I've been asked to post this here, and I think people might find it of interest. I wrote it up some years ago when I was working on a story that followed the Hero's Journey. In that story I found my villains followed a journey of their own with striking similarities.

For those who aren't familiar with Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey, aka the Monomyth, it is an analysis of the shape that myths take in every culture and time period. It can be a useful tool for writing fiction, but be warned: The Hero's Journey is a guideline for characterization, not plot, and it is only one type of story. You should not chain yourself to it. But if you choose to write a story that follows the Hero's Journey, Campbell has already written your outline for you.

A condensed set of stages for Campbell's Hero's Journey might be:

  • Call -- The hero is called to adventure.
  • Threshold -- The hero crosses a threshold and enters a darker world.
  • Dragon -- The hero undergoes trials and faces overwhelming danger, which may include a symbolic death.
  • Atonement -- The hero atones with his father, and/or marries a goddess. (*)
  • Boon -- The hero recieves a boon that gives him supernatural abilities.
  • Mastery -- The hero is master of both worlds, and is free.

(* -- I personally believe that the 'Atonement with the Father' and 'Marriage to the Goddess' are two different versions of the same stage of the monomyth. In either case, the hero is accepting the cultural mores of his society, and gains the ability to definitively say 'This is what is Good in the world'. I mention this because of what follows.)

The epiphany I had came when I was laying out the plot arcs for my villains. They also followed a version of the Hero's Journey -- but in reverse!

  • Master -- The villain is, or believes himself to be, better than other people and thus capable of altering society to his whim.
  • Loss -- Despite his mastery, the villain is missing something: A ring, a macguffin, or just absolute power. He then goes out to obtain this item.
  • Denial -- The villain denies the cultural mores of his society. This is when great crimes occur, for the villain is now defining his own ethics. Also known as the 'Moral Event Horizon' moment.
  • Dragon -- The villain undergoes battle(s) with the hero. The hero's symbolic death may emerge as a false victory for the villain, if it makes him believe the hero is dead and the villainous plans are unstoppable.
  • Foiled -- The villainous plans are foiled, and the world is delivered from danger.
  • Echo -- Some piece of villainy remains; either the villain escaped alive or some residual evil lingers in the world. A villain whose deeds are completely erased by the end of the story is not very satisfying.

There are other, optional stages in the Hero's Journey that do not appear in all myths, but were common enough for Campbell to remark on them. The Villain's Jorney has reflections of those as well:

Magic Flight From Danger (Hero) turns into the First Invasion of Evil (Villain).The villain often begins his campaign to find the macguffin with a display of shock and awe.

Refusal of the Call (Hero) turns into Refusal of Aid (Villain). Even after being Foiled, all true villains would rather fall into a volcano than let a hero pull them to safety.

The Hero's Initiation (Hero) turns into the Final Rituals of Power (Villain). Heroes sometimes need a symbolic initiation to step across the Threshold. Villains use a Final Ritual to finish their grand scheme, but are Foiled just in time.

There's a nice symmetry going on here.

What I found most interesting about this is that the cycles can chain off of each other, or can be used in different ways for different characters. The same plot event could be a protagonist's Threshold but an antagonist's Loss, transforming one character into a hero and making another bitter and evil. Or, a single character could do both complete cycles, with the foiling of his plans acting as a threshold into darkness, where he then recants his evil ways and atones with his society.

I just thought that the concept of a Villainous Monomyth was interesting, and wanted to share it.