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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

CCC Part Three - Evil is Good Evily

Most of you know that I am currently working on editing my novella, The Guardian's Tree. If you would like to read the basic plot of the story you can find it here. That, along with numerous other things, has kept me away from my blog. Until now of course.

Oh, and this isn't like the typical CCC Posts. Mainly because it's not entirely about characters. You can let me know what you think after reading though ;)

Presently, as I type the first half of this post, I am sitting at a school computer at I have less than 2,000 words left to edit and one awesome ending to pound in there. Odds are that I will not complete the edits until tonight or tomorrow but I am so near the finish line either way.

A topic is repeatably brought up in the story, or at least near the end it is. It was also touched on in the last book I read by Ted Dekker, Red. And this topic is the idea of evil.

Evil, temptation, and the ability to overcome or fall to it.

This is just a quick post, I'm rather busy and have church coming up here soon. But let's take a look at evil for a moment. I consider it a very important part of any epic-like story.
  1. Evil must be evil
  2. Evil must be challenging, powerful
  3. Evil must be motivated
  4. Evil must be tempting
  5. Evil must be evil (yes I repeated)
I consider this pretty important. A story needs to be real, and evil is a very real part of this world. Plus, any good story needs a purpose and without evil there is very little purpose that I find...attracting to read about.

Evil must be evil. Sounds strange right? But in popular fantasy and aspiring fantasy this is not true for one reason or another. Writers seem to forget the true world that they are to be representing, the human condition they are to retell, and create a very different atmosphere.

Evil needs to be portrayed as evil. Essentially, this means that if there is evil in your story, as there must be, then it must be shone for what it is--evil. This means, no blurry lines. A lot of popular writings out there have begun to blur good and evil. The characters no longer struggle against evil, but the readers do. I enjoy reading, and writing, stories with great contrast between the two. You can't write gray areas. Sure you can have a character here and there in a gray space, but the true evil and true good cannot be mixed.

"...what fellowship has light with darkness?"

Mixing the a no-no in my opinion.

Another thing common among aspiring writers, I've been guilty of this, is that the evil is too easy. Good too easily overcomes its enemy. We get so caught up in furthering the story, our eyes set on our hero's prize, that we often forget to...well keep our characters away from victory.

When I was younger I had this problem in battles. Good army against Bad army. Good army never lost, always kicked Bad army's tail. Huge victories. Good never fails! WOOHOO

Which, of course, is ridiculous.

Not only does this provide for a terrible story, it isn't true. First, who wants to read a story with no challenge? I don't. Plus, good doesn't always win up front in life. It requires a struggle. And readers enjoy that struggle.

I look at it this way: Good stories are those in which good people come up against impossible challenges and overcome them. Essentially, there should be no way for your hero to win. I should be impossible. I try and try and try to write situations like these where your protag is backed into a corner with zero options. If you can get your character there, congratulations. Of'll need to find a way out, but you get the picture.

Don't let your hero away unscathed. Make him pay for it.

Now combining the two you could have a straightforward evil force. But...this force is just evil, and with no motivation. I think I discussed this in the original CCC post. I will reiterate: evil needs a motive. Your readers need to hate the evil, despise it, but the evil needs to make sense. Satan has a motive--pride. So that's a simple one to copy if you need a starting point ;)

Temptation is my next point.

This isn't so much a requirement as it is something I find interesting. This goes in hand with the "powerful" thing. Defeating evil can't be too easy. And evil is often alluring.

In The Guardian's Tree, my novella, evil and sin are represented by monstrous creatures called Damans as well as by chains and torture. The allure doesn't have to make total sense to your reader per say, so long as it makes sense that the hero would be tempted. In TGT the...more human-like protragonist sets out to rescue captives. His goal is to set those bound by chains free. He reaches his destination when a "superior" Daman lands and begins addressing his fellows. Here is a short excerpt of his temptation:

Its gruff voice rang out. “Today is the day of reckoning. The Tree Guardian and his precious flower will be uprooted.” It flapped its wings and brought them to its side. “And my praises will be sung throughout Hethra.”

Its beady eyes swept its followers’ then made contact with Abarron’s. His heart leapt into his throat. The cries of the dying, the rescued, and the Damans faded. He could hear only his heartbeat, his rapidly speeding heartbeat. The whispery voice shook him to the core.


His heart pounded and his mind filled with doubt. He couldn’t do this. He slid his foot forward and kicked something metal.


His face chilled. Goosebumps seized his flesh. Bloodied chains rested on his foot.

“Come back…Abarron.”
Of course, that scene hasn't been edited...and it will be longer (it's a newer scene that I'm working on), but I think the idea still remains.

Writing that section, in context...there's a lot more to it that adds to the terror here, I was horrified. Abarron is strangely attracted to these chains, as will be tacked on later. Here we see his terror, and fear leads to tempation and failure.

But isn't that strange? He is attracted to the very thing he flees, chains. And an eerie desire to strap himself down again arises.

This is the type of temptation evil brings.

And I ended with evil must be evil. Essentially, don't sugar coat things to please people. In the end, you're only hurting the story.

So that's all I've got for now. What are your thoughts?

To the end,


Aidan Romero said...

I agree, evil must be evil.

An easy way to make evil harder to defeat is give them huge armies, or some strange power that nobody else has. Like Sauron and his forces in LotR.

Pyrosian Heir said...

that was part of my problem with wome early attempts. the evil was to weenie-ish and not good enough.

with the newer attempts the evil is becoming bigger, scarier, and more powerful... very twitch worthy. and there will be no doubting their evil. or their allure on the heroes.

Galadriel said...

I love Red by Ted Dekker. I think I have "Evil must be evil" down cold. In my current project, evil goes around mutating people.
As for evil must not be overcome easily, I have a very stubborn traitor MC who WILL NOT turn away for a very long time...I love this post series, btw

Seth said...

Very interesting post, very true as well. It's a very important topic that no writer should forget.

Israle Surrnak said...

Love the scene! Very good post, I also struggled with the good always defeated evil thing also. I think your story 'Enter or Flee' showed temptation amazingly, loved the story!

Ellie said...

I agree that evil must be evil... I hate reading books where the bad side is wimpy and they are overcome easily. In my books, I like to make the bad guys very evil, and usually have them kill or hurt a few of the good guys.

Jessica said...

Nathan thank you, thank you, thank you for another brilliant post! I hate evil so I struggle putting it into my stories but without portraying the evil as evil I seem to loose all the contrast I wanted to make. My first Villain in my story fell quite flat, one of my friends read it and said... "Um, why is he bad again?" So I have some serious editing as to his foul character. However my second Villain creeps me out...I can hardly believe he is living in my computer...more like my brain...AHHH! But the contrast he is making is an enjoyable escapade that has me wondering what will come next even though technically I already know.

Temptation...that is certainly a new thought for me as in adding it to a story though I have more than I want. You have sent my brain into a deep think. :)
Thank you for all of your brilliant tips and bright wisdom.

Congratulations, on nearing the end of your editing!

Nathan R. Petrie said...

Aidan, sometimes huge armies isn't enough. But yes, numbers helps. Of course, if you're in a story world that doesn't have armies, or where the hero isn't fighting in battle...then you may have issues. I like the make it personal power as well.

Heir, twitch worthy is good ;) lol

Galadriel, I haven't read White yet....but so far Red might be my favorite book :P lol My "favorite" changes on a dime though haha
What does "will not turn away" mean? We don't want him to become a bad guy ;) But killing the baddies can't be like riding a bike haha
And I am SO glad you're enjoying the series :D We're almost done I think haha Got at least two more left. Possibly more.

Israle, glad you liked the excerpt! And yeah, it's a hard thing not to do. Gotta see the bigger picture. What does your hero learn from winning all the time? lol And if he must win...why make it easy?
Enter or that was an interesting story. I'm actually editing it for a magazine. :D

Ellie, killing is a good sign of evil ;) LOL And yeah....if the baddies are wimpy....well who's to say your hero isn't? So in order to have a good hero it could be argued that you need an even better villain/evil.

Jessica, I love you're comments. you make me feel good :D LOL
Hatred of evil is important actually. In TGT I channeled that hate into trying to make my readers hate the Damans. I think I got the point across in the first scene haha. The idea is to make your readers feel the same as you....kinda haha.
Yup, contrast is needed. Evil must be evil. It can't be..."Maybe....sometimes" :P
I want to someday write a villain that makes me sick ;) LOL Morbid right? :D

I find temptation to provide another type of contrast--strength. If your hero is never tempted....some would say he's not strong. Plus....a lot of my stories explore sin and temptation I'm biased ;)

"Brilliant tips and bright wisdom"
I try haha jk. Thanks :D

Brenna Dixon said...

AMAZING post, Nathan. I totally loved it and agree wholeheartedly with you and will definitely be using your insight to make Ixion in The Alinar more.... evil. >:]

Kat Heckenbach said...

And what is a good villain without lies? Visit my blog to see're tagged! :)

Nathan R. Petrie said...

Brenna, ::facepalm:: You emailed me your story didn't you? I completely forgot about it. Could you resend it lol
Glad to hear you enjoyed it :D

Kat, ah yes....lies :D And you'll have to help me, via FB, on how to do this whole tag game :P haha

Janelyn said...

So I'm jotting comments as I read your post....tis a habit of mine. ^_^

I agree. Evil must be tempting. The characters have got to face things where turning to the "dark side" would seemingly give them something they have wanted so badly for so long. Clique temptations that don't relate to the character's inner hungers and desires are pointless and unintelligent. Take, for example, the Doctor Who episode "School Reunion". When the head honcho of the bad guys and the Doctor face off, what is the Doctor offered? Power.

But he isn't interested in being powerful, in being recognized, in being top dog. He isn't interested in becoming a near god. He's passionate about saving lives and helping people to do the right thing no matter what the cost. So what does the villain go on to say? "Think of all the lives you could save. Think of the civilizations you could help to grow....think of the people you could help." And he goes on, dangling the biggest temptation of all before the eyes of the Doctor. "You could save the Time Lord race and bring back your family in all their glorious splendor; Gallifrey could rise again."

Had the villain simply said, "You could be powerful", the temptation would have fallen flat. We all know the Doctor couldn't care less about power. But we do know that he is driven to do all he can to save lives. We do know that he lost his family, his race, his world to a violent cataclismic war, and we know that he is lonely. And so the temptation is very real to the story. It is really a temptation. The evil became appealing.

And yep. Doing the right thing /must/ come with a cost. A big cost. The hero who makes the correct choice needs to suffer bitterly for it. He needs to bleed. Counting the cost is part of life, and to take that away is to take away the heroism of the character.

Taking the high road has got to be the toughest decision the character ever made.

Heroism without sacrifice is no heroism at all.

That's why we like heroes - they lose big (at least for the time being) and do the right thing anyway. Because that's what we do. We may not be saving the world with a super-hero cape streaming out behind us, but we still sacrifice for doing the right thing. We still give up dreams in order to see another's redemption, still release our long-cherished hopes because the road ahead cannot see us carrying them.

So those are a few of my thoughts. ^_^ This gal is long winded and talks too much. *mutters something about blog-sized comments*

I'm anxiously awaiting your novella's publication. =) Sorry that I have to pull out of editing; school is too much of a load on my back right now. I don't even have time to write my own story. *sigh* Business is my fate. (Last night, though, I did get a window of time in which to work on A Dragon Within. The story got so engrossing I forgot to look at the clock and ended up writing from eleven to twelve thirty am. It's turning out great!)

~ Janelyn (Gwen)

Anonymous said...

"Don't let your hero away unscathed. Make him pay for it." Epic line, epic post. You are a good thinker, Keeneye. :)

I also like your point about villains needing a motive. The bad guys aren't evil for the sake of evil; they've got motives and a story.

I like your blog. :D


Madeline said...

REALLY nice post, Keeneye, I as well am liking your series. Very good advice - I find myself wondering where you come up with all this stuff!!

Also, I tagged you. o.O Visit to see what you have to do.

Nathan R. Petrie said...

Thank you so much Madeline! Glad you're enjoying it.
As for how I come up with this, I hear voices o.O ROFL jk :D

Uhoh....the tags are starting to add up. I'll do a whole post for tags eventually lol

Madeline said...

We all knew you were one of those ones that hear voices...

Galadriel said...

Keeneye, the villian I spoke of in my earlier post is a traitor who ran away from home and ended up killing lots of people. Eventually--eventually he repents.
But there also several hardcore villans who don't repent

Nathan R. Petrie said...

Madeline, they're my FRIENDS. :D lol
Galadriel, Awesome sauce (yes I just said that lol). I love reading/writing redemptive villains :D

Brayden Hirsch said...

Love the idea about no gray area. I can't stand it when I don't know who the bad guy is, or if he's actually good or something along that line. A recent example of this, at least in my eyes, was the Academy Award Winning movie Avatar-the whole time I never knew who to cheer for. Human or aliens. So many humans died in that last battle scene I was confused. Who's the good guy, here?

Great post, anyhow. I finally had an excuse to vent about my problem with Avatar!

Brayden Hirsch

Nathan R. Petrie said...

Brayden, I enjoy stories that have a character or two that keep you on edge. Where you can't decide what side they are on. But yes, stories where the basics of good and evil are blurred are just...awful.

I didn't like the basics of the movie Avatar. So

"Stand tall now and proclaim what you have seen, speak in whispered roars..."