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Heroes vs. Villains

Owing to the popularity of my previous two posts and in recognition to the need to have these things simply explained to the novice writer, I’m going to continue my trek into the minds of the characters in stories.  In addition to this article, I will do two more discussing various types of “good guys” and “bad guys”. 

This article will be a comparison and contrasting of the Hero’s Journey and the Villain’s Quest.  Sometimes the lines can be blurred… a Hero can look like a Villain and a Villain can look like a Hero.  What really sets these two apart is the heart issue of their motivations.  Their journeys through the story can be very similar and it can be confusing, but a good author MUST understand the subtle difference in order to create endearing Heros and Villains.  I think these sublte differences need a little more clarfication.

As a starting point, I will be using my 10 steps of the Hero’s Journey and my 10 steps of the Villain’s Quest.  And before I begin, I do want you to realize that not all “good guys” are Heroes and not all “bad guys” are Villains.  I’ll do articles on those later.  

I’ve shortened the descriptions of some of these, so if you want to read the full descriptions see the individual articles.  You’ll also notice that these steps may not appear in the exact order they do in the individual articles.  That’s ok, because you don’t have to take these steps in order.  One last thing, I think you’ll find a common theme in this comparsion… the Hero generally acts selflessly and the Villain acts selfishly. 

So, without further ado… The Hero’s Journey vs. The Villain’s Quest. 

The Hero’s Journey

The Villain’s Quest


Dysfunctional Family – The hero must come from a dysfunctional family. 

Inadequate life – The villain feels wholly inadequate in his life.

 Before the adventure begins, the Hero and the Villain can look the same.  The subtle difference is this, the Hero has a true inadequacy in his life whereas the Villain merely perceives he has an inadequacy.  The Hero is usually happy with life despite the difficulties.  The Villain is unhappy and wants change. 

Reluctant Quest – The heroship is something given to him, he does not take it willingly.  When it comes time to accept the quest he is usually reluctant.

Need for Vindication – The villain makes a conscious decision to seek revenge, retribution, or justice for the wrongs done to him.

 The Hero is happy.  He has no plans.  The quest or adventure is thrust upon him and he has no choice but to comply.  The Villain, however, makes a choice to begin his Quest. 

A Journey – The hero must leave their comfort zone. 

The Plan – The villain makes a calculated plan to achieve Vindication.

 Once the Reluctant Quest or the Need for Vindication is defined, there comes a time for action.  The Hero is forced to act, but the Villain plans his actions.  The Hero is reactive to the Quest, but the Villain is proactive. 

Hand of God – This is an external intervention by something unforeseen.  Without this intervention the hero cannot complete the journey.  It is beyond their control, yet they need it.

The Flaw – The plan is flawed.  Whether the Villain turns a blind eye to the Flaw, never realizes the Flaw, or the Hero is the unknown variable that causes the Flaw, it is still there.

 I know… I know… Putting in “The Hand of God” has become a no-no.  But I’m defining this not as the traditional Deus Ex Machina, but as merely circumstances beyond control.  In both the Hand of God and The Flaw, the Hero and Villain encounter things outside their control, but which could shape their Journey/Quest.  The Hero has a circumstance leading to success, but the Villain has a circumstance leading to failure. 

Death of the Mentor – In order for the hero to become the true hero, the mentor figure must be removed.  This is a “the student becomes the teacher” type thing.

The Deception – This is the Villain’s attempt to portray himself as the Hero, or as being just in his actions.

 What defines a person?  What defines the Hero or what defines the Villain?  The Hero is defined by a mentor.  When the mentor is removed, the Hero receives his “heroship” by default… inheriting his definition.  The Villain creates a definition for himself and works really hard to convince others that he deserves that definition. 

Companions – Usually, but not always, the hero does not travel alone.  He surrounds himself with companions.

Minions – The villain surrounds himself with helpers in order to carry out the Plan.

 In most cases, the Villain chooses his Minions, but the Hero is chosen by his Companions. 

First Blood – The hero must prove himself worthy of the journey.  There may be a series of tests or mini adventures, but there is always a First Blood.  This is the first time they kill an enemy, or something equivalent.

The Great Sin – The Villain seeks recognition and respect.  He wants to define himself above and beyond his peers both villainous and heroic, usually leading to The Great Sin.  In order to prove himself, he executes an action so vile as to leave no doubt of his ability. 

 This follows the same thing we’ve seen above.  The Hero does not choose his testing, yet he is tested and found worthy.  The Villain plans and executes his own testing in the form of the Great Sin. 

Belly of the Whale – This is the lowest point of the journey.  Everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong, and the hero’s reaction to this will define their character.  They can either choose to give up, or rise above.  The hero always rises.

Vindication – This is when the plan comes to fulfillment, or at least the perception of its eminent fulfillment.  The Villain feels like he cannot be stopped, that he has succeeded, and that he has finally vindicated the inadequacies of his life.

 In keeping with the contrast between the Hero and the Villain, there comes a point where the Hero feels he cannot succeed and the Villain feels he cannot fail. 

Epiphany – The hero must come to a life changing realization.  This is the point where they cease to be the bumbling commoner, and become heroic royalty. 

Realization of Mortality – This is the point where the Villain recognizes the Flaw for what it is.  It is where he realizes that he could fail. 

 In conjunction with the previous step, the Hero realizes that he has the ability to succeed and the Villain realizes there’s a possibility he may fail. 

Get the Girl – The hero always falls in love and has the love returned by another.

The Fall – The Villain’s plan fails. 

 This is a little tricky, because there is usually not much of a romance factor in the Villain’s Quest.  But what “Get the Girl” symbolizes can be the success and/or the reward of completing the Hero’s Journey.  So in a nutshell, the Hero succeeds and the Villain fails. 

One can always find exceptions to these rules… so think of them more as “guidelines”.  I’m sure there are many Heroes and Villains who fail on one point of the Journey or Quest, but it is very rare for them to fail on more than that.  If you see a Hero who has failed on several points, perhaps you should compare them to the Villain’s Quest… and vice versa.  You may find that the author is trying to pull a fast one on the reader.  A simple understanding of the Hero’s Journey and the Villain’s Quest can pull the curtain back on many twists and turns.  The real trick is how to fool a reader who knows this… that is, if you’re trying to fool them.  If you want a traditional definable Hero and Villain, then these guidelines are a good way to go. 

Next time, we’ll take a look at “the good guys”.

About Keven Newsome

Keven Newsome is an musician, theologian, and a bit of a nerd. He enjoys a variety of musical genres, from Christian rock to movie soundtracks to KPop. A former band director, he plays about a dozen instruments, given a couple of weeks to practice up. His theological work has included a book on multi-generational ministry and a thesis on the theology of communicating with the dead. As for his nerd-card, he enjoys the fandoms of The Legend of Zelda, Doctor Who, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Lord of the Rings. With a music degree from William Carey University and a theology degree from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Keven actively serves in ministry as both pastor and worship leader.

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