1. Fervidor

    Fervidor Active Member

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    How important is it for the hero and villain to have a connection?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Fervidor, Jul 31, 2020.

    So I was watching some youtube videos a couple of days ago where a guy talked about superhero movies, and in two separate videos he brought up basically the same perceived problem with the story he was talking about: That the villain had no personal connection to the hero.

    That is to say, the former mainly antagonized the latter due to circumstance. Put another way, the problem (as I understand his reasoning) was that the villain's motivations were unrelated to the hero. He apparently viewed this as a severe enough issue that he wished the stories could be significantly rewritten to replace the villains in question with different ones to make them relate to their heroes in a more personal way.

    I bring this up because it's pretty much exactly what I've intended to do with the (initial) main antagonist of the story I've been planning: He actually has no history with the heroes or anything to do with them at all, besides wanting to steal something one of them happens to have. This is totally intentional: He's supposed to be just this powerful and dangerous guy who doesn't know the main characters and doesn't really care about them whatsoever. He didn't kill any of their parents or burn down their hometowns or kidnap their love interests. He simply shows up and causes trouble, and afterwards they mostly hope they never have to deal with him again. The idea is that despite being very formidable, he's not very important.

    And don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm suddenly doubting my decision. I don't really see it as a big issue, especially since I'm doing it purpose. But it did get me thinking: It is pretty ubiquitous for villains to have some sort of connection to the heroes that makes the conflict more personal, sometimes even to the point of seeming a bit forced.

    (Off the top of my head: The 1989 Batman movie having the Joker also be the guy who killed Bruce's parents in order to justify a last minute revenge theme and, I guess, let Bruce have closure, sorta?)

    So now I'm curious: How important do you think this is? Obviously it's not necessary - Lord of the Rings comes to mind - but is it always better for the hero and villain to have some kind of significant connection?
     
  2. TheOtherPromise

    TheOtherPromise Active Member

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    From what I can tell personal connection isn't necessary, instead the focus should be that the protagonist's and antagonist's goals should be mutually exclusive. That way the audience understands why the conflict exists and it isn't one of those miscommunication issues, where if they just talked it out they could resolve everything with both sides content.

    That said I personally enjoy when the protagonist and antagonist form a contrast. That doesn't mean there needs to be any personal connection, just a thematic connection.
     
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  3. Lazaares

    Lazaares Active Member

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    These two aren't the same.

    As mentioned above, motivation and goal is what counts first, then comes connections. A rivalry can even involve a complete blank state of personal connections where the villain and protagonist grow to respect each other /while/ maintaining their rivalry due to contradictory goals. This is the story of some of the greatest rivalries that ever existed.
     
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  4. Fervidor

    Fervidor Active Member

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    Well, I mean, it's either one or the other, isn't it?

    Unless you mean they both need to have concrete goals that conflict, which would rule out purely reactive heroes. You know, as in: "I need to stop the bad guy, not because he's preventing me from getting something I want, but simply because what he's doing is wrong."

    That did feature into what the guy was talking about, sorta. In both cases he picked villains with traits that made them mirror the heroes, while also contrasting them. Only, that was also a characterization thing: Their similarities would have let them relate to each other more (not necessarily in a healthy or positive way, mind), hence the personal connection.

    Let me try again: The problem was that the villain's motivations were not influenced by a personal connection with the hero, because there wasn't one.

    (Look, the dude's arguments were a bit hard to follow but I think that was more or less what he was talking about.)

    I'm not sure I follow. Aren't rivalries sorta inherently personal relationships? In the sense that you want to challenge a specific individual, because that feels important to you?
     
  5. Lazaares

    Lazaares Active Member

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    Definitely not. Take the example I linked. The 3rd Reich appointed a young & talented officer to North Africa who pushed the Brits all the way to Egypt. In turn, the British appointed one of /their/ most talented officers to repel the invasion and turn the battle. And these two then engaged in a series of conflicts legendary in their right immortalized in dozens of books, movies and games.

    The Desert Rats and the Desert Fox had nothing personal between each other, they didn't know each other - apart from the fame (and infamy) each of them carried with him. They had drastically different goals, though: Rommel wanted to push the British out of Africa, Montgomery wanted to push the Axis out of Africa. They clashed without personal connections and then grew to develop them, forming opinion and then respect towards each other as their battles concluded. With this in mind, Monty showing up in Egypt was the same thing you described:

    Except y'know, neither of them really was a hero or villain. And instead of wanting to steal something, the goal was to defeat the other's army.

    The rivalry they developed (as well as the rivalry of the troops) became the personal connection later on. Interesting; Rommel's son was best friend to Monty's son. And Monty invited Rommel's son to commemorate their victory in Britain; the veteran soldiers cheered the son of their former great rival. It must also be stated that Monty & Rommel clashed again during the invasion of Normandy, in a literal "Empire strikes back" event. A fascinating relationship with a complete blank state for a start.
     
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  6. Fervidor

    Fervidor Active Member

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    Right, but that second part is what made it a rivalry, as opposed to a professional conflict between two soldiers on opposite sides. I wouldn't say they started out as rivals, at least not as I define the term. If there aren't personal feelings involved, then it's just two guys trying to kill each other because that's their job.

    But, look, I feel that we are now veering into a discussion about semantics, and that never ends well. Whether or not rivalries can be impersonal seems pretty beside the point, anyway. We should try to get back to the topic at hand.

    Yeah, but they were real historical people, not fictional characters. So, I'm not sure using them as an example even makes sense. I mean, your argument can't be that they were well written, so I don't see what...

    ...You know what, this is fine. I can roll with this.

    Let's pretend that they are fictional characters and that their story was written by an author. My question then is: Do you think their story would have been better if they'd had some sort of personal history with one another prior to the war?

    Or, say, if someone said that Rommel wasn't a very good antagonist for Montgomery (or vice versa, depending on which of them is the hero of the story) because they had no personal connection, suggesting this was kind of a blunder by the author, how would you respond to that?
     
  7. Lazaares

    Lazaares Active Member

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    Any story where two characters interact for a lengthier time either directly or indirectly without forming any kind of opinion of the other or relationship is, simply stated, bad. That's refusal of character dynamics and development. Even two guys trying to kill each other out of a job will form opinions and feelings, unless you write a story of industrial machinery.

    The question is the beginning. Which is why I quoted your premise; sure it's all fine if they start out without personal connection, they can develop such along the way. And they should.

    Even if you go with joker having had nothing to do with Batman's parents, and joker just showing up out of nowhere while Batman's already a decent hero (AKA, Dark Knight timeline disregarding that one hint/reference from Gordon), the two will eventually develop a relationship. The single reference I mentioned in brackets is in the first movie of the trilogy anyways; the second is full and enjoyable without the first (or in my opinion, even better). The story, the character dynamics are unaltered. It works.

    To formulate an answer to your original question:

    How important is it for the hero and villain to have a connection?

    Important for any major character to have connection to the other. But this can be developed during the story (and should be), does not have to be a connection through backstory or past events.
     
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  8. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There is a difference between personal history and a personal connection. Personal history (like the Joker and Batman's parents) can feel forced. An evil-master-super-villain is usually bad enough that the ultra-clean wonder-super-hero doesn't need another reason to go after him/her. However, the more the hero/villain connect with each other during the unfolding of the story, the better. It not only develops their separate characters, but it develops them in relation to one another's doings. Good to have them meet now and again, I reckon.
     
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  9. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum

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    It isn't necessary of course, but a personal connection does serve to create much stronger drama, especially if the connection runs deep into the thematic material of the story. To bring up the same pair Jan did, remember when it was established that Batman essentially created the Joker, I think based on the idea that the US created terrorists in the middle east? Yet one more retcon on an oft-revisited and oft reworked origin story. But it forged a vital connection that made things way more personal, and at the same time connected the whole thing up to a wider philosophical conception.

    A strong personal connection also made Jessica Jones really powerful on a personal level, as opposed to just her being a hero (she totally isn't) and so automatically going after the villain. The theme is psychological abuse, and Kilgrave is the ultimate abuser, a telepath with mind control powers who can get inside people's heads (the ultimate rape?) and force them to do whatever he wants against their will. At some point before the show begins, he had seen her beating up some street thugs and decided he wants to control someone with her level of power, so made her his hench for a while, causing her to murder an innocent person (who turned out to also be Luke Cage's wife, creating another deep personal connection when that romance begins). This ties everything together into one very personal issue for her, that's aligned along the thematic basis of the show and creates incredibly strong drama.

    In fact, I don't remember what movie series it was, but there was a catch phrase—"This Time it's Personal". Sort of illustrates that being personal creates a more powerful connection.
     
  10. galaxaura

    galaxaura New Member

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    In my opinion, there doesn't have to be a personal connection. But in general there should be a connection between hero and villain. If both are opponents, there needs to be a common level where this can happen - but there doesn't need to be a personal connection.

    What do you mean? Who has no (or no personal?) connection in Lord of the Rings?
     
  11. NK_UT

    NK_UT Active Member

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    I don't think it's as important as the conflict that they both are involved in.

    Think in terms of a man-vs.-nature story. There would not necessarily be a "personal" connection between the "characters" (I put those in quotes since the nature half of that equation would be a personification rather than an active character), but they would interact with one another regardless.

    Think about the Grand Tour books by Ben Bova. Many of the stories that happen on Earth pit humans against an out-of-control environment that is slowly wiping out human civilization. The characters have no direct conflict with Mother Nature, but the environmental re-balancing of Earth is the driving motivator that pushes humanity into becoming an interplanetary species. However, in some of those stories that take place on Earth, nature is treated as an antagonist to the human characters.
     
  12. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    I don't think it is always necessary. Yes, it can add some conflict if the villain was previous a friend or someone the hero cared for. Imagine your own daughter or son being the bad one you have to stop. But I do get a bit tired of the villain always having to have a connection to the hero. The villain killed the hero's parents kind of thing. I get why writers do it, though.
     
  13. Storysmith

    Storysmith Active Member

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    A similar historic pair are Richard the Lion-Heart and Saladin. The two never met in real life, but when Sir Walter Scott wrote about them in Talisman, he added a fictional meeting during the war. So he clearly felt that personal contact was important enough to intentionally add ahistoric material.
     
  14. Fervidor

    Fervidor Active Member

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    Sauron and Frodo. The former just wanted his jewelry back and didn't give a damn who was carrying it. The latter just wanted to destroy the ring for the good of the world in general. Neither had any personal feelings for one another, nor are they connected in any meaningful way other than the One Ring.

    I mean, I guess it's arguable if Sauron is even a character, strictly speaking, as apposed to this very general force of evil. But even factoring in his minions, Frodo was always just the guy who happened to have the ring - if it had passed on to someone else, the Nazgûl and the orcs would simply have shifted their focus away from him because it's nothing personal.

    (Note that this is inherently different from the "chosen one" storylines this type of fantasy tends to go for, because at least then the main character is always going to be important to the villains.)

    I'm pretty sure the only antagonist Frodo formed any kind of relationship with was Gollum, and he wasn't even actually aligned with the main villain.
     
  15. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Personal connections are a cheap and lazy way to create emotional conflict between characters. Be better than that.

    "No, I am your father" was not clever. It was dumb. It ruined Luke's personal journey established so well in the original film.
     
  16. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum

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    Yes, agreed, but not because it was a personal connection, because it was stupidly shoehorned in for the sequel.
     
  17. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Using that as an example, Darth Vader is considered one of the best ever villains in film. And when he was established as such, the only personal connection to the hero was that the hero was told the villain killed his father. That, along with his Aunt and Uncle getting murdered by the enemy (and destroying his farm, leaving Luke unbound to any home or safe haven) gave him justification to take revenge on both Darth Vader specifically and the Empire as a whole. But that said, his primary motivation in the movie is to rescue the princess. His secondary motivation is to join the rebel alliance and do something big, and he already feels this way long before he learns anything about Vader. He wants adventure, and that motivation is established and fueled by him simply living in a backwater shit-hole where nothing happens. So him leaving home, infiltrating the Death Star, joining the rebel alliance and finally defeating the enemy has nothing to do with his feelings towards Vader. He is simply a powerful threat.

    Vader, throughout the whole movie and more specifically when painting him as the villain, has zero interest in or knowledge of Luke. Although he did feel someone in the X-Wing had a connection to the force. They never even meet, except in combat. His motivation (find the stolen technical data) is simple and completely unrelated to the hero. And it works very well. (It's Tarkin who's main motivation is to find the rebel base and destroy it with the Death Star. Vader isn't so keen on the technical monstrosity. Either way, neither villain gives a shit about or even knows about the hero.)

    And then they fuck the whole thing up by introducing personal connections.
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2020
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  18. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Just because he felt that way doesn't mean he was right.
     
  19. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum

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    ^ This could be said about everyone's opinion. ;)
     
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  20. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Yup. I know for certain that many people will disagree with me, and that's ok. Especially about these points. But I hate forced personal connections / history to create emotional drivers for characters.

    I didn't see 1917 because of that stupid, idiotic plot point of the hero's brother being in the battalion he's sent to save. Completely unnecessary. That would be like Captain Miller being Private Ryan's long lost father. Yet the emotion in Saving Private Ryan was there. His motivation made sense. Complete the mission as a way to earn the right to return home to his wife, even if that right was just in his own head (saving someone finally and doing some good as opposed to killing). And then when they stay to defend Ramelle it's because of the bond of brotherhood in the military, and doing something selfless and noble, which we learn to understand through the movie (using corporal Upham as our proxy). Good writing doesn't need cheap tricks.

    But even worse is the whole destiny / chosen one bullshit (unless done well as a placebo).
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2020
  21. Whitecrow

    Whitecrow Member

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    Here's the problem. To write the story of a villain, explain his motivation and how he came to it, you need to tell his story.
    Here's the problem ... How is the main character supposed to know this story? Should the story of the main villain influence the conflict with the main character? How should the reader know his story?

    If the background of the main villain is unknown to the main character, then where does the conflict between ideas and worldviews come from?
    He will just be another enemy that the main character must defeat.

    If you tell the reader, then it will and it will not affect the main character, then it will affect the irritation. "Why are they telling you all this", and in cases where the reader will show sympathy for the main villain, "Why is the main character such, why does he not understand the villain and they will not come to a compromise" (If the protagonist acts as if he knows the villain's story and motivation, it will seem strange to the reader. At the same time, if he acts as if he doesn’t know, then the reader will have a claim to the main character. Since for a normal conflict, two more adequate points of view are needed, opposite in some things, but adequate in different situations.)...

    If you don't tell anyone about the motivation and history of the main villain, then he will appear flat.

    If you combine the stories of the protagonist and the villain, then their conflict can organically develop. Telling the story of both the main character and the main villain, at the same time, it will not seem excessive. It's just easier, and people are creatures that prefer easy ways.
     
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  22. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere... Contributor

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    First, you need to realize that we're talking about two very different types of things here. He's talking about comic books which deal almost entirely with the concept of good and evil. With a few exceptions, there is very little nuance in comic books, and so a personal connection between heroes and villains is often established as a quick way to build tension and drama.

    In other words, don't sweat it.
     
  23. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Yeah, and that's fine. The conflict simply comes from clashing motivations. Why is that a bad thing? It works well time and time again.

    Another film example. Dredd (2012). Dredd doesn't know about MaMa until he enters the building to investigate 3 murders, picked randomly from thousands of distress calls. He finds out she controls the building, she's a drug lord so needs to be brought to justice. Dredd believes in his duty and the law. MaMa has two judges in her building who pose a danger by discovering her drug distribution network if they escape with one of her henchmen, so they must be stopped. They go to war and a fucking awesome movie ensues. They don't know anything about each other apart from the fact that each is a threat to the other. And that's all they need to know. Sure, Dredd finds out about MaMa's history in a basic rap sheet, but it's trivial to his motivation, and MaMa knows nothing about Dredd except he's a judge. Both MaMa and Dredd are great characters and work brilliantly as opposing forces, and they don't need all that extra bullshit to make it interesting.

    In The Fifth Element Korben Dallas and Zorg never meet. They don't even know the other exists or that they're enemies at opposing ends of the narrative. Zorg is defeated without Korben even knowing he beat him or the two ever coming into direct conflict.

    In Leon: The professional, practically nothing is known about either Leon, the hero, or Stansfield, the villain, by the characters or even the audience. Neither care about the other. All they care about is Mathilda, with Leon wanting to protect her and Stansfield wanting to kill her. Conflicting motivations.

    And then there's Mad Max: Fury Road. Have a look at the connections and backstory between Max and Immorten Joe. Nothing. There's nothing. They simply cross paths with conflicting motivations.

    But all are fully rendered characters, which is why they work so well.
     
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  24. Whitecrow

    Whitecrow Member

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    We are discussing the story and the conflict between the characters, and you bring the action movie as an example.
    Films in which the story means little, and the main emphasis is on the specifics and the cool protagonist, which does unrealistic things.

    Here's my example: Breaking Bad
    Conflict between Schrader and White.
    Or conflict from Blade Runner.

    Or Harry Harrison's "deathworld" Completely built on misunderstanding and confrontation between different sides.
    Junkman vs. Grobers
    Kirk and Rhys.

    or Judge Dredd (1995)
    Where the conflict between two modified brothers, one considering himself better than the other, began to consider himself above the law, while the other became a slave to the law, believing that the law is absolute.

    Firstly, before you is not some ordinary bad guy who needs to be defeated, as in the action movies you are talking about, but a living character with his own view of the world. The character is understandable. A conflict that makes you think, and look for who is wrong, which of the characters and where was wrong.

    I am not saying that the approach with action heroes and where villains are only targets is wrong. I am saying that different goals require different approaches. If the goal of a writer is to write a story that will make you think and ask certain questions, then he needs an equally deep villain and hero. If you just tell a simple story that won't stress the reader, your flat villain approach would work better.
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2020
  25. Whitecrow

    Whitecrow Member

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    "In The Fifth Element Korben Dallas and Zorg never meet. They don't even know the other exists or that they're enemies at opposing ends of the narrative. Zorg is defeated without Korben even knowing he beat him or the two ever coming into direct conflict.

    In Leon: The professional, practically nothing is known about either Leon, the hero, or Stansfield, the villain, by the characters or even the audience. Neither care about the other. All they care about is Mathilda, with Leon wanting to protect her and Stansfield wanting to kill her. Conflicting motivations.

    And then there's Mad Max: Fury Road. Have a look at the connections and backstory between Max and Immorten Joe. Nothing. There's nothing. They simply cross paths with conflicting motivations."

    I do not know how in the third case, but in the first two they have no conflict ... Their stories are presented more as side stories, relative to the main one.
    They are told organically enough not to cause rejection from the story. The main character has no conflict with them, their collision does not make you think about anything.

    Stories about something else.
    1) About the salvation of the world, from some almost omnipotent evil.
    2) About the relationship between Matilda and Leon.

    Both stories are not focused on the conflicts between the protagonist and the villain. In both stories, you could cut out the villain as a character and the stories barely change.
     
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2020

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