Thursday, 12 June 2014

Villains - Sometimes We Don't Want To Understand Them!

Hi Guys,

Been doing a lot of writing lately, and the next book "The Godlost Land" is in the final stages of it's first draft.

I'm pleased with the way the book is going, and particularly with the way the bad guy - Terellion - has shaped up. He is a thorough going baddie which is what I wanted him to be. In fact to quote (or probably mis-quote) one of my favourite authors Harry Harrison, he is the perfect example of a complete freewheeling bastard!

All of which has set me to thinking about villains in general in writing. And of course how Terellion will fit in among them.

To give some background to my thinking on the subject, there has been a trend in recent years in a lot of genres to go for greater realism. Grimdark in fantasy and science fiction is an expression of this trend - the belief being that by making things somehow more horrible they will become more real. In my view this is a reaction to the unrealistic optimism, heroic victory tropes that dominated fantasy until the seventies. But also in my view grimdark is just as unrealistic as that which it replaces, and in some cases it can go too far. In science fiction the best example of this in my view would be the Gap series, by Stephen Donaldson, where the three main characters all go through cycles of being victims. And in fantasy I would argue that GRR Martin's Game of Thrones follows this same trope where all the heroes have feet of clay and the villains have reasons for doing what they do. (Except for Joffrey who is a truly horrible spoilt child king and needs to die a terrible death  in my view!)

As part of the entire movement towards grimdark and realism in the fantasy genres there has been one trend which has become particularly prevalent - the villain being another victim. Misunderstood and suffering from whatever trauma in his past, the reader is asked to "understand" and even empathise with the villain - because villains are real people too!

I understand this desire to humanise the villain, and to a certain extent I agree with it. After all in real life villains do usually have reasons for what they do. But it occurred to me as I was writing Terellion, that this is high fantasy. It isn't real life, it's escapism. And sometimes a villain should just be a villain - and preferably die a horrible death! Besides even in real life there are villains who simply are just villains. The mafia hit man Richard Kuklinski (the iceman) is a perfect example. He was a sociopath pure and simple. In every interview he gave it was clear that he never really understood the suffering of others.

So if in real life there are people like this, and if what I'm writing is pure escapism, why should my villain be more than just a sociopath?

That was the realisation that struck me as I wrote Terellion. Granted I gave him a back story to explain how he became what he did and explain his motivations, but at no stage did I as the writer want to "understand" him. I didn't want to sympathise with him. And while some readers may find my choice challenging in the face of modern grimdark fantasy which seems to be all over the book shelves, I'm happy with it.

I hope you will be too.

Cheers, Greg.

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