Saturday 2 June 2012

Victim Hero Villain Triad

I was reading a collection of essays when I came across this concept.

Every story, including our perceptions of our own lives, need a hero, villain and victim to maintain a stable triad.  A story with just a hero and a victim would be unsatisfying, as would one with just a hero and a villain.  Stories with only a villain and victim are depressing as well as unsatisfying.

The triad doesn’t have to be obvious.  In the movie Twister, the weather itself is the villain, the scientists are the heroes and the Mid-western townspeople are the victims.

You can make things even more interesting by setting up competing triads.  In The Matrix, the humans see the triad with humanity as victims, the machines as the villains and our main characters as the heroes.  However, the machines see themselves as victims, humanity as oppressing villains and their agents as defending heroes.  In The Avengers, Loki presents himself as a hero to humanity, freeing them from the oppression of self-determination.  By allowing the bad guys to see themselves as heroes, it gives them substance and reality.  Otherwise they’re just Evil, in the tradition of nineteen-twenties melodrama.

I can see the triad being useful in setting up your characters and their story arcs.  As the story progresses, they can change their perceptions of the triad.  A character who was seen as a victim might become a villain as the story unfolds and we learn more about them.  A villain might become a hero when the truth is revealed (like Dr. Kimble in The Fugitive.  To the Marshals, he is a convicted felon who has escaped but eventually they realize he is an innocent man struggling to prove his innocence). 

It’s a different and interesting way to think about stories.  Bringing these concepts out from instinctive to conscious thinking tends to make people better writers.  Instinct always has blind spots and sometimes those blind spots are big enough to drive a truck through.

No comments:

Post a Comment