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Guest Post: Heroes and Villains – 2 Faces of the Same Coin, by Melissa Goodwin – and a Giveaway!!

Today’s post is brought to you by the good people at WOW – Women on Writing – as a part of the blog tour promoting The Christmas Village by Melissa Goodwin.  In this Christmas adventure story, Jamie is a twelve year-old boy who is having a difficult time. He wishes that he could live inside his grandmother’s miniature Christmas village where everything seems so peaceful and perfect. Magically, one night he is transported into the town of Canterbury and discovers that things are not always as they seem – there is danger in this perfect little village. Jamie needs to find a way to help his friends … and to get back home.

For more information on the book, check out the biographical and contest information after the post.  And now, with no further ado, I bring you a post on writing courtesy of Melissa!

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Guest Post: Heroes and Villains – Two Faces of the Same Coin

Actor Willem Dafoe has played his fair share of both heroes and villains. When asked which he prefers, he answered, “I don’t know what hero and villain is. I like to think I play heroic bad guys and villainous heroes .”

He’s got a good point. If you think about a person in your own life, the most selfish, reckless, narcissistic person you know, chances are that this person does not think he is the problem. That person thinks that you, and everyone else are the problem. He doesn’t think he’s a villain, he thinks he’s the hero of his own story!

I recently participated in a Halloween Blogfest, in which we were asked to name our all-time favorite literary protagonists and antagonists. There were as many answers as there were participants, but one theme came through clearly: We like our heroes to have a dark side, and we like our villains to be a bit heroic!

Classic villains like the Wicked Witch of the West may scare us, but they are pretty one-dimensional. They are out for no good, pure and simple.  But when Gregory Maguire wrote the book, Wicked, The Wicked Witch became a far more interesting character indeed!  No longer was she the villain, she had become the hero of her own story.

One of the best recent examples of the hero-villain dynamic comes from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. There’s Harry of course – we’ll come back to him in a minute!  The arch-villain, Lord Voldemort, is pure evil. He is out for dominance and destruction – there’s no ambiguity or nuance whatsoever! Then there’s Severus Snape, one of Voldemort’s loyal followers. Or is he? Snape is snide, surly and sneering. He is clearly capable of doing bad things. But the beauty of Snape as a villain is that, throughout seven books, we are never completely sure if that’s what he is. It is only at the very end that we see that beneath Snape’s villainous veneer, lies something of a tragic hero.

Similarly, Harry is a far more interesting hero because he recognizes his own potential for evil. After he first encounters Lord Voldemort, Harry tells Headmaster Dumbledore that he saw troubling similarities between himself and the evil Lord. Dumbledore reassures Harry by giving him a terrific explanation of the distinction between hero and villain. He tells Harry that it’s not what we’re capable of that determines what we become; it’s the choices we make. Harry has the potential to be sucked into a vortex of hatred and revenge, but he chooses not to be, and that’s what makes him heroic.

We can all think of other literary characters whose imperfect natures make them iconic rather than sappy. My own favorite is Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind.  She’s the hero of the tale, and she has heroic qualities like strength, courage and perseverance. But she’s also capable of villainous acts. She steals away her sister’s suitor and marries him for his money. And, she’d steal Ashley Wilkes from under Melanie’s nose in a heartbeat. We love Scarlett, in part because we get to hate her a little bit too.

As writers, creating multi-dimensional heroes and villains gives our stories extra voltage. As characters emerge when I’m writing, I usually stop and do a character sketch. No matter how good my hero is, I make sure he has reason to doubt himself.  And, no matter how bad the villain is, I make sure there is something we learn about him that says, “That could be anybody.”

Are there heroes and villains that you love because they are not one hundred percent one or the other?

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Melissa Ann Goodwin is a native New Englander, now living in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her husband, artist J. Richard Secor. She has written extensively for Fun for Kidz, Boys’ Quest and Hopscotch for Girls. She was a regular feature article contributor to the Caregiver’s Home Companion for more than five years. Her work has appeared in Guideposts’ Angels on Earth, Caregivers’ Home Companion, Caring Today, The Lutheran Digest, The Peak Magazine, The Andover Townsman, and the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette. Her poetry took 10th prize in The Writer’s Digest 2010 annual competition. The Christmas Village is her first novel.

Enter here to win your very own copy of The Christmas Village!



For more information you can visit Melissa’s website and the website for The Christmas Village.  The book is available through Amazon and Smashwords. The Twitter hashtag for The Christmas Village is #TCVllg; Melissa herself is @GoodwinMelissa. And finally, if you would like to see the trailer for the book, click here!

 

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12 comments to Guest Post: Heroes and Villains – 2 Faces of the Same Coin, by Melissa Goodwin – and a Giveaway!!

  • Jill, thanks again so much for hosting me here on your site. I look forward to hearing about other people’s favorite heroes and villains!

    • You are most welcome Melissa! I do too… 😉

      My own take: villains tend to be more interesting than heroes; flawed heroes tend to be more interesting than villains; flawed villains tend to be more interesting than flawed heroes. The explanation is simple: flawed villains (Melissa’s “slight heroic villains”) can be any of us, so they’re identifiable. We’ve all had moments where we envisioned doing something mean/bad/spiteful/awful – and those of us who read extensively have imaginations that have probably taken us down the “what if” path to imagine where our lives would have gone if we’d done those mean/bad/spiteful/awful things. So we can empathize and identify with flawed villains – “there but for the grace of god…” and all that.

      I love Scarlett O’Hara, but my favorite character in that book without a doubt is Rhett Butler. Talk about your flawed “villain”… 😉 Similarly, Snape is one of the most interesting characters in Harry P, followed by Draco Malfoy in the later books (in the beginning he’s just a Mean Kid and those just plain suck – it’s not until you start to really understand his family that he makes sense).

      I don’t always love the villains, don’t get me wrong – they do deplorable things and I don’t approve of that. But they are usually much more interesting to me to read! I mean, come on – who is more entertaining: Jane Bennett or Mr. Collins? Mina Harker or Dracula? Who doesn’t love a good bad guy? They’re so much fun to get into…

      Or maybe it’s just me! 😉

      Thanks again for a great post Melissa!

  • Marjorie

    This book sounds like a winner and thanks for the chance to win it.

  • I’m reminded of the cartoon movie Megamind. A good villain…which pretty much sounds ironic. I mean, probably many of us grew up with stereotypical ideas of what a hero or a villain is. Harry’s character stands out…he acknowledges that he is capable of doing good and bad; it’s a matter of choice for him–to do good or to do bad? There mere act of choosing to do good is already a big step towards becoming a hero for, most importantly, himself. This is a great post!

  • Jill, you hit the nail on the head. I’m fascinated with the “naughty people” because I’ve always been so well-behaved. It gives me that vicarious thrill…

    Marjorie, thanks for visiting and saying hello.

    Nancy – Megamind is a fun one. It’s especially fun when the villain has a sense of humor – like Alan Rickman’s villain in the first Die Hard movie. In fact, I love Alan Rickman as a villain, he has that ironic voice!

  • That’s a great analysis of heroes and villains! Right away, I could think of several “bad” heroes and “good” villains that I’ve loved in stories – Scarlett of course is a perfect example. As humans, we are complex beings and so the characters in our stories need to reflect that. Thanks for the great article! 🙂

  • Hi Bonnie, thanks for the nice comment. Simple is easy, but complex is way more interesting!

  • Thank you very much for the chance to win!

  • Would love to win! Sounds awesome.

  • Mary Preston

    The best villains are those of have a love/hate relationship with. The best heroes have a dark side.

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