Pride and Prejudice - The STORY GRID edition - Annotated by SHAWN COYNE

Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

The Villain Drives the Story

By Steven Pressfield
Published: December 6, 2017


I sometimes get asked, “Why does Resistance exist?”

Stefan Gierasch as Del Gue in "Jeremiah Johnson"

Stefan Gierasch as Del Gue in “Jeremiah Johnson”

It’s a good question.

Why did Creation include this monster? For what purpose? Just to screw us all up and make life difficult?

(When I say “Resistance,” I mean in story terms “the Villain.”)

Isn’t Resistance entirely negative? What possible evolutionary purpose could it serve?

Here’s my answer. It might not be anybody else’s answer, but it’s mine.


Resistance gives meaning to life.


Or to put it in narrative terms:


The villain gives meaning to the story.


Think about it. If there were no villain, there’d be no story. If there were no Shark, no Terminator, no Alien … if there were no Coriolanus Snow, no Noah Cross, no Hannibal Lecter, we writers would be up a tree with no way down.

The villain drives the story.

The villain gives meaning to the story.

The snake (actually “the serpent”) in the Garden of Eden saved Adam and Eve from a life of picking fruit and hanging around naked and happy.

Is that Edenic life really human?

I mean seriously. Is that the noblest destiny our race can come up with?

It was supposed to be seen as a calamity when God kicked our original Mom and Pop out of the Garden. Maybe it was. But it was the greatest thing that ever happened to you and me as writers.


Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.


Call this myth if you like, but I daresay there’s no truer depiction of life-as-we-live-it anywhere in literature.

The human condition is the ultimate villain, as it is the consummate blessing. The Almighty cast us forth into the Land of Nod, east of Eden, because we dared (no doubt blindly and obliviously, but dared nonetheless) to steal a share of His nature, that is, free will, the knowledge of good and evil, the capacity to create.

In our path He set evil, villainy, Resistance, that indelible, indefatigable aspect of our nature that craved despite everything to destroy itself.

How do we measure a hero in a story, except by the obstacles she faces and overcomes.


“‘Mongst Injuns,” Del Gue declares in the movie Jeremiah Johnson, “a tribe’s greatness is measured by how mighty its enemies be.”


Actors love to portray villains because they sense, even if they might not always be able to articulate it, that the villain drives the story. The villain gives meaning to the story.

If there were no villain, there would be no story.

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Posted in Writing Wednesdays

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