Q&A time again, and this Guestbook question comes from Louise at Ashington High School, who asks:

“Do you base your evil characters on things you don’t stand for or dislike?”

This is an excellent question, and the subject of baddies is one I find especially fascinating: HUR HUR HUR! 😉

When planning a story with a baddie in it, it’s certainly tempting to make the baddie as unsympathetic as possible, as this (of course) will supposedly make your ‘good’ characters seem all the more good. But in fact I reckon this is a mistake. The problem is, it tends to lead to very simplistic storytelling, with a very skewed ‘black and white’ sort of view of the world. OK: I write fantasy stories – they’re escapism, they’re fun. But I try to keep at the heart of my stories a truthful reflection of some kind of daily reality, as I think that makes them more believable, and therefore more enjoyable. And this business of baddies is a prime example.

In real life, acts of cruelty, horror, callousness, brutality, greed, sadism and so forth are not generally carried out by your classic moustache-twirling ‘BWAH-HA-HA I WILL TAKE OVER THE WORLD!’ type of baddie. In real life, acts of unspeakable evil are actually carried out by… us.

We all of us, every one of us, have the potential inside us to do terrible things. We all get tempted. We’ve all experienced the moment of madness, the beckoning abyss, the curiosity. And I’m not putting across a pessimistic view of the world by saying this: on the contrary, considering the potential for darkness and insanity inside every single human being, it’s amazing and incredible and brilliant that the majority of us are as positive as we are. But people do bad things. And as humans – let alone writers – we have to try to understand why.

My favourite baddies, therefore, tend to be ones who have a bit of depth to them. I don’t believe that people can be classified forever as ‘evil’, so I don’t think characters in stories – even fantasy stories – should be, either. So, when I’m thinking about a baddie for a story – someone who is going to get a story started and bring it to its climax; somebody who has to be fought or stopped – the big question I ask myself is, WHY?

If they’re obsessed with power, /why/ are they obsessed with power? [Perhaps it’s a sign of weakness and powerlessness in some important other part of their life?] If, as in the Scourge’s case in Black Tat, they want to destroy the universe, /why/ do they want to destroy the universe? [The Scourge makes a lot of noise about ‘the purity of the Void’, but in fact it behaves as it does because it was /created/ that way: it’s like a machine, a ‘self-destruct button’ for the universe, set up that way for experimental purposes by a higher power. But over the course of the story, it discovers that it has feelings…]

In TIM, DEFENDER OF THE EARTH, the ‘baddie’ is Professor Mallahide. He’s discovered something, something tremendous and incredible, with enormous potential for good. But where he crosses the line into being a threat to the world, is the fact that he can’t understand why everyone else can’t see his invention the same way he does. He inflicts his will on other people, thinking he knows best. And that’s a mistake that any one of us can make.

The best and most exciting baddies in stories, it seems to me, are the ones who are closest to ourselves. Rather than starting out trying to make a baddie as unsympathetic as possible, therefore, the best way to get thinking about them (I reckon) is to take something from ourselves – something we’ve seen ourselves do, something we’re not proud of – and just… push it a little. And you know what? It doesn’t even have to take much. After all, as The Joker tells Batman in Alan Moore‘s /awesome/ THE KILLING JOKE: “There’s no difference between me and everyone else! All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day.”

OK, enough talking about baddies: instead, here’s a SONG! It’s by the fabulous JONATHAN COULTON. It’s about one of my favourite types of baddie, ZOMBIES. And it’s sung – here’s the crucial bit – from the zombie’s point of view. [“I’m not a monster, Tom. Well, technically I am…”] To hear it, click on this link, click on ‘Re: Your Brains’ – and enjoy!

That was an excellent question, Louise. Thank you! More next week.


Comments? Suggestions? Questions? Me and THE WEBSPHINX would love to hear from you! Drop us a line at the Tim, Defender of the Earth Guestbook for current or Tim stuff, or The Black Tattoo Guestbook for Black Tat stuff. First (or demon-!) names only, please. 😉