“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them…. I destroy them.”
― Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game
I’m not nearly arrogant enough to think I can improve on Card. It worked for Ender. It can work for you and me.
Apparently, George, R. R. Martin has also said “Nobody is a villain in their own story.”
So there it is; the challenge. If I don’t know my antagonist well enough to love him, how can I know enough about him to crush him convincingly? Isn’t that what the readers want from the storyteller?
The novel I’m currently rewriting suffers from a problem. The hero goes through his world, conquering as he goes, barely breaking a sweat. YAWN. I think I have misunderstood both protagonist and antagonist.
My rewrite is starting with me rethinking the protagonist’s weaknesses and the antagonist’s strengths. What can my villain do that threatens the hero so thoroughly that destruction is possible? If that threat isn’t credible, why should a reader part with his money to read it?
Also, why does the villain think he’s heroic? Unless he’s a comic book villain who delights in evil, the story villain is a hero to himself. I need to know my villain so well, I can find time to show his humanity. Who does he love? If no one, why not? Does he pick up the stray cat or kick it? If my villain is patient with those who disagree with him, his opposition to my hero becomes more complex, less reflexive.
It’s a great day to be alive!