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3 Traits Your Hero and Villain Should Share

hero villainWhen we think of good guys and bad guys, we think of people who are diametrically opposed to one another. Yet the best kind of story is usually one that features a hero and villain who share more in common than not.

Anatomy of Story John TrubyIn fact, the more similar your hero and villain, the stronger your story, the more realistic your characters, and the deeper your exploration of theme. Consider what screenplay consultant John Truby writes in The Anatomy of Story:

The contrast between hero and opponent is powerful only when both characters have strong similarities. Each then presents a slightly different approach to the same dilemma. And it is in the similarities that crucial and instructive differences become most clear.

Do Your Hero and Villain Share These 3 Traits?

Following are three areas in which you can and should strive to create common ground between your protagonist and antagonist.

1. Personality

When your hero and villain share common personality traits, you create interesting possibilities for exploring both characters. In your antagonist, you’re highlighting all the worst traits of your protagonist and illustrating what your hero could become if he makes the wrong choices.

For Example:

  • In the original Star Wars trilogy, Luke Skywalker was one bad choice away from becoming Darth Vader.

  • Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice works because Lizzie’s and Darcy’s mutual pride and prejudice spark against one another.

Mr Darcy Matthew Macfayden Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen

  • Jon Turteltaub’s movie The Kid, in which a successful but unhappy “jerk” is magically visited by his eight-year-old self, sets up the protagonist’s younger self as his own antagonist and a perfect illustration of the bad choices he’s made throughout his life.

Bruce Willis Spencer Breslin The Kid

2. Values

Protagonists and antagonists don’t even need to have different value systems. Stories in which both characters are fighting for a good cause for a good reason present wonderful opportunities for exploring the different facets of truth and morality. How many brother-fighting-brother Civil War stories have been based on this very premise?

For Example:

  • Consider Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Peter Weir’s movie adaption of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, in which the main character, the captain of a war frigate dueling it out with a French privateer in the southern hemisphere, wonders why the privateer won’t leave him alone and is told by another character that the French captain “fights like you, Jack.”

Master and Commander Russell Crowe

  • The main character in Roland Emmerich’s film The Patriot seems miles away from the brutal antagonist at first glance, but viewers soon learn that both men fight their wars in the same way: with a cruel efficiency that focuses on results more than morals.

Patriot Musketball Mel Gibson

  • Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins gives us a protagonist and an antagonist who are both concerned about cleaning up crime and making the world a better place; only their methods of achieving that objective are different.

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3. Goals

Perhaps the most important similarity you can create between your hero and villain is their primary goal. Their shared goal is at the heart of your story’s conflict. It gives you a reason to keep bringing these two characters together and a mirror off which to reflect both their similarities and their key differences.

For Example:

  • The titular Maltese falcon, in Dashiell Hammett’s classic noir novel, is sought after by practically every character in the story.

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  • In Andy Tennant’s Cinderella retelling Ever After, both the protagonist and her evil stepmother are after the prince.

Rodmilla's Mushy Moment in Ever After

  • David Twohy’s science fiction flick Pitch Black features a cast of characters, of various levels of antagonism, who all want to escape the eclipsed planet on which they’re marooned before the night monsters can eat them.

Pitch Black Riddick Vin Diesel

If you’ve ever thrown characters onto the page, only to discover that you don’t know what one or the other of them wants—or if you’ve ever created an antagonist who ended up being a less than worthy opponent for your hero—start looking for (or creating)  similarities between hero and villain. The opportunities for strengthening your characters, plot, and theme will start springing up like daffodils after the rain.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What traits do your hero and villain share? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. I like the idea that the social mores require the hero to be like the antagonist. It creates the opportunity for a lot of interesting moral questions.

  2. Kyle J. Stone says

    Hey, how are you all doing! I’m sure it’s been a very long time since anyone has taken a glance at this page about the commons between hero and villain.

    Ms. or Mrs. K.M. Weiland, my name is Kyle J. Stone. I’m currently 21 years old, have a beautiful wife and a newborn son (February 14th, 2013 is his birthday), and I’m three months away from finishing my deployment here in Afghanistan. I’ve loved and served God my entire life whilst living in an environment on either side of the moral fence.

    I’m introducing myself because I want you to remember this post, and I want you to understand the great deal of inspiration you have provided for me in talking about the hero/villain factor.

    I’m currently writing a book trilogy. They are each named differently.

    Acratara (Book One)
    Craota (Book Two)
    Elohim (Book Three)

    You may recognize the last book title, as the name ELOHIM is one of God’s many names in the Bible. One of the many reasons I chose to use that name in the book is because of the inspiration I gathered from reading Ted Dekker’s Black, Red, White, and Green books. Elyon was such a catchy name and it stuck with me for a long time.

    My story revolves around the character Evan McCarthy, a very intelligent, loving, caring boy, age 17, who is a member of a group of individuals, chosen by Elohim (God) to bring about the imprisonment of Traitus (Lucifer), through the retrieval of four weapons that previously had belonged to four powerful elemental beings (archangels), who, in the past, were given responsibility over the Earth, Sky, Oceans, and fires of the world. The lore of the angels and the weapons lies in the past, a retelling if you will, in my vision, of Satan’s casting out of Heaven, and his plans for revenge. The weapons act as one to perform as a key, to send Satan to his eternal imprisonment and bring about peace to the world. There are obstacles in their way of course, including a group of Traitus’ followers who call themselves “Craota”. The Acratara and Craota all have their own sets of skills and abilities passed down to them from their families that range all the way back to medieval times, Evan McCarthy’s generation being the present, or modern day time, which is the setting of all three novels.

    I’ve always been a fan of Spielberg films, I’ve always loved the emotions of the characters and how I’ve cared for them, and the deep stories that come with them. And that’s how I’ve applied those elements to my books. There are plenty of side-stories, plot twists, and character development that I feel have been overlooked in a lot of novels.

    I’ve just finished my first novel, “Acratara”, here on deployment, and I am going to send my manuscript across as many publishers as I possibly can. These are novels that I believe that the world needs. People need a new perspective on God’s love and power and a motivation to read their Bibles, and to teach their children about him, and I know this would be a great way to do that. I give no credit to myself, only to God, whom I prayed to, to help me every day to write everything humbly in his name.

    One day you will see these novels on the shelves, and I want you to know that I thank you for taking the time to inspire writers like myself to produce great works for the Lord, through stories, ideas, and imagination.

    -Kyle J. Stone,
    –Future Bestselling Author
    🙂

  3. Milly Jonas says

    This I a great post, I found it so useful! Ive been planning a story but my protagonist and antagonist have turned out so similar that they are almost the same characters of the opposite gender! Does this matter or should I differentiate them a bit more?

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