Analysing Character – Hero vs. Villain

As a writer (and aspiring actress), it is my job to understand emotions and delve deep into the human psyche. I often think about the world at large, about humanity. I am a student of philosophy and deeply curious about the world and the people that populate this land. 

We encounter heroes and villains in every story, the hero usually being the protagonist and the villain the antagonist, though it can work the other way around. But what sets them apart from one another? People assume that a person’s character is shaped by their upbringing and experience. Although this does have a significant impact on who a person becomes, it mostly boils down to this very simple thing – choice. And choice stems from an individual’s perspective on life and their level of empathy (or lack thereof). A villain sees the suffering in front of him and decides he will not put up with it. You could argue that a hero does the same thing. Here’s the difference and it’s a rather small one, albeit a very important one, one that makes all the difference. A villain retaliates, seeks vengeance for all the wrongdoing, but by doing so hurts others, recreating the wrong that was done to him. A hero (on the other hand) seeks to be a better man, to make the world a safer place, one unlike that which he himself experienced. By taking the latter approach, he redefines himself and his past.

Let’s say for example that a child grew up with an abusive father. He could grow up, seek revenge for the wrong done to him by punishing his father then repeating the same abusive method of treatment with his own child. He then becomes what his father was, a bad guy. But here’s what a good guy would do differently. Let’s assume the hero has the same childhood but instead of seeking revenge for it, he decides to spread compassion. He forgives his father or merely let’s him be and reaches out to others. He raises his children by ensuring that their childhood unlike his own is filled with love and encouragement. This approach is a much more favourable one and puts an end to the cycle of violence. In real life we are often faced with the same choices (such as choosing whether to forgive or to exact revenge) and it’s our choices which ultimately make us who we are. It lies at the core of our being, shaped by our values and principles.

So next time you work on your novel (or screenplay), think about this – what sets your hero apart from your villain? What defines those two characters? Is your villain really just a reflection of your hero, had she or he taken a different path? The darker shades of your hero’s personality reincarnated? Like Faith Lehane vs. Buffy Summers. Or Daredevil vs. The Punisher. Is it really that simple? Like comparing love to hate. Or is there a more defined line you have to cross, to get from hero to villain? And once that line is crossed, can you ever go back?

Thanks for reading. Share your thoughts in the comment section.

XO. Nina

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