On writing

Unreal characters: the pure good guy and the totally evil bad guy

The novel I’m reading right now started off promisingly enough. I picked up the first page to see what it was like, and just kept reading.

By around a third way through though, I was starting to get a little antsy. I’m half-way through now, and not sure I’ll go any further. It’s a pity, because it started so well.

The problem? The characters are all one-dimensionally good or evil. There’s no grey here, it’s pure black and white.

We have:

  • The naive young mage, neglected as a child, who discovers real powers and goes to the Academy to study
  • The grizzled older soldier who loves her, and would follow her to the ends of the earth
  • The soldier’s loyal 2IC, who respects her boss and would follow him to the ends of the earth
  • The evil Archmage, who wants to take over the world. He hides his evil from the naive young mage, of course
  • The twin brothers—one who is evil, one who is good. Naturally, the bad twin tries to bump off his better sibling
  • The evil lady mage whose plans of succession are thwarted by the arrival of the naive young mage and plans to get rid of her rival
  • The greedy, ambitious woman who marries her way into power.

There’s nothing wrong with these characters in a book, I might add. Half the fantasy world is populated with them. The problem I had with the ones in this book was that they were so starkly black and white. All the good guys were good, all the bad guys were evil. Truly evil. They had no redeeming features at all. And the good guys were just as bad.

Let’s take examples from the book so far.

Example 1.

Naive Young Mage (let’s call her Nym) has spent seven years at the academy, being tutored by Truly Bad Archmage (let’s call him Archie), groomed to be his heir. The Academy is bad. Nym and Archie and everyone at the Academy live the high life, with sumptuous food every night, while outside everyone in the city is starving. Young Nym goes out for a drink with Grizzled Older Soldier (Gos) and walks right into a food riot. Gos and Nym stop the riot —Nym with her superior mage powers, Gos with his superior sword power. (Did I say Gos was an excellent fighter, by the way, and a hero to boot?)

When she finds out that the riot was because the Academy was taking all the food, Nym says, “Oh, I didn’t know. We’ll share what we have with the city.”

She’s a hero, and Archie, of course, is forced to grin and pretend that he he’s happy about it, because this early in the book he’s still trying to be a father figure to Nym.

Example 2.

The twins are the only children of their generation. They’ve spent their whole life together with no other playmates, and they were inseparable. They got on well.

They’re in their twenties now. Around the same time as the riot, Evil Lady Mage (Elma) decides to turn one of them bad. In the space of a couple of months Bad Twin (let’s call him Batwin) turns bad. He disassociates himself from the good brother (Godwin) completely. At Elma’s urging, Batwin attempts to kill Godwin. There’s no remorse, no, “Hey, this is the guy I’ve been best friends with all my life, my brother. I can’t kill him.” No, it’s a simple, cold-blooded murder attempt with no angst or anything behind it.

Obviously, there’s a lot more stereotyping in the book than just the good/bad aspect. But it is really noticeable. The bad guys have no redeeming features whatsoever. They’re pure evil.

The good guys aren’t much better. They’re sickly sweet and so unreal I end up despising them.

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