Villains Act, Heroes React

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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"That's the problem with heroes, really. Their only purpose in life is to thwart others. They make no plans, develop no strategies. They react instead of act. Without villains, heroes would stagnate. Without heroes, villains would be running the world. Heroes have morals. Villains have work ethic."
Narration from The Last Avengers Story

An odd fact about the nature of initiative in fiction: If somebody has a plan at the start of the story, that character is probably a villain.

There are several reasons why this trend exists:

  1. A villain, in order to be threatening, must want something, and have some chance of getting it.
  2. Most heroes are protectors of some kind (cops, doctors (in medical dramas), or the parents of children who are being threatened by some (possibly supernatural) evil), thus making it impossible for them to be unusually proactive before the story starts.
  3. If the villain doesn't do anything, the audience is entirely within its rights to think that this is a case of Orcus on His Throne, which is frequently felt to be a bad thing.
  4. It's easier to write another story (and given that much fiction nowadays is in some form serialized) if the hero is not the one responsible for everything happening. Less important in one offs.
  5. The Villain Makes the Plot is in full play here, as well; and one of the few ways to make a smart villain appear effective is to have him be a successful schemer.
  6. If the hero is proactive about his situation, then the Status Quo will, in most situations, eventually move, which is frequently banned under Status Quo Is God.

Super-Trope of The Villain Makes the Plot. The Villain Makes the Plot is where smart stories are built on smart villains. This trope points to the vast array of stories where the action starts with the villain. From the same line of thinking comes Ambition Is Evil. See also Offstage Villainy, which is a common method of showing this.

Aversion of this, Heroes Act Villains Hinder, comes from stories centering on the actions or emotions of the hero:

  • The Villain Protagonist, obviously.
    • This can vary, as sometimes the Villain Protagonist may end up going against a Big Bad who is Eviler Than Thou, which means that both the protagonist and antagonist can be both proactive AND reactive. This can result in a Gambit Pileup towards the end of the story as both character's schemes come to a climactic, and sometimes catastrophic, resolution.
  • Variations on To Be a Master which require the hero to go beat up the other masters to claim the title. A variation in that the "villains" are not necessarily evil, and may simply be fellow competitors who want the same title the hero does.
  • The Quest
  • Comedy
  • Slice of Life
  • Romance
  • Rags to Riches
  • Great Escape (though it can also be considered a reaction to being imprisoned)
  • Perpetual Poverty

This trope is much too broad for examples. Try the subtropes instead.