The Bravest Thing
Title: The Bravest Thing
Author: Laura Lascarso
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: April 17, 2017
High school junior Berlin Webber is about to reap the fruits of his hard work and land a football scholarship—if he can keep his sexuality a secret from his best friend, Trent, and their homophobic coach. Then Hiroku Hayashi swerves into the high school parking lot on his tricked-out motorcycle like some sexy comic book villain, and Berlin knows he doesn’t stand a chance.
Hiroku is fleeing his sophisticated urban scene to recover from drug addiction and an abusive relationship when he arrives in Berlin’s small Texas ranch town. Initially sarcastic and aloof, Hiroku finds in Berlin a steady, supportive friend who soon becomes more. As Hiroku and Berlin’s romance blossoms, they take greater risks to be together. But when a horrific act of violence tears them apart, they both must look bigotry in the face. While Berlin has always turned to his faith for strength, Hiroku dives into increasingly dangerous ways of coping, pushing them in opposite directions just when they need each other most.
Two very different young men search for the bravery to be true to themselves, the courage to heal, and the strength to go on when things seem darkest. But is it enough to bring them back together?
What makes a good villain?
It’s a common misconception that villains must be evil. In fact, to be a good villain, one doesn’t have to have any set moral code (good or bad), they must only be at cross-purposes from the hero so that at any given point in a story, the villain and the hero are actively working against each other to achieve different goals. (And for a time, they could be working toward the same goal, so long as they are at odds again in time for the climax.) This dynamic is the main thrust of a man vs. man conflict, and it is what makes us want to see what happens next in the story.
Just as a hero’s goals and motivations change throughout a story, so may a villain’s tactics and objectives. As the story changes and grows, the hero and villain actively try to outwit and outmaneuver the other. In this way, the more complex the villain, the more complex the hero, and in my opinion, the better the story. This is true for both character-driven and plot-driven stories, though the “battling” in a plot-driven story is perhaps more apparent and in the physical realm.
Beyond motivations and goals, another defining characteristic of a good villain is for the reader to understand the “why” of his or her actions. We don’t have to agree with the villain’s tactics or the end goal, but we must understand why they are doing what they are doing. Like real people, no person is all-good or all-bad. Just as flaws make a hero more likable, redeeming qualities make a villain more three-dimensional.
An example that comes to mind for me is President Snow in the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. We may despise President Snow and his tactics, but we understand that his ultimate goal is to maintain law and order in Panem (along with the societal hierarchy of the districts serving the Capitol). Yes, he’s a despicable man who does despicable things, but the reason he’s so believable as a character is because you can see why he’s doing those things.
In my story, THE BRAVEST THING, I have two young men, Hiroku and Berlin, who are each striving to achieve different things. For Hiroku, he’s trying to escape past addiction and an abusive relationship. For Berlin, he’s trying to keep his sexuality a secret from his football coach and the rest of his football team.
For Hiroku, the larger antagonistic force at play is addiction, and the villain is Seth, his abusive ex who is still using.
For Berlin, the larger antagonistic force at play is homophobia, and the villain is his football coach and by extension, his best friend Trent.
While the villains for each character affect both the story and the romance, each hero must battle his own villain in order to complete his story arc.
This concept of “agency” is one that many beginning writers stumble over. It’s not enough for the story to happen to the hero; the hero must shape and alter the story through their actions. So, too, must the villain constantly be altering the story through their actions as well. As President Snow would say (in the movie version at least), “moves and countermoves.”
The excerpt I’ve included below is a scene that introduces Seth, Hiroku’s ex-lover. You will see (hopefully) the hold Seth has over Hiroku and the sense of defeat and inevitability we feel from Hiroku in trying to resist him, which is not unlike addiction itself. This push-pull between Seth and Hiroku is an ongoing theme in THE BRAVEST THING as well as the question of whether Hiroku will have the strength to overcome his addiction.
What do you think makes a good villain? Who are some of your favorite villains and why?
If you like what you read, check out my new M/M romance THE BRAVEST THING, launching April 17 with Dreamspinner Press.
Laura Lascarso strives to inspire more questions than answers in her fiction and believes in the power of stories to heal and transform a society. She lives in North Florida with her darling husband, two children, and a menagerie of animals. Her debut novel, Counting Backwards (Simon & Schuster 2012) won the Florida Book Award gold medal for young adult literature.
For social critiques, writer puns, and Parks and Rec gifs, follow her on Twitter @lauralascarso
Facebook: /lascarso | Twitter: @lauralascarso | Web: lauralascarso.com