Welcome to Writing Tip Wednesdays, where I post (you guessed it) tips on writing every Wednesday at 5:00 PM ET. This week’s topic:
Welcome to Part 2 of our WRITING HEROES series. (Click here for Part 1: HOW TO WRITE FLAWED HEROES.)
Have you ever wondered why we get all mad at villains for having confidence? For being snobby? For feeling like the world owes them something? And for feeling like they own the world?
Well, what’s the difference between that sort of villain and, say, Tony Stark, the King of Snark?
What is it that lets people relate to Tony Stark if he’s just as snobby and full of himself as the villain?
It’s his wit that takes his opponents from big and scary to weak and tiny. Generally, as an audience, we like when that happens.
But what separates Tony’s snark from Loki’s snark? What makes one version acceptable and humorous, and the other grating, snobbish, and villainous?
That’s what we’re going to look at today.
What makes us despise a villain?
His origin as some kind of royal, aristocratic character. I.e. he’s spoiled
To quote my colleague Wesley Baines on the subject, there is a reason for this, especially for American (U.S.) audiences. The United States was founded on principles of hard work, and the potential to be blessed for it:
“The Puritan attitude that suffering redeems people from original sin, I think, crept into the love for the underdog America has today. Those who didn’t devote themselves to hard work were looked at as more “fallen,” and so an aristocratic fellow who doesn’t like to get dirty would be quite the villain. So basically, if you have -and- enjoy your riches, you were bad.”
So with that bit of history in mind…
What makes us love a hero?
Yeah. I think that about sums it up.
The old saying rings true: people really do love an underdog who rises up to become a king—or at least someone who has it all.
BUT WAIT A MOMENT
Loki’s not a king.
Ah, but Loki acts like one. He acts like he’s been spurned the throne in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)—and in a way, he has. He was prince of the Jotuns, but had his title and position taken from him the second that Odin saved him as a wee babe. And not only that, but since Odin already had a son, Loki was not only adopted, but he was of a race the Asgardians deemed lesser—essentially setting up for Loki to function socially and emotionally as the disregarded, lesser, shamed bastard son.
So why don’t we just see him as the good guy? He’s an underdog, isn’t he?
Loki believes himself entitled to an extreme—so much of an extreme that he not only tries to kill his adoptive father, but an entire race of people: he tries to erase his “shameful” history, instead of clinging to it proudly.
SO LET’S LOOK AT THE DIFFERENCE
Heroes typically start at the bottom. Their goal is not to erase their past, but to present proudly what the world deems as shameful.
Heroes wear their badge of shame as a badge of pride, and tell the world to make room for someone both qualified and “shameful;” villains try to cover up their shame and present themselves as perfect until someone finds out differently.
Villains, like Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who I talk about in detail in my WRITING VILLAINS series (Part 1, Part 2), is a religious judge who, though he admits he is a sinner, acts as though he is more virtuous than the rest of the world.
He hides his imperfections, basing them on the failures of the heroes, the good guys, the every day man.
The heroes own their imperfections. Share them proudly. And try to be good anyway.
One of Tony Stark’s flaws is definitely his personality. But he knows it’s a problem. He owns up to it. So we can accept it.
Loki doesn’t. He is convinced that he is free to whine until the world gives it what it owes him: everything. Perfect allegiance.
HOW CAN WE INTERPRET THIS?
There are likely many ways, but the one I’m going to focus on is this: when people admit they’re human, admit their flaws, and own up to them, they are respected by their fellow man because they are acting like their fellow man.
Likewise, when people don’t admit they’re human and act as though they are perfect when everyone else around them can see just how flawed they are.
Perhaps it could be a life lesson in humility: villains are flawed, and so are the good guys—one just doesn’t admit it. And perhaps both of them should.
Alyssa Grace Moore
You can also find Alyssa on Twitter: @alyssagracem
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