1. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    How Evil can a Hero be?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by B-Gas, Dec 5, 2007.

    I've just got a general question I'd like to throw out there, with a specific example as follow-on. Is there a line in the sand where one side is 'heroic' and the other side is 'villainous'? IE, can an anti-heroic character be too anti-?

    For example, my main character in the novel I'm working on has horrific abilities, a nasty attitude, a drug addiction (which she will eventually and painfully break), a fundamental inability to admit to a solid relationship- despite constant hope from the other side (Keilyn) of said relationship- and a vicious fighting style, similar to Muay Thai but with more fists and less elbows. She is also overprotective of Keilyn to the point where she will engage in her brutal violence against those that make jokes about her. And, to boot, she's up against a pure man with an honestly good heart and no inclination toward violence or anything of that sort. Is she heroic- can she be heroic- or has she crossed the line?
     
  2. Domoviye
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    Domoviye Contributing Member

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    Almost anyone can be heroic, its merely in the details.
    Why is she fighting this guy, is the most important detail.
    Right now she could be the underdog thats had a hard life. The fallen hero that may or may not get back on their feet. A really good anti-hero (very popular in the 90's). Or the jerk with a heart of gold.
    Unless you have her beating up orphans, committing vicious and cruel crimes, or beating up her lover, most people will forgive her and let her remain a hero if you are a good writer.

    In one series "Thomas Covenant", the hero actually graphically raped a young peasant girl that was helping him. That was in the first book and he was the hero throughout the three or four book series, and enough people continued to believe he was a hero to make it a popular series. (I threw the book away at that point and never picked it up again.)
    So as long as you are careful you shouldn't have a problem.
     
  3. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    She's up against him because he's an overlord who's trying to change things- plus, she hasn't forgiven him for invading her mind a long time ago. Basically, it's a combination personal grudge and personal belief system.
     
  4. Domoviye
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    Domoviye Contributing Member

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    Definitely an underdog/fallen hero story. Keep her from beating her lover, and don't let her kill any kids she'll be a perfect hero.
     
  5. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Can I get away with verbal- or minor physical- abuse during a drug hit?

    I've set the drug- known as Spice, sold in cubes of white powder that turn alcohol deep red- to be an obscenely symbolic comment on the modern world. It's a combination of a powerful aphrodisiac and a powerful depressant- You get horny but you don't give a **** about anything, even sex. Does that work?

    By the way, she never 'fell from grace'; she's more of a licked-by-the-dog than a pet-the-dog. In fact, she's almost a kick-the-dog. She doesn't seem to have a heart of gold at all- just a heart of coal that's under some serious pressure (see what I did there? See it?)
     
  6. Domoviye
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    Domoviye Contributing Member

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    It could still work. Since its drugs as long as you emphasize the lack of control and stupidity of it, that shouldn't be a problem.
    Good luck
     
  7. Axis
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    Axis Member

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    I like the idea of the anti-hero. As it stands though, your character is attacking other people for insulting his girlfriend - you've got a long way to go for the reader to feel sympathy for him. Think of Mel Gibson's character in Payback. I also just recently read The Last Assassin by Barry Eisner (??), and it was a little difficult feeling sympathy for that character as well, mostly because he is a paid assassin with few redeeming features.

    Off Topic:In terms of the martial arts (which I am aware you are not asking about), in my experience Muay Thai is one of the most brutal forms because of the elbows (and the knees, and the headbutts - you get the idea). I tend to feel that hitting someone with your fist is almost refined in comparison to spliting their head open with a well timed elbow to the temple.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Read the (First) Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever. Covenant is a pretty despicable human being, at least in my opinion. But he is unquestionably the hero of the saga.
     
  9. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    Look at the Chronicles of Riddick. Richard B. Riddick is a seriel killer, excape artist, and brutual human being.

    A better example may actually be V from V for Vendetta. It was sort of lost in the movie but in the comics it was left to constant wuestion as to who V really was: Mad man, revolutionary, anarchist, or a good person who took extreme measures.

    There's also Darth Vader. He certainly becomes evil but if you take all 6 films into account he's still in essence a hero of the story.

    Conan the Barbarian is all about blood, guts, women, and power.

    Your hero can be as evil as you want your hero to be. The protagonist need not be a good guy (Just the central character of the story) and the antagonist need not be evil. JUst make sure the character has a legitimate and worthy reason for fighting your antagonist.
     
  10. Bluemouth
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    Bluemouth Contributing Member Contributor

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    That character actually turned me off the book. I also didn't think it was written very well. The rape came as a surprise, and the selfishness behind it considering he was a leper ...
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    as evil as you want, if he's a hero to evil folks!

    but, for anyone to be a hero to supposedly 'good' folks, i don't see how he can be 'evil' at all... a bit on the naughty side can work, in some instances, but not actual 'evil'...
     
  12. Sir Cameron
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    Sir Cameron Member

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    Another question is: Does your "hero" grow, or turn from her ways (or some of them)?

    Somewhat like a redemption story, only she's not consciously out for redemption, circumstances simply force her to change for the better...
     
  13. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    With respect to Donaldson's Thomas Covenant (the Unbeliever), and the discussion of growth in a character, Covenant would be an example. He is a miserable individual who's felt betrayed by life and those around him...and he finds himself as a pawn in an unknown land. He is who he is and never exactly turns out to be a hero in the common term for the word, especially in the first chronicles (trilogy), but succeeds because of who he is and how he learns and experiences the Land.

    Donaldson's style is sometimes long, and the first book, Lord Foul's Bane, is difficult to get through at times, but sets things up very well for the rest of the series.

    If there is such a thing as a flawed hero, Covenant would be that.

    Can a flawed hero have evil aspects to their character? Many of those already mentioned in other posts in this string do.

    Terry
     
  14. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Okay, some feedback for all of you- thanks to all for replying to this, by the way...

    First off, both of the characters- the hero and the love interest- are female. Just to clear that one up. *cough* probably should have made that more obvious.

    Anyway, First, to Axis: I know that Muay Thai is brutal because of the elbows, but it's also the knees that help. I'm just trying to shift the focus a little further out, keeping foes at a distance et cetera. I'm not dropping the elbows entirely, she just doesn't like to get that close to her enemies.

    Then, to Cog and Hat-Lord: Thanks for the examples- I agree, Hats, that V was made much more of a hero in the movie. It was kinda sad, really- they lost most of the dichotomy between crazy sadistic anarchist and crazy sadistic anarchist with good intentions.

    Mammamaia: I'm not sure you've got the gist of what I'm asking here- I was wondering how evil a hero can be, not whether a hero can be evil. How many dogs can one hero kick before becoming a villain?

    Sir Cameron: Yes, she does grow out of a few of them. It kind of spirals out from when she breaks her drug habit- then she finally admits that she loves the love interest- then she gradually develops a less nasty attitude et cetera. She never quite makes it to the 'good person' end of the spectrum, but she gets much better than she was.

    Anyway, throwing another variable in: If it's told from the perspective of the love interest- if she functions as the 'viewpoint' character- does that change anything?
     
  15. MowsysWrath
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    Anyone can be heroic on circumstances. Say the person is forced to do something for the good or else face death or torture. That could convince them...
     
  16. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    I'm not talking about an evil person being good- I'm talking about an evil person being the centre of the story.
     
  17. Axis
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    Axis Member

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    I'm going to flog this point, because, while it's slightly off topic, its one of those things that I know a little about. Try to get your hands on a DVD called Ong Bak, which has this Thai guy called Tony Jaa playing the main character. It shows some really traditional Muay Thai fighting, and there's enough punching involved to make your point. There's also lots of long kicks. If it's brutality you're after, you should go with that. At one point this guy charges Tony, and he just steps forward and front-kicks him in the face. Sensational.
     
  18. pet.
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    pet. Senior Member

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    At Axis:

    Cynically, I can state with relative confidence that the overwhelming majority of people (especially Americans, though I'm not going to say that too loudly and mean no offense. ) who 'know' anything about Muay Thai derive the entirety of their knowledge from Ong Bak. While I'm not suggesting that this is the case with you, I happen to know that B-Gas' initial exposure to Mauy Thai was a combination of me talking about it, and Ong Bak.

    Getting back on topic, I think we need to define our terms. Dictionary.com (I know, I know. I just couldn't be bothered getting up and searching my bookcase.) gives us two definitions which seem equally applicable;

    1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.

    2. the principal male character in a story, play, film, etc.

    In the case of the first, I would say that all successful villains (who I'm assuming we can define as innately evil) are also heroes. While there are examples of villains who are universally loathed, they are usually "of distinguished ability", and could be admired for deeds of some sort or other.

    In the case of the second, the central character in a story can easily be evil. The question is whether they can still hold the audiences attention, something which is usually done by having the reader relate to the main character. There are plenty examples of authors who are skilled enough to achieve this. (Richard III, for example)

    I seem to have written far more than I intended to, but I think I've made my point; unless there's something I've missed, I think it's entirely possible for a hero to be as villainous as they come.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...i got the gist... and that's what i replied to... there are no shades of 'evil' though there may be of 'wrong-doing'... like 'pregnant' one can't be just partially 'evil'... so, use the term 'evil' and my comments stand as is... change it to 'naughty' or 'not very nice' or even 'a bit bad' and i'd have a different answer for you...
     
  20. MarcG
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    MarcG Contributing Member

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    The hero can run around slaughtering people and still remain a hero. It all depends on your definition of a hero - be it someone innately good, the champion of a story, or the underdog that comes out on top through skill, determination, and luck. And so on.

    I'm not a fan of the good/evil bit. They're very broad and it's all perspective. Peasants A might see Person C as a hero and Person D as a villain, while Peasants B see the opposite - Person C kicked a sheep in their town and Person D helped build the town hall. And even then, it's based on your own morals/values/definition/etc. I would not worry with the connotations of "hero", and just write the story as you'd like to see it. Let the characters act the way you think they would and they may change your own idea of them. Do not worry about whether or not they fit into standard roles - it'll be more original that way. There are only so many times someone can read about the valiant knight running around saving the peasants without stepping on a few toes here and there. ;)
     
  21. Axis
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    Axis Member

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    Cool then. That's not the case with me, but I used that film as an example because its the best visual reference that I could think of.

    I do Wing Chun myself, but my instructor does Muay Thai as well.
     
  22. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    -It was actually The Protector, not Ong Bak (practically the same movie, basically- same main actor with a slightly different fighting style), but anyway...

    Thanks everyone for all the feedback. It's been great hearing all these opinions and I certainly will be looking for some of those books.
     
  23. pet.
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    pet. Senior Member

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    Ack. Memory failure. But yeah, they are virtually the same film.

    I think that MarcG has the right idea, though the question then becomes 'how selffish/harmful to others can the protagonist of a given story be, while still remaining a character the reader can relate to/empathise with. If the reader doesn't care about the character, they're unlikely to be interested in how their story ends, rendering the best hooks useless.

    I think there are enough examples of characters who are 'evil' yet remain interesting/relatable to clearly say that the 'hero' can be as 'evil' as any villain.

    (On a side note, I think "the valiant knight running around saving the peasants" has become so unfashionable that there are no examples of the cliche anymore. Whether this renders it original and different remains to be seen.)
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I worry little about whether a character is evil. I prefer to turn it around, literally, and worry more about whether a character is live. If the character seems real, and interesting, that is more important than where he or she falls on an AD&D alignment grid.
     
  25. Darksoul
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    Darksoul New Member

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    I agree with Cogito (nice anagram-spotting btw:p).
    It's all about perspectives. If you are a selective omniscient narrator and describe the storyline from point of view of your "bad-ass" main character, you will (or should) automatically justify the character's behaviour. For example, when the character is depressed, you as narrator will describe how he or she feels. When committing a violent action (even if something as extreme as hitting an orphan or a lover), you will say something like

    He didn't think. It was all impulse.
    He just lost it. How he cursed his own fits of rage, no one could ever understand.


    The question about surrounding characters, whose point of view are not represented, is quite different. The reader will judge them according to the main character's observations and perhaps conclusions. A main character can be good friends with another character, but then at one point find out what a complete jerk that character is.

    Other types of focalisation come with other types of character representation/interpretation, but I hope what I said helps:
    it's all about perspectives. Characters are what you reveal to the reader. But don't saddle your reader with a character that's a complete douchebag. Such main characters are not the most amiable reading companions, except perhaps in certain comical contexts.
     

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