Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Victims and Villains

I saw this cover of US Weekly the other day and it got me thinking about victims and villains.

The story discusses Jennifer Aniston's new romance and claims she "pulled an Angelina," meaning she stole another woman's man. Now I'll admit that in the Team Jen versus Team Angelina, I was Team Jen all the way. But it did get me thinking about how we've instantly pitted the women against each other, but where's the man?

In all that talk about betrayals (take LeAnne Rimes and Eddie Cibrian as another example) there's so much less attention on the men, on the ones who had made any commitment to which they were now breaking.

It's the casting of the evil seductress and the helpless man. He didn't stand a chance. These archestypes, of course, are not new. This is theater in motion. If you've read Something Borrowed by Emily Giffin then you'll meet several characters who embody both victim and villain.

In most stories the victims and the villains are already decided and clear events take course to push us onto one side or another. Take Draco; there was never any chance we'd cheer for him over Harry Potter. The narrative guided our impressions.

And, of course, point of view is paramount. That's why we can read Twilight and adore Edward and Bella's relationship instead of thinking he's this 103 year old man stalking an underage girl. He's cast in an appropriate mold, that of a 17 year old and, of course, another archetype: the mysterious, hot bad boy. The emotions of the story are real because we're meeting him through the eyes of Bella, a smitten 17 year old girl.

In Something Borrowed we're not always clear how we feel about these characters and their actions. They weren't just blurring the lines between victim and villain, they kept switching teams. How Giffin achieved this so effortlessly and believably is that the villain (e.g. Rachel) is someone who has been a past victim. Because of that we were more forgiving of her behavior and even found ourselves liking her, identifying with her because of her past experiences.

I suppose there's no one type of victim or villain and sometimes in narrative, as in life, it's not always either/or.

As writers, we need to know the backstory of our bad guy and from whose eyes we'll be meeting them. As the adage goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. And as readers, we need to pay attention; it's usually the bad guy who's the most unpredictable, but then again, that's its own archetype.

So tell me, who are the best villains you've read and what made them so?

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