Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Do romance stories need a villain?

Last weekend, Ana and I had an email conversation about villains that made me wonder about the role of a villain in romance stories.

In ‘His Leading Lady’, I brought in a character who turned fairly nasty towards the end, which added an extra layer to the story. In both ‘Fragrance of Violets’ and ‘Changing the Future’ I had minor characters who revealed information, one out of malice towards the hero (although not necessarily wanting to split hero and heroine up), the other who did hope to cause problems between them because she had her sights set on the hero. Were they villains? I tend to think of them both as characters who threw a spoke into the wheel and created extra problems as a result. In ‘Her Only Option’, the ‘villain’ of the piece isn’t actually revealed until late in the story, which is part of the mystery of who is behind various threats aimed at the hero and heroine. In my recently submitted ‘Dream of Paris’ it’s the ex-fiancée who causes problems, again not directly aimed at splitting up the hero and heroine, but certainly causing the heroine a lot of anguish.

I began to wonder whether there needs to be a villain, or at least an antagonist, in romance novels. Although I’ve had characters who’ve caused problems for the hero and heroine, I’m not sure I would call all of them ‘villains’ or even antagonists.

Is it necessary to have a third party who is jealously or maliciously trying to destroy the relationship between the hero and heroine (for whatever reason)? Or can the ‘antagonist’ be the circumstances in which the main characters find themselves, or the events that happen which seem to be beyond their control? Or maybe the ‘villain’ is their own doubt, distrust or uncertainty, either about themselves or about each other?

I’ll be interested to know how you feel about villains - and/or the kind of ‘villain’ you’ve used in your romance stories.

22 comments:

  1. The answer is...it depends! Sometimes a villain contributes to the external conflict fueling the story, particularly in romantic suspense. In a classic romance, however, with the relationship so strongly the focus, there may not be room or need for a traditional villain. As you suggest, if the circumstances are dramatic - say a natural disaster - that can function as villain. Room for all!

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  2. Blythe - thanks for visiting, and you've echoed my thoughts :-) It seems 'villains' can take many guises, and don't necessarily have to be human adversaries.

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  3. I think it depends on how you're defining "villain." All stories need conflict. Sometimes that conflict is internal and sometimes external. A villain would provide an interesting external conflict, but there are many other methods of having an external conflict and, as Blythe says, it depends on your story.

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  4. I have a villian of sorts in my first book "This Time for Always". The heroine's father has always and continues to cause problems for my couple. In my other books I don't have a villian per se. I guess sometimes internal conflict can be thought of as the villian.

    I tend to think romances with villians bend more toward the sub-genre of romantic suspense, but that's not always the rule.

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  5. Jen - I agree about conflict being essential, and also that even external conflicts don't necessarily have to be caused by another person as the 'villain'.

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  6. Debra - yes, internal conflict can prove as difficult to overcome as any problems caused by an antagonist - in fact, more so in some stories!

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  7. I agree conflict is essential in traditional romance where a villain can add interest but is not necessary. In my series, my real villain doesn't really manifest until book two, although he does make a quick appearance in book one.Is he necessary - not really, but he sure throws a kink in my lovers HEA especially since he is the missing identical twin to my hero who has turned dramatically evil.:) Just my two cents. Enjoyed reading your blog and everyone's answers.

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  8. Virginia - many thanks for visiting our blog. Throwing a kink in the lovers HEA is a great way to describe it. That's exactly how I would describe the characters in two of my novels who revealed information that caused problems between the two main characters.

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  9. Paula--this one hit home. My first romance in 2007, included a third POV which belonged to the mother-in-law of the heroine. This third POV happened to be the villian, and many readers told me--to my face and in emails--that the MIL almost stole the show. In fact, the MIL drove the story. Without her, no story.
    But the head editor sent it to the owner of the publisher, and both said, NO THIRD POV OF VIEW IN A ROMANCE, AND CERTAINLY NOT A VILLIAN.You see how upset that made me?
    They suggested I re-write to include her shenanigans, but seen through the eyes of the heroine.
    NO WAY.
    I knew I was right, and that I had a good story. I wrote a letter to the owner and pleaded my case. She agreed..okay, have it your way.
    I felt I had won a major battle, and that was with my first story.
    But it sort of made an enemy of the head editor--she did not like it.
    Title--All My Hopes and Dreams--and while it's not the best story I've ever written, I am truly proud of this one because I managed to include a wonderful villian--the evil MIL who did everything she could to destroy the marriage between her beloved son and his lovely Anglo wife.

    I've written other villians, but none that had their own POV--that is a big difference. There's always someone who is trying to keep the hero and heroine apart.
    Great topic, Paula--how do you think of all these ideas???

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  10. Celia, what a great story! And I really admire you for sticking to your guns on this. Must admit I hadn't thought of a third POV from the villain's angle, but I can see how it could strengthen a story, given the 'right' kind of villain! Thanks so much for your input on this.

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  11. Very interesting topic, Paula. I tend to think that as a rule, internal conflict makes a better 'villian' than an external cloak and a dagger villizn. I also like to build conflict around some well-known event such as the Civil War, the Gunpowder Plot, etc.

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  12. Linda, I do agree about internal conflict. On the whole I dislike steroetypical 'villains' - although I have been guilty of creating 'nasty characters' in Fragrance and Changing the Future!
    I'm so looking forward to reading your Gunpowder Plot novel!

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  13. Hmm...I agree with the responders who point out that the story certainly needs conflict. In a romance story, internal conflict of some sort is almost a necessity. Almost, because of course rules are made to be broken in our creation of a Good Story.

    It's not an "either-or" to me. A good villian provides or magnifies or takes advantage of the internal conflict. Would "Shrek" have been half as good without the evil King, even though the internal conflict in the Ogre and cursed Princess drove the plot?

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  14. In my novel "The Doctor and the War Widow," there is a psycho ex-girlfriend who definitely causes problems, but there are also friends and family who cause problems for these people--even thought hey mean well. It's the same with "Buried Truths." Some friends/family mean well, but they get in the way of the couple's happiness. In "Love at War," the antagonist is an evil Nazi that my character must seduce, even though she still loves her MIA husband.

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  15. I don't think a story necessarily needs a villain, although I love Celia's mother-in-law story. I'm not even entirely convinced a story needs conflict. I've certainly never deliberately introduced either villain or conflict. I think the only essential thing in a story is that it be entertaining.

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  16. Very good point, Gerald, about the villains providing or magnifying inner conflicts (even if they do it unwittingly). Taking advantage of it would seem to be deliberate, however!

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  17. Viola - sounds like you've had a wide range of villains, and you're right that anyone can be the villain in a story, even family and/or friends.

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  18. Interesting point, Jenny. I've read stories with no adversaries, but I do think that most have some kind of inner conflict.

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  19. Quoting a character in a story by Neil Gaiman:

    (Desire, talking about Dream): "He talks about stories. My brother. Let me tell you the plot of every one of his damned stories. Somebody wanted something. That's the story. Mostly they get it, too."

    I suppose whether or not a villian is needed depends on what the protagonist wants, and the villian is simply anyone and anything that stands in the way of getting what you want. It could be your own shyness. It could be distance, or society. Or a person. Or even fate.

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  20. Great post Paula. I guess "it depends" tends to be the popular answer and I think any obstacle hindering the hero or heroine from getting what they want is the villian in a sense--even if it is an internal conflict keeping them at bay.

    Cheers, Jenn

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