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What is a hero, and what is a villain?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Anders Ämting, Jan 22, 2013.

  1. How do you define a hero or heroine? Literally, what does that word mean to you?

    Likewise, how do you define what a villain is?

  2. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    A hero is one who is ultimately striving towards doing good and thwarting evil. A villain is one who, through intent or simple neglect, furthers the cause of evil. But this is a very simple distinction and doesn't take into account things like antiheroes, antivillains, or even what the definitions of "good" and "evil" actually are. I'm sure you could debate all that, but I don't have the energy right now. :D
  3. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    A hero is someone who attains his lofty, necessary and usually lawful goal, often at great personal expense to his soul, psyche or physical body. Violence is a tool of the hero, but often consider it as a last resort for solving problems, or in defense of his own life or the lives of his companions.

    A villain is someone who pursues a goal as well, but one that most people would consider to be wrong or unlawful according to the tenets of the region/culture etc... and often employs methods to accomplish his/her goal that likewise are considered wrong or unlawful. Violence is also the tool of villain, but unlike the hero, he/she often uses it as a first strike weapon or one to instill fear in people.
    Braveface likes this.
  4. Phietadix

    Phietadix Archmage

    Simple, The hero is the person your book portrays as right and the villian is the one your book portrays as wrong. Then their are books like mine that are a little more complicated . . .
  5. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    Not so simple, actually... There are plenty of stories with a Villain Protagonist working against heroic antagonists. Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is a great example, with the rivalry between the eponymous supervillain-in-training and his superhero nemesis, Captain Hammer, over the love interest, Penny. Dr. Horrible is proud of his villain status, having "a Ph.D in horribleness" and aspirations to enter the Evil League of Evil, headed by the dreaded Bad Horse, the Thoroughbred of Sin.
  6. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I think the hero is a focal character who acts to change the world around him. (For instance, Edward, not Bella, is the hero of Twilight, because he's the one who actually does things.) Conversely, the villain is whoever stands in the hero's way. In some cases, the only reason the villain isn't the hero is that he isn't the one the narrative focuses on. (I don't really factor good and evil into this, although I think heroes should be sympathetic on at least some level.)
  7. Phietadix

    Phietadix Archmage

    But there are stories from the point of view of the villains.
  8. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I'm not so sure about that--to use Ireth's example, can we really say that Dr. Horrible, who acts for love and nebulous "social change", is more villainous than Captain Hammer, who acts for glory? (Sure, Dr. Horrible would say he's the villain, but plenty of heroes call themselves villains while still blatantly being heroes--check out Disgaea for some particularly obvious examples of that.)
  9. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    That's a good question. If someone calls themselves the villain, does that make it so?
  10. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver


    Bold To do something which may or may not be risky / dangerous. Applies to both Heros and Villains.

    Brave To do something which is very like risky /dangerous. Applies to both Heroes and Villains.

    Hero / Heroic To do something risky / dangerous for others benefit (at least mostly so). Usually hero only.

    Villain / Villainous To do something which benefits only that person (or possibly him/her and select associates) at the expense of others. By 'expense', I mean taking from, inflicting pain / death, or forced behaviour (intimidation / enslavement).
  11. I've personally gone through various definitions of "hero", but I think my current one is something like: "An extraordinary person doing extraordinary things, while examplifying one or several virtues."

    A villain is the exact same thing as a hero, only instead of examplifying virtues he examplifies vices.

    In other words, heroes and villains are both extraordinary people and may have the same basic qualities, but the hero is a "good example" while the villain is a "bad example."

    Well, see, while Dr Horrible identifies himself as a super-villain and admits he's partially in it for fame and money, he still seems to mostly regard himself as more of a revolutionary. He's very bitter and misanthropic, basically thinking he should rule the world because mankind doesn't deserve to rule itself, but he still has good qualities - he displays friendship, capacity for love, and mercy or at least serious qualms about killing innocents. I'd say that makes him a pretty typical anti-hero - he is a protagonist with noble intentions but is very flawed as a person.

    Captain Hammer, on the other hand, is considered a "hero" both by himself and the public, but he is really kind of a arrogant, self-centered jerk, essentially a bully, and not really that good at being a hero. He lacks a fair deal of empathy due to having never experienced pain himself, and he's very careless to the point of his "heroics" actually endangering people. When he tries to inspire others (which is basically what being a hero is really about) he ends up insulting them instead.

    In that sense, he is also an anti-hero, although his role is the opposite of Dr Horrible: He acts like a hero but lacks the necessary heroic qualities to actually be one.

    Of course not. A person is defined by his actions, not by what he thinks of himself.
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2013
    SineNomine likes this.
  12. The Tourist

    The Tourist Banned

    All my characters are both.

    For example, in one chapter a female mercenary cannot pay her rent and loses her apartment. One of her friends takes her in. A mutual friend discusses this condition with her host, and states, "Don't worry about her, she can always find someone to kill."

    The female character in question is depicted as a jovial train-wreck, who doesn't always clean her firearms and usually has butter and remnants of Texas toast oozing down her chin. The people who have read my story like her, and the comedic lines she has. But make no mistake, she's not from The Welcome Wagon.

    So, is she hero or villain?
  13. Depends. Being an untidy or somewhat irresponsible person doesn't really have anything to do with being a hero or a villain. That's really just ordinary personality quirks. And being likable isn't really an issue either - plenty of villains are very likable.

    The fact that she's a mercenary suggests anti-heroine, though. Killing people for money is traditionally considered an unheroic trait, but if the character isn't otherwise malevolent or despicable, it's not enough to make her a villainess.

    Mostly it comes down to her motivations, values and standards. If she is still willing to risk her life for others because she believes it is "right" (say, taking a bullet for an innocent, a child, etc) she still has heroic qualities. On the other hand, if she has a personal goal that she won't hesitate to sacrifice anyone else for, she is closer to villain territory. If she just tries to look out for number one at all times, anti-hero sounds about right.
  14. Actually, upon thinking about it, I change my mind: He is a character who acts as a villain, but he does so out of good intentions. That should make him an anti-villain.

    So, Dr Horrible is basically Anti-Villain Protagonist vs Anti-Hero Antagonist.
  15. The Tourist

    The Tourist Banned

    You hit my point right on the head.

    At my age you've already run into lots of topics and people in that "gray area." For example, several of my classmates in my college dorm flunked out as freshmen. In my junior year, I met up with one after his tour in Vietnam. I think most of the problems with those suffering from PTSD is that they look at themselves as good people who had to do bad things.

    That's the back-story for my female mercenary. She's a clueless soul. She has funny lines. But when the clarion call goes out for guns-for-hire, she's usually first in line. Rather than paint her as one of those "super secret black ops living weapons," I show her as just a guy, like most of us, caught up in the whims of a government and trying to put food on the table.

    Cross her, she'll blow off your head. Good friend, bad enemy.

    My MC meets up with a mentor at an academy. Like most people on a pedestal, the mentor has feet of clay and his own agenda. My MC buys into that train of thought.

    I look at myself as being a good guy. I'm married, I never cheat, I pay my bills, I'm a baptized Christian and while having earned a retirement, I still work. This resume' of human interaction derives from "the first half of my life."

    So, hero or villain? I'm not sure there is a real line.
  16. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    I think villian or hero is in the eye of the beholder,
    the hero can be the lesser of two evils, or the villian could be the lesser of two good.
    As in war, also to the victor goes the valor.

    The winner gets interviewed by the historians, the losers get buried, at least in the official version.
  17. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

    But in that context, words like "hero" and "villain" are altogether meaningless. This discussion presupposes the existence of "true"heroes and villains, and by extension the existence of absolute good and evil.
  18. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

    Actually, the OP asked what these words mean to us, personally.

    SeverinR does have a point - one person's hero WILL be another's villain. As the venerable Obi-wan put it, many of the truths we cling to depend upon our point of view. After all, in many ancient cultures the quest for glory was a perfectly acceptable source of inspiration for a hero; these days, not so much.

    I rather like the definition given by Anders above: "An extraordinary person doing extraordinary things." Of course, this inevitably leads to a discussion of what makes a person or an action extraordinary...

    Personally I don't dwell as much on the definition of villain. I'm likely to call any antagonist a "villain of the story" without really meaning I consider them a true villain - that is to say, an evil person. Furthermore, I suppose I might call any evil person a villain, as my personal definition of what constitutes evil requires some pretty bad stuff to go down before I'd stick that label on someone.
  19. Hainted

    Hainted Sage

    The difference between a hero, and a villain is which one you agree with, and which one you want to fail.
  20. SineNomine

    SineNomine Minstrel

    I don't use either term very much simply because they aren't that useful. You NEED to know who the protagonists and antagonists are in a story, and you need to know who the focus characters are, but it generally doesn't matter who is considered a hero and who is considered a villain. The sheer fact that there is no perfect agreed upon definition speaks to this. They perhaps had more use before modernism took root in fantasy, but even then they usually were just synonymous with pro and antagonist but more loaded.

    For what it's worth, I do like Anders's definitions. A hero is going to be someone who is objectively doing good, for the right reasons, in a notable way. A villain isn't quite opposite a hero because I don't think reasons matter as much. If you are objectively doing bad in a notable way, regardless of the reasons, you can be a villain. Though...maybe that just makes you a bad person and to be "villainous", a step above, you have to have intentions? Hmmm...

    Anyway, stories don't need heros or villains and modern storytelling is full to the brim with stories that don't have either, it's not even notable any more if you don't have them. "Shades of grey" morality is almost required to have a story be taken seriously nowadays.

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