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In the story I'm writing, the villain is a tyrant who is taking over control of the world (a very small one, with only two continents) as he pleases. The hero and many other people are affected by his actions, besides many other sub problems he is causing. But then the hero rises and head to the villain to put an end to all his tyranny.

So the hero knows the villain (at least basic things like name and behavior), however, the villain doesn't even know that the hero exists, and then all of a sudden the hero appears before him saying that he'll be destroyed and such.

I've read that its best when the hero and villain already know each other, so that the final encounter has more depth.

But can a conflict where the hero is unknown by the villain still have depth?

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    It would even be possible for a hero to fight and lose in a very exciting tragedy while never getting far enough to reach the awareness of the main villain. There's plenty of room for an entire story arc without anything getting cosmic. Maybe their victory is over themselves, not over the external factors that started them on the path. Like a lot of what happens in real life. – Joe Sep 29 '16 at 4:21
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I love this. Why would a really big evil that attempts to destroy the world be aware of a single puny human trying to stop it?

Does the comet approaching Earth know of the astronaut that tries to deflect it? No. Does that make the story less gripping? Certainly not!

While most tyrants will be aware of the resistance in general, they will not necessarily be intimately familiar with every individual opposing them. Think of your story from the tyrant's perspective:

Many individuals oppose them. Through his police and secret service the tyrant watches them. He tries to control them, by putting those into jail that he thinks most dangerous to them. But eventually one of those that he was not aware of or could not apprehend will kill him. That is the hero.

From the tyrant's perspective, the hero is just one of many. Before he succeeds, he is not the hero. He is like one in a million sperm cells. One of a swarm of gnats. One of thousands of infections in the air you breathe every second of your life. And when he succeeds – when one sperm cell fertilizes the egg, when one gnat stings you, when you catch a cold –, it is not because it was this individual person's (sperm cell's, gnat's, virus') destiny, but because one of them eventually had to succeed, because if there are enough gnats, you will get stung. Is that the gnat hero? No. It is pure chance.

Only from the perspective of the hero, does he appear as the hero. Think of the tale of one gnat and what obstacles it has to overcome to eventually drink blood – and get away alive! –, while all around it its peers are being eaten by frogs, poisoned by insecticide, and squashed by huge human hands. Of course you are aware of the gnats trying to suck your blood, but are you aware of the gnat hero that succeeds? Not in the Russian tundra, with tousands of them circling you. Until it stings. Then you know. And from that moment onwards, all the tyrant's power will be fighting the hero.

  • I think that's spot on. Pretty good writing too. – Doctor Zhivago Sep 23 '16 at 2:46
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Yes, it can work quite well and has been used in the past. It's even got it's own trope (warning: that links goes to TVTropes. Don't say you weren't warned)

Some well known examples of it include:

Terry Pratchett in Interesting Times (Twoflower and Lord Hong)

GRR Martin in A Song of Ice & Fire (When The Mountain duels The Viper, also when Tyrion "confronts" his father)

Robert Jordan in The Wheel of Time series (the entire Aiel war was pretty much that)

Douglas Adams in Life, The Universe and Everything (Agrajag)

It's also, in my opinion, a good way to bring some reality to some stories, particularly those "coming of age"/heroic teenager stories where a "Regular Joe" suddenly becomes the Saviour of the World. Why would the Big Bad have any idea of the protagonist, especially if they're only starting out. World domination is demanding task, and there's a lot of details. Besides, it's not much of a heroic rising if the Hero is already well-known and at the top of their game.

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It sounds great. I think what's throwing you is that you're expecting to get the story from both protagonist and antagonist perspectives. Just focus on the hero. His or her story will have the great arc, the joys and losses, the striving, the ultimate success (and the emotional payoff you're looking for). It's completely fine if we don't get the villian's half of the story.

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Certainly a story can have this structure. But your analysis of it seems to assume that the antagonist is a role equal to that of the protagonist in story structure, and that is not the case. Story structure is about the desire of the protagonist and the things that frustrate that desire. Generally this builds as the protagonist faces progressively greater frustrations and puts forth progressively greater effort to overcome them. An antagonist is merely one form of frustration. Sometimes their role is comparatively minor --- series of rivals in a romance plot, for instance --- and the real frustrations comes from another source. (The titular vices in Pride and Prejudice, for instance.)

So your hero is probably not going to wake up one morning and decide to overthrow tyrannous mundi. They are going to have a run in with some minor official, get into trouble, and have to face progressively more senior bad guys as they gather strength and attract the attention of first local and then regional authorities. Only when they have made a sufficient nuisance of themselves at the lower level will tyrannous mundi take any interest at all and start sending progressively more powerful lieutenants to deal with them, leading at last to the final confrontation.

All this fits perfectly with classical story structure of rising action and rising challenge leading to the great climactic moment. Not only does it work, it is in no way exceptional.

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Remember that just because the villain doesn't know the hero --very likely in this scenario --it doesn't mean that the hero doesn't have a personal connection to the villain. Not only is this often found in fiction, it's not necessarily rare in real life: People tend to get fired up about a larger injustice when it becomes personal.

You can make this more or less direct, based on your preference. For example:

  1. The villain makes a new law, and the hero's mother ends up losing her job and starving to death.
  2. The villain's entourage comes to town, and one of the soldier's horses tramples the hero's mother to death.
  3. The villain stops at the hero's mother's coffee stand, refuses to pay for his drink, and then torches it to the ground, with her inside.

The villain probably doesn't care about or remember even the most personal of these incidents, but it's the biggest tragedy in the hero's life. Compare the climatic fight scene in The Princess Bride between Inigo Montoya and the six-fingered Count. For Inigo, the death of his father reshaped his entire life. For the Count, it was just another Tuesday (warning: TV Tropes).

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By all means. Your story can definitely start with the villain not knowing about the hero.

However, I think it's important that the hero's opposition to the villain doesn't go unnoticed. After all, what kind of hero is that? Probably one that needs to up the ante several steps.

I think at the latest the villain should become aware of the hero is at the midpoint of the story, where the hero usually goes from reactive to active mode. In essence, the hero starts to doling out serious harm to the villain which will force the climax and the final confrontation.

For an example of a story where the villain doesn't know about the hero from the start see Braveheart. Edward Longshanks doesn't know about William Wallace from the start, but he surely becomes aware of him as the story progresses.

If the villain doesn't know about the hero, I believe the conflict risks getting a bit impersonal. On the other hand, there are stories where the villain isn't a person (it could be a storm, a shark, Mount Everest) so if you want the villain to be a natural force you could go that way, however, it seems that would make the protagonist seem a bit small... I think. (Check how stories like Jaws deals with this... how about Moby Dick?)

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Maybe have their first encounter go as such. They don't know each other. But the villain might kill someone the hero has a personal attachment to, and so it gets personal next time. Good luck!

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The idea that The Villain knows the Hero that is coming for him does make for a much more dramatic entrance. One might as the author go so far as to put the Villain as a possible winner too...keep your reader on edge.

Some readers might actually prefer the Villain to win even.

The Biblical Tale of the little kid with a stone taking down the Cyclops is timeless though.

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