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Stop Fondling Evil

To write, you have to — to an extent — understand evil.  You don’t have to fondle, pet it, or call it George.

When I was a very young writer, knee high to a novella, I read the stuff about giving your villains a motive.

This is good advice up to a point.  The point is that at which, instead of giving your villains a motivation, you give them a justification, then you make them into tragic victims, then you feel sorry for them, then you are no longer sure who is the villain and who the good guy.  And then next thing you know, your characters are running around in a grey and uninteresting fog and the reader feels like he’s trudging through soup.  Amoral soup.  (Shut up, it’s my soup, it can totally have morals or lack thereof if I so choose.)

Yes, in case you wonder, there speaks bitter experience.

Sure you can write a complex character that reaches for redemption, particularly if you’re doing a longer series, but there are limits to redemption, and there is also foreshadowing redemption, the point at which the character breaks.  There is also — let us not fall into grey goo and deliver us from catatonic readers — the reader knowing who he wants to win, and who he wants to lose.

Yes, everyone has a reason.  Having a reason doesn’t make what they do justified, only understandable (sometimes.)  Being “a victim of society” and more sinned against than sinning is also a thing, but remember that balance, once you sin more than you’re sinned against no more mercy. And there is always — always — a point of no return, both for fictional characters and real life.

So let’s take this from the top, and let’s choose the worst villain possible.  So, let’s take the ultimate historical villain: Adolf Hitler.

Was he someone with a tragic past?  Sure.  Failed artist, caught up in the mess of World War One, maybe gassed (his medical history is a confusing thing, because different authors claim different things.  (This is not unusual.  The stuff I got on the Red Baron was just as crazy.)

Anyway, it sure justifies everything he did and makes you feel warmandfuzzy towards little Adolf, right?

No.

Not only no, but hell no.

Look, to the point where he came up with a horrible theory, he could be redeemed.  To the point where he became the leader of aggressive mobs, he might be redeemed.  Once he invaded Poland and started with his eugenic culling?  No.

Keep in mind he was already evil when he came up with his horrible theory. Sane people on the side of light don’t write the kind of crazy rant Mein Kampf is.  But choosing poorly could be justified to that point, given his issues and history and if he recanted completely and paid some price.  Once the brown shirts started breaking heads… it would take some spectacular redemption scene, and the character (if he were a character) would probably have to die undoing what he did.

Once he started killing people in batch lots?  Oh, hell no.  That character is a villain and only death will solve the problem and expiate his crimes.  Frankly if this were a novel and Hitler a character, he’d need to die at the hand of the hero and in a much worse way than a bullet to the head.

“But Sarah,” you say “You’re imposing morality on fiction.  Fiction shouldn’t have morality.”

Bah.  Fiction has to have morality because fiction has to make sense.  Real life doesn’t.  We have our fill of formless grey goo in real life.  We routinely see villains go around unpunished, and people who deserve all good things suffer in silence.

The human mind, to the extent it is anything, is a machine for extracting sense from reality.  And fiction — last I checked — was designed to entertain humans.  As such, fiction has to make sense.  It has to have a ‘moral’ good and bad arrow.

Sure, you can have stories where no one is good and no one is clean.  Given enough tits and blood sometimes they even sell.  But after a while they pall.  We’re humans.  We want “good” to win.  You can stretch it to anti-heroes and such, but the reader still has to believe this person deserves to “win”.  Unless they’re reading hoping he dies a horrible death.  It’s when you want THEM ALL to die a horrible death that you’re in real trouble. And honestly I’ve come across this all too often in recent years.

Making your villain and hero moral equivalents doesn’t really do much, unless you’re writing for an audience of literature professors.  Whether you believe that everyone is dirty or everyone is immaculately clean, if your reader knows it’s going to end in everyone dying senseless deaths or everyone kissing and making up there is no point in reading on.

We read to ride along in that which real life rarely provides: a sense of victory and of restoring order to the world.

Sure, some people read to feel guilty, to be brow beaten, or to have their politics gratified.  I suspect they’re a minority.  At any rate, they’re not who I write for.  I write for the emotion, and to share that emotion with my readers.

The clear line of emotion, providing the real “high” passes through knowing who the villain is, and that he went too far and will get his comeupance.  Whether that’s losing the girl or his empire and life, it’s proportional to how far he went.

And if it’s deserved, the reader might just sit back satisfied for a minute or two, before ordering your next book from Kindle.

 

 

 

153 Comments
  1. You know, if you put the right kind of mushrooms in it, you can have morel soup.

    August 1, 2018
    • I prefer my food not to have mushrooms. I suppose that makes me amorel.

      August 1, 2018
      • Doesn’t it make you im-morel? If you were a-morel you’d be a mushroom.

        [running away]

        August 1, 2018
        • were-morel: turns into fungus by the light of the moon.

          August 1, 2018
          • The undead-morel. It keeps coming back on you.

            August 1, 2018
          • A self-solving issue as the transformation is one to the fungicide.

            August 1, 2018
            • Zsuzsa #

              Someone get the carpapult in here. The puns are reaching critical mass.

              August 1, 2018
      • Hear! Hear!

        Though sauteed in butter and white wine and served over lightly toasted baguettes…

        August 2, 2018
        • I just like mushrooms. Apparently they are high in potassium, something I’m chronically low in, so…

          August 2, 2018
          • I did not know that they were specially good for one. I just like them too. A lot. That was my birthday present this year.

            August 3, 2018
    • This whole thread is <3. I love you guys for making me grin like an idiot whenever I see these XD

      August 1, 2018
  2. I read all seven of Charles William’s books in college, and liked them. (Tried again a couple of years ago, and couldn’t get into them.) And realized that his first book and seventh book were essentially the same, except in the first book he had fallen in love with the villain, while the seventh was probably the way he meant to write it in the first place.

    August 1, 2018
    • I read ’em all in college, too, and I know exactly which ones you’re referring to. The best, I still think, are “Place of the Lion” and “War in Heaven,” really. And neither of those were the ones you mentioned.

      The edition my college’s library shelved of “All Hallows’ Eve” had a foreword by T. S. Eliot. I don’t know how new their “Trumps” was, but it wasn’t even broken in yet.

      August 1, 2018
  3. And Malificent would have been a better Sleeping Beauty story of they had set it on its own, not tied it to Disney’s version.

    August 1, 2018
    • Mary #

      Trying to draw fans by making it good is scary. Better to bill it as more of the same. . . .

      Meanwhile my muse decided that I was retelling the Sleeping Beauty tale where the prince woke her up by taking the spindle from her hand.

      August 3, 2018
  4. …and thus the popularity of the little short film “Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Twilight.”

    Sometimes evil just is. I’ve been on the fence so to speak about the ending of the next Familiars story because it doesn’t have the “plucky heroine/brave hero redeems bad guy who repents” kind of ending. I fear I’ve become too used to the “give them one more chance, one more chance” trope.

    August 1, 2018
    • That sounds like Bambi meets Godzilla.

      August 1, 2018
    • Zsuzsa #

      “Stalking? Not a turn on!”

      August 1, 2018
    • elainethomp #

      As long as the Familiar story doesn’t show the villain as a misunderstood fluffy sort at heart, really… Is it the story that deals with that obsidian necklace? Burn it with sunfire! I don’t mind not giving evil a second (3rd, -100th) chance when it is that bad.

      August 1, 2018
      • Yes, it’s that story.

        August 2, 2018
    • “Give them one more chance” is how you end up with chronic abuse in the real life. “I can change him” comes a close second.

      August 2, 2018
  5. The planned ending for the first book in one of my projects is for the main characters to find out that the survival of their entire society depends upon the horrible evil thing that the bad guy is doing… AND they just defeated the bad guy, so they have to decide whether to continue the evil, or allow their entire society (and by extension,the entire human race) to be destroyed.

    The plan for the second book is for them to struggle with it as they go on a dangerous adventure trying to fix the problem. The third has them going on an even more dangerous adventure to actually fix the problem, saving (literally) everyone! YAY!!

    I’m hoping it comes across as a coming of age / redemption story,

    It’s on hold right now, because the villain stubbornly refuses to come to life for me, so the main characters keep running around in circles because they don’t have a baddie to bounce off of. Yes, writing is weird. I’m hoping to get back to it before long.

    August 1, 2018
    • “…their entire society depends upon the horrible evil thing that the bad guy is doing…”

      There’s your problem. If he’s saving the world, that makes him the good guy and -they- are the bad guys. Where is this, Omelas? What’s he doing, necromancy?

      August 1, 2018
      • Ori Pomerantz #

        Good guys can be misguided and make mistakes. Thinking that a certain thing is evil to be fought, rather than a tragic necessity to be endured, can be one of them.

        August 1, 2018
        • That’s true, and I’m doing that right now. My current Bad Guy is a good guy that made a mistake. But my main characters are not the ones in the wrong, somebody else is. The somebody else is going to pay, and mend their ways as well, but that’s not the main thrust of the book.

          The main characters and the action, to be satisfying, should be fighting to stop the Bad Guy from doing Bad Thing and make him fix it. That Bad Guy turns out to be only mistaken is actually another challenge for the main characters, because now they can’t just declare war and nuke him. Now they have to be smart, so more bad stuff doesn’t happen. They have to win without fighting, which is pretty hard.

          As a story line, the “tragic necessity that must be endured” is a major downer, and personally I’m -so- tired of those. That’s why I mentioned Omelas. Why just walk away? Walk away and come back with the mother of all armies to flatten the place. Rescue the kid in the room, dammit!

          I want to read about the plucky hero that ENDS the tragic necessity, preferably with megatons-per-second of nuclear powered weapons fire. And he should have a sexy girlfriend. Hero always gets the girl, as part of his reward for not being a schlub. (Aside to feminazis offended by this, the girl is getting a reward too. She gets the hero, instead of being stuck with a schlub. Y’all never seem to factor that into your outrage equations.)

          August 1, 2018
      • If I do my job right, the bad guy in book one will be pretty unambiguously the bad guy. While his work does protect the characters and their small corner of the world, it is also part of what is destroying the rest of humanity. If they turn it off, everybody dies (and the book has a pretty pointless and sad ending, especially if people relate to the characters, which I certainly hope they will). If they don’t turn it off, at least THEY are safe (and they get to live on in books two and three and, of course, end up saving the world) BUT.. In order to keep it on, they have to feed the machine.

        The point isn’t intended to be “Everyone is evil”. The point is giving the characters a hard moral dilemma that challenges them and changes each of them in different ways. Some get stronger. Some need help from their friends to survive the weight of it. Some shatter under the pressure (maybe… That’s a hard one. I like my characters and want them all to be OK LOL!)

        August 1, 2018
        • Sounds like an un-fun scenario. Maybe let them think of a way to keep everybody alive which is arduous but doesn’t make them continue the Bad Guy’s work. Because he’s Bad. Doing what he was doing is still Bad, there’s no moral way to weasel out of that.

          If eeeevile Handwavium is destroying all the people except one little bunch, substitute Unobtanium. Harder to get, but worth it.

          Bottom line, Omelas sucks. Screw those guys.

          August 1, 2018
          • I’ve thought of softening it a bit so that they don’t have to actually harm anyone, or perhaps have one of the big baddie’s particularly cruel minions on hand to take the first turn (there is one already written into the story).

            I have also thought of putting them on limited time. Like, give them a few days before they’ll have to do anything and make them scramble for it in book 2.

            I worry about softening it too much though, since the situation is intended to apply pressure to the characters that makes them grow and change.

            Don’t get me wrong, that isn’t the main story. The main story is a group of kids/teenagers that go on an adventure (it’s YA-ish) to find a naked girl (or more like, prove the one among them who claimed to have seen her wrong). Hopefully, the characters will be fun/interesting enough that readers will relate to them enough that when the issue comes up, they’ll commiserate rather than roll their eyes and wall the book. 🙂

            August 1, 2018
            • If its Y/A-ish I’d take a wide turn around anything morally ambiguous. Not only because “its for kids” but also because it won’t be any fun for the Y/A kind of reader. More a distraction and a bit of unwanted discomfort.

              August 1, 2018
              • This is something I’ve worried about. The initial idea for the series wasn’t intended to be YA. BUT, everyone who has read what I have so far has said “This is YA!” I see what they are talking about. The main characters are a group of kids, and they do end up in a situation where they are on their own and have to solve the problem with out adult help.

                I’ve read some YA, but I’ve never really looked into the rules of YA. So I don’t really know what is on or off limits. I’ve kinda tried to gauge it by using “would it be OK if my 13 year old daughter read this?” BUT… she’s an odd, and she’s perfectly fine with things that may or may not be completely out of bounds in YA.

                August 2, 2018
                • YA= the main characters are a group of kids. I know, but you can’t have a group of kids as main characters without it ringing YA to everyone.

                  August 2, 2018
                  • AH! yea, That’s true. Sometimes I get an idea for a story, and miss the obvious. I like the characters, and the basic idea for the story, so I definitely want to finish it.

                    I wonder how dark is too dark for YA… Hmmm…

                    August 2, 2018
                    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

                      I really liked Joan Aiken, and her YA runs from maybe a bit dark, to really freaking dark.

                      Might not be a great model, because even the series books worked fairly well as stand alone, and didn’t have a huge metaplot. Also, some of her books were deeply flawed.

                      Lemony Snickett was apparently popular.

                      Susan Cooper. Though the ending of Silver on the Tree worked a lot better for me as an adult than as a child.

                      August 3, 2018
                    • Wolves of Wiloughby Chase was spooky in a melodramatic way, a bit like _The Little Princess_. _Midnight is a Place_, and _Bridle the Wind_ were really scary in spots. Those are the ones I remember the best.

                      August 3, 2018
                • This concept issue is not something I’ve had problems with, to date. I fly by my pants, I don’t plan anything. That can be good, because the characters and the settings decide most of what happens.

                  But there’s no architecture to the story beforehand, that all happens in the dark back in my brain stem someplace. The archetypes do battle back there, and whichever one wins that’s how the story goes. I’m not really involved, I’m more like a documentary film maker. I run behind with the camera.

                  If I may suggest, as a thought experiment, maybe give the kids the problem, throw a box of tools and a machine gun in there, and see what they do with it. If they need a new tool, or an air-strike, you can adjust accordingly.

                  The most important question I ask myself all the time: what would a reasonable person do in this situation? Not what would -I- do, because I’m not really that reasonable. So ask yourself, “what would my kid do, for real, if this thing really happened?” Then work from there. You can arrange the circumstances to limit their available responses, and make it look realistic.

                  August 2, 2018
                  • LOL! As soon as they “come to life”, my characters take turns bossing me around and telling ME where the story goes. All I get to do is write it down and TRY to be a line judge when they start to fighting each other (out of story, that is… when they fight in-story… well, that’s in the story).

                    Thanks for the help everybody. I’ve been taking some time off from this particular story, and it looks like it’s time to start working on it again.

                    August 2, 2018
                • BobtheRegisterredFool #

                  I liked Hildick’s book on writing for children.

                  He was one of my favorite authors as a child.

                  Of course, I also liked Joan Aiken. And my current writing project is perhaps an anti-Aiken.

                  August 3, 2018
              • Elspeth #

                Kids/YA are more competent than we often give them credit for and certainly can handle moral ambiguity. In fact something like that would make things more interesting than only “let’s kill/outwit/whatever the bad guy.” As a frequent reader of YA I get the impression that you’re going for something straight-forward so shouldn’t throw in a lot and the ending should have your protagonists having made the correct decision. NB: I may be totally wrong.

                As ‘accordingtohoyt’ said, YA is generally defined by the characters being kids, not by anything else. (The Golden Compass was first marketed as YA) As for your the people you’re writing for as many authors have said one of the first rules is you don’t talk down to kids. Other than that there aren’t rules any hard and fast rules. It depends on what you’re trying to write.

                August 2, 2018
                • Elspeth said: “Kids/YA are more competent than we often give them credit for and certainly can handle moral ambiguity.”

                  Some are, maybe. Question is, do they -want- to be handling moral ambiguity in what is supposed to be free-time pleasure reading? I’m all growed up and I don’t like it, should a kid have to put up with it?

                  When I read the first sentence of your post I flashed on Pullman, and I see you included him. Pullman’s series is one that I would -NEVER- give to a child or young adult. I was a bit disturbed by it as a full grown man, just describing it to a handy kid had the child yelling “EWW!”

                  If I didn’t know it was atheist propaganda, I’d have assumed both Pullman and his publisher were idiots for marketing that to kids. The truth is in fact much darker, and I say that as a man who hasn’t seen the inside of a church in a very long time indeed.

                  There’s nothing broadening or enlightening about evil, no matter the reason or cause. You fight it, you don’t fondle it.

                  Putting it in a kid’s book in an ambiguous way is not a great idea. Having the bad guy be right all along and the heroes of the tale be bad too is not a kid’s book. Its a Hugo Award nominee.

                  August 2, 2018
                  • Thing is, “What the bad guy is doing is all that is keeping us alive” =/= “the bad guy is right.”
                    Particularly if you’ve got a trilogy going, at the end of the first book, you have the characters going “we will find another way.” And then they do, and it’s a way that was readily available to the bad guy, but he didn’t do it because it would cost him, personally, something.

                    August 3, 2018
                    • I agree, that’s a much more satisfying arc.

                      August 3, 2018
                  • Elspeth #

                    Pullman: His previous books were YA, I’m betting someone simply put this in the same category. Fortunately I was working in a bookstore at the time and my manager had a habit of saying, “Here, read this”. I can think of a couple of authors who’ve written a, or more than one, book totally unlike their others. The problem being they’re excellent books but so unlike their others that fans picking them up would be disappointed. An Anne McCaffrey comes to mind: sank like a stone. Anyway, not going to try to get into an analysis of him.

                    August 3, 2018
                    • Anne McCaffrey. Restoree, right? I loved that book.

                      August 3, 2018
                  • Elspeth #

                    thephantom182 said:

                    Elspeth said: “Kids/YA are more competent than we often give them credit for and certainly can handle moral ambiguity.”

                    “Some are, maybe. Question is, do they -want- to be handling moral ambiguity in what is supposed to be free-time pleasure reading? I’m all growed up and I don’t like it, should a kid have to put up with it?”

                    Heaven’s no! (Yes, I do sometimes talk like that.) Readers shouldn’t have to put up with anything, that’s why there are a lot of books. My current escapist reading is the Monster Hunter series and I have to pace myself, allowed to only read one at a time.

                    Back to the question, I was responding to if kids can handle things, not that it should always be included. I do think there should be something in a book to keep it from being purely hack’n’slash or whatever genre.

                    August 3, 2018
                  • Elspeth #

                    Having thought about it after posting an example came to mind

                    When it’s clear that this is going to be bad kids staring at each other with a tiny bit of panic, debating the pros and cons of including an adult and if so, which one? Deciding that an adult would get in the way off they go. Later on they run up against something that only the discarded adult could handle. Someone says something about it, bit about making the wrong choice, someone else says “Well, we’re stuck with the decision so we have to be able to do this ourselves.”

                    Stolen from a lot of books from highbrow to escapist.

                    Hmm. Just realized that’s a totally non-obvious way of showing what the characters are like. If you want to complicate things along the way you could include this, that, or the other about who winds up being a leader.

                    No, absolutely *not* saying that’s what you should do! Just stuff from unremembered books skipping the brain and running out through my fingers as an example.

                    August 3, 2018
            • Downer ending? Ugh. Sanderson’s Mistborn got away with indicating that the Big Bad was keeping worse things away by having it in his dying justification speech, but it was quickly swept aside as unimportant, and the focus was entirely on Yay! Heroes succeed!

              The next book could then get into “It turned out Dead Big Bad was…kinda not-wrong, but rather than be the new Big Bad, we will find a way to fix it!” But if you end on a morally ambiguous downer, I promise you I’m never going to pick up your second or third books to see the plucky heroes tackle and fix things… because you’ve already taken my fun entertainment and served it all sour and downer at the end once, and I won’t trust you not to do it again.

              August 1, 2018
              • I vaguely remember the Sword of Shanhara when I read it back in ancient times, reading along and the characters are going through hell to get someplace where something is supposed to happen. So they get there, and the huge army is right on their ass… and nothing happens. “Stay tuned for Volume Two of Going Through Hell With the Wizard and His Friends, when our plucky group gets massacred by the army they were running away from.”

                But I did not read Volume Two, because one big fat book of trudging through hell was sufficient.

                It would have been worse if the Good Guys did the hell-trudge, got to the Place of McGuffin, and then discovered -they- were the problem all along. That would have been memorably bad.

                August 2, 2018
              • Noted… No harshing Dorothy Grant’s mellow at the end of the story. LOL!

                I’ll work on that. The first book should end with the kids as heroes. But, there is a dark cliff-hanger also that spurs on the adventure of the second book. I’ll have to try to strike the right balance between the two. I have some ideas.

                Thanks!

                August 2, 2018
        • I don’t like those kind of moral dilemmas in fiction at all. For me, they’re a step too far.

          August 2, 2018
    • Huh. Well, it sounds interesting, so good luck with (or should that be bad luck to?) your villain. — Holly Lisle has a “How to Write Villains” minicourse up that might be useful, if only for sorting out what’s really going on with your guy so he can do his dirty deeds properly and get properly comeuppanced.

      My overarching villain is *the* leader of his generation (and his species is socially leader-and-pack, so this is significant) and really good at his job, so most people willingly go along with him; but he’s also discovered a practical way to live forever, sees no reason why not, and is accustomed to having everything his own way and using anyone however he pleases. We don’t see much of him other than at the beginning and end of his arc, but when we do… let’s just say he should not have, ah, overused the MC…

      August 1, 2018
    • Well, a bad person can do the right thing, if it’s in his own best interests.

      But your protagonists’ moment(s) of realization will be the actual pivotal point of the series. Good Luck!

      August 1, 2018
    • John R. Ellis #

      Sounds sort of like the MISTBORN trilogy. Once Kelsier, Vin, and Co. defeated the Lord Ruler, they found out he’d been keeping things far, FAR worse beneath his heel. 🙂 It’s a fun idea.

      August 1, 2018
  6. ““But Sarah,” you say “You’re imposing morality on fiction. Fiction shouldn’t have morality.” Bah. Fiction has to have morality because fiction has to make sense.”

    Fiction is where I go to escape the immorality and balderdash of life. The grown man who chooses the X-Box over proper shoes for his kid, for example. He has the big screen TV but there’s no food in the house for the kids.

    Or the rich man who spends no time with his children, because he’s overseas in Berlin screwing hookers and making big deals, and his wife is stinking drunk by noon every day. So he ships the kids off to boarding school, where they get a taste for all sorts of unsavory things. (Which is why half of Hollywood and Wall St. seems to be made of perverts and sociopaths.)

    This is the incomprehensible madness that life is made out of. What kind of idiot chooses the company of hookers over their own kids? Who chooses the TV over food for their kid?

    But they DO. And I can’t stand it. I need to #walkaway before I get hurt.

    Which means, I am so very much not going to read about slum dwellers making stupid choices, and adding to the sum of human misery. And there is an awful lot of it out there these days, seeking to inform me about the “plight of the poor.” I do not want to see yet another story about the high tech thief barely scraping by, stealing from the undeserving rich in the Big Space City. How many times, TOR? How many goddamn times are you going to try to sell that thing?

    Fiction, of the type I want to read, does not “fondle evil.” That is a great line. It brings to mind the mental image of the author sitting in a manure pile, massaging a dung ball into the perfect shape.

    It’s shit, people. Flush it, don’t play with it!

    In most of my books we never even see the Bad Guy except in the odd cut scene. We see the results of his badness, but we never get into his motivations. That’s because I don’t care about the motherf- ‘s screwed up motivations. I care about nuking his narrow ass from orbit in the most satisfying possible way. (The most satisfying is when he burns up from the targeting laser before you fire the actual gun. And then you fire the gun anyway. Demons deserve the full treatment.)

    So yes, fiction is inherently moral, or I won’t read it. Here endeth the rant. Now I’m going to go write some bad guys getting their asses beat. By girls. (They hate getting beat by girls.)

    August 1, 2018
    • “The torr is a unit of pressure..”

      And the TOR is now a unit of suck (and not in the happy fun way, pervert).

      August 1, 2018
      • More in the “cranial vacuum” way. The TOReans are worse than plain, normal stupid. They actively choose the stupid.

        Which is different than Taureans, we’re just bullish. ~:D

        August 1, 2018
        • Christopher M. Chupik #

          Toreans? Sounds . . . masochistic.

          August 1, 2018
    • Luke #

      Agreed. All tales, to some extent, are morality tales.

      The villain can sometimes “win” without the story becoming grey goo, but generally not when he’s diametrically opposed to the hero or at the hero’s expense .
      Long John Silver is a good example. He’s still an unrepentant villain that avoids the consequences of his actions, and even makes a small profit.
      Compare that to Hannibal Lector corrupting Clarice Starling as a representative of the grey goo.

      August 1, 2018
    • Azure&Green #

      Thank you for your rant! This post and your reply have helped restore my faith in humanity–at least for today. It’s a day by day thing, restoration.

      August 1, 2018
    • It was a good rant, and one that should be said.

      August 1, 2018
      • Many thanks, chocolate rabbit. ~:D Is it morning or night in Upside-Downland? Nearly midnight here, I’m turning back into a pumpkin now.

        August 1, 2018
  7. BobtheRegisterredFool #

    Flip side of this is one of my current design problems.

    I have an unpleasant and challenging situation, that was largely created by some very bad people doing some very bad things.

    I have my viewpoint character, I think I have the emotional arc that is important for them, I have an improved situation at the end. But I do not have a villain currently active that they need to defeat.

    August 1, 2018
    • Sounds like you need one of the very bad people to do an on-site inspection and do something to make the logical determination to fix the problem _really_ personal.

      August 1, 2018
      • BobtheRegisterredFool #

        The guy who created the monsters is dead. They ‘bred’ with something local he didn’t know about, and created man eating reality termites.

        Suppose we hadn’t discovered Atlantis, and WWII involved a whole lot of nukes, and all sides of that are rubble. A story set in that Atlantis, involving the subsequent discovery of radiation and development of radiation abatement and remediation, might be similar to the current plan.

        I am seeing more and more glimmers of a new plan.

        August 1, 2018
        • Man vs. Environment is a perfectly workable story, and doesn’t need a villain at all. Monster slaying is also an old and honourable brace of tales, and the monsters need not be the villains, just monsters.

          August 1, 2018
          • Also, if you want to write epic tragedy pit good vs. good. But one of the “goods” is honestly mistaken

            You can’t write it if you’re playing footsie with evil though.

            “…e read to ride along in that which real life rarely provides: a sense of victory and of restoring order to the world.”

            Sarah Hoyt and Dorothy Sayers FTW

            August 2, 2018
  8. Clayton W. #

    “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant” Shudder…. I forced my self to read 5 of thiose d@** books before I finally told the friend that recommended them that there was no way for it to get better. I spent the whole time hoping the ‘hero’ would die in a long and painful way.

    I get that the world is not pure good and pure evil. But my heroes have to have SOME redeeming value.

    August 1, 2018
    • Bob #

      I’ve got to speak up in favor the TC Chronicles: they’re a special case due to the hero’s situation. And in terms of worldbuilding, I found The Land and its peoples to be the closest I’ve ever seen to a depiction of CS Lewis’ Perelandra. The contrast between the beauty and goodness of The Land and the hero’s inability to accept it (for very good reasons!) and how it’s resolved is the strength of the story.

      August 1, 2018
      • Clayton W. #

        I get he had been ill for a long time and he didn’t believe it was real. But the VERY FIRST thing he does is rape a girl. Becasue he can. And he never feels remorse for it. At least not in the first 5 books out of 10. The world building was good and I get the dichotomy of the anti-hero versus paradise, intellectually. But he was a thoroughly unlikeable character, at least in my mind and I couldn’t get past that.

        August 1, 2018
        • I’m going to second this. THAT book, given to by my then SO went out the window between France and Germany, even tough it left me with nothing else to read on the train for a day. (I had to buy a — gack — stack of fashion magazines at the next station, not to die of boredom.)
          I apologize to the French farmer who might have found it.
          The SO followed shortly after, unfortunately not out a train window, which would have been far MORE satisfying than just breaking up.

          August 1, 2018
          • Azure&Green #

            Third. Well said.
            Even if he didn’t believe it was real, isn’t what you do in private a true expression of what you truly are? He reveals his true nature right there in the beginning as a rapist. And there was no grey circumstance of alcohol or mixed signals between adults to give the reader doubt–she was an innocent girl. I read on until I realized that the author was going to let him get away with it, at which point I vowed never to read anything else by him. No amount of dexterous world building or talented prose could make up for the broken promise of Thomas having to pay for what he did.
            It’s one of the few books I’ve actually thrown away, in an actual trash can. I considered it properly shelved.

            August 2, 2018
        • Bob #

          No remorse? I don’t know what story you read. If anything, finally accepting the reality of The Land takes an even greater act of courage on his part, because then he has to accept the reality of what he’d done.

          That’s the point, and what makes the Chronicles different than so many other stories: he didn’t – and couldn’t dare – believe it was real.

          August 1, 2018
    • Interesting. I KNOW I read a couple of those when I was a kid, but I don’t remember how many or anything about the story. I’ve always intended to go back at some point and binge-read the whole series to see what I missed. Maybe instead of jumping in all at once, I’ll just get the first one and stick the proverbial toe in.

      August 1, 2018
    • I don’t know where you get the notion that TC doesn’t feel remorse for his deed. He does, almost immediately. But what’s he going to do about it? He can’t undo it or take it back, and the consequences, fallout, and guilt come back to haunt him, over and over. I see it as very much a redemption story. Although he has to be practically dragged kicking and screaming into siding with the Lords and the Land, he does so. Just as importantly, he achieves a victory over his own inner Despiser.

      August 1, 2018
    • Must agree that Thomas Covenant is the archetype dickhead who just needs to die. Every choice he makes is the wrong one.

      Spoiler, I was pleased at the end of whenever I stopped reading that he ends up back on Earth, and his leprosy is way worse. That I stopped reading there indicates how bad he was, in those days I read everything that came out. R. Feist lost me there, and I’ve never gone back to his work.

      August 1, 2018
      • Confutus #

        What I see is progress from a “victim” mentality to accepting that he is a moral agent and, whether the Land is real or not, his choices there matter, Although he does make some bad choices, I strongly disagree that *every* choice is the wrong one,

        August 1, 2018
        • I’m sure he made an un-forced right choice in there somewhere, but If so I don’t remember it. Mostly I remember the bad ones, and thinking “WHAT?!!! He chose WHAT?!!! Are you NUTS?!!!”

          Don’t get me wrong, its a “good book”, I do remember it after all this time, right? (I don’t remember a single damn thing from Scalzi’s Redshirts, fer instance.)

          But I don’t remember it fondly, lets just say.

          August 1, 2018
      • Luke #

        Donaldson, not Feist. Feist had problems, but I always liked his protagonists.

        And Thomas Covenant needed to die in a fire.

        August 1, 2018
        • Bob #

          He did walk into a fire. And got purified.

          He died saving a child’s life.

          August 1, 2018
          • Luke #

            Foamfollower was purified by fire.
            Covenant was merely able to graduate to capricious.

            Seriously, managing to have a couple of heroic moments in a ten book epic isn’t exactly a high bar to clear.

            August 1, 2018
            • Bob #

              I meant the Banefire.

              And all things considered, I think TC did well in the end.

              August 1, 2018
              • Luke #

                He became the embodiment of Wild Magic.
                Like I said, he graduated to capricious.

                There were lots of good characters in the books. I’m pretty sure all of them died protecting TC.

                August 1, 2018
                • Luke #

                  Or to put it a bit more bluntly, The Land and its inhabitants would have been much better off if Thomas Covenant had never come.

                  August 1, 2018
                  • Confutus #

                    I get it that many readers see Thomas Covenant’s violation of Lena as the cross-over point into irredeemable villainy, and which blinds them to any and all virtues he may possess. But that’s not the story I read. I read a story where the anti-hero discovers that his self-hatred and selfish avoidance of responsibility lead to the unwitting service of evil, that he does have certain virtues of appreciation for the Land’s beauty, courage, compassion, and integrity, and who increasingly sides with the beleaguered defenders of the Land to enable victory against impossible odds.

                    That’s quite a different thing from one in which, say, there are no good guys except the fools and chumps who get themselves slaughtered by the most ruthless and despicable.

                    August 2, 2018
                    • What good points? What virtue? It wasn’t unwitting. He knowingly and willfully rapes a girl for no other reason than he felt like it. The author gives us ZERO redeeming qualities of the man before that. (No the pity party for him having leprosy is NOT a redeeming feature of the man, just makes him even more pathetic. Not only is he a rapist he’s a mopey sack of Notting but selfpity.) We get no hint of courage. No hint of honor. No hint of any possible redemption or redeeming qualities he might possessed. He’s a self pitying weasel. (In literary terms the author blew it on foreshadowing.) Frankly one of the things that pissed me off at the author was that the ONLY reason to have that event in the story was to make the character an asshole and to give the middle finger to readers who want a hero not a bad guy who happens to be the protagonist.

                      I think you give both the character and the author way too much credit.

                      August 2, 2018
                    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

                      wyrdbard,

                      I’m thinking there might be something akin to “biographer’s disease” in literary analysis.

                      Some of my evidence for that is some of my reaction to Kubo Tite’s Bleach. Which starts out strong, but later on there is some pretty strong evidence that his ambition for the manga had exceeded his ability. (At least for American audiences, maybe the Japanese find Mayuri Kurotsuchi less repellant.) At different times I come to different conclusions.

                      Perhaps this is merely an artifact of a lot of time reading and analyzing.

                      August 2, 2018
                    • Bob #

                      Exactly: he starts out in a bad place and doing bad – as a natural consequence of his setup, and it increases the tension over what will happen to The Land if this is the guy who’s been chosen to save or damn it.

                      August 2, 2018
                    • But enough about Game of Thrones.

                      August 2, 2018
                    • “But enough about Game of Thrones.”

                      You just made me lol really hard. Now people are looking at me, dammit! 😡

                      August 2, 2018
                    • You’re welcome.

                      August 2, 2018
                  • Bob #

                    The Creator chose him to save or damn the Land. Don’t like it? Take it up with Him.

                    August 2, 2018
                    • I took it up with the author, by not wasting money on anything else he wrote. There was NOTHING in the first section of that book that said that it was going to be anything but a ‘screw you the hero is a bad guy and there’s nothing you can do about it so THERE.’

                      August 2, 2018
                    • Bob #

                      Probably shouldn’t read anything by C.S. Lewis either, after That Hideous Strength: Mark Studdock was a complete slimeball and complicit in writing propaganda for NICE, and he didn’t even have the excuse of being thrust into a fantasy land and not being sure what was happening was real. He knew what NICE was up do, and it was later shoved in his face that they were responsible for murder and rape.

                      Same goes for Gene Wolfe and Severian.

                      August 2, 2018
                  • Bob #

                    Except then they’d have had to contend with a resurgent Despiser without the aid of Wild Magic.

                    And while it’s true that TC’s screw-ups also created the Despiser’s best opportunities to further his goal of the destruction of the Land and the world, things had to get worse before they got better.

                    August 2, 2018
                • Bob #

                  ‘Wild’ in the sense of not being bound by Law, for good or ill. Something TC was suited to be and to wield.

                  August 2, 2018
          • This.

            August 1, 2018
          • That was on Donaldson not Feist, not the other stuff. Never got past a chapter after the rape. Life is too short.

            August 1, 2018
            • I remember that book. Did not finish, felt like I wanted to scrub my brain with steel wool and oven cleaner. Don’t remember a thing about it other than that… and most definitely did not ever buy another book in that series to see if it got better.

              In fact, never bought another book by that author again.

              And took any “We recommend” that included it as a recommendation to pass on all titles so listed.

              August 1, 2018
        • Ah yes, I was wrong there.

          Not a Feist fan either, can’t remember why anymore. ~:D

          August 1, 2018
          • Luke #

            At a guess, I’d say wordbuilding and inconsistency driven by power creep and the need for every threat to be bigger than the last.

            August 1, 2018
  9. Bob #

    This is probably under the radar of a good many folks here, but there’s another genre that’s suffering from the greyness of ‘fondling’ evil, or at least making the evil less culpable by justifying it in one way or another.

    Horror movies.

    I’ve noticed the trend of taking classic horror monsters (the human monsters too) and greying them up in recent remakes.

    Original Halloween: We never know why Michael Myers became murderous as a child, and that’s what made him so horrifying. The remake? Classic tropes. Poor abused kid from redneck family, and a lot of the people he kills are abusive jerks who ‘trigger’ him.

    The filmmaker even took it a step further with The Devil’s Rejects, where I get the feeling I’m meant to SYMPATHIZE with the family of fugitive serial killers, particularly when the cop chasing them goes too far and decides to give them a taste of their own medicine at the end (making him morally equivalent I guess)

    But the worst offender by far is the Nightmare on Elm Street remake.

    The original: Freddy Krueger is unabashedly, unashamedly, vibrantly evil, to the point where, when he’s let off on a technicality he immediately plans to resume killing until the parents of the children he’d killed or threatened to kill corner him to kill him, he taunts and mocks them in probably the purest display of evil I’ve ever seen depicted: the idea that these good and grieving people would have to become murderers themselves and likely ruin their own lives delights him even more than the prospect of his own continued, twisted existence. When the police officer steps in and tries to stop the lynch mob, Krueger even threatens HIS children, and that cop was his only hope of getting out of this alive!

    The remake? Well compare:

    August 1, 2018
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      Beg to differ. Jason Vorhees was always the real hero.

      Sure, he occasionally strays from bringing stoners to justice, but that just makes for richer, more complex characterization.

      August 1, 2018
    • Stephen J. #

      True enough, but the problem with that is that the original, “pure evil” Freddy falls apart if you think about him as a semi-plausible human being for even a second, much the same way Hannibal Lecter does. That doesn’t matter for the original Nightmare because the first movie was meant to be, well, a nightmare; it was meant to have the archetypal, emotionally resonant albeit implausible logic of a dream or fairy tale. But in real life, the humans damaged enough to do the kind of things Freddy Krueger does simply don’t behave that way; most of them don’t really grasp the idea of good or evil at all, and those who do either tend to think they’re no worse than anyone else, or are too good at manipulating others for their own survival that they know not to be defiantly provocative unless they have the upper hand.

      Depicting evil clearly is important in a story, but depicting it accurately is also critical. As C.S. Lewis said in The Screwtape Letters, “If any faint suspicion of (the devils’) existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.” The more of a cartoon Freddy Krueger appears, the easier it is for people to persuade others that what he represents is also just a cartoon.

      August 1, 2018
      • Bob #

        Admittedly, we see very little of Freddy as a living human being, with most of the movies dealing with him as a damned soul/demonic entity, but I found the depiction accurate, just because there have been human beings who’ve reached that degree of depravity.

        Example: look up H.H. Holmes.

        Or Carl Panzram.

        There have been and are people out there so far gone that they’re just pure malice, without even self-preservation. Or only enough self-preservation to try to avoid getting caught, and the idea of harming others is more attractive to them than their own survival.

        To paraphrase another CS Lewis quote: it’s possible for people to reach a point where they can no longer even be considered human.

        August 1, 2018
        • This reminds me of the very brief scene at the start of the last ‘original’ Freddy movie “Freddy Vs. Jason”.

          We see Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees in Hell. Jason’s Hell is him killing one stupid horny teen, only for another to immediately appear, giving him no rest or peace whatever.

          Freddy’s Hell is the old boiler room he murdered kids in and died in. He is surrounded by images of all the children he slaughtered and is enraged that he can’t kill any /more/ children. It’s not a deep scene or film but it did a great job of showing us why Freddy was worse than poor old zombie Jason. Jason couldn’t help what he was, but Freddy enjoyed murdering children.

          August 2, 2018
          • Bob #

            I’ve heard it argued that for some people, the worst part of Hell would be separation from any good/innocent people to prey on.

            August 2, 2018
            • I’ve seen that done in the Hellraiser movies too, of all places. A former rapist surrounded by potential victims that he can never touch. “This is my Hell — I can look all I want, but I can never TAKE.”

              August 2, 2018
          • Bob #

            Contrast that to say, Jacob Marley: part of his punishment was to wander the earth on Christmas Eve, unable to help all the poor people he could have helped in life. Regret.

            August 2, 2018
  10. Christopher M. Chupik #

    But the Evil Queen of the Lost Empire at the Earth’s Core really wants me to show her the custom we surface-dwellers call “love”, dammit!

    August 1, 2018
    • She has yet to figure that out for herself? Oh.. seductress, huh?

      August 1, 2018
      • Christopher M. Chupik #

        Her subjects are all scrawny little mole-men.

        August 1, 2018
        • Bob #

          How’d she get there anyway? Plane crashed in an extinct volcano, parents killed, baby taken to be raised by the underground monsters?

          August 2, 2018
        • Bob #

          Also animated golem/rock men. Good soldiers, not much conversation.

          August 2, 2018
    • “I’ll call ya, babe…”

      August 1, 2018
  11. Margaret Ball #

    Sarah and I must have been reading two completely disjoint collections of books lately. While she’s being annoyed about writers ‘fondling evil,’ (excellent description, that) I’ve been walling books where the conflict is created by an Evil Lord of Evil Who Just Wants to be Evil.

    Perhaps what’s needed is some clarification. Writers: the Evil Lord needs some motivation. That is NOT the same as making him a sympathetic character. I don’t need to feel, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.” I do need to feel some version of, “oh, okay, I’ve known people whose flaws and weaknesses and blind spots, magnified a thousand percent, would inspire them to do these sort of bad things.”

    Of course, writers who don’t get that are also prone to creating a Good Hero Who Was Born Super-Good And Has No Flaws, a character who richly deserves to wind up with the Plucky, Prickly Girl You Have To Like Because I Said So, and…, and… to the wall with them!

    August 1, 2018
    • That’s precisely what I meant. And yes, the super good with no flaws bothers the heck out of me too.

      August 1, 2018
  12. Blake Smith #

    A very well-timed post. I’m attempting to do a book partially from the villain’s POV, showing him going from unpleasant but not completely evil to a murderous bastard, and I worry that it’s beyond my current skills. It’s tricky, showing a character’s deeply held motivations without making him too sympathetic.

    Maybe things will become clearer when I add in a scene where he deliberately turns away from redemption. I dunno. I went through a mild version of the ‘then let me be evil’ trope a couple years ago (right around the last presidential election, in fact) and I can’t tell if putting a character through the same thing will make him more or less sympathetic.

    August 1, 2018
    • Margaret Ball #

      That is indeed a tricky problem, and I’ll be interested to see how you handle it. I find that the longer I spend in a character’s POV, the more likely the reader is to start rooting for him. I think we may be wired that way. You read about X desperately attempting to accomplish his objectives against numerous obstacles, you start wanting him to succeed… it’s the author’s job to pull readers back and remind them that X’s definition of “success” is getting away with murder.

      August 1, 2018
  13. Thank you! “The villain is the hero of his own story” is a piece of writing advice that has always driven me batty, mostly because it leads to this kind of idolization of the Villain. (And because a fair percent of villians know exactly what they are and enjoy it.)

    August 1, 2018
    • Kord #

      If I may butt in; I think the word HERO is the problem here. Would you agree that the Villain might be the central charachter in his or her own story as a matter of perpective? I swiped that idea from S.M Stirling many years ago. Stirling actually wrote that everyone was the central person in their own story. My own take is that he is right in a general sense but that it probably applies more hum-drum real life than in a story where causes big or small clash, and where people can see themselves as supporting cast because they invest in a cause. This might be a bad example, but Gollum perceives himself as central to his own story, while Sam believes himself to be a bit player in Frodo’s adventure. I could also see cultures real or imagined where people don’t ever see themselves as central due to the way that society works. Others have a very inflated idea about their importance, and tend to write too long posts. I better cut this short then and give you this list as food for thought.

      It’s not so much what you or I might think about these charachters as what we think they’d think of themselves, on the axis of “Hero/Villain” “Central/Bit Player” Also this is not only as it pertains to the story but their own worldview. Prof Dumbledore might see himself as both hero and villain of his own long life while he sees Harry as the hero of the story we get to read.

      Real World
      Gandhi
      Hitler
      Muhammad Ali
      Lenin
      Beyonce
      Harvey Weinstein
      Charles Chaplin

      Literature
      Conan

      Merriadoc Brandybuck
      Peregrine Took
      Feanor
      Smaug
      Galadriel

      Prof. Dumbeldedore
      Prof Snape
      Neville Longbottom
      Pansy Parkinson
      (Ron Weasley KNOWS he is supporting cast and he resents it until things get too dangerous)

      Merlin
      Arthur

      Ishmael
      Ahab

      From Honor Harrington
      Rob S Pierre
      St-Just
      Tom Theisman
      (Picked these since Weber gives them quite detailed inner voices)

      August 2, 2018
      • Bull. Complete utter BULL. I’ve met too many villains. And unless they were conning someone they were gleeful about being badguys. “Everyone is the hero of their own story” is, majority of the time, an excuse to make the villian a poor pathetic victim being picked on by the mean old hero.

        August 2, 2018
        • Yep. I’ve met too many villains, too.

          August 2, 2018
        • Stephen J. #

          Without defending these people you’ve met, were they really gleeful about being villains, or were they gleeful that they’d made the people they hate think of them as villains? Almost everyone who gets to turn the tables on someone who (they perceive) has done them wrong feels the urge to gloat about it. Indeed, part of that urge to gloat is the sense of a justified grievance being satisfied.

          It seems to me that to really see yourself as a villain you have to acknowledge that what you want isn’t justified, or justifiable. I can’t say I’ve ever encountered anyone who made that admission while still insisting on getting what they wanted anyway.

          August 2, 2018
          • Yes. They were really gleeful about being badguys. They KNEW what they did was wrong. They reveled in it. YES they were PROUD of what they did. They were PROUD that what they did was evil. This was Iraq, and they weren’t in a position to turn the tables on anyone anymore.

            Look, I’m not surprised you’ve never run into this sort out in the open. Unless you work in a prison or are extremely unlucky, you likely won’t meet this face to face with all the masks off. If they’re out in the open they won’t breath a word about it. It’s not conducive to them doing what they want, but it’s there, and the mask comes off when they’ve got nothing left to gain.

            August 2, 2018
            • Usually they’re proud of being “smart” and everyone else being “dumb.”

              August 2, 2018
          • NO. They were gleeful about being villains and causing harm and getting away with it.

            August 2, 2018
          • Dorothy Grant #

            When you start running into the truly evil, no, they’re perfectly gleeful about being villains. As far as what other people want – it simply doesn’t matter to them.

            Peter dealt with some convicted criminals in maximum security who’d tell him with total belief that they’re right that they didn’t do anything wrong – there was one, for example, who needed a car to get to their booty call, and if the old man hadn’t wanted to get hurt, he should have just handed over the keys when the thug carjacked him at a red light. It was the old man’s fault that he fought so the thugs “just had to” kerbstomp him to death. And if the old lady had just shut up instead of screaming, he wouldn’t have beat her to death, so it’s totally her fault. He didn’t do anything wrong!

            He also dealt with other convicted criminals that knew they were evil, and were proud of it. For example, the drug kingpin, who managed to shut a witness up by having his pre-teen daughter kidnapped, raped to death, and then her corpse nailed to the front door with a warning note stuffed in her mouth? He lost absolutely no sleep over that. He was, in fact, quite proud of the many degradations, murdering, maimings, and mayhem that he orchestrated, oversaw, and participated in….

            Criminals do not have to acknowledge that what they want isn’t justifiable to see themselves as a villain. they merely have to acknowledge it is wrong. The worst criminals see people as things to be used or exploited, as therefore anything and everything is justified… whether it’s wrong or not.

            August 2, 2018
            • Ms. Grant, have I your permission to quote some of this comment to certain well-meaning people I know who are honestly convinced that ‘there’s no such thing as unforgivable, and everyone would be good if they could’? I’d keep the names out of it.

              I doubt it will change their minds but I can hope it warns them that there are really awful people out there.

              August 2, 2018
              • Dorothy Grant #

                Absolutely. If you want a long, thoughtful conversation on the subject of rehabilitating people who’ve done evil, Peter went and wrote an entire book on prisons and their inhabitants from the perspective of a prison chaplain. If you want the short version, feel free to quote that.

                Thinking on it – acknowledging that what someone has done isn’t justifiable isn’t the step on the road to villainy – it’s the step on the road to redemption from villainy. Because to acknowledge that it isn’t justifiable is to acknowledge other people aren’t there for you to use and manipulate for your gain. And that is the first step to stopping treating people as things, and to shouldering the responsibility for your crimes and sins…

                Whether it’s as petty as a gossip truly understanding and accepting that her delight in the heady feeling of controlling the reputations of others and the emotional high of adoration as everyone come to her for the gossip is unjustifiable in the face of the harm it does to others, and she has to take responsibility for all the damage she’s done, or as awful as, say, the criminals described above.

                August 2, 2018
  14. Christopher M. Chupik #

    I misread this as “foundling evil” and wondered what Sarah had against orphans . . .

    August 1, 2018
    • Beware the Evil Orphans of Doom!

      August 1, 2018
      • Are you editing the anthology for Inkstain? Just Fantastic Orphans would be better as a title and could go sf or f.
        We’re getting a manager for it soon.

        August 1, 2018
  15. mrsizer #

    I think the best written, pure evil villain I’ve read is the guild guy in Star Dogs. Shudder.

    Off topic: Sarah, you are wrong. You CAN write short stories. Super Lamb Banana is brilliant! I don’t even like short stories.

    August 1, 2018
  16. Stephen J. #

    It might be noted that your “villain,” i.e. the person taking the unambiguously-rejected moral stance of a story who is driving its negativity-generating plot events, doesn’t have to be the obvious protagonist or antagonist.

    For example, I’m a huge fan of the 2004 movie Troy, but the only person in that entire cast or story who perfectly fits the “villain” criterion is Agamemnon; literally everyone else in that story, even Achilles, feels like somebody I could understand and sympathize with and feel a pang of sorrow to see meet their various fates. (Don’t get me wrong, Achilles and Menelaus definitely fall on the “a-hole” side of the human spectrum and Paris does contemptible things, but I understood them.)

    August 1, 2018
  17. riteturn #

    Sometime there are no good choices. You act for self preservation or do things others will condemn. To do otherwise is suicide. I’ve always said with murder after the first one they are basically free. I’d count that way for self murder too. I’ve read that one death is a tragedy and a million deaths are a statistic. A better way to say it is every death is a tragedy to someone and trying to quantify it diminishes that.

    August 1, 2018
    • Luke #

      And sometimes, right and wrong can get kind of fuzzy.

      The villain of The Anarchy was probably King Stephen. Who was noble to a fault, and it was the same virtues that made him a good man, that also made him a horrible king. (Especially if you accept it as plausible that a petty, vindictive king would disinherit the heir he was actively at war with.)

      The villain of Oedipus, was Oedipus. After all, he slew his father and ravished his mother.

      George Washington is a hero to us, but was a villain to the British.

      Or take the centurion who crucified Christ, and witnessed to the divine.

      There are so many compelling stories that should be told in shades of grey. Would you want to see a Technicolor version of Casablanca?
      The issue isn’t the limited palette, it’s the limited vision.
      It isn’t human frailty that makes us recoil from grey goo. It’s the denial that objective truth exists, and the assertion that the word “good” has no meaning.

      August 1, 2018
  18. Draven #

    I can write villains but… well, someday you will see the Z’Zrzi and be like EWWWW DRAVEN STOP.

    August 1, 2018
  19. 23 skidoo

    August 1, 2018
  20. Even in non-fiction writing, there’s something known as “biographer’s disease.” Research long enough about even a very unsavory historical figure, and you run a real risk of starting to feel sympathetic toward him or her. Many years ago, a professional historian warned about this risk, with examples of some historians who’d given some very nasty individuals unwarranted sympathy.

    August 1, 2018
    • Lord, yes. I have weak spot for Marlowe because of that.

      August 1, 2018
    • Hmm, this could explain my faint liking for the historical Vlad Tepes. Well that and the people he fought were often even worse than he was.

      August 2, 2018
    • I’ve read some interesting things about Aaron Burr. He starts to feel sympathetic when he pushed to have his daughter educated, and then you read about how he would brag up his latest mistress in letters to his daughter and then it’s “ew, no.” I believe the term they used at the time was something like “a man of vicious propensities.”

      August 2, 2018
  21. CACS #

    This is good advice up to a point.

    You don’t want your characters, good or evil, to come off as cardboard markers being moved about on the story board.  I prefer characters to have some depth, some breath and a feeling that they didn’t come into existence just when they appeared in the story line (unless they did), but enough is enough.  TMI is just as much a turn off in my fiction as in real life. 

    Often the very same life experiences that caused one person to be bad will cause another to rise above it.  In the end evil chooses to be evil, but rarely thinks of itself as evil.  However sorry I might feel because of what caused the person to become the evil actor within the story, they remain the villain of the piece.

    Possibly I am an ODD as I don’t let the ‘feels’ overrule all else. 

    August 2, 2018
  22. Evenstar #

    Hmm. I wonder how this would work when most of the cast is vampires?

    August 2, 2018
    • Bob #

      The whole cast? Then who do they eat?

      August 2, 2018
    • Bob #

      Sorry: missed the ‘most’ there.

      August 2, 2018
  23. Elspeth #

    Sorry for going on and on: now and then my brain is working at the same time I come across something interesting:

    “Making your villain and hero moral equivalents doesn’t really do much, unless you’re writing for an audience of literature professors.”

    Not equivalents just both being moral in their own way? Or someone’s justified in trying to save the town but becoming a dictator? Maybe, to address something else, your villain starting as a sympathetic tragic victim, their actions justified, but they keep going until they’re evil? The first is certainly complex, not light reading; the rest can vary.

    So an absolutely honest question: why is that only for literature professors? Come to think of it, looking at it the other way why would literature professors want to read only that sort of book?

    From theoretical to example: I have an ancient and worthless bachelors degree, mostly do a lot of light reading these days (funny story there), but every month or so read the complex stuff, also as escapism, and keep adding to and catching up on my backlog.

    My sister-in-law, tenured English professor, distinguished in Hemingway studies, etc., etc., just bought up all of Lackey’s non-White Horses books as well as two trilogies I recommended. Which I need to steal because I can’t find mine. The thing is that before she met me she’d written well-received serious papers about Harry Potter but most of her other reading, well, people only made suggestions appropriate to a literature professor.

    August 3, 2018
    • Because if you put that kind of moral dillema in, it will be very hard to write it in a fun and light way. I’m not saying it’s impossible. It’s not. But it’s really hard and I wouldn’t recommend it for a first book.
      Well done, it turns out a meaty book that people will sit and think about. Badly done which most are it’s grey goo.
      NEITHER OF THEM lends itself to mass market sales.
      Look, I do have a literature degree (A year short of a Phd) and I do sometimes appreciate moral dilemmas and things to think about. But it’s not what I’ll read five or six of a week. So by definition those will sell bigger numbers.
      Also there are a lot fewer people who like “something to think about.”
      Sure, you can have a throw away line on how he saved the city and then became a dictator, and isn’t it sad you now have to kill the bastard? But you should make no mistake that whatever good he did, he’s now doing evil.

      August 3, 2018

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