The Hero and their Nemesis…
See @Massawyrm’s tweet:
Need to flesh out your villain? Consider giving them traits that your protagonist has and present them as an equal who simply made different choices.
The struggle against this type of villain externalizes your protagonists internal struggle, highlighting their inner workings.
This caused some thinkology.
Each character has a fairly large number of dimensions. Think of religion, law/politics, economics, family, gender, and the long list of et ceteras that extend this list.
On some dimensions the antagonist and protagonist must match each other.
In most cases, they have to be nearly identical in power, or one would crush the other early on and the book would be short and boring.
One upon a time, a powerful bandit king killed the mage trying to oppose him. The End.
The question we’re confronted with, then, is how similar are the MC’s?
The tweet suggests more similar is interesting. The distinction between them devolves a question of moral character. In some cases, and highly nuanced question. In other cases, utterly ambiguous. In a #grimdark story, there’s little real difference.
The similarities (and differences) must be revealed in stages. The MC often starts out as underpowered, but the whole point of the Hero’s Journey is to get from “too weak to matter” to “strong enough to present a problem.” (Otherwise the story ends too early.)
We can lead with the differences. The Good Guy is pretty good. The Bad Guy is reprehensibly evil. But. The story can then show us how not-very-good the good guy really is. The book is about the difficult choices where the “hero” is less than good, in spite of having a noble aspiration.
In other cases, we might want to lead with the similarities. The Good Guy is slightly better than the Bad Guy. The story then shows the things the good guy does that separates them from the bad guys.
I think this works out well for me. The Mage isn’t really good. The Red Knight is obsessed with justice and is often a jerk. A “boss” bad guy — an Outlander — shares the Mage’s obsession.
I hadn't called this similarity out too loudly. They don’t really meet until The Return phase of the Hero’s Journey. I may want to tweak a little to call out this parallelism.
As mentioned in The Size Problem, if I need to decompose The Forge into two (or three books), I can add some material around the bad-guy’s journey prior to its intersection with The Mage’s journey.
Right now, I’m not doing a gigantic rewrite. I’m continuing to query what I’ve got.