I was doing my daily YouTube surfing when I chanced upon this video. I’ve linked to a specific moment which shocked me at how… specific it was, how reductive it became. If you don’t want to click the link, basically he says, “Antagonists are the characters that initiate change,” as well as, “Villains act, heroes react.” Ignoring the most obvious complaint that “antagonist” obviously means “one who opposes the contender,” I really don’t see how it follows that every antagonist must act first for the protagonist and/or Main Character to react against. Perhaps part of this draws from the “Refusal of the Call” dealy from the Hero’s Journey. If Campbell’s to be believed, the antagonist has to force the protagonist to act against his preference to stay where it’s safe and familiar.
But what about a hero that wants to be a hero? Imagine a Main Character who decides he wants to become president. As he jumps through all the legal hoops, though, some characters decide he needs to go down and start sabotaging his campaign. They’re reacting to the MC’s actions.
The name of that video is “What Makes a Villain Feel Real,” which suggests a question: is the villain I described less “real” somehow? If they are, I don’t see it. The more important part is what the video maker says later: that they feel strongly about their actions. To understand the Purpose behind their actions, their Motivations, their Methodology and their Means of Evaluation is to make them appear human.
I’ve begun to imagine alternate types of villains/antagonists besides this “act/react” model described in the video, like a corruptive Re-evaluate/Temptation Contagonist villain, a cold Logician whose obsession with Probability leads the hero astray, or a kind, Supportive Sidekick whose gentle Acceptance keeps the good guys from growing in the way they need to. Writing those out, they actually sound more interesting than the traditional force-of-nature mirror of the Protagonist. Now I’m picturing a hero whose greatest obstacle to success is her doting mother or father.
Sorry for the rant there. I guess I just wanted to use Dramatica theory to challenge this traditional image of what a bad guy should be. What do you guys think? Can you think of any particularly vivid villains that react to the protagonist’s actions rather than the other way around? What kinds of villains interest you the most?