Fiction-Writing Boot Camp: How to Write Heroes and Villains | Maxxe Riann | Skillshare

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Fiction-Writing Boot Camp: How to Write Heroes and Villains

teacher avatar Maxxe Riann, Author|Artist| Student

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      How to Fix Common Hero-Writing Mistakes


    • 3.

      How to Fix Common Villain-Writing Mistakes


    • 4.

      Additional Notes on Realistic Hero/Villain Dimensionality


    • 5.

      Using Archetypes to Your Advantage


    • 6.

      The Importance of Flawed Heroes


    • 7.

      Antiheroes and Lovable Villains


    • 8.

      Earning the Ending


    • 9.

      Project: Using the Character Sheet


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About This Class

Welcome to Fiction-Writing Bootcamp, a series that will allow you to write the best fiction you can! Follow along with author Maxxe Albert-Deitch and learn how to write believable heroes and villains who feel more like people than flat "good/evil" stereotypes. Learn to ask the right questions about what you’re writing, catch fallacies before you stumble into them, and understand your characters well enough that you’ll be able to write them into any scenario!

In this class you’ll learn:

  • What makes a good hero, and what makes a good villain (and what common flaws are, especially for first-time writers)
  • Archetypes, and how to use them to your advantage
  • How to write characters that feel like people, not caricatures
  • Why anti-heroes and lovable villains are important
  • The right questions to ask in order to figure out your characters 
  • How to use character sheets to map out your heroes/villains for use in your own stories

Meet Your Teacher

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Maxxe Riann

Author|Artist| Student

Level: All Levels

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1. Introduction: Hi. Welcome to fiction writing boot camp a Siri's that I'm gonna be posting over the course of the next few months, we're gonna cover everything you need to know to write a successful long form. He's a fiction, whether your story boarding a graphic novel, writing a book or gearing up for nanowrimo. I'm Max Albert checked on the author of two novels and several published short stories, and I like to read a lot, which has given me a lot of opportunity to analyze different authors choices. So in this particular course, I'm gonna talk about heroes and villains. We're gonna cover what makes a good hero and what makes a good villain. We're also gonna cover what common flaws are, especially for first time writers. We're gonna talk about archetypes and how to use them to your advantage, but also gonna talk about how to write characters that feel like people instead of caricatures. Why antiheroes and lovable villains are important. The right questions to ask in order to figure out your characters. In the end, we're gonna show you guys how to use character sheets to map out your heroes and villains so that you can really take these ideas and use them in your in your own stories. Hopefully all enjoy this course and you learn something useful for your own writing. Let's get started. 2. How to Fix Common Hero-Writing Mistakes: Okay, So the first thing that I want to talk about is common flaws and how to fix them and divide this into three categories. We've got heroes, we've got villains. And then we've got both where I just want talk about things that are applicable to any character that you're writing, no matter what their role is in your story. Um, start off with heroes. The first really common flaw that especially first time writers make is they're heroes are Mary sues our Gary Stutes. So what that means is that your characters just to perfect their untouchable and honestly, in the end, that's kind of boring. Um, I'm gonna have a leader video in this course specifically about this, and how to let your characters feel like real people with actual human flaws. But what I'm really gonna say here is leave room for your characters toe learn a story, should be about their growth. Um, the next thing sort of within that category is the question of common sense versus straight up bravery for your characters. A lot of authors like to include a sort of day of sex mark enough for their heroes, and, you know, it just swoops in and saves him out of nowhere. They develop their powers and learn everything they need to do right in the nick of time. And I don't like that because I think that victories need to feel earned. I think that any time something saves the day, it should feel like it was a legitimate struggle. And that day saving thing should feel like there was a struggle to get their every story should be about a journey in some way or another, um, specifically, with regard to heroes, I think that their relationships with other characters need to matter. I mean, are all of these characters interacting because your character is the hero? Are the interacting because they were friends to begin with? How do you get if your characters in a team of people aiming for a common goal, why are they together? I mean, there's this whole idea that you need a golden trio to make anything possible. I blame Harry Potter, but why are your characters all in one place together? You know where they trained together. Do they go to school together? Have they been friends since they were four years old? as opposed to just you have three people. One is brains. One is heart. The other is the chosen one. So just get about a little bit of thought. Um, Speaking of chosen ones and heroes, I think that chosen one narratives are a little bit played out. Um, if you're gonna do it, at least make it interesting. Don't just be there is a chosen one because there's a chosen one. Um, I think that there has to be specific of reasoning for a choice like that. 3. How to Fix Common Villain-Writing Mistakes: Let's talk about villains. I think that there is a difference between pointless cruelty and unnecessary evil. And not a lot of first time writers necessarily get that balance right? I think unless your character is a legit associate half and if that's the case, then please do your research and try to portray things accurately. I mean, you can look up medical histories, serial killers, that kind of thing. Um, there's a lot of really good, useful information for you if that's the route that you're gonna take. But try to remember your characters why, you know, why are they doing what they're doing? And if they are that cruel, then let it affect them to some degree, you know, Do they become desensitized to the violence that they are using? Are they angry? Is that why they're taking these actions? There should always, always be appointed to violence. Otherwise it just feels unearned. Another issue that I see a lot of the time with villains is what is their master plan and why. What are their motivations for that master plan? Just like with the hero, there should always be a why. Why are they doing what they're doing? What is their purpose, I think apple chomping, mustache twirling, hiding in shadows, hulking silhouette villains are overdone, and it almost feels comical by now. I think it's really important to remember that villains don't always see themselves as villains. Therefore, their followers will not see them as a villain. If we're gonna talk about things that are legitimately scary in the real world, religious, unbreakable, revelation driven survivalists can be scary. Convincing politicians that make you want to root for them are scary people who want power at any cost, people who used to be a hero's friends and now are supporting some really scary ideals. Or, I think, the scariest of all people who used to be the hero. And now they're not, Um, just if you're gonna dio a villain who is evil for evil sake, I would consider just rethinking that and think about what's actually scary in the real world 4. Additional Notes on Realistic Hero/Villain Dimensionality: with your to both heroes and villains and specifically the dichotomy between them. I see a lot of people sort of over or under powering one or the other, or just the powers of super mismatch between the hero and the villain. When that's the case, I would err on the side of making the villain overpowered. Beating the villain should be hard. Victories should feel earned. Um, like I've talked about with both heroes and villains already. Insufficient motivation for either of those characters is always just a sticking point for me. I think that you should always know what your character's why is. Why are they doing what they're doing? What do they want? Thank Competence is also something that comes into question. Skills should always be earned. And also how did your character learn their skills? Are they outsourcing the things that they need done? Are they delegating border your characters actual skills and haven't played into their story? I mean, if you have an inner city kid who happens to be your chosen one hero, and he needs to go ride a horse for his magical quest, it's unlikely that is gonna have learned how to do that. So maybe learning how to ride a horse is difficult for him. Um, if you have a character who needs to run around picking locks, then unless they've had an apprenticeship as a locksmith, have had a career as a robber and pickpocket or anything like that, maybe they need somebody else on their team who can run around picking locks for them. And I think that dimensionality is the most important aspect here. Character personality must be a product of character history. It's not just, oh, someone was mean to me in Kinder Garden. And so that's my villain origin story. I think any origin story for a villain has to be a result of a systematic perceived injustice. And any origin story for a hero can take any number of different forms. And their life can't be all about their one question. That is the story that you're writing. If the quest is all that exists in your character's life, I'm sorry, but that's boring, Um, with her to developing really clever, interesting villains. I've got some books that do it wrong just because the villain is just the big, scary villain from the outset, there's no real development of what that looks like or how they got there. Um, and the hero is your blatantly obvious chosen one with very little actual dimension books that do it wrong. I'm just gonna say it diversion, You know, big scary villain. No clear motivation here. It was a total chosen one kind of flat. The pen Dragon books. They're great towards the end, but they take a really, really long time to get there. And until then, you have a mustache twirling, dehumanized villain and a total chosen one hero who looks his way into getting anything done. And I'm sorry you all knew this was coming. I think the Harry Potter books are not the best example of a well developed villain and a well developed hero until you know at least two or three books in, because it is a very, very clear from the onset. There is a big, bad, scary dude, and there is a chosen one, and it takes a really long time before Harry stops looking into getting things right. And Voldemort starts actually being scary in terms of books that do it right. And everybody has dimensionality and the villains are clearly developed people who would legitimately be scary to me in real life, and the heroes are complex and flawed and how they get to where they are makes sense. The Vicious five E. Schwab Red Rising, by Pierce Brown and Illuminate Chronicles by Amy Kaufman and Jay Kristoff If you're looking for a lesson on how to do it right, those three are absolutely the places that I would look. 5. Using Archetypes to Your Advantage: Okay, so I know I spent a lot of time in that last video sort of hating on particular fiction stereotypes. I want to make it clear that it is okay to use some stereotypes fan archetypes for erecting . It's okay to have a hero who is the chosen one of his or her generation. It's OK if they know it, and the world is totally counting on them. It's okay to have a mustache twirling evil cult leader as your melon. There are some brilliant stories out there that rely on those specific ideas. However, I beg of you. If you are going to use those stereotypes and those ideas, try to support them in some way. There are a lot of really successful stories that have done this. Percy Jackson totally a chosen one narrative. There's literally prophecy, but he's a bumbling idiot for the 1st 2 books, and it's great. And then in the end, there is a chosen one, and I don't want to spoil anything. But chosen ones are rarely who you think they are, not something that those books deal a lot with. I mean Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She's literally be chosen one off her generation. She's the hero was gonna save the world. But she's a tiny blonde cheerleader whose equally concerned with getting into college and not failing her S A T s. But she's with kicking evil's face in, and that's awesome. Some of the best books out there actually deal with what happens when you're not the chosen one. After sending a lot of time thinking that you're gonna be or characters who were absolutely sure that they were not the chosen ones because they knew who was supposed to be the chosen one. And then, for whatever reason, they have to step in and fill that role. I think the trouble with archetypes is that they don't allow your reader to be surprised. There's nothing wrong with a good story that plays into, you know, kind of common story arcs. A good example of this is Harry Potter. There's sort of a chosen one clear, evil villain, etcetera. I love those books I always have. But like I said in the last video, I think that one of the biggest flaws in the Siri's is that none of those expectations get subverted. Adul good triumphs the closest that anybody really gets to. Changing up those archetypes is the vague illusion that may be doubled or wasn't perfect and a little bit of post Siri's recording that maybe not all soldiers were evil or something. And I think that there is a lot of nuance that could have been added. And a lot of fan fiction writers have done a fantastic job with going back in and finding that subtext. But a really good example of how to do it right is Star Wars Rogue one. I'm a huge Star Wars fan, and it's totally a black and white good versus evil story with chosen one narrative and evil villain. I don't think that makes this story any less worthy of being awesome, but I will happily make the case that Road One is one of the better things that that franchise ever did. Jenna or so is not the chosen one. She doesn't necessarily succeed in her quest. Her story's important as all hell, and in the end it matters. But she's not the chosen one, and the characters in her story are nuanced. They're not straight up good or straight up bad. Her dad's a great example, of that, and it ends up being so much more impactful. As a result. It allows a little bit of nuance to the idea of the evil empire overarching enemy. And that's really, really important. If you're gonna use the stereotypes of the archetypes, find a way to subvert those expectations in some way. I'm not telling you that you can't use those ideas, but come up with a way to make it your own. Just get creative with it. 6. The Importance of Flawed Heroes: all right. So you might remember back in that first video I talked about Mary sues and Gary Stews. All I'm really saying here is that no one likes a to perfect person because perfect people aren't really people. They're robots, and they're annoying. This is why Superman is basically no one's favorite superhero. And there are thousands of people obsessed with Batman who is morally ambiguous and kind of scary, and a lot of people could see him as a villain. This is why Harry Potter is almost never anyone's favorite Harry Potter character. But there are legions of fangirls freaking out over drinking Malfoy, even all these years later, flaws people. Let your heroes be flawed. Let them fail. People who are too perfect are hard to root for, and underdogs get all the fans in the end. So you don't give your characters trauma and the chance to work through it, give them impulsivity and let there be consequences for it. Maybe they have trouble understanding math, and that's relatable to your readers. Maybe they have a total lack of hand eye coordination, and they play a game of dodgeball in it nearly got killed, which you know translates into trouble with learning to sword fight. I need your character has a mean streak. They're not perfect. You know, People hate them, and maybe they have good reason to, because your character could be a jerk. Maybe your character has a blind spot when it comes to someone who is obviously evil. But they used to be friends, and now it's a problem. Maybe your character has daddy issues. Maybe your character has a desperate need to prove themselves. Or maybe they have a perfect academic record and way too much confidence but a crippling fear of talking to the crash. Maybe your character start an allergy to bees, and it hits them right when they, you know, needed to be strong in the face of some terrifying enemy. Maybe, I mean, go Greek with it. Maybe you characters has a fatal flaw. Hubris or something like that. Get creative with it. All I'm really saying here is that perfect heroes are about as boring as mustache twirling villains. It's not so much that ladies love bad boy as it is that we want to see the good guys struggle. Therefore they will learn, and eventually they will become good enough to defeat the scary dudes. Like I was saying before, it's all about the journey. You want to be able to follow your character on a legitimate journey. Everything shouldn't just come naturally and easily to them. So I think that flaws and flaws that come back to bite them in the end are often the best way to do that. 7. Antiheroes and Lovable Villains: just like nobody likes a perfect hero. We all get a little bit bored of a to evil villain. People exist in gray areas. Human beings could be morally ambiguous, so let them be that way. Villains often see themselves as the euros off their own story. Look at things from their perspective or from the perspective of their followers. I think what you really have to understand is why your villains want what they want. I think in the end, villains often have the same kinds of goals as everyone else, but they're a little bit less caught up in the rules of how to achieve them. And that could be absolutely delightful. What it's written. Well, I also think that sympathetic villains are great. One of my favorite fan fiction's because, yes, I read fan fiction was actually written as a test to see just how evil the author could make a previously heroic character before the readers actually stopped rooting for them. And all they did to make that happen was fremd villainous concepts as righteous pushes for progress and the answer for how far she could push that was right up until a literal massacre and Even then, the characters still felt sympathetic, and I think the lesson that can be learned from that is to let your villains be charming. Let them charm your heroes, your side characters. Your readers roll them into a false sense of security that, Oh no, they're not evil. They couldn't be. They have a heroic way of framing things and then let the about stuff hit and let it hurt. Or something else that you can do is have your villain have loyal defenders. Despite all about stuff that they've done, they still have people who really truly believe in them because is about the mark of a hero . And the other thing is that if your heroes aren't perfect and they shouldn't be, then let your villains see that and acknowledge it. Maybe your villain is, to some people a preferable alternative to the measures that your hero is taking or to your heroes methodology. I think it's really important to note that even if you don't plan to allow redemption for your evil character, the path to redemption for your character should be laid out that way. It's a genuine tragedy when a villain passes the point of no return and can no longer be redeemed because people still believe in them. Or there's still an avenue for people to believe in them. I think one of my favorite examples of this actually comes from Avatar The Last Airbender. Zuko chooses redemption, and it's a difficult journey, and he achieves it. And now he's a fan favorite because he was a flawed villain, you know, he was not perfect as a villain, and he is far too in perfect to be a hero and that trends outline of moral ambiguity brilliantly. Likewise, it's a legitimate tragedy when Azula does not pursue a path towards redemption and starts falling apart at the seams. They're both excellent villains, and they're also really good treatments of the two different paths that villains might in the end, to take a few other examples of this. Most of the darker characters in the shades of magic Siri's by the Schwab, like, already mentioned vicious also by the Schwab. A lot of Batman villains also fall into this category. I think there's a reason why Harley Quinn and Catwoman are universally adored, and I would even go far enough to say it's someone like Macbeth. I think it's a really Shakespearean idea that villains are often people who could have been heroes in another path. So I think it's always interesting to flip the script and see things from everybody's perspective and lay out the path not taken, even if you don't end up writing them. 8. Earning the Ending: all right. So I mentioned earlier in this series that it's important to earn any victories, and it's important toe earn the fight towards the end. So let's talk about monstrosity, because I think this is really important. If your characters do bad things and that's either the villain or the hero, let it affect them. They don't come out of this untouched. If your hero kills the bad people, Let that be a moral dilemma is your villain is killing good people. How do they feel about that? If your characters are traumatized and this is something really, really important from mental health perspective, that doesn't get solved by talking about it once, and trauma can be a really powerful motivator for a lot of things. I think there's some truth to the idea that you don't get to defeat the villain without doing some bad things along the way, or at least having the decision to not do those bad things. Being a deeply, ethically unbalancing one, I mean, there is some truth to that super hokey Batman line. It's not an accurate that you die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become a villain. I think some good examples of this would be red rising by Pierce Brown. Again, characters do bad things in Book One, and it's still affecting them deeply at the core of who they are. 34 books later. And I would say that Brandon Sanderson also does a brilliant job with this. Speaking of Sanderson, I think it's also worth noting that a lot of the time some of the things that you think might make you Verona, where the things your character believes at the core of everything they believe in are the hero's journey. They're actually playing right into the hand of villain or they're coming from a serious point of ethical instability. And it's just a matter of perspective that'll change that for them, because that's how things work in the real world. When bad things happen, it's because somebody got manipulated. Somebody played right into somebody else's hand, and now that person holds all the cards, so sure you're the hero to your own people, but that makes you the oppressor to somebody else. And maybe the ethical point of the story is realizing that you've been the villain all along, and now it's time to fight back against your own philosophy. And there's a big mistake that I think a lot of people make when they're writing fiction, which is the villain doesn't really get their competence, or they're so desperate to write a redemption path that it ends up feeling on earns. I think like violence and grief. Everything in a story should feel like it was a journey to get there, or if it doesn't because sometimes a victory is totally anticlimactic. Then there should be a reason why I think fights. You know, when you get to that big conflict at the end, that should be drawn out, especially if the whole story is about preparing for it. And if it doesn't feel drum out, you know somebody super overpowered and they win super fast, then maybe that victory feels a little bit hollow, and it's worth writing about why. And like I've already mentioned, redemption is possible. But it should never be easy. I think it's difficult. Remorse is a difficult thing, and even more than that, earning forgiveness is even more difficult than really looking back with tons of perspective and everything you've done the real point of this video is essentially that. If you spend a whole book ramping up to something, then it must be worth it. When you get to the climax off that story, and if you're gonna put your characters through trauma, then those effects should be visible at the end of that character's arc. So some stories that do it really right, especially if they're long and drawn out stories. I've already talked about it a little bit. Avatar. The Last Airbender, The magician's also does it better than most stories. I've seen both books and the show, and with the later movies in mind, I would also say Star Wars, So just let it feel earned. Let every big story arc that culminates in a major climax. Let it feel like a journey in a quest, not just, you know, like Scooby Doo characters running from one point to another until they eventually unmask the village. And that's that. Let it feel ond 9. Project: Using the Character Sheet: all right, so you know what? Not to dio, and you know how to subvert some expectations. But as far as I'm concerned, a huge part of developing characters is knowing how to ask the right questions and knowing how your characters will react different scenarios and understanding their background in psychology to eventually code. If I it into a character sheet like the one that I've attached in the class project, I've found that you don't have to have the character sheet like this. But it makes life much, much easier for longer novels and Siri's, if you at least have one set of notes with just a complete compilation of character information in them. So the character sheep. I've attached it to the class project section. So if you want, you can go ahead and open that up. If you want fall along here, I you're going to see that I tend to default to the main question words. Who, what, when, where, why and how. It's not just those basic default questions. As you can see, I've put them down that column on the left of the sheet, and I've started outlining for you some questions that I think are important for understanding your characters in the context of your narrative and in the context of your narrative is a really important thing to note here. I don't necessarily care. One favorite pictures. I don't necessarily care what a character's favorite color is or who their celebrity crush was when they were 10 unless that plays into the story later on, I don't care if their eyes were the color of Amma fists or sapphires or whatever. Unless I color is an indicator of social class in your fictional world, I care about psychological behavior indicating prompters the reasons why your character is doing anything that they do in your story. The reasons why we should care about their journey, the reasons why they care about their journey. So if you want, you can go ahead and poke around those questions that I put on the sheet. If you know your story needs something that this sheet doesn't have, feel free to go ahead and add it and good luck with developing your characters. I hope that this course is help you out with creating really good dimensional character designs. I am excited about teaching fiction, writing videos again. Thank you guys for listening and best of luck with your writing. Keep an eye out for the rest of the fiction writing book. Can't videos coming soon?