A Pirate's Resources

Act of Villainy

Exercise 10 :: Problems and the Act of Villainy

Now, you have probably heard of setting, and rules, and even significant objects. But the phrase “Act of Villainy” is unique in the story world, and you probably haven’t heard of it before. (For those who like to know word origins, this originally came from a Russian story genius named Propp, but we’ve never seen it used outside his works, until now). We abbreviate this AoV. This element in story is VITAL. Without it, a story cannot exist.

Act of Villainy is a problem that causes one or more characters to respond to try to solve it. The story starts with the AoV, and ends when it is resolved. This AoV can be huge (an asteroid is going to hit the earth) or it can be very small (my cat is stuck in a tree). It can be a tangible, real event, or it can be something emotional or intangible. A person might cause it (usually the villain). An accident might cause it, nature might cause it, you might cause it. I think all of this is fairly accessible, and your student won’t have any problem with this idea. A problem = start of story.

But, there is a catch. Anything that causes one or more characters to respond to try to solve it can be labeled a “problem.” We think of problems as negative or unpleasant, but something good can be a problem of AoV, according to our definition. Something that we want to happen, even if it causes us to have to work to solve it, isn’t bad, but can be a good problem. Getting a brand new puppy for your birthday is a
good thing, but it creates a “problem” that you will have to solve for a long time to come (raising, walking, feeding, picking up after, basically caring for it). But because you want a dog, it’s a “good problem.”

Another seemingly contradictory idea is that of embracing problems. Many of us want to run away from problems. But there is a whole class of people who want to head straight into them - who see going after and solving a problem as a great thing. These are the
heroes. Like a doctor looks forward to a broken leg, not because he’s glad it’s broken, but because he has the ability to fix it, and that’s what he loves to do. Or a teacher who loves to teach, and therefore solve the “problem” of ignorance.

Finally, there is one more important aspect to an AoV. There are some problems that no one cares about. No one is bothered by it, no one is trying to solve it. When this is the case, there is no AoV. It is only an Act of Villainy when a character(s) responds to try to solve it. So, the problem of there being no telegram system on Antarctica isn’t an AoV. It might be a problem, but there is (best as I can tell) no one trying to solve this problem, and so it is not an AoV. There is no story coming out of it.

In Real Life :: our lives are full of problems, both good and bad. Some of these are A0V’s, and we (or others) actively seek to solve them. Everyone being hungry for dinner is a problem that people want solved, and often mom is the hero who solves it. But a sock fell behind the washer might be a problem that no one even recognizes! A key part of life is learning to identify the problems, and their solutions, and whether or not we are the one who is meant to solve them, whether we need to ask for help in solving them, or whether we are simply to let them go, because they are, in fact, someone else’s problem. Helping our students to see this can free them to be heroes, or to get the help they need, or simply to stay focused on the problems that are theirs, instead of taking on problems they can’t or shouldn’t solve. I encourage you to read the story portion on page 112. Captain Yogger entering the room in such a manner that Scurvy Spat is scared creates a problem for Spat. When the Captain leaves, the problem is over. But without thinking about it, there were other things that seemed like they could have been the problem. Sometimes we don’t know what the problem is, and so we don’t know what we need to solve. Spending time with your child identifying real problems and their real solutions (this is almost always easier done in hindsight) can help them mature and grow and become more adept at being a hero, in the “story” of their own lives, and in the lives of others.

Finding it in the Story :: reread the story section on pages 111-112. This is the best (most straightforward) example of an AoV in the entire book - but it is not what the AoV for the entire story is. Can your student find it as they read? Several smaller AoV’s are :: Scurvy Spat wakes up in the ocean and onto a pirate ship; Yogger has such bad breath; the monkeys have been taken as slaves. Have your student think back to the story they’ve already read, and find as many “problems” that the story then solves as they can. And as they continue reading, figure out what new problems arise. But when they get to the last page - then you can ask them what the AoV for the entire story is. They’ll know!


Getting to the Heart of your Character

You can help your student get to know their character just like they get to know a real person. We’ve already given you some advice for helping your child develop their characters’ physical appearance and characterizations - but just as seeing a person from across the room isn’t an effective way to actually get to know someone, developing their physical appearance is only a superficial way to develop a character. To get to the heart of your character, the author has to find out what that character wants - or what we at A Pirate’s Guide call “Character Desire.” So I also shared about finding out what your character wants and desires, with some easy tips to begin brainstorming those. So far, so good.

But why is this so important? Why does our character have to want something anyway? Yes, knowing these character wants and desires help set the author up for creating action in their story. And it’s so much more than even that. Because we aren’t talking about the simplest wants, though those will drive action too (a hungry character WANTS to eat, and that prompts them to take ACTION and sneak a cookie from the cookie jar).

What the character wants - as it relates to the story and the Act of Villainy (or conflict in the story - more on that in another post) - will define who the character is in the story, and it will determine the actions that they take within the story. The heart of the character - as it relates to the Act of Villainy - might make your character a hero, or a villain, or perhaps a princess. Let’s say that the Act of Villainy in our story is that a princess was stolen and locked into a tower. The character who desires to set the princess free is the Hero, even if he wears a black cape and hat, and twirls on his mustache. The character who is locked up in a tower is the Princess, even if they are a short dwarf who has bad breath. And the character that wants to keep that princess locked up is the Villain, even if he is tall, handsome, and rides a white steed. It is the desire of their heart - again, as it relates to the Act of Villainy - that determines
who your character is. And that will determine what they do. And what they do will determine, in part, how they relate to other characters.

Finding out what a character desires and why will help your student get to the heart of their character, and that will help them find their character’s place in the story.

(These are just a few thoughts to get you started as your child continues to develop their characters.
A Pirate’s Guide has more detailed explanation and exercises to really dig into the Act of Villainy in exercise #10, and what your character wants in exercise #17).