Friday, October 16, 2009

Cut Loose That Footloose Villain!

Don your legwarmers! Fluff your hair! Turn up your radio! It's 80's Dance Party!

Or not.

At least not in the small Midwestern town to where teen aged Ren (Kevin Bacon) has relocated from Chicago. Dancing has been banned by the one and only pastor (John Lithgow) who has taken it upon himself to be the moral voice of reason for every family in his flock. [Kathy’s note:  I've seen the updated version since writing this article. I like how the writers fixed the problem of having only one “man of God” in the entire town. That always bothered me that the original pastor (Lithgow) had so much influence. In the 2011 version, Reverend Shaw Moore (Dennis Quaid)  is still a leader, but he’s not a tyrant.]

We're talking about the movie Footloose. I watched the 1984 rerun for the first time in at least twenty years the other night. The music had my feet stompin' and had I not been in my mother's tiny senior apartment, I may have cut loose. Now, if I can silence the title song from my head long enough to write this article, I'll continue.

While much of this movie is silly, the writers did do something right with the characters. They gave them depth, which in our world translates to believability.

We believe that Ren is tired of being labeled the "bad boy" simply because of where he's from. We believe the PK (preacher's kid) Ariel, played by Lori Singer, is a deeply troubled young woman because of her strict upbringing. And we believe that Reverend Shaw Moore wants to save the rebellious youth in his town. And why? Because his son was killed after a night of drinking and dancing.

Rev. Moore is the major antagonist in this story. The writers didn't do the typical thing and made him strict because of his religious beliefs alone. They upped his conflict in the back story. Rev. Moore lost a child due to the very thing he now opposes. And that gives his character depth.

When we create our villains, it is so important not to make them Disney cartoons. That worked for Walt but it won't work for us. All of our characters need a reason to do the things they do. A good reason. Not just because they're inherently wicked, but because something has happened in their past to make them that way. And even more importantly, they need to think that what they're doing is the right thing. Rev. Moore sincerely thought it was his calling, no, his duty to protect the young people in his town and keep each and every one of them from suffering the same fate as his son. This made his cause noble, if not a little misplaced.

So, to recap, give your antagonists depth by giving them a reason for what they do, and give them a noble cause that is only noble in their own minds. That will make them believable and entertaining enough for the readers to keep turning those pages.


Tonight we're gonna cut loose
Kick off your Sunday shoes
Please, Louise
pull me off a my knees
Jack, get back
C'mon before we crack
Lose your blues
Everybody cut footloose