Continuing my series on conflict created by various types of villains, here’s the list I’ve been discussing:
I’m ready now to look at the category I call enemies.
It’s certainly possible for your story protagonist to have an enemy. This implies a past history between the two individuals, one that fuels their motivations for opposing each other. Or the enemy may be an opponent in warfare, from the other side.
But in this post, I want to discuss enemies in plural form, as in … not personal enemies, not Snoopy versus the Red Baron, but in terms of the protagonist coping with several villains, one after the other.
The hapless–rather hopeless–Wilbur Writer, still enthusiastically blundering along, has formed the less-than-brilliant intention of generating conflict for his novel by pitting Peter Protagonist against an entire series of villains–one after the next.
As soon as Peter escapes his mother (Velma Villain) and heads out to basic training, he’ll butt heads with Sgt. Ernest Enemy I, the loud, foul-mouthed, sadistic drill instructor determined to tear the recruits into little pieces.
“And then,” Wilbur says eagerly before I can call Halt, “there will be a slimy type in Peter’s barracks that steals from everyone, especially Peter. I’ll call him Icky Enemy II. And then, I’ll pit Peter against the big guy that always beats him in the obstacle course. That’s Eddie Enemy III. Then, once Peter’s through basic training, they’ll get to the colony and start hand-to-hand fighting against the Enemy Army. There’ll be so much conflict, my pages will be smokin’!”
I think it’s time to flunk Wilbur and send him home, don’t you? Aside from having picked up every stereotype and cliché out there, he’s gone from writing oblique conflict to direct, but now his premise is episodic. He’s moving Peter Puppet Protagonist from one story problem to the next, like beads on a string.
This type of conflict may feature explosions, bombs, combat, arguing, and competition, but it’s just activity without focused story movement. Such disconnected conflict quickly develops all the excitement associated with watching a metronome tick back and forth.
Yes, I’m aware that some of you are sputtering and waving your hands for attention. Aren’t there stories where numerous enemies work as villains?
Of course! Any quest story will feature a series of enemies. The Wizard of Oz comes immediately to mind.
So let’s consider it for a moment. Once she reaches Oz, Dorothy’s goal is to get home. To do that, she must follow the yellow brick road to see the wizard, who will tell her how to return to Kansas.
Dorothy sets off on her journey. But because travel in and of itself is boring in fiction, she encounters a series of apparent enemies. These individuals–the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and later on the nasty trees, flying monkeys, and the guards in the Witch’s castle–prove to be gatekeepers. Each presents Dorothy with a challenge that she must solve in order to keep moving toward her objective. To that end, each enemy is in direct opposition to her objective of reaching the wizard so she can go home. She’s able to convert some of the enemies to allies. But she never stops working toward her goal, and she remains focused throughout the quest portion of the story.
By contrast, Wilbur’s outline reads like a patchwork quilt sewn by a blind monkey. He’s cooked up random events and problems that seem exciting at first glance, but they aren’t opposing Peter to any particular purpose.
Wilbur is writing to formula without understanding the story principle beneath it.