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Author's Ramblings: Villain vs Antagonist, Hero vs Survivor

When I was a little kid, I absolutely loved Disney villain songs. I loved most Disney songs, but the villain songs hit differently. I felt that they had more emotion than the average main character's music, and more character. From the sass in Poor Unfortunate Souls, where Ursula switches sharply between lies and side comments to Jetsam and Flotsam, to the ego and ambition filled "Be Prepared" in the Lion King, villain songs held a solid place in my heart.

The villains tended to have a reason for what they did, such as revenge or the wish to return to what they saw as their 'rightful place'. In comparison the heroes didn't always seem to have a drive beyond duty or even selfish wants that could have been resolved with direct communication. When you ask "why is this character a villain?", good vs evil becomes a lot muddier than it was in children's stories. There are exceptions to this; people whose sole motivation is wanting power or who find sick joy in hurting others, for example. But the best (or worst) villains believe that they are the hero all along.

It's because of my interest in human complexity (read, I grew up with undiagnosed ASD and had to hyper-analyze people around me to protect myself), I began to prefer antagonists over villains. Antagonists are the opposition of the protagonist (the main character) without necessarily being evil. Whereas a villain has very few redeeming qualities, and antagonist can be complex and even tragic in how they became the person they are. In some stories, the antagonist is actually the "good guy" while the main character is in the wrong! In others they are absolutely a villain.

For One for Ahl, I refer to Orin as the antagonist even though he can easily be called a villain. There's a reason behind him being the way he is, which is explored in the story. The explanation is in no way an excuse for his actions, but it does make him more human (if I did it right!). In the sequel, Fielle's Legacy, the antagonist is meant to be a villain through and through.

For our "heroes" I wanted to emphasize that they have their own drives. Meerkat is trying to prove herself to her father, but ultimately becomes a hero to create a space for herself where she can exist how she wants. Candid is trying to literally and physically step outside of the shadow of her brothers, as well as to stay at Meerkat's side. Footsie is trying to protect his people as a prince who was stripped of all power. Jane, by comparison, is merely doing what she is told. She doesn't believe she has any control of her life. The times that she does take action, her choices seem to make the situation worse. At the beginning of our story, her will is already largely broken. It isn't until she's pushed to a new breaking point that she finally understands that she should still try. She realizes that inaction is, in and of itself, a choice with consequences. Fielle's Legacy sees her after that realization, during her recovery. She begins making her own decisions even with the knowledge that it might push people away.

I know there will be people who see Jane as a pushover. Not everybody understands decision paralysis and the fear of making things worse at every turn. During rewrites I had to pause and wonder if I made her seem too weak. I hope, though, that the majority of readers can appreciate her as a survivor of impossible circumstances. I hope people can appreciate her humanity and lack of heroics where she is at a loss of what to do. She might not be the greatest hero, but she is a fantastic survivor.

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