Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Villains, Heroes, and Second Bananas

I can hardly believe it is the last Wednesday of the month. Remember on Wednesdays this month we’ve been talking about the story people in your book.

We’ve breathed life into your characters, we’ve given them knowledge, and we’ve made them appealing. Now we need to take control of our characters: the villains, the heroes and even the second bananas.

To take control we need to:
  • define their roles
  • give them characteristics
  • make them effective.
All three apply to every character in your story. Let’s focus on a story most everyone knows—Harry Potter.

I’m sure you’ve heard this many times, but here it is again—your story is only as strong as your villain. The reason Harry Potter was such a success was because of the strength of Voldemort. His role was clearly defined—kill Harry Potter. Harry’s role—survive with courage far beyond his years. His second banana, Ron, had Harry’s back. Villain, hero and second banana are clear in this story.

What were their characteristics? Voldemort was not only evil, but smart and mysterious. Harry was a bit clumsy at first, but as his courage grew so did his character. Ron was a follower and the crutch Harry needed every once in a while to fulfill his destiny.

Were these three characters effective? If Voldemort not only put the fear in Harry and Ron, but in all the readers who anxiously awaited each book, then yes, he was effective. Just like Harry was not only an inspiration to his friends and teachers, but also to his many readers. And Ron was effective because there were times he wasn’t always helping Harry. Sometimes he was jealous of Harry and sometimes a bit preoccupied, but these were times when Harry needed to go solo and become the great wizard he was meant to be. And it was during these times Ron might have been most effective because he was human and showing readers how to overcome their flaws and rally to help someone when it counted most.

For me controlling your characters--helping them fulfill their destinies--is what writing books is all about.

Again, I’ve only touched the surface. Tell me about a story you loved because of the villains, heroes and second bananas.


  1. The Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers is a great example of main characters and secondary characters. I LOVED that series!

  2. Anne, so true! I loved that series, too. Rivers knows how to make fully-developed characters that breath. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Hi, nice to meet you! :) Thanks for the follow and many congrats on your book launch!

  4. Kay Hooper always has fun villains - they're really creepy :)

  5. Jemi, I'll have to check her books out. How did I not hear of her? So many books, so little time.

  6. I'm reading the shadow series by Margaret Peterson Haddix. Each of the seven books is told through the eyes of another third child, and their second bananas were their closest friend(s). The villian in all the books is the organization Population Police. It's a man vs society conflict, but Haddix creates a Voldemort type entity that exudes evil and inspires fear.

    This was a great post!

  7. Nicole, sounds like a great read! I'll check it out. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. I think the idea of the villain, the hero and the second banana works and making sure each has a define role is really important but I don't like Harry as a hero. He is far too reliant on the guidance of the more qualified (Dumbledore) and on the intelligence of the better read (Hermione). Very few of his decisions are well thought out ones and tend to lead him to more danger rather than solving a problem.
    Still, the idea works. Thanks so much for sharing this post.

  9. Cassandra, you make some good points. Though I still see Harry as a reluctant hero. He rises to the challenge. Yes, he had help, but only Harry could confront Voldemort. Only Harry could bring him down.

    Thanks for stopping by and adding to the conversation.

  10. If it hadn't been for Stanley Tucci in "The Lovely Bones" movie, I would've been soooo bored. But villains make heroes what they are. After reminding myself how amazing "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy is, the villains in that movie/story move everything along- battles, stories, relationships- because villains make us face what we hate, and help us see what we need to be and help us see that our enduring struggle against our vices and sins are worth the fight. Not just to prevent us from becoming villains ourselves, but to see how good we are already and to value what we work/fight for.

  11. I love your blog and that you write the kind of books I am trying to write. Thank you for becoming a follower on my blog as well and thank you for teaching about characters. I love learning all I can!

  12. Trizia, great analogy! And so true. Villains do show us how good we are and to value what we have. I loved this. Thanks for stopping by.

  13. Terri,
    I'm glad you like my blog. I'll tell you, I have found I'm always learning, so I'm more than happy to pass on what I've learned.

    Thanks for stopping by.



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