By Eleni Papanou
Visionary Fiction villains are my favorite of all villains because they have a chance to evolve beyond their fiendish personalities. What sets apart visionary fiction from other genres is good and evil are seen as acts rather than the core of a person’s existence. In other words, even villains can evolve.
Since Star Wars is so popular, it’s the perfect story example to use in this post. It also allows readers not familiar with the genre to better understand what sets apart visionary fiction from other genres.
One of the most well-known villains of visionary fiction is Darth Vader. We hated him when he destroyed Princess Leia’s home world and forgave him when he turned his lightsaber against the emperor to save his son. Why did we overlook Darth Vader’s sins?
We watched Darth Vader defeat his dark nature and embrace the light. It’s a very common archetypal theme in mythology that Lucas drew upon using Joseph Campbell’s template of the hero’s journey.
I create my own villains using a similar template, although they don’t always end up embracing the light. I love to explore the interior struggle of a villain. There’s a reason why they do what they do, and I flesh out my antagonists as intensely as I do my protagonists.
In Unison, my first book in the Spheral Series, Master Kai is seduced by ambition; however, there’s an obvious ambivalence he demonstrates throughout the book. I indicate this by how he relates to Damon, the protagonist.
“We can’t escape history, anymore than we can recapture it.” Master Kai”
The above quote sums up Master Kai’s internal struggle. His mentioning that we can’t escape history demonstrates some disappointment with the status quo. Nevertheless, he’s a high political figure in Unity, an isolated dome city in post-apocalyptic Earth. He enjoys his status and relishes his power.
What makes an effective villain in visionary fiction? The following is my list of the ideal villain. Of course this is just my personal preference.
- Some cross-road event that makes them stray, either shown or implied through action or narrative.
- Interior struggle, like the hero, and it should be present in the story. If the struggle is similar in nature, it adds more dramatic tension between the two archetypes. In Star Wars, both Luke and Darth Vader battle against their dark nature as they battle each other.
- Some trait or characteristic the hero and villain both share. Both Luke and Darth Vader, when he was Anikan, were Jedi Knights.
Not all visionary fiction requires a villain. The strongest antagonist can also be the protagonist…even in action based stories where a character fulfills that archetypal role. There are two struggles going on with Luke Skywalker. His exterior journey focuses on him fighting his father and the empire. His interior struggle is first seen when he doesn’t want to leave his home to save Princess Leia with Obi-Wan Kenobi. Later, we see more of this self-doubt during his training as a Jedi Knight by Yoda.
While interior struggles are found across many genres, in visionary fiction the characters also go through an evolution of consciousness. In Star Wars, both villain and hero transcend evil and embrace the light. That’s what makes the last episode of Star Wars satisfying. We get a happy ending, along with the emotional impact of watching two characters who started out on different paths arrive at the same destination. It resonates with our own desire for humanity to come together and embrace the light. It’s visionary stories like this that make us see that it’s a possibility.
Eleni Papanou is the author of Unison, Book One of the science fiction epic, The Spheral.
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