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The Dichotomy of Good and Evil

Good vs. Evil. It is the classic conflict of nearly every story ever created. It is the classic conflict in the world we live in at large. The interesting part is that those we perceive as being evil often view themselves as the “good” ones, or, at least, never the “evil” ones. Even Adolf Hitler believed he was acting rightly in exterminating the Jews and advancing militarily on his neighbors in Europe.

“As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.” – Adolf Hitler

Often, it is one’s worldview that influences what you deem to be good or evil. The real world aside, how you portray good and evil in your stories is significant. The foggier you can make the two sides, the more suspense and mystery you add to the story. That is the challenge, I believe. Taking the dichotomy of good and evil and smoothing over the divide.

You may be asking what purpose could that serve?

Well, how much more exciting is a story in which the good guy could be the bad guy or vice-versa? Leave the reader in suspense. The greatest villains of all time tend to be those who are charming, handsome, wise, smart, even lovable but have some corrupt flaw or flaws at their core that turns them into the ultimate Supervillain. As Ben Bova puts it in his Tips for Writers:

“In the real world there are no villains. No one actually sets out to do evil. Fiction mirrors life. Or, more accurately, fiction serves as a lens to focus what we know of life and bring its realities into sharper, clearer understanding for us. There are no villains cackling and rubbing their hands in glee as they contemplate their evil deeds. There are only people with problems, struggling to solve them.”

If you have a villain that is easily identifiable as such, in all likelihood, you do not have a complex Supervillain. Make your villain charming and lovable. Even make his ends seem, in a way, desirable and good. I don’t know if I have this idea mastered in the novel I’m writing but it is definitely something I have been thinking about recently. I personally believe if a writer can master the art of creating a protagonist and villain that are shrouded in uncertainty it will make for a superior story. The unsure protagonist versus the is-he-really-evil?-supervillian.

“This is a brilliant observation that has served me well in all my writing. (The bad guy isn’t doing bad stuff so he can rub his hands together and snarl.) He may be driven by greed, neuroses, or the conviction that his cause is just, but he’s driven by something not unlike the things that drive a hero.” – David Lubar

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