Monday, April 13, 2009 - 10:53 PM

Life has a way of tangling schedules up, and various forces of bureaucracy have kept me from posting for a while... in part. I admit some fault of my own; I've been working heavily on 'With Iron', and most of my creative fire has been channeled into that project, which I intend to finish relatively quickly (probably done with the initial draft in June).

Like many extended writing projects, 'With Iron' has taken some unusual turns. To summarize briefly for those who haven't heard about this, the premise of 'With Iron' is a non-satirical mirror of a very popular fantasy plot: we meet the young person who happens to be the hero of the book or series, and watch the progression from a relatively normal life to savior of the world or whatever else the hero is up to. In 'With Iron', I am showing how the overarching nemesis of a hero is born, starting from the early days of their life.

Of course, there are obvious questions to answer. Why did this person become evil? Are they really evil at all? Why will the hero of the story attempt to fight against them? I cemented a couple of thoughts here, when determining the main character in 'With Iron'. I didn't want the usual anti-hero. This character had to be bad in a way which was indisputable, and he had to be willing to inflict himself on the world at large for some reason. Granted, there must still be some sympathy or the reader may simply not want to read (what I like to call a Thomas Covenant moment). But the character needs to be a proper villain.

As I was working on this, I came across a few other tidbits of fantasy literature that tend to crop up, and I considered addressing them in some way. Very often, the Bad Guy of a fantasy series is absurdly powerful, often far more than the hero and his allies will ever be. They are generally defeated by the devices of some artifact, pointed moral, or just sheer dumb luck/valor. Naturally, the question arose as to why? What makes these people so powerful? How do they get there?

The obvious answer here is that Evil cuts corners, and accumulates as much as it can without regard for consequences, sometimes even to itself. But we've seen enough of that kind of villain, and we certainly see enough of unthinking avarice in day to day life... though I consider also that making a few jabs about that kind of thing is not amiss. Does the villain in 'With Iron' fit the same hubris-filled pattern?

No, he does not. Originally, I wanted him to, but he has defied me already, and this is already forcing me to consider the future of the story in different ways. Without a doubt, this man will become someone that is hated and feared, but now I am uncertain as to how he'll feel about that. Originally, I considered him to be someone who did not think his actions were evil in any way, but as I continued writing, I realized that for a proper capital-V villain, there is one essential component to it all.

One eventually comes to a Decision. This choice may seem to be something small, or it could be over something of great importance. But either way, that choice is the fulcrum which levers the villain fully into the world of being a nemesis, a dark force and an enemy. For the purposes of this story, all three of the villains involved will understand at least in part the consequences of that choice. They will know that, at the end of the day, they are doing things which are selfish or horrible or wrong.

The fun part of the story is revealing the Why. There aren't any blasphemous-minded madmen, ridiculously sadistic assassins, pompous warlords or world-conquering wizards in 'With Iron'. Just like heroes, the villains start as people, too.

And in the case of 'With Iron's main character, it is one very stubborn man.

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At April 16, 2009 6:33 AM, Blogger MCHossman said...

I'd take the approach in going through the 'me vs. you' scenarios that cause people to take action vs. others. There are usually reasons why people become warped and revert to genocide on others. From the outside, they would be seen as evil, from the inside, however, those committing the atrocities might see it as something else, perhaps as being a necessity for their own survival.

There's also the irrational response mechanism that offers no concrete reasoning. Guy gets mad, sees red and then later realizes what he has done and feels guilty. Over time, perhaps the stress just gets to him, he no longer fights his own impulses and urges - blaming others for the reasons, etc. He may never lose the guilt but no longer want to deal with the stress of repressing it (depression?). His actions would certainly be construed as evil, but in his heart he feels the guilt associated with good. Oh, no. We have a 'shade of gray', guy!

I think the Good vs. Evil/Black vs. White aspect is so prevalent in our literature and art because it reflects a basic component of the 'us vs. them'. (Now, I can't say I've thought all this out, so take it as shooting from the hip). I find it funny that roles such as the paladin in stories are based on romantic ideals can never really be fully realized. It seems to me that these ideals can be seen as being pride driven. In essence, MY ideals have more value than YOURS, You should be living your life like ME. How annoyed are you at the people knocking on your door who want to share with YOU THEIR interpretation of what the TRUTH is?

Take the traditional roles of heroes. Often popular literature treats them as rock stars within the setting they exist; they are, quite simply, romantic heroes. But if you look how our 'rock stars' of today behave, their actions tend to be very divergent from the image that people associate with them. It doesn't even seem to matter how the media portrays them, the people find a reason to love them, and so they do. Drugs, lack of or outward contempt of accepted norms, and even the lack of respect for authority does little to turn the masses from their sides, maybe because the masses have already invested so much of themselves in the ideals they want their heroes/rock stars to have.

It's fairly common to see or hear of our 'rock stars' of today treating their fans poorly. But how many times can you expect a person to stop what they're doing to sign a hat because to THAT person, you represent something that they have idealized? An interesting side effect of this is that even though these 'rock stars' end up showing their "Dickish" nature to their fans, it doesn't typically hurt the image they have with the masses. Often the masses will make up excuses for them, refusing the question the actions of their 'rock star' hero icons.

What I'm taking a lot of time to get to is that in popular literature such actions would be shown as a fallen hero or a hero that is turning to evil. But is it? How long can you expect a person to continue coming to your aid before he gets tired of it and says, 'Ok, how much are you going to pay me to make it worth my while?' Ooopsy! Our hero JUST turned robber baron and we now have an antagonistic relationship between hero and the masses, even if the masses haven't made themselves aware of it.

Anyway, sorry for the thread-jack. Just thought I'd help provide some food for thought while you go through the 'bad guy' writing. I look forward to when I get a chance to read it.


At April 16, 2009 9:46 AM, Blogger Montgomery Mullen said...

This is a test comment.


At April 16, 2009 10:36 AM, Blogger Montgomery Mullen said...

Another test comment.


At April 16, 2009 10:30 AM, Blogger MCHossman said...

I see your point Kat, and maybe 'rock star' wasn't the best image to use but I was trying to tie the Cult of Personality aspect that tends to be placed on 'heroes' to the actual person/source. Maybe professional athletes fits the analogy better as they tend to epitomize physical excellence and the goals which our society upholds (success). Often they are publicly referred to as heroes. Babe Ruth is still Babe Ruth even though now we know he was a drunkard and a womanizer> Even so, he is STILL the Babe. Why is that? That is sort of the exercise I'm recommending.

With respect to literary heroes, M's stated that they tend to have an effect on the world around them, as do the major villains. If one of the points of M's exercise is to break down and look at villains in a different light, then one way to facilitate that would be to also look at why heroes are the way they are.

Why is it when we read about heroes we expect for them to have flaws in which they have to overcome that ultimately helps them in achieving goal X? Why is there a series of hoops the hero has to jump through before confronting Big Bad Guy? Why is there always sacrifice involved on the part of the hero?

I'm postulating that if you understand the reasons 'why' these characteristics are important in creating a hero, and understand why these sort of de facto expectations exist, then a writer will have a much better chance in writing something that clicks with the reader.

I think what M is trying to do here is to see if this type of writing works? (Yes?) As an exercise, yes, as a viable product to present with consumers? I'm not certain it would - unless the shadowy good guys win in the end, then maybe - because that is generally what is expected.

(Anyway, I appreciate the dialogue and hope you aren't annoyed by the length of my threadjacks, Mont!)


At April 16, 2009 8:46 PM, Blogger MCHossman said...

Well first, I think that Pete Rose, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds certainly reflect a theme of bad guys that once excelled at all things good and then fell because of X. But I'm not certain that is the purpose of the exercise of 'With Iron' (chime in Monte when you have time and can set us on track if not!). These guys are archetypal bad guys but not necessarily the Big Bad Guy, those guys are the 'because of X' factor.

For Pete Rose the BBG might be the Mega-Bookie Mob Guy who spun events to get Pete to start gambling and then continued to play him. Roger Clemens would have his drug supplier or some demented pharmacist that looks to get rich off of getting professional athletes hooked, (*ahem* allegedly!) and Barry Bonds maybe a pissed off reporter who Barry insulted or shrugged off and then used his contacts to kill his popularity. These would tend to be the arch-villains of the literary world, they make sense in a certain way and fit the 'shadowy' figure persona - but even Mob guys are family men, pharmacists occasionally get colds, and
the media are... well, they're always the spawn of the devil, so... ah... we'll just leave Barry with them, why don't we?

Yet the Babe is still the Babe? Who then, is Babe's nemesis? For a time it was Roger Maris because he threatened the primacy of Babe Ruth. He was foreign (uncharismatic) to the press, they couldn't get a grasp of who he was, he wasn't seen as humble, or shy or just wanting to _play_ the game. He was seen, and put into the light, of wanting to break the system because Maris didn't know show who he was.

Now if a book was written about Maris in 1961, he would fill that roll of M's exercise. A purely discpicable and vile person. In 1970 maybe a fallen hero (people were still pissed but he had a different face via the media) and now we have a movie about him that shows him as a misunderstood hero, a tragic hero, one that gets broken down and sacrificed by the devilish media (see, they ARE evil!)

[Um, it's late, I'm tired and I can't even tell if I've made a point, let alone made a valid one - and I don't even watch baseball, so all this talk is a bit... odd]


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