I’m currently listening to Linkara’s History of the Power Rangers video review series, and there’s something I realized that I don’t think I’ve given enough credit to in my own writing. I focus a lot on inter-character conflict, which is great for character development, but without some external conflict, can turn out kind of dull. I think so, anyway, and that’s a criticism leveled at my own writing.

I thought about the kinds of things that my stories were missing because they didn’t have a centralized antagonist (or antagonists). Really, it’s a problem I’ve had at least since I started running D&D games almost ten years ago … I have combat encounters, sure, and one-shot antagonists, but no meaningful, recurring villains. No major plots.

It just seemed so wildly unrealistic to me. Given the kind of behavior that many villains seem prone to, I couldn’t justify to myself anything without a great deal of inherent power having any kind of long-term plans or goals. The few recurring antagonists I created escaped frequently, and then avoided the protagonists entirely for fear of meeting their match. It seemed like the more intelligent thing to do.

Even when I’m writing prose instead of adventure modules, I don’t have a central antagonist. The main characters feature as their own antagonists in most cases, and the story is driven by their individual wants and the obstacles they face along the way. Those obstacles don’t conspire against them, and whenever possible, the obstacles remove themselves when reasoned with.

…Or maybe I just have a different kind of story? Rather than leaning on a villain as a storytelling crutch, I have incidental obstacles that vary from tale to tale, and when the protagonists are willing to invest the time necessary, any antagonists are more than happy to get out of the way. Obviously some cliffs still have to be scaled, but…

Are the stories I write exciting? Does anything actually happen? Is what I write compelling, or meaningful? Does anyone get anything out of them, are they inspired or changed by the experience? Does my work have a message, or a point? Does it need a villain to have a point? Does my work suffer for having no major villains?