The Hero, Villain, Victim Drama Triangle

These three character elements define the conflict in your story:

Sometimes the villain is referred to as the persecutor and the hero as the rescuer. These character archetypes are deeply embedded in our subconscious so we respond to them in our stories.

The VICTIM is typically portrayed as innocent and helpless. They are forced into a situation undeservingly. However, the typical victim archetype can be skewed. Maybe they aren’t entirely blameless and must accept some measure of responsibility for their predicament. Humans don’t always act sensibly.

In an attempt to loosen the constraints of the drama triangle, victims may trade some of their passivity for assertive, targeted behavior. In essence, they are adopting aspects of the hero’s role by taking ownership of their situation.

The VILLAIN tends to be a witch or beast represented as a “monster”. The classic villain doesn’t commit nefarious acts for the sheer joy of it. In their minds, they are battling for a cause, an ideology and the greater good.

There are villainous aspects to heroes and victims when victims justify their own hurtful behavior to others. In modern character paradigms, villains can become supporters, as their bonds with the heroes and victims are strengthened.

The HERO is gallant, noble and praiseworthy. The hero must act in the greater good despite the danger. In the purest sense, a hero must act altruistically until justice is achieved. The Hero can be morphed so that an element of self-satisfaction is introduced into their quest. Consider Dorothy pouring water over the wicked witch in the “Wizard Of Oz”. This represents humanity’s propensity for selfish acts to make us feel better and alleviate our pain, rather always doing what is right.

The hero must free themselves from the attack and counter-attack vicious circle with the villain. Heroes no longer need to fight with their fists, but must find alternative solutions to problems. They can either manage them or avoid them. The hero still needs to fight for justice rather than simply accepting the situation as it stands.

As we redraw character archetypes and blend their traits, we create more exciting combinations of them.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. kathy says:

    These are great tips, thank you!

    I would also add that there is another triangle of relationships, based on the work of David Emerald Womeldorff. In his book, The Power of TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic), David outlines the roles of Creator, Challenger and Coach. Each are an escape from the drama triangle relationships of Victim, Persecutor and Rescuer.

    Like the Hero, these roles focus their responses and actions on their desired outcomes.

  2. Jurgen Wolff says:

    It’s interesting that the most popular blockbuster films generally use this dynamic in its most raw state–that is, the hero is really good and the villain is really evil, while the more thoughtful pictures tend to trade in characters where the lines are far more blurred. The latter is also true of many of the TV series on Showtime and HBO, whereas the networks keep more to the clear good/bad divide.

    1. JG Sarantinos says:

      And blurring the villain/hero interface makes for far more interesting characters as the so-called “idiot” cinema audience becomes more demanding and savvy. Although more mainstream media like stronger differentiation between good and bad, they are slowly veering towards more motivated villains, so that, although they are bad, they question morality, which leads to better story telling.

      I actually heard you speak in London a few years ago when I was living there.

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