Monday, 26 March 2018

Good vs Bad - Too One-dimensional?

Most of us know that every good story must have an outstanding villain or two – how else can the characters be challenged and drawn out accomplish, overcome and attain happiness for the readers?   And if not a person, then certain circumstances act as the obstacle, problem and challenge for characters to overcome, otherwise there would be no story to tell.  But I believe readers have moved on from the fairy-tale basics of plain good versus plain old evil, and villains (or problematic circumstances) can no longer be one-dimensional to satisfy today’s readers.

This is good, because real life is anything but one-dimensional, and people are hardly ever completely good or totally evil, so unless you want to escape into a fairy-tale world for a while, characters and/or circumstances should also have various layers and dimensions.  The classic definitions of protagonist vs antagonist have become blurred, but rather than confuse readers by undermining what is “good” and what is “bad”, a good story nowadays leads the reader to come to his or her own conclusions, and this is a much more rewarding and satisfying result.

I’ve been reminded of these points again just recently after watching a couple of my favourite TV series again, namely Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Haven.   In Buffy, for example, the traditionally evil vampire called Spike goes through many ordeals and transitions until he comes out as the hero and saviour of the world in the final episode.   Haven has the winning formula of three characters which each brings something different into the mix according to their own perspective.  One of them is Duke, a petty criminal but actually not such a bad guy when you get to know him better.   Like Spike, he, too, sacrifices his life to save everyone else in the second-last episode of the show.

Without directly thinking about such shows or books with similar storylines, I found myself also creating a “bad guy” who ends up saving all the “good guys”.   His name is Goram, and he first appears as Beacon of the Night, his formal Atlan name, in the first book, Rhuna, Keeper of Wisdom.  He’s already showing signs of rebelling against the Atlan way of life by trying to grope and seduce Rhuna, but some 20 years later she meets him again in Ancient Egypt where he has switched sides completely and is the leader of the Black Magic followers of the Dark Master.  But by the end of book 3, Rhuna, The Star Child, however, Goram has actually saved the Atlan people who had to flee Egypt, and at the end of book 4, Rhuna: new Horizons, he does something even more extraordinary to rid the ancient world of the Dark Master’s influence.  Needless to say, just like Spike in Buffy and Duke in Haven, their actions didn’t come about on the spur of the moment, but rather developed subtly over time with a series of challenging events. 

So, we are seeing deeper dimensions and layers of the antagonist who, in many cases, turns out to do a particularly good or heroic deed.   Maybe it’s much more rewarding to see the ‘bad guy’ do good in the end out of love or some other deeper motivations, than seeing the good guy do the predictable heroic stuff!