Friday, October 3, 2014

Pitying the Villain | For Other Writers | And for Interested Readers, Too!

An early reader (one of those Beta readers you hear me talk about from time-to-time) talked to me about her impressions of "The Geranium Story." I asked her how she liked "the villain" ... whether he was a good one or not. She hesitated, then said, "I kind of pitied him."

Smiling, I knew I had succeeded in creating the right sort of "bad guy." :-) For my own stories, I've found that my best bad guys would be great guys... if only they weren't bad. They're not any worse than other human beings; but they let sin devour them {see Genesis 4:7}, the same sin that lies at the door of each of us. They refuse to "rule over it," preferring the bowl of stew to the birthright {see Genesis 25:29-34}.

And I think that's where the power of pity arrives on the scene. An utterly-evil character cannot excite any emotion except fear... and maybe disgust.

On one hand, these emotions are desirable to effect; we end up sympathizing with our hero/heroine's plight and condemning the "villain."

On the other hand, I think the better villain produces a more complicated relationship with the reader... For we must never forget that good stories should cause the reader to identify with the characters - to see something of himself/herself in them. So "complicated" is good... This is one of the reasons I like to cut away to my villain's point-of-view at various points in the story. We have to understand where they're coming from... and where they're coming from? It's usually not a motive of just accomplishing devastation. At its root, a villain's motive could have once been good - or at least neutral. It's always human.

A little secret? Most of my "bad guys" have something of me in them, otherwise I couldn't write them truly. They also, often, have something of someone I know or know of - usually a good trait that has been twisted and contorted into something evil.

We pity a good villain because we know - deep in our hearts - that we need that pity - that grace - should we ever become the villain in our own tale.

For, as C.S. Lewis points out, there's never anything that is utterly evil in the same sense that God is utterly good. Evil is never creative, in the sense of something-out-of-nothing; it always takes materials once used for good and distorts them.

Isn't that the horror in The Lord of the Rings when we find that the race of Orcs derives from that of the Elves - captured, tortured, and mutilated into evil creatures? {click here for more info}

And for me at least, that's the horror in multi-dimensional villains: I could be just like them.

You could be just like them.

The hero/heroine could be just like them.

But for grace received.

For the grace to do differently is given to all.

But the reception of that grace is what draws the major line between my hero/heroine and our villains.

What about you? Do you have a favorite literary "villain"? I'd love to know why! :-)

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