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TV Tropes Monday: Historical Villain Upgrade

Tweet of the Day: Writing Excuses 6.19: Pitching


Every story needs a protagonist, he who stands at the center of the story. The protagonist is one of two kinds of people, 1) the prime mover of the universe who bashes down obstacles with his might (physical, mental or both) or 2) a subject of torture by an uncaring universe which constantly flings poo at his face. If he is lucky he manages to dodge the chunkier bits and has a nice shower handy to clean off the rest.

Since the Protagonist and the (Classic) Hero share many a quality (and virtually the same definition) it stands to reason that the antagonist (the who/what stands against him) will tend to be a villain as well (yet these last two terms don’t share a definition).  And writers being the lazy bastards that we are, we tend to mine history for ideas, concepts and characters.

Enter the Historical Villain Upgrade.

This is the process by which a historical figure who may or may not have done heinous things whistles a jaunty tune while cruising past the Moral Event Horizon and sipping mai tais on deck. The problem, of course, is that it smacks of revisionism since few if any historical figures can be fitted into tight little boxes of villainy. Nor is this a new phenomenon. Shakespeare was notorious for it among many, many others.  It can also lead to a mix of unfortunate implications, show that the writer did not do the research, or a cardboard villain with no depth whatsoever. Sometimes you create a better story by exploiting the complexities of the time the character lived in than by cutting and pasting a theme with a name.

The more you know….


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