[edit: Blog Hop completed; intro text removed]
At the end of the day heroes and villains are characters, with perspectives informed by perceptions and values. Perceptions and values are, in turn, shaped by experiences. All characters have a set of experiences that occurred before the start of the story. Ideally, story drama (in-scene experiences) shifts a character’s perceptions and values, thus driving changes in perspectives: hence, character growth.
The values characters have–describable by Andrew’s modified D&D alignment system–help determine whether they fall in the hero or villain category. When you start defining your heroes and villains by assigning them perspectives, informed by perceptions shaped by experiences, they become richer characters. No longer do we have the “I do good because it’s the Right Thing(tm)!” Or, “Gaar! I’m going to kill everyone because I’m Eeeevil! Then once my plans are complete I will sit around and Maniacal Laugh(tm) all day! Rar!” With additional nuance, it’s difficult to have heroes who are evil, but you can push them into a shade of gray. However, not all villains have to be evil.
A character’s perspective helps determine the motivations and goals. Dramatic tension is created by throwing in a bunch of characters that have misaligned perspectives, because that tends to set them at odds with each other. Sometimes it’s not cut and dry who’s a villain and who’s a hero, and sometimes heroes and villains can mostly agree, such as described in my earlier post, “Squeezing the Plot out of Characters.”
I recently posted about the anatomy of crafting a Dark Lord, and When Dragons Die has its share of archetypically evil characters. However, villains don’t have to be willfully evil. Let’s take a brief look at two antagonists in the series that don’t fall under the role of “Dark Lord”.
- Lightfall’s final antagonist, Valkrage, was a hero in his own time, but takes the role of villain in the story. He is a pure ends-justify-means guy, calculating solely based on outcomes. He built a tyrannical empire that took over all human lands as a means to eventually destroy Ahmbren’s “Dark Lord”, but also set things in motion to heal the world after his plan reached fruition. However, by the end of Lightfall, he’s thrust fully into a villain role when he goes mad.
- Moving on to Covenant, the first main villain we encounter in the second book is Count Markus, the vampire ruler of Astia. He is ambitious, but it’s not his ambition that drives him to found a vampire nation. He’s a man of vision rather than petty power-grabbing. His country is faced with a “vampire apocalypse”, which spreads as virulently as the “zombie plagues” of modern horror stories. Count Markus truly believes his motives are good, and he takes an opportunity presented by a dark god. He continues to spread his Covenant as a means for vampires and mortals to peacefully coexist. Vampires learn control and don’t infect other mortals by draining them completely, and mortals offer their blood freely, trading freedom for safety. He believes this is the only way to escape an otherwise inevitable doom of the vampire contagion (a doom where vampires infect 100% of the population and then run out of food).
Both Valkrage and Count Markus are characters driven by calculations whose perceptions shift them into villain roles. They both have a certain amount of information, and a conviction that their perceptions are accurate, and are driven by what they see as the “only way out”. Markus predicates his whole argument for the rational of the Covenant on: “we have a right to live.” Neither Valkrage nor Count Markus are malicious, or of evil intent. Their evil, labeled so for they both cost lives, is more subtle. Valkrage is coldly calculating and do whatever it takes for the “long game”; Markus is ruthless and will sacrifice anyone who threatens his ultimate goal of peaceful coexistence through a Covenant with the living.
[edit blog hop completed–prize text removed]
When you’re done, please check out the other authors in the blog hop, listed below.