Our favorite stories have some of the best villains. Sometimes the villains or monsters are written so well that we root for them or like them. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on the story. We’ve also entered an era in movies and television where anti-heroes are all the rage. This reversal gives us a visceral feel for the world of those operating outside accepted rules. Some of these are done well and as with all stories, there are examples that are clumsy and poorly executed. Maybe everything has been done at least once by now, but there has to be new ways to be bad.
One of the modern concepts in writing a villain is that he or she is supposed to be the hero of the story from his or her point of view. There are a lot of interesting stories from this standpoint. This is a way to add layers to the antagonist and make the conflict with the heroes more complex and interesting.
Likewise, the hero can be viewed as the villain from a different perspective. They are the antagonist from the monster’s standpoint. The hero might literally be the antagonist from a literary analysis depending on the structure of the story. Sometimes the hero is written having to do some less than heroic or far from good things in order to achieve the goals or in order to approach some greater good that seems to require bending the rules. These are the actions and justifications of the villain. This can make a great story until we start giving readers what they have already seen enough times.
There have to be new ways to be bad. All the classic conflict structures have been set and developed. We have man versus everything you can imagine in every way we could imagine. Finding new ways to present the bad in the story does not and maybe really cannot mean completely reinventing story. It could, I suppose, but it is unlikely that every time we sit down to type a zombie tale or a heroic fantasy, we are going to completely throw out all the rules of story structure or genre. Some of the rules actually help anchor the story for readers and give them a language in the action that they can follow. Writing a story with no characters successfully might be a brilliant breakthrough at some point, but the character-free genre would get very old very fast.
We have to do something new with our monsters, our bad guys, and our characters’ struggles. Sometimes the villain does not consider himself the hero of his own story. He does need a motivation. There needs to be something that they want that is a bit more creative than watching the world burn or a million dollars in exchange for going away quietly. Finding that logically believable driving force behind the bad that can be accepted as plausible by the reader if not condoned as acceptable morally can be magic for the story. It is so common for the hero to not have a heroic self view. The villain might benefit from focusing more on the drive than on the self view. People tend to justify their actions with all manner of cognitive dissonance, but they don’t always go so far as to map out their place in the story structure between hero and villain.
Monsters are constantly being remade. Joe McKinney has given some of the best commentary on what makes a monster work or fail for a story. He states that the monster must have an internally consistent motivation and set of operating rules even if the reader does not agree with the choices. They have to at least agree that the monster’s choices make sense to him, her, or it. The monster also needs some sort of connection to the target or hero. If the conflict is random because the target is randomly selected that detracts from the horror.
This might be a little tougher with zombies. Though they have rules of operation within the story, those of them that are mindless have very primal connections to why they pursue their targets. It may not be entirely random, but their basic drive is hunger and their motive is a hunger for living flesh. This can be toyed with some, but as long as zombies are attacking the living, this will be the basic structure.
Zombies can be used to reflect the struggles going on within the characters. This gives them some purpose in the story beyond constant harassment and threat. The real villains can also be other people surviving the zombies in their own way while adding threat to the lives and story of the heroes. Still, this has been done too, so there needs to be some new take on these formulas.
The greatest potential may be within the conflicts themselves. For all the depth we need to give characters and the monsters, we need to add layers and depth to the struggles. The action within the conflicts and fights needs to feel fresh. The struggles to survive need to take the characters to places that the reader has not seen or expected before. In the end, this is the most likely course to find the bad that has not been seen exactly that way before. Also, it is likely to bring things out of the characters and stories which are new too.
Dead Song Legend Dodecology Book 1: January from Milwaukee to Muscle Shoals
Jay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in Conway, South Carolina near the Atlantic coast of the southern United States. He has a Masters Degree in education and he taught public school for sixteen years before becoming a full time writer. He is the author of many short stories including work in Best Horror of the Year volume 5, Zombies More Recent Dead, Shadows Over Mainstreet, and Truth or Dare. He is the author of the Dead Song Legend Dodecology and the music of the five song soundtrack recorded as if by the characters within the world of the novel The Sound May Suffer. He also wrote the novelsLoose Ends and Time Eaters. He is one of the four authors behind the Hellmouth trilogy. Jay Wilburn is a regular columnist with Dark Moon Digest. Follow his many dark thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, and Periscope as @AmongTheZombies, his Facebook author page, and at JayWilburn.com
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The stench of frozen flesh is in the air! Welcome to the Winter of Zombie Blog Tour 2015, with 40+ of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of November.
Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don’t miss an interview, guest post or teaser…and pick up some great swag as well!
Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them!