Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Villains and Other Monsters

I won't say the worst of the allergy attack is over because that would be telling the universe I want it to return with a vengeance, but I have gone more than 24 hours without any medication, and I did make it to ballet last night. Now I have work that must be done today, so I hope the fog stays cleared for a little while.

I'm continuing my series of posts about various facets of my Enchanted, Inc. series, answering questions submitted by readers. If you have a question or topic you'd like me to address, ask away! I'm just not getting into anything that I'm planning to deal with in future books (so don't ask what will happen in future books, and if you want to ask if Book 5 will be published, ask the publisher, not me).

I was asked about the villains in the series and the lack of real "monsters." My monsters are mostly human. I have to say that I didn't consciously plan that, but I think of fantasy as being distinct from horror, so I don't really think of monsters in the traditional sense when I think about fantasy. Yeah, there might be dragons and ogres, but to me, things like werewolves, vampires and demons belong in horror. I tend to look at the incursion of these horror elements into fantasy as "Ew, you got horror in my fantasy, and it does NOT make a Reese's cup!"

I have to say that I don't think monsters make very good villains. They may be tools used by villains, but they aren't interesting villains, in and of themselves. For the most part, monsters are following their biological imperatives. Unless they're reasoning beings who know right from wrong, I can't even think of them as evil. They're just doing what they need to do to survive. I guess that's why I turned the dragons into pets, essentially. They're victims of human action. They may cause harm, but that's only because they're in the wrong environment.

I'm far more interested in delving into humans who make bad choices. They may not even be planning to be evil, but not thinking about potential consequences can do just as much harm as planning to do evil. I think that Phelan Idris, the primary villain (so far, until we meet the person behind him) in my series, is mostly weak, easily led and egotistical. He doesn't really mean to do harm. He just wants to see what he can do, he resents rules, and he thinks he's smarter than anyone else. That makes him easy prey to someone who plays on his ego and gives him an opportunity to show off. Idris is kind of ADD, which means he doesn't focus on anything long enough to think it through to the possible conclusion, so he never considers consequences. He's just in it for the fun. He's a mad scientist of magic. I'm not sure he'd know what to do with power if he had it, and ruling the world would require too much focus. He just likes playing with magic and being recognized for how brilliant he is.

I actually found myself rather liking him. I think he's a jerk in a lot of ways, and he's certainly an annoyance for my heroes, but in a lot of ways, he's very much like many of my real-life friends (not that I'm saying my friends are potential mad scientists who would do harm, but there is a strong mad scientist-like streak in a lot of the people I hang out with). I even feel a bit sorry for him because he's being used. But he's the one making choices, and he's making poor choices. His story is even a little sad because he has the potential to really be something if he could get his ego in check and let someone else give him some focus and guidance.

I do find a tendency to soften and humanize my villains. I'd rather not write about truly evil people. It's more interesting to me to write about villains who have different goals than the hero, and who have good reasons for having those goals. We can see that they're wrong goals, but we can understand why the villains have them. I'm not interested in the mustache-twirling, pure EEEEEVIIILLLLL villains. Those, in a lot of respects, are easier to beat than the people with good intentions but bad choices. I think that's one of the reasons I made Katie's brother be one of the antagonists in Don't Hex with Texas. Up until about halfway through the book, I'd planned for the rogue wizard to be someone else, but then I realized it was so much more interesting if it was Katie's brother because it shows how close all of us are to going in the wrong direction.

That doesn't, however, mean, that I find villains or even darkish characters alluring. I was never that impressed with Darth Vader, and I'm not a Snape sympathizer. I guess Snape is an example of the kind of villain I am prone to writing because he was never truly evil, but he was petty, and you could see the turning points in his life where he made bad choices that came back to bite him. I could pity him for being a sad, pathetic person, but I never thought he was cool. I mostly wanted to tell him to grow up and get over high school. I guess I wimp out on the evil because I'd make someone like Snape my main villain without going all the way to Voldemort levels. There are very few people who are Voldemort bad, but I think most of us have encountered someone on the Snape -- or Idris -- level. I'm not that interested in writing the full-on psychopath or sociopath evil villain. There's too much danger of trying to explain or find motivations, and I don't think that's necessarily valid for people who genuinely have something wrong with them. Lots of people grow up in difficult circumstances without turning into pure evil, so I really dislike it when authors try to explain or excuse the evil with a sad backstory, and with fiction you pretty much have to make it make sense. When someone is truly in control and making his own choices to do wrong rather than being driven by something pathological, it's more interesting to explore.

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