All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.
Friday, March 13, 2020
Blurring the Lines Between Good and Bad
The old Dick Tracy comics (and particularly the movies in the 1930s and 1940s) became a classic display of good versus evil as portrayed through character description. The good guys might not have been pretty, but they were presented with clear, distinct lines and consistent elements. They became the norm for the standards presented in Dick Tracy's world. It might be physically impossible to live with a jaw as well-cornered as Tracy's, but that squared jaw represented a very attractive trait and helped define him as a great guy.
The bad guys, however, were all different. They were deformed, misfit creations that didn't blend into the world but rather stood out as aberrations. They were scarred, misshapen entities capable of doing anything that society rejected because their appearance was against all social norms. They were the prototypical definition of the enemy, in every sense.
So far, nothing new here. However, what happens when we take a few traits of bad guys and give them to our hero? What if the villain has some heroic traits or pleasant features? Now we have gone beyond pulp comics and ventured into the realm of complex storytelling. A hero with a pronounced facial scar not only suggests a rich backstory, but the symbol also implies internal conflict and perhaps tragedy. Our hero wears the mark usually saved for villains, and perhaps this symbolizes a darker nature, or a weakness for doing the wrong thing. Maybe the hero is at risk of succumbing to darker influences, and that temptation will test them later in the story. It's not just a deformity at that point - it's a signal to the reader about a lot under the surface.
Oh, and pity the reader that tries to hate a villain with redeeming traits. A beautiful villain might not be so bad, but what if that antagonist also takes care of their sick mother? What if they have a moral code to follow? If our villain carries traits that aren't so villain-y, the reader becomes conflicted as well. The reader has to weigh the situation, and make tough choices. If the reader is doing that, I guarantee the reader is fully invested in your story.
The next time you draw the lines for your protagonist and antagonist, try smudging things a little. That wouldn't fly in Dick Tracy comics, but in narratives, it makes characters stand out.