the story of the Joad family, dustbowl immigrants displaced from their farm in Oklahoma during the Depression, journeying to California. There is no clear-cut villain, but rather the villain is the situation. There are plenty of bad guys—people with bad intentions. The overarching villain, however, is the desperation of their plight—the lack of work, low wages, the squalid living conditions, the animosity of Californians towards the new arrivals.
Every good villain should have some sympathetic quality, a chink in their armor that allows for understanding, that enables you to see why they are the way they are. Stephen King even does this well with a villain dog in Cujo. You feel sorry for Cujo. With an individual villain this is easier. But with a situational villain—economic conditions, the weather—it is hard to give them a sympathetic quality.
There is also the quest of the protagonist—overcoming the villain. Individual villains are usually overcome when the protagonist outwits them. Situational villains are often defeated by time. The economy improves or the weather changes—or the protagonist is able to use their skills or technology to circumvent the villain.
Individual villains are easy to identify, easy to hate, easy to like when they are handled correctly, and in the end there is often a clear defeat. The situation villains have blurrier lines. At the end of The Grapes of Wrath the Joad family has broken up. The older sons have all left for one reason or another. Those remaining are living in a boxcar. There is no clear path to out of their plight.
Through the smallest of gestures, though, there is still hope.
Sometimes—especially in the face of a situational villain--hope is all you have. If you read The Grapes of Wrath you know what I am talking about. If you did not, then I can tell you it is different than the movie.
There you have it—individual villains and situational villains. What did I miss? Let me know.
See ya’ later.
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