We Could Be Villains
The Olympics are over!! It’s a bit of a relief for me. I’ve been so distracted by them at times, that my blog entries had literally dried up. I barely had time to tweet such was the level of distraction. I can find interest in any sporting contest (even BMX and Race-Walking). I haven’t forgotten about writing completely as I’m roughly quarter of the way through my next work of fiction. But the Olympics have got me thinking about the idea that heroes’ can become villains and vice-versa in the blink of an eye.
While the British can claim that the Games were a keenly and mostly cleanly contested set of events with a huge helping of goodwill, there is one incident that now rankles. Barely hours after the dousing of the flame, it was announced that the winner of the Women’s Shot-Put would be stripped of her gold. Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus had tested positive for Metenolone (an anabolic agaent) and rightfully punished. Of course she still has the medal and is back in Belarus somewhere, no doubt chopping down trees with her bare hands but there is a silver lining (or is it gold?).
As a New Zealander, I am pleased to say the gold went to our own Valerie Adams and now there are calls for a ceremony for her as she was robbed of top spot on the podium (and the Anthem of course). But this moment of change has created these perceptions. Nadzeya, who for a week had probably been a Belarussian national hero, now ranks alongside those we dare not speak of such as Ben Johnson or Marion Jones. And Valerie while already a national hero had endured a week of critical press. She was to a degree vilified and her drive called into question. Now every scribe will have to eat some form of humble pie or retract to some degree. In sport we see complexity in our heroes and villains. It isn’t just black and white. Jaque Rogge, the president of the IOC cant quite bring himself to describe Usain Bolt as an all-time great because the entertaining Jamaicans’ histrionics don’t quite fit his own long standing vision of the way an Olympian should be.
All this makes me look at Heroes and Villains in fiction in a new light. We have been raised to think of heroes and villains in very set frame work. Heroes must be virtuous at all times and villains must ooze evil from the outset. It is as if they must be identified straight away. In life it is not that clear, the villains and heroes we come across are sometimes revealed only at one of lifes tipping points or a major crossroads. That is the way that heroes and villains should be in fiction. I refuse blankly to identify someone as a hero on page one, nor will I reveal the bad guy in the first chapter. We don’t know that soon. We have to get to know them first.
These differing shades raise the importance of two figures in literature: The Anti-Hero and the Likable Villain. Without these two, fiction wouldn’t be half the arena that it is. The Anti –Hero shows us that we cannot be perfect all the time, even the best of us. The Likable Villain shows us that you can’t truly be wronged or taken advantage of until you trust them in some way or let them into your world. And that they are capable of some good also. As a writer you should never be afraid to bring some complexity into your characterization. There are examples of these types of people all around us and there is no need to simplify a character into a solitary box for the sake of the reader. They want more than that and it will make for a better ending.
I hope Valerie gets her crowning anthem. She honestly earned it.