It’s an interesting dilemma, one that all fantasy writers – if not all writers – have to deal with at some point or other. Good. Evil. Where’s the line? What’s the difference? And how do we deal with that in our writing?
Conventionally, the MCs are the Good Guys. People who oppose their aims are the Bad Guys. Good Guys win. Bad Guys lose.
I have an entire series that plays with this idea; it was my first novel, though, so it’s not as deep as it could be, and I can’t wait to sink my teeth back into it and ask and answer some of these questions.
Because that’s just the thing: it isn’t all as simple as that.
Maybe it was, once – in writing, if not in life. Maybe there was a time when you could get away with straw villains and two-dimensionality.
But that time is not now. Now we are post-post-modern. Now we ask questions like, “Is evil really evil? Is my evil your evil? Can we make judgements about someone else’s evilness? Is there objective evilness?”
Which all means that our work has to be a lot deeper, a lot more textured – a lot closer, in many ways, to reality. The world isn’t black and white, and neither should our writing be. There should be shades of grey, areas where the boundaries aren’t clearly defined, where everyone’s maybe acting in the way that they think best, and they’re trying to do some good but doing it badly, or even trying to do some bad but doing that badly so they end up doing good. Villains should be as motivated as heros.
Heros should be motivated.
Things happen for a reason; people get entangled because they Believe In Things, whether that’s God, the Universe, or Themselves. Or even Mice. 42.
It’s my opinion that the most interesting stories are those that happen in the grey; they’re the gritty stories, the edgy stories, the stories that leave us slightly uncomfortable with either the way things are, the way things were, or the way they someday might be. They make us think about ourselves, our lives, our culture – our own stories.
But on the other hand, sometimes evil is just evil. And black-and-white stories – like archetypal stories, like fairytales – serve a great purpose also. They remind us, in our post-post-modern world of relativity, that some things just are; that some things probably aren’t subjective; that we pretty much agree on basic standards of human decency.
They remind us of the things we need to protect.
And the grey stories remind us of just how hard that can be, both to protect what needs protecting, and to decide on what needs protecting in the first place.
I’m curious: Which type of stories are you more likely to read? Which are you more likely to write? Why?