How to Write a Story – Heroes and Villains:
Author Lester Dent uses the words “hero” and “villain,” which for a lot of us might conjure up visions of two-dimensional stock characters: the perfect and perfectly uninteresting hero, and the mustache-twirling villain. But can you call them “protagonist” and “antagonist”? Of course you can. Can your hero be more of an anti-hero? Absolutely, just like popular pulp characters like the Shadow or Conan the Barbarian. And your villains better darn well have a stronger motivation than just “he’s an evil genius bent on world domination.”
The motivation of your villain—what it is he or she (or it!) wants and why—will be the beating heart of your story. The villain is the character that gets pulp fiction moving. What’s a murder mystery until someone, y’know… murders someone? And the someone who commits the murder is the villain.
So then why does the villain murder this person, or compete for the attentions of one point in a love triangle, or pull off a heist, or try to fix a boxing match? Money, power, attention… these are symptoms. Think a little deeper and get into the heart of why the villain wants or needs money, covets power, and so on. What hole does that fill for him or her? What makes it personal? And then ask, what makes the villain’s “crime” personal for the hero?
Oh, and Dent tends to think of the hero as a man, and the villain as a man, too, but of course we’re writing our stories in the early twenty-first century, so read “his” and “he” as indicating either gender. Writing under one of these shared pen names, Kenneth Robeson, Dent is still best known as the co-creator of Doc Savage. Dent was never considered a giant of literature, but in terms of sheer sales power he sits shoulder to shoulder with the most successful popular fiction authors this country has ever produced, including mega-best sellers like Stephen King or Earl Stanley Gardner.
Dent’s famous “Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot” may read at first blush like a dreaded “formula,” but we’ll break this down more in class and see that it’s really more a recipe. You’ll learn how to write a story in no time.