Feb 17, 2009

Why is Evil So Seductive Even in Writing?

In reading over the last few posts it occurs to me that what we are really talking about is direct communication. When a character needs to convey something, we try to "show" it instead of "telling" it. A very fine line indeed. I often chuckle to myself when I read my fantasy novels because like the old movies, the bad guys usually wear black, scowl a lot and wreak havoc.

The good guys are generally portrayed as flawed but ultimately courageous, kind, strong and likeable. People often think it's easier to create good guys, but it's actually easier to create bad guys.

For whatever the reason, lately, Hollywood has produced a number of movies based on comic book characters. Inevitably the bad guys are praised, given awards and multifaceted personalities (i.e., Heath Ledger as the Joker) while the heroes are dismissed as one dimensional characters who ultimately kills the bad guy. The only one I've seen that changed this paradigm was “Iron Man.” There the hero was the flawed but ultimately the good guy. Maybe that's why I liked it best.

Why is that? Shouldn't our good guys be the ones holding the storyline while the bad guys are just there to help our very human good guy attain his/her potential? I find it much harder to like the good guys given this one dimensionality. I mean everyone knows who Luke Skywalker is (my perfect hero) but everyone really likes Darth Vader.

As writers with a higher calling shouldn’t we work on making our good guys more real and more likable than the bad ones?


  1. Great commentary, Terri! I agree with you wholeheartedly! I've always wondered why the fascination with Darth Vader...why anyone would give so much attention to someone who represents so much evil.

  2. It's almost like the preacher's daughter being attracted to the "bad boy" syndrome or something. Interesting post, Terri. And if truth be told (which doesn't exactly happen in our fiction reading), the heroes are flawed folks out there trying to make their way in the world and sometimes the smallest act can turn them into a hero. We're all heroes to someone. Just ask my second graders ~ :) They love me.

    However, I think it is NO mistake that HOLLYWOOD (where I grew up, by the way) plays down the many facets of the hero and builds up the villian. Just my 2 cents.

  3. I've read three books this past week or so wherein the 'good guys' far outshine the 'bad'. All three were moving, prodund, entertaining, and unforgettable. I highly recommend:

    1. Liz Adair's "Counting the Cost" portrays a great guy, morally strong, who accepts the consequences of his choices.

    2 & 3. Sandra Gray (pen name) whose portrayal of a couple of Nazi officers in "Traitor" and "Tribunal" makes me, as a reader, ready to trust my very life to them.

    Perhaps these are the exception. I recall taking a class on John Milton at ASU, and almost flunking a test on Paradise Lost, because I needed to name which angel did what. How could I remember them? Perfection seemed so similar that personalities disappeared. On the other hand, I could have named which devil played which role, because the devils all had such distinctive qualities. As somebody said, good people are all pretty much alike, but bad people are each bad in their own way. I'm not sure I agree with that, but yes, portraying devils must have been easier for Milton, so why not for lesser writers.


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