I know I said I’d talk about chefs when I got back from SDCC—which, granted, was two weeks ago—but I want to put that order on hold for a little bit.
Over the past week or so, I’ve interacted with a few different folks online. And while online interaction doesn’t work the same as face-to-face conversations, it still got me thinking about communication and points of view and characters.
Which, of course, made me think about Go-Bots.
I’ve got to be honest. When I was a kid, Go-Bots baffled me. More to the point, people who liked Go-Bots baffled me. I mean, seriously. Why would anyone play with Go-Bots when there were perfectly good Transformers to be had? Go-Bots kind of sucked. No, not kind of. They were dumb and clunky and their robot-to-vehicle change usually amounted to standing them up. They had a lousy cartoon with a lousy theme song.
Hell, there were Go-Bots that turned into rocks. Seriously. Rock Lords turned from robots into lumpy, dull-gray balls. That’s some serious, hardcore play action right there.
Kids who liked Go-Bots were stupid. No question about it.
Thing is, as I got older, I actually came to realize why some people had this odd affection for Go-Bots, and still do to this day. Their simplicity wasn’t a flaw, it was a feature. They had a different story behind them, and what they were worked fine for that narrative. In the end, they were just a different kind of toy for different kinds of kids (or nostalgic collectors).
Of course, as adults we can argue about X-Box versus PlayStation. Or Hunger Games versus Twilight. Or socialism versus capitalism.
As a writer, though, I need to be able to see both sides of any of these discussions. That’s how I end up with a great cast of characters—a group of people who embody different beliefs and cultures. They don’t all act and think and sound the same.
I’ve talked about this a bit before with villains. Everybody in the story thinks they’re the hero, including the baddie. They believe what they’re doing is right and just. So to have a good villain, I need to be able to see things from their point of view. I need to be able to identify and understand with how they feel.
We all know what it’s like when every character sounds just like the author. Or when they all agree with all the author’s beliefs. We’ve all read that short story or the first few chapters of that book or sat through the first half of that movie. It usually means I’m pounding home a message. Or I’m just not a very good writer. Sometimes both. And if this is the kind of story I’m writing, I almost always end up with muah-ha-hah, mustache-twirling villains that feel like they’re… well, straight out of a Go-Bots cartoon.
Female or male. Progressive or conservative. Pro-life or pro-choice. Young or old. Rich or poor. Christian or atheist. Black, brown, white, or Asian. Omnivore, vegetarian, or vegan. Straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or asexual.
Y’see, Timmy, in order to be a good writer, I need to be able to see things more than one way. This just isn’t a profession for the narrow-minded, unless I’m looking to only appeal to a similarly narrow-minded audience. I have to be open. I have to be willing to learn. I have to be able to see other viewpoints
One of the main characters of my Ex-Heroes series is a black, bisexual woman. I work like hell to make sure she sounds as real as possible, despite the fact that I am not one of these things myself. It’s important to me. And I worry constantly that I’ll have her do or say something that will offend somebody. But I don’t want to be the straight, progressive white guy who only writes about other straight, progressive white guys and makes everyone else a secondary character at best.
Because if I couldn’t see anyone else’s viewpoint… that’s all I’d be able to write.
Next time—unless somebody wants to make a request in the comments—I’m probably going to go all passive-aggressive on you.
Until then… go write.
0 replies on “But What Do You Think…?”
"Everybody in the story thinks they’re the hero, including the baddie. They believe what they’re doing is right and just."
FWIW, one of my fav villains of yours is that badass demon that Maxwell loses control of … it seems like he knows perfectly well that what he's after is wrongness and unjustness.
There are some villains in the Dresden series like that too.
I know what you meant to say, but still … sometimes good villains ARE just plain bad!
I'd never say there can't be such characters. As I've often said, though, the exception doesn't disprove the rule. That's one villain out of five books, with arguably a dozen different antagonists. And those five books are barely half the stuff I've written.
So the straight "muah-ha-hah" evil character is a very low percentage of the villains I've written.
I'm with you. That one example just came to mind.
I think it's interesting to look at a multi book series that has many villains, like the Ex series, or even series from other authors, and the wide variety of villains that are needed to support a strong storyline. Maybe I'm just a sucker for the muah-ha-hah.
I only just found your blog, but I love your books. I've read the whole Ex series and the Fold and 14. Thank you for all the great stories … including the heroes and villains!