Conflict comes in all shapes and sizes, from the hero’s mad dash to get home and clean before his girlfriend comes over to the final battle at the climax of your novel. Most of us who write remember sitting in some class and being lectured about Person vs. Person, Person vs. Society, Person vs. Nature, and Person vs. Self until our eyes glazed over. Since it’s conflict, you’d think it would have been a more interesting lecture, but it never seemed to work out that way.
Not that it isn’t useful to know you have options. I’ve read romances where geographic separation was the core conflict and science fiction where the conflict revolved around not being eaten by the local plants. You can take any of these types of conflict and find something that really works for your story. But in all the reading and editing I’ve done, I’ve noticed a trend in conflict:
Villains make everything easier.
Not every book has or needs a villain, but when you’ve got one, you never have to look far for new conflict. No random natural disasters need apply and no evil record companies need to make irrational changes to a tour schedule to keep the heroine and hero apart. When you have a villain, someone is actively plotting against your protagonists. Need to get two characters locked into a room together for eight hours? Ask your villain. Want a brush with death to make sure they realize they can’t live without each other? Ask your villain. Slow spot in chapters 15 and 16? Ask your villain.
Villains don’t operate in a vacuum, no matter how convenient they are to a writer. Whatever your villain does has to make sense from his own point of view and within the context of his world. And he can’t be having a bad day where he just doesn’t feel terribly villainous–like heroes, your villains must perform to their own maximum capacity. A villain who is only a real danger when you want her to be doesn’t present enough challenge for your protagonists, and one who doesn’t act in her own best interests really ought to get into a different line of work.
The most frightening thing about villains is that so often, they believe they are the heroes. Your evil dictator may honestly feel that she can save more lives as an absolute ruler than she could as a president. Your mad scientist may be doing everything to save of the life of his only child. Villains are people in the same way that heroes are, and if you don’t write them that way, both your villain and your story will come out a little flat and unbelievable.
Give your villains motivation and the capacity to triumph, and your heroes will never want for someone to struggle against. What’s more, they’ll look that much better when they win the day.
Let’s hear it for the villains.
reprinted/reblogged by permission at Storm Moon Press