The Problem with Formula Romance
January 7, 2010
Create a Character
January 12, 2010

Watching the last hurrah for David Tennant’s Doctor last night in the two parts The End of the Time. The film epic detailed the complex relationship between the Doctor and the Master. They need each other — direct and opposing forces. The Batman had the Joker and many more in his gallery of villains.

Novel Heroes
In Julie Garwood’s Heartbreaker, Nick Buchanan is an FBI agent who specializes in missing children, murder and more. His villain is a serial who targets Nick’s oldest friend Father Tom and Father Tom’s sister. Nick doesn’t realize at first that the villain going after them is someone with an axe to grind with him.

For Eve Dallas in J.D. Robb’s In Death series, her villain is the father who raped and abused her as a child. She gives him the finger every day she has a moment of happiness and since she met Roarke, she has a lot more of those. Surprisingly, I don’t think of the criminals she puts away as the villains for Eve because they are the job, they are the villains in other lives that she stands up for – her father and whoever her mother are the ultimate villains. Little by little, she is overcoming them.

Do You Need a Big Bad?
Does every hero need a “big bad”? I use this term because each season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer would focus on one big bad who would be the ongoing storyline for each season. In the first season, it was the Master, in the second, it was Angelus, in the third, it was the Mayor and in the fourth, it turned out to be Adam while in the fifth it was Glory. Willow took on the role of the big bad in the sixth and the First Evil earned the coveted spot for the seventh and final season.

Each villain challenged Buffy in new and terrifying ways. It forced her to face her fears internally and externally. Do all heroes need a big bad of some kind? My example of Eve Dallas would make her father the Big Bad of the overall series.

In Mercy Thompson, the big bad shifts from book to book as she deals with different challenges. The worst of her enemies turned out to be a normal human boy with delusions of grandeur and access to Fae weapons that let him torture and nearly kill her. For Harry Dresden, his big bad has also shifted from novel to novel, but some have remained constant including his godmother, some of the Fae and the Red Court.

In each example, these big bads force the heroes to make a choice – to defend others from their wrath and to take on challenges that could ultimately destroy them. Like Luke Skywalker, the heroes must confront the darkness within themselves as well as the big bad.

Bigger, Badder Villains

The problem with big bads is that as series go longer – the villains become more awful and they begin to look an awful lot like our heroes. Would Buffy be Buffy without Willow or the Master or even Angelus? Would Luke Skywalker be who he is without Darth Vader? Could Eve Dallas be the woman she is without the horror that was her father?

Do their villains define our heroes?

1 Comment

  1. I definitely think so. Whether the villain is singular, a rogues gallery, a horrible past or environmental. A hero is refined by their obstacles and a villain who knows them well enough to exploit their weakness—even when it's the writer challenging the character through use of a zombie virus pandemic or the like—eventually makes for a stronger hero.

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