When writing your novel, do you absolutely have to have a villain? Can the “bad guy” be society? Can it be the environment?
I went out of town a couple of weeks ago to go to a writing conference (had a wonderful time, saw many of my friends, made a number of new ones) and have been in recovery since then. Conferences are great fun, but they’re exhausting.
Nicole posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I just finished reading your e-zine article about villains. Thanks. Sort of. I don’t have a ‘person’ who is a villain in my book, I’ve just called ‘society’ my antagonist. I’m confused about whether I ‘need’ a person to thwart my MC, or…well, maybe I’ve missed the boat (it’s ok, only a first draft is done…loads of opportunity for writing in stuff during the editing process!). I have loads of conflict and disaster and whatnot (I DO pay attention to what you tell us!), but no ‘villain’. Do I need to make up someone in particular who causes pain? Thanks!
Randy sez: The short answer is no. You don’t have to have a villain to make a novel work. It’s perfectly OK to have society be the cause of all your lead character’s ills. It’s perfectly OK to have the environment be the “villain.” It’s OK to have your protagonist be his own worst enemy.
Having said that, let me suggest that evil becomes more Evil when it’s personalized.
It’s one thing for Katniss Everdeen to be battling the Evil System in THE HUNGER GAMES. But the heat goes up a notch when the Evil System crystallizes in the person of President Snow.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS would be a powerful story of the battle between good and evil if all the bad guys were orcs, wargs, trolls, balrogs, and dark-hearted men. But by personalizing Evil in the form of Sauron, J.R.R. Tolkien gave us a more intelligent and dangerous foe.
Likewise, the Death Eaters in the Harry Potter series are vile enough, but they are stronger Death Eaters because Lord Voldemort stands behind them. Destroying Voldemort then becomes the tangible goal that symbolizes the victory over all Death Eaters.
So Nicole, you don’t have to have a villain if you don’t want to. But your readers may find your story more powerful if you find a way to bring your evil society to a sharp point, in the form of one person who symbolizes all that’s wrong with your society.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.