books · round robin

Creating heroes and villains – why good is bad and evil is fun

round robin, helena fairfaxToday is another in our Round Robin series, and this month’s topic is pretty deep: “There is a precipice each character stands on–one side is too good to be true, the other side too evil to exist. What makes a character too good to believe? How evil can a main character become before they are irredeemable?”

What an interesting subject. This topic made me think about which “goodies” and “baddies” I’ve loved in fiction, and why. I write contemporary romance, and so my stories have to have some basis in reality, with characters you would meet every day. My characters need to reflect all the grey areas there are in human life, and my heroes and heroines should never be too good to be true. In any case, who could really love a person with no flaws? Wouldn’t they be a bit intimidating? The heroes and heroines in my romances aren’t perfect. They have flaws that make them both more loveable and more believable as people.

pollyanna, helena fairfax
Pollyanna – even her smock is clean

I’ve tried hard to think of a character I’ve come across in books or films who was thoroughly “good,” and to be honest, I’ve struggled. Most writers know that a character who is wholly “good” can be a bit hard to relate to. The only character like this who comes to my mind is Pollyanna, and her name has become synonymous with being sickeningly optimistic. I really couldn’t get on with this book when I read it, and that’s because the main character saw the good in everything. Really, did she never even moan one little bit? She is a character I found too good to be true, but I can’t think of any others.

All great heroes or heroines have some flaw written into them by their creators. Even Harry Potter goes through a phase where he thinks he’s “the special one” and gets on his friends’ nerves. Sherlock Holmes is impatient and unfeeling, and a drug addict; Luke Skywalker is impulsive; Dr Who (as played by Peter Capaldi) is oblivious to people’s feelings. The failings in our heroes enable us to empathise with them and make us more likely to root for them.

helena fairfax, round robin
Superhoeroes Image courtesy of Pixabay

When it comes to the heroes’ or heroines’ counterparts, though, sometimes black is black and there isn’t a shred of grey to relieve the evil. To be honest, I don’t mind this at all! Think of the villains who are the opposite of the “good” characters I’ve listed:

Harry Potter has Voldemort – evil through and through.

Sherlock Holmes has Moriarty – ditto. (I loved the Moriarty character in the BBC’s Sherlock series. What a chilling baddie!)

Dr Who has the Daleks – the most evil monsters in the universe.

Luke Skywalker has Darth Vader. In the original Star Wars, Darth Vader was pure evil. I seem to remember (and Star Wars fans will put me right if I’m wrong!) that the prequels showed a reason for Darth Vader turning bad, and his early years gave the audience a reason to feel more sympathy for him. I actually liked Darth Vader when he was totally evil. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with being a pantomime villain!

I’ve enjoyed this topic. Thanks to Rhobin Courtirght again for organising another interesting Round Robin.

How about you? Can you think of any heroes or heroines who are totally “good,” with no flaws to make them believable? And do you like villains who are totally evil, or do you think they should have at least some good quality to redeem them?

If you have any comments at all, I’d love to hear from you!

And if you’d like to read what the other authors in the Round Robin are saying on this topic, please click the links below.

Skye Taylor  http://www.skye-writer.com/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/
Connie Vines http://connievines.blogspot.com/
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com/

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20 thoughts on “Creating heroes and villains – why good is bad and evil is fun

  1. An interesting post, Helena, and a good topic for writers! I didn’t read Pollyanna but I loved the film as it was one of the first I saw. I like her optimism, especially in the way she changes other people, but I agree it was a bit hard to take at first! However, she changed after the accident and she then needed others.

    Although I do love a good (as in very bad) villain, I also quite like to know if anything made them that way. Harry Potter was a very good example of lots of flawed characters.

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    1. Interesting comment, Rosemary. It’s a long time since I read Pollyanna. It seems from your comment she’s not quite as sickeningly nice as I remembered. Perhaps I should read it again!
      Thanks for dropping in!

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  2. I was asked about a month ago what my favorite Disney movie was and I replied, Pollyanna. I love that movie, everything about it, ever since it came out. I mention to my husband the other day, I should watch it soon. If more people were like Pollyanna, the world would be a better place. Positive attitude!

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    1. Susan, I’ve never seen Pollyanna the movie. Perhaps I should watch it, and re-read the book. I wonder if Disney updated the book a little. Those old classics can sometimes come across as a little “worthy” to the modern child reader, which might be what I found so off-putting. It’s started an interesting debate. Thanks so much for your comment!

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  3. Have you read The Last of the Mohicans? All of the characters were pretty one-dimensional, but each one represented something.

    But I agree with you about the villains. I don’t think there needs to be a shred of good in them to be effective in a story line. It does depend on the story, though.

    Great post!

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    1. I read The Last of the Mohicans a long time ago, and loved it. I hadn’t thought about the characters being one-dimensional, but I see that now you point it out. Interesting! I’d like to read that book again.
      Thanks for dropping in, and for your great comment!

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  4. I like villains to be really bad, but then I like to see the side of them when they pet their dog or cry during a sad movie. I also like to know a reason for their bad temper and meanness! It helps me to understand and make the villain more believable.

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  5. I called my husband a Pollyanna once, and despite being a huge fan of old Disney movies, he claimed not to know what I meant. He has a tendency to always think the best of people. But then I’m more cynical, so I suppose together we balance each other out.

    The funny thing is, based on his behavior, I thought the “hero” in FSOG was too evil to be redeemed. Judging by the sales, I can see I’m in the minority.

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    1. Interesting comment, Fiona. I wondered if Christian Grey had any redeeming features, or a mitigating reason for his behaviour. I never got to the end of the book, so I don’t know. Thanks so much for dropping in!

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  6. Hey, Helena. Really fascinating post. I really struggle to make my heroes have flaws. I write good people. I think I have a streak of Pollyanna in me. I can almost always find something good in a bad situation ( nothing like the death of a child for heavens sake), but you know if I get stuck in the long check out line, I use the time to practice posture and Pilates stances. LOL Weird, granted. Anyway, one of the strongest criticisms by my first CPs was that I didn’t write realistic characters. They were “too good.”
    As to my villians, I’m with JQ on this. I have to know why my bad guy is bad.What happened to him/her to send him wrong. Yeah, I know other folks come through bad situations and don’t end of serial killers, but generally, I always try to share a reason. I think it makes them more believable. I find it easier to do the bad guys than to give my heroes flaws. For me that’s a constant struggle.
    Loved the post. Lots to think about.
    And I’m totally with Susan. More optimism and the world would be a better place. :)

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    1. Hi Marsha, I think if you’re writing a realistic suspense, like your books are, then it’s good to give the villains a more shaded character, as you do. The villains I mentioned in my post are more fantasy characters, and so it’s not so important to make them realistic. The daleks can be thoroughly black :) I enjoy both types of villain – the black and the grey – but it’s strange – I don’t relate to characters who are thoroughly “good.” I find them off-putting. It’s hard, though, to write flaws into the characters we love! Thanks for your thoughtful comment. It’s made me think lots more on this topic!

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  7. Helena,

    Oh! Good point-out of the evil villain. Why is literary evil so enjoyable? I’ve got to say, I’ll huff right away if the hero is too dashing and optimistic, but if the villain is snarking up a storm (as long as he/she has a reason, at least), then usually I am happy to turn pages in suspense! I’ve watched BBC’s Sherlock and Moriarty’s gave me physical shivers! Little creep. He’s a great villain. Flawed heroes are wonderful, but black is better without any gradient, sometimes. :)

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  8. When writing my Drusilla series, I wrote myself to the chilling conclusion that Drusilla (a vampire now ensouled) fears humans because humans carry out atrocities DESPITE HAVING SOULS. Soulless vampires would indeed carry out similar atrocities, but the fearful thing for Dru was that a creature with the capacity for love, kindness, mercy etc. would still do such things made it a creature (supposedly the good human) to be feared by vampires (supposedly the monsters…)

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    1. Hi James, I LOVE that conclusion. That’s a brilliant and chilling dichotomy. It does make you have sympathy with your “villain,” Drusilla. Great comment. Thanks for dropping in!

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