In my first big novel-kind-of-thing I'm currently working on, I have a run-of-the-mill, super-non-special "Hero" - the Antagonist. A Jon Doe, someone, who knows how to handle everyday stuff and can defend himself in a brawl.

Pitched against him is my Evil Overlord of doom - the Protagonist. Not just your basic Evil Overlord of doom with stupid minions and a soft spot for big speeches, no. He is designed with Peter's Evil Overlord list in mind.

How should i have my Hero start going on an adventure to save the world from my Evil Overlord? How should i motivate him to even THINK about doing that? He is a regular human with no extraordinary powers or anything, while my Overlord has Legions of minions and follows Peter's List?

As an additional note, people around the world know of that one weird guy sitting on this Island with tons of friends (as they perceive it). His plan already started and somebody needs to try and stop him (and fail miserably).

The following is only for flavour, providing a couple more details for those interested, though is not mandatory to consider when answering.

Quick rundown on the world we're living in: It's a fictional planet orbited by 2 stars, a very lively world. It's a lot smaller than earth and is inhabitated by currently 800-900 million people. In terms of landscape, I'm gonna focus on the areas where a bulk of the story takes place: First, we have an Ice Desert, here we find the city the "Hero" calls his home. Think pop.~ 70.000. Buildings are made out of a mixture of Steel and Ice, though melting the Ice won't cause every building to collapse, it just looks nice. This desert hosts a couple other citys, all smaller though. Next, we have an Island, roughly 250km off the coast of the Ice Deserts main port-city (located ~20km southeast from Herocity). Here we find the lair of our Evil Overlord.

In terms of technology, the world is similar to earth shortly after the middle ages (~1550). Magic IS a thing. Although very rarely do you see a Wizard openly casting spells, as that would most likely alert one of our Overlords Minions and have him (the wizard) get an Arrow stuck in his forehead. Magic is weak, useful for everyday chores at best. Making small appliances levitate, lighter-sized flames, that kind of stuff. It requires a rune.

/this was noted to probably fit better on writers than on worldbuilding

/Edit: as Lauren Ipsum suggested, moved a lot of the detail to the end as optional flavouring for those interested in it.

  • Hi, and welcome to Writers. You have the kernel of a good question here, but the more detail you add, the more specific to you your story becomes. We prefer questions which have the potential to help others in the future. Can you edit to make this more generic and applicable to others? Then the community has a better chance to answer the question. Commented May 16, 2017 at 9:38
  • @LaurenIpsum Sure can. Just for better understanding, basically remove the story specific details about the world/era? Commented May 16, 2017 at 9:47
  • Rocket: Why do you want to save the galaxy anyway? Peter: Because I'm one of the idiots who happens to live in it!
    – GordonM
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 11:12

8 Answers 8


But for me, it was Tuesday

(Warning: TV Tropes) http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ButForMeItWasTuesday

Your "hero" has their life messed up badly by some (unnoticed) collateral effect of one of the villain's plans. His workplace gets taken over or blown up, his family hurt, his friends or coworkers all fall ill from mysterious causes. This both frees him from his daily routine and motivates him to start his quest.

If you want to make it more of a choice, reduce the damage to the hero's life so that he could recover and go on, but hand him something uniquely suited to his skills/personality. Whether it's an overheard conversation, strange blueprint or dead body doesn't matter, whatever it is, it causes the hero to realize something "impossible" is going on, something that his mind can't let go off until he figures it out. Following the trail means neglecting the hero's old life, family etc. He may try to do both at first, but will have to choose one or the other before long.

The one discovery/thing/piece of information the hero has also makes him seem competent/useful to any potential allies, so that he can make progress even when it doesn't seem believable for an average Joe.

  • 1
    The second Paragraph is what got me here. That's just what i was looking for! I guess my brain left me for a day or two. Just a tiny bit of inconvenience that any other Joe would just ignore. But this Joe seems curious enough. Thanks a lot! :) Commented May 16, 2017 at 15:00
  • Star Wars, of course.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 4:30

The basics of 'intelligent' story: there is no difference between Heroes and Villains - both believe their mission is true and just.

Unsuspecting heroes are born of necessity.

Let's put this into context.

A character "Alison Smith" is raising her four-year-old daughter alone since her husband died in Afghanistan. Alison didn't vote for Hillary so much as she voted against Trump. After his inauguration she went on the women's march to demonstrate against Trump.

It made no difference.

After the president is cleared of all corruptions charges and the Senate passes the healthcare bill, Alison can't understand; 24 million people will lose their healthcare and nobody is lifting a finger to help them.

Armed with her dead husband's Glock, and knowing Secret Service will take her down, Alison heads for Washington -knowing she needs to take one good shot.

Hero or Villain?

  • 1
    That is a seriously good point for me to think about. I'll definitely keep this in mind! Commented May 16, 2017 at 13:29
  • -1 For talking about assassinating a real-life sitting president.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Jul 27, 2019 at 4:32
  • 1
    @EvilSnack, this is about a character who from their side is a hero, but could be perceived as a villain. It's pretty clearly not a suggestion to kill Trump. Relax. Besides, it shouldn't matter whether the target is a president or a civilian.
    – PoorYorick
    Commented Aug 14, 2019 at 20:55

I'm afraid that you have gone about this a bit backwards. The basic structure of a story can be described in many ways, but one of the best and most well-founded is that of the hero's journey, as described by Christopher Vogler in his book The Writer's Journey. The story begins in the hero's normal world, but the hero is forced to leave the normal world in pursuit of some desire, to achieve some boon, or to avenge some wrong. They pass through a series of trials leading to a final confrontation. Along the way they have to face some fundamental truth about themselves and emerged transformed (or not, in the case of tragedy).

To shape the hero's journey into this form it is often necessary to take some liberties with the activities of the villain. Thus villains often behave in ways that are risible. It is worth asking why this risible villain behavior does not ruin the story. It does not ruin it because the reader's enjoyment of the story depends on the emotional satisfaction provided by the hero's arc. Any false note in that arc will ruin everything. False notes outside of that arc inserted for the sake of preserving the arc itself, are by and large forgiven.

In particular, the classic form of the arc demands that the hero must reach their nadir, must have the villain's boot upon their throat, before rallying to win the final conflict. But of course a rational villain, once their boot is upon the hero's throat, is going to finish the job. There always has to be some reason why they don't, and while that reason does not have to be absurd, it does not seem to matter much that it often is.

But you seem to have approached it from the opposite direction, creating a villain who makes no mistakes, who leaves no room of a hero's journey to unfold. I would suggest that an easier way to go about this would be to create a hero and then create a suitable villain to send him on his hero's journey. I'm not saying you can't create a villain first and then invent a hero to oppose him. But if you create a villain who leaves no room for a hero to operate, you are going to run into difficulties -- as you have.

It is worth pointing out that in the real world, the armies of megalomaniac dictators are not defeated by the heroics of lone adventurers but by even larger armies. In the sensible world, power grinds down power through years of misery and bloodshed. Heroic acts within such struggles are on the small scale. Story world plays by different rules. Story villains are not sensible.

  • That is one great piece of advice. I'll have to add though, most of the story isn't going to be revolving around the 'Hero', but about the Villain. I want the 'Hero' to fail his adventure at some point and i will definitely get him to grab help from others. If i can get him to leave the house and embark on this journey in the first place. Never wanted to have a "One-Hero-fights-millions-of-baddies" type of story, so i'll definitely agree on your last paragraph. Commented May 16, 2017 at 12:57
  • Okay, I think there is a basic confusion of terms then. If the "hero" and "villain" are commonly used as synonyms for "protagonist" and "antagonist". You seem to be saying that you protagonist is the Evil Overlord. That's fine. But to make it a story, the protagonist still has to have a hero's journey. Evil overlord defeats hapless hero is a setup or a satire, but it is not a story.
    – user16226
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 13:03
  • There is some form of Journey behind the Evil Overlord who is the Protagonist, yes. I'm sorry if that wasn't clear from the beginning, I'm not a native speaker. Commented May 16, 2017 at 13:09
  • I think you definitely need to clear that up, and antagonist and protagonist are the terms to use for this purpose. But actually, my answer stands. If the hapless hero is the antagonist, the antagonist does not necessarily need a rational motivation. If you are Dracula, peasants with pitchforks come with the territory.
    – user16226
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 13:18
  • Alright i edited the question to clarify the roles of Antagonist and Protagonist Commented May 16, 2017 at 13:21

Have a look at your favourite stories and think about why the protagonist was the hero.


Why did Harry Potter fight Voldemort? He was fulfilling a prophecy.

Why did Katniss Everdeen fight in the Hunger Games? To protect the ones she loved.

Why did Peter Quill fight Ronan? Because Ronan wanted to destroy the universe and Peter was one of the idiots living in it.

If your character is not qualified for the role of “hero” or compelled to fight evil simply for the sake of good, then you need to give them no other choice. Maybe it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe your baddie threatens their family and they are overcome with the need for self-sacrifice (or vengeance if the baddie follows through with the threat). Maybe they are simply scared for their own skin and happen to be at the right place at the right time. Their fate will become linked to the antagonist whether they like it or not. You just have to consider what puts them there. Why do they care?

The answer depends entirely on your "hero". Who are they? What makes them special, despite being so ordinary? Think about their personality and alignment, their worst fears, and what would put them in such a desperate situation that they have to don that heroic persona. And if they are so normal that they have no reason to become wrapped up in this conflict, then why are they the "hero"?

  • The "no other choice" is exactly what I'm kind of trying to avoid. Commented May 16, 2017 at 13:00
  • Can you tell us why you want to avoid this? I think the rest of my answer could still apply - he needs some sort of stakes in this villain's treachery. Otherwise, why should he care? Unless the reason is self-serving in itself. Maybe he's a pompous and jumps at the chance to prove himself a hero (all the funnier when he ultimately fails?). Maybe he's trying to impress someone he fancies? Maybe he's just sick of being so unbearably ordinary and sees this as a chance for adventure? Think about his personality: what does he want, and how is the villain getting in the way of that?
    – sudowoodo
    Commented May 16, 2017 at 13:38
  • The reason is relatively unique: It doesn't really fit my idea of storytelling. It's everywhere: "It's his destiny", or "He is the chosen one" is everywhere, and I grew tired of it. It also just doesn't fit my style of creating stories. Same goes for Hand-waving, use of magic because it explains everything and the good 'ol Deus Ex Machina. I like explaining stuff with science :) (the only real stories i have created so far are 5-10 pages long background stories for Pen and Paper Characters, so basically completely new to actual writing). Commented May 16, 2017 at 14:57
  • As far as Harry Potter's situation goes, it's made quite clear in one of the books that the existence of the prophecy made absolutely no difference to Harry.
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Jul 27, 2019 at 4:34

Every hero sets out on his journey by taking a single step. You hero needs not to set out to take out the BBEG, he could set out just for something simple: pay his taxes, find a new home, go deliver cookies to his ailing grandma. Few people leave expecting to take on the world (and those who do typically end up beaten by it).

Maybe he tries to get into the big imperial brawl to [impress a girl/get money/ help ailing grandma] on his way there, he encounters/ witnesses something that lets him know that something must be done.

As an alternative, you seem to have a good plot from the villain's perspective as he plots to save himself from the One-who-will-ultimately-come...


What you are looking for is called the hook. It works both outside the story and inside. Outside to pull in the reader, inside to pull in the hero.

You need to add something to the story that makes the hero become the hero. The transition from ordinary guy to hero - the part that the first half of a typical story is usually about (any Marvel origin story movie ever made).

However, from your reversal of the typical roles, I assume that you don't want to spend half the book on this, so you are looking for a quick way out. You shouldn't. You can shorten this part, but the core element needs to be there: A reason deeply embedded in the characters personality, forces him to turn into the hero.

So you need the motivations and core beliefs of your character spellt out. Did you do that already? Do you have a character profile for your hero? If yes, go through it and find which of his core beliefs you can violate in some way that fits to your story. Does he believe in the one true love? Take it from him. Does he treasure family? Threaten it. Is personal honour his driving force? Insult it.

His quest should have a goal, and you need to establish that. Rescue his love, save his family, restore his honour - whatever it is. And then you have a hero who has both a reason to go on the quest in the first place and to not give up when faced with obstacles as well.


The hero can get dragged into the heroic struggle by a process called mission creep (with which as both a military veteran and a software developer I'm very familiar). There is someone or something that needs saving, and he does the saving without regard to the larger forces at work in the world, because the girl he saves is his crush, or the village he saves is his hometown, or he saves the orphan because honor requires it. In saving that small part of his world, he frustrates some minor objective of some minor lieutenant of the Evil Overlord, and so now his small problem has been replaced by a somewhat larger problem.

Naturally at some point the nature of the enemies he faces changes so that at some point defeating them, especially the final boss, requires the hero to change as a person.


It doesn't matter.

Pick your favorite. The readers will accept it, IF THE STORY IS GOOD.

Jesus: ordained by god (or is the higher power himself)

Harry Potter: ordained by fate, marked by his enemy

King Arthur: ordained by fate/chosen by a higher power.

Luke Skywalker: passively conned into it by a wise old man

Bilbo: hired to join an adventure

Frodo: conned into it by a wise old man, also chosen by fate (he inherited the ring)

Vin Diesel: he just loves his family

michael corleone: every time he thought he was out, they pull him back in!

Superman: it is just who he is (his small town USA values)

Batman: revenge and anger management

Spiderman: guilt and responsibility

John Wick: Theon Greyjoy killed his dog.

it literally doesn't matter.

people will accept whatever, as long as the story is good.

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