In my last Inspiration Sunday post I mentioned that in the process of working out some things for the third book in my series, I’ve been thinking about the very different motives and actions of my heroes and villains. Where my story goes from here largely depends on their inner battles, and how those translate into actions that have world-wide consequences. What is each side trying to ultimately achieve, and in what ways are they trying to get there? Are they staying one step ahead of their enemies, or are they simply reacting as each new thing gets thrown at them, never really gaining any ground?
But even beyond that, what makes heroes and villains who they are is not just their inner conflict, but their inner character. The best heroes aren’t perfect people—they are just as flawed as the rest of us; sometimes more so. And yet what makes them different? Sure they might have special abilities—those can be squandered. They might be more desperate than most. Desperation can also turn to bitterness that produces nothing good. And we’ve seen time and time again how the same set of circumstances can turn one person to darkness and another to the light.
I found the answer in a quote from C.S. Lewis. “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable.”
Our heroes have to accept their flaws, allow themselves be deeply wounded by them, yet still have the strength rise to action…even when that action is self-sacrificial. They have to care about something larger than themselves, and to care, a heart capable of love is required. So where does that leave our darkest villains? By contrast, they are cold and selfish. Their flaws do not make them vulnerable to heartache—they won’t allow it. And while they might also care about something larger than themselves, it is only to the extent that they will greatly benefit in the process…and they have no problem sacrificing someone else to get their prize. They worship none but themselves. Over time, our villains’ hearts grow increasingly incapable of love until, to use Lewis’ words, they become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable. Those are the true villains that our heroes must rise against—the ones worth risking everything to defeat, because if they win, there will be nothing left worthy of living for.
For those of you who are writers, forget for a bit the mechanics of the plot you’re building, and look deep into the eyes of your heroes and villains. What lies hidden deep down in their hearts and souls? What, and who, do they really, honestly care about? How do their vulnerabilities impact their character, and what are they willing to do to achieve their goals? For all you who are readers, which heroes and villains stand out as the most memorable to you? What made them real?
Also in this issue:
- Medieval Menagerie
- Self-Editing Tip: Who vs. That
- Fantasy Art
- And more…