We all know that the villain of the story meets up with the hero of the story in the epic showdown in the last act of a good book, right? The gunfight at the OK Corral. The big stand off. Good versus Evil, that kind of thing.
But what if the bad guy IS the good guy?
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A Catcher In The Rye. Moby Dick. These are novels where the hero and the bad guy are actually one and the same. Dr. Jekyll is easy. A Catcher in the Rye, I believe, has Holden Caufield against the world, sure, but really it's against his perception of the world. It's him against his own negativity. And Captain Ahab is driven by his own past to try and slay a monster that, although it seems to be the villain, really is nothing more than a whale wanting to live its life on its own.
So how does this conflict get resolved in a way that is engaging and exciting?
SPOILER ALERT! (Ok, if you REALLY don't know how these books end, then shame on you!)
Usually, the way to end the internal struggle is through an external force killing the hero and the villain. In Moby Dick, some may argue that Ismael is the hero, and there's a good argument for that. But the question I would pose back is "how does Ismael really change in the novel?" But that's another discussion. So for the sake of argument, let's say Ahab is the hero and his inner drive is the villain. The fight, the last bout with the whale, is really, I think, a metaphor for his fight against himself. And when he sticks the one harpoon into the whale, the rope gets tied around him and pulls him underwater, where he drowns.
In Catcher in the Rye, it's the Carousel that Holden's sister rides on that allows him (I think) to win the fight of his internal negativity.
In Jekyll and Hyde, the hero kills himself.
In all cases, the hero and the villain can no longer exist in the same body. One of them has to go, and sometimes the bad guys takes the good guy with him. It's a center piece of tragedy: the inner conflict of the hero. In fact, if you're writing a tragedy, I'd argue that to make the hero face an EXTERNAL hero and have them kill each other makes the audience feel cheated. ONE of them is supposed to survive!
So if you're writing about a hero and the story centers around his own internal "bad guy", be prepared for the big showdown to result in something tragic, like the death of both. But regardless of the outcome, make sure the internal struggle is there all along, that the reader senses it, and that it's no different than any other hero on his/her journey being blocked by an antagonist. That's what makes reading fun...
I'm starting a new book today with that as the title. "The Strength To Stand Up. Memoirs of an Unemployed Man." People have...
Great time had at the SCBWI conference on Saturday! And a big hello to my friends from that conference who've hopefully joined us here....