Monday, November 8, 2010

Why your villain must fit your story...

I'm reading the late Blake Syder's wondrous third Save The Cat book (called Save The Cat Strikes Back, naturally). It's probably the best of his books in that it deals with the thorny subject of rewrites. Now, I have no problem writing a draft, but rewrites fill me with dread, so his advice in this one is great. If you're in a complete rewrite hell, Cat 3 will get you out of it.

Now that my unpaid informercial is over... He talks at one point about how a movie character's punishment must fit both their crime and the tone of the film they're in. For instance, in Pretty Woman, Jason Alexander's character tries to assualt Julia Roberts near the end, out of jealousy and because of the (correct) assumption that she has ruined his business deal with Richard Gere. His punishment for this is to be punched by Gere and ostracised professionally by his biggest client. Snyder asks if this is enough. He has just tried to rape someone, right? Shouldn't they have reported him?

Well in the context of this movie and this story, the book concludes that what happens to him represents justice. Okay, in an action movie, Gere and Alexander would have had a big fight and Jason probably would have been thrown to his death out a window or something. In a thriller, there would have been a tense chase scene, resulting in the villain's death or prosecution. But in a romcom, his punishment is totally fitting. We don't expect to see deaths or lengthy court cases in that genre.

So to finally get to the point of this post: the villain themselves must also fit the genre, plot and tone of your movie. The basic movie plot is good versus evil, a hero defeating a threat to their world and their way of life. Sometimes, as in Star Wars, the stakes literally are that big.

But more often, the villain is just a really horrible boss and the world a character's workplace (Working Girl, Office Space, Devil Wears Prada, etc etc). We already know going in that the villain boss isn't going to get killed - more likely fired or demoted. But if we go and see an action flick and the villain is some bland pen pusher, we're going to be pretty disappointed. Like someone once said, James Bond works not because of Bond himself (he's basically a cypher) but because of all the cool villains he's up against. The success of a Bond flick rests largely on how entertaining and evil the bad guys are.

Make your villain fit the kind of story you're writing - and watch your hero become a lot more heroic.

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