13.12: Q&A on Heroes, Villains, and Main Characters

Your Cast: Brandon, Valynne, Dan, Howard

You had questions about heroes, villains, and main characters. We have answers! Here are the questions:

  • How do you make planned power increases not seem like an ass-pull¹?
  • What do you do when your villain is more interesting/engaging than your hero?
  • How do you know when a character is unnecessary and needs to be removed from the story, or killed off in the story?
  • What tricks do you use when you want the reader to mistakenly believe a character is a hero, rather than a villain?
  • Which is more fun for you: creating a villain, or creating a hero?
  • How many side characters can you reasonably juggle in a novel?
  • What are the drawbacks to making your villain a POV character?
  • If your villain doesn’t show up until late in the story, how do you make their eventual appearance seem justified?
  • How do you get readers to like a character who is a jerk?

Liner Footnotes
¹ We hadn’t seen “ass-pull,” the a nouning² of the idiom “pull it out of your ass³” as a noun before.
² Bill Watterson gave us the verb form of the word “noun” indirectly in the final panel of this strip.VerbingWeirdsLanguage
³ For those unfamiliar with the extraction-from-orifice idiom, it means “make it up on the spot,” with a negative connotation, suggesting that the reader can TELL that this was invented in a hurry.


Write about a female gamer who is trying to right social injustices using her gaming skills.

The Woman Who Smashed Codes, by Jason Fagone, narrated by Cassandra Campbell

8 thoughts on “13.12: Q&A on Heroes, Villains, and Main Characters”

  1. On the power ups, I can provide an example of foreshadowing and a technique I love using and seeing. I learned it from The Writer’s Journey. When using threshold guardians (obstacles), you can use them as signals of new powers. Introduce a concept through an antagonist using it first.

    As an example, in the anime/manga One Piece, certain abilities are shown possible through the antagonists first and the heroes later adapt it into their abilities, like some of them taking the abilities that CP9 – group of martial art assassins, or the ability of Haki, which variants are shown through two differing antagonists and upper tier allies before its explained. My favorite example is shown through a previous arc’s villain, Doflamingo. He reveals that paramecia power users (the same as the protagonist) can experience an awakening if they gain a certain mastery over their power and how it works with altering the environment. The protagonist will obviously acquire this power up sooner or later and it won’t feel out of nowhere.

    One more example, a series called Code Geass. The protagonist encounters a different user of the same power as his who was far more experienced and permanently had their power on. So when the protagonist’s power evolves to that level (at the worst time possible), the concept has already been introduced.

    So basically, be Megaman!

  2. English makes nouns into verbs more easily than other languages, in my experience. Although technically, “access” comes from a verb: “accedere” in Latin (“to approach”). The past participle “accessus” got nominalized, so it’s only fitting that it comes full circle now in English. :) But I don’t know how English lost the verb form; other languages still have it: accéder (Fr), acceder (Sp), accessar (Pt), etc.

    1. I’d also like to point out that Seamus making things explode is from the movies, not the books.

  3. A couple of examples where the villain was the main character: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and Wicked by Gregory McGuire. In both of these the villain is a complex and dynamic character. The key to these stories is that the reader comes to have sympathy for the villain, and even though the main character eventually becomes villainous, this is no longer the only thing about his character. The “hero” in both stories plays a minor role or is a static, less interesting character (sorry Captain Hammer).

  4. You (and Brandon!) have questions, and Valynne, Dan, and Howard have answers! From ass pulls through shining characters and dead characters to body counts, villians as POV characters, coming on stage late, and jerks, they talk about it all. And now, you can read about it in the transcript available in the archives and over here


  5. I was trying to explain the beginning of this episode to my husband and the concept of the “ass-pull” because it was funny. He responded with “Like in Indiana Jones?”
    After some confusion and spelling out loud I realized he thought I said “asp-hole.”
    Laughs ensued.

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