Last week I talked about villains being the heroes of their own story. But even in those cases, they do tend to still be the "bad guy" in an objective way. In Thorn, Fenmere believes he's in the right, protecting his own, but at the same time, if you were to design a "Am I The Bad Guy?" Flowchart, the question "Did I Hire Assassins to Kill A Teenager?" would definitely point to "Yes, You're the Bad Guy."
But not every antagonist needs to be a villain at all.
Take Rellings-- the dormitory prefect in Thorn of Dentonhill.
He's a constant roadblock for Veranix over the course of the book. He's
obnoxious to Veranix, but mostly because he suspects Veranix is up to
something he shouldn't be... and he's exactly right. Veranix
is sneaking out of the dorms at night, and it's Rellings's job to
maintain discipline and stop students from doing that.
So of course he's not a bad guy.
are full of this kind of antagonist, and it's far more interesting to
have two people who believe they are doing 'the right thing' be in
opposition to each other. Sometimes that works well-- The Fugitive
in the 1990s was an excellent example: Dr. Kimble knew he was innocent
and was on the run to find his wife's killer; US Marshal Gerard was
hunting for an escaped convicted murderer. They both were doing the
"right thing", and in the end, they both got to "win". Heck, the sequel
flat out made Gerard the protagonist.
challenge is finding that balance. When one person's "right thing" is
more obviously "right" than the other, you lose that, and then you can
overcompensate to attempt to bring balance back.
Take, for example, Marvel Comic's Civil War
story line a few years back. On the face of it, you have one side
saying that there should be regulation and oversight to superheroes, and
people who choose to do that should have accountability (just like
police, firemen, soldiers, etc.), and the other side saying that any
yahoo should get to put on a mask and punch people without regard to
civil rights or due process. (Am I showing my bias here?) But the
story, in seeing that one side of the argument has more of a point,
overcompensates, turning the "supporting registration" side into
jackbooted fascists who throw anyone who disagrees with them into an
extradimensional prison. This includes having Tony Stark-- the face of
registration-- decide that when Peter Parker abandons his side, he's
going to send a team of "reformed" villains after Peter, including
Remember that flowchart point I made before? Yeah.
But it doesn't have to go that far. A genuine clash between two good people can make for a fascinating story.
Have at it. See you down in the word mines.
If you are in the Austin area, tomorrow night (Friday, February 20th),
I'll be at BookPeople (603 N. Lamar) at 7pm, reading from and signing Thorn of Dentonhill.