Heroes and Villains

How movie stories can connect us with our inner coach 

Who are the heroes and who are the villains? Character archetypes have fascinated me since childhood and this fascination fuelled my ambition to become a script writer. To create an authentic feeling character they need to possess a variety of traits. Like us, they are seldom as straight forward as being good or bad and who’s to say which is which anyway? Allow me to share one of the most profound pieces of advice I was given on the subject: ‘Villains are the Heroes of their own journey’. 

We respond to well written characters because they are either like us, or like people we know. The tricks writers use in sharing the journeys of these characters place us at the heart of the action and have us empathising, judging, measuring, loathing or admiring them as if they were real people.

You don’t need me to tell you that life can throw up some pretty cruel challenges. There are even gross misunderstandings that occur which can leave people thinking that we are actually the villains. - Yes, how dare they? Have you ever been misunderstood? Taken for a bad girl or guy? We all know that we are right, right? Maybe it’s all down to perspectives, those idiots are simply too stupid to grasp our true intention. Whether we are heroes or villains in any situation depends on what we are trying to achieve, and why. When we are successful it could be that other people feel disadvantaged because they wanted to achieve it first or even achieve the opposite.  

I’d like to trigger your next adventure, if you’re up for it. ‘The Heroes Journey’ is a list of story elements required to create a cathartic reaction in audiences; that ultimate, feel good, ‘happy ending’ factor that so many of us demand from our written entertainment. Joseph Campbell defined a lot of this stuff but if I was pressed to name the originators? - Probably a cave dweller without quite knowing it and then Aristotle, more clearly and quite a few years later. ‘The Heroes Journey’ is a simple yet hugely effective guide for writers to follow when creating emotionally engaging stories. What I’d like this article to do is to spark your next adventure. What do you want and what are you prepared to do in order to get it?

Play time

Lets think movies. Pick your favourite and see if you can answer these questions in relation to the main character or characters.

  • Are they bored, inactive or dissatisfied at the beginning?
  • Does something huge happen that either makes them think differently or forces them to take a journey or face up to a challenge?
  • Do they refuse to think differently or take the journey or challenge?
  • Does the situation get worse suddenly or does a friend, colleague or family member suddenly need their help?
  • Do they decide to take on the challenge?
  • Do they help people along the way?
  • Do they face even bigger challenges?
  • Do they face enemies, advisories or come up against huge obstacles?
  • Is there a point where they feel like giving up?
  • Does one of the people they helped earlier give them the strength to continue?
  • Is there a race, a chase or a battle of some kind?
  • Do they achieve their goal?
  • Are they rewarded in some way?
  • Are they bored, inactive or dissatisfied.

Spooky isn’t it and it doesn’t stop here. Try applying the same questions to life challenges you have faced. It could either be a challenge that you created for yourself, or something that landed at your door.

Go on, give it a try. Do it now. Do it. Go on!

You might have adapted the questions to fit your situation, or added a few new ones; rules are made to be broken, after all. This structure didn’t happen by accident. Our ancestors would get back from their hunting trips and start describing their adventures around community camp fires. It wasn’t long before embellishments started to creep in; jeopardy would be highlighted to champion their heroism, their journeys took them further and further afield. Their listeners were transfixed and before the human race knew it, our camp fires had evolved into television sets. Look at the recent prominence of reality TV. We seem to prefer it to the fictional stuff. In whatever form, the storytelling continues and we continue to measure ourselves against it. 

Every night of the week we can choose to follow the successes and failures of hundreds of characters. We compare, judge, predict, celebrate, laugh, cry and still have a capacity for more. It’s almost as those these soapy, comic, tragic stories were a part of life itself. In a way, I think they are. We think in metaphors. At our core, we process the experiences of life through images and emotions. Words can trigger those images and emotions but they’re nowhere near as efficient when it comes to solving life’s mysteries.

Your life is real, you are experiencing it right at this second and there’s every chance that you have things you’d like to achieve. If we are able to realistically differentiate ourselves between heroes and villains, perhaps it could be that heroes take action and villains fight against it.

Is there something you are busting to achieve but are too afraid even to try? Take the adventure. It will probably be hard work and you may need to call on someone for support. There may come a time when you feel you can’t carry on. You might find yourself locked in a witch's castle or strapped to a bench with a laser heading for your ‘best bits’. Movie heroes always get out of it by using their initiative and if not that, they are rescued by the people they rescued on an earlier occasion. 

I know that not every dream can be realised and not every goal can be fully achieved but many of them can be if we think like heroes. If every villain gets to be the hero of their story, it must stand to reason that you, the good and deserving person that you are, can be a heroine / hero yourself.

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