Saturday, May 19, 2012

On Villainy II

Photo by iambarr .  licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.
I've been reflecting on villains again during my ramp up to writing Book III of the Hemlock series.  A TV show we're watching caught my eye because I think they've actually gone overboard in the villainy department.  We are in the tail end of the latest season of this show, and I've been feeling oddly disengaged from it as compared with prior seasons.  In this show, through various plot developments, all of the heroes have temporarily left the vicinity of the villains, and conflicts are playing out within the two separated groups.  I think this is a narrative mistake.

When you have a conflict between two sympathetic characters I think the reader is almost by definition less engaged than when the conflict is between a sympathetic character and an un-sympathetic character.  And I think the same is true of conflicts between two un-sympathetic characters.

In this TV show, there were actually three villains and an unsympathetic but somewhat less villainous fourth character.  As the plot developed, the fourth character reacted to abuse by the other three by going psycho.  So now you have a very unsympathetic character raining down crazy on three other villains.  As the three react by weeping and further abusing one another, I am finding myself feeling apathetic.  I just don't particularly care whether these villains are suffering.  I don't have a character that I'm identifying with in the struggle.  I'm disconnected.  I imagine the intent of the writing is probably to have the viewer enjoy the irony of the other villains being tormented by another villain, but it's just not working for me.  It just seems like a sad spectacle.

I think a good, compelling story should always be underpinned by a strong conflict between heroes and  villains--especially in epic fantasy.  And I am actually critical of my own work in this department.  I've been a big fan of shades of gray villains, but this recent experience has made me re-think how I'm presenting my villains and my conflicts.  Rest assured that Hemlock "Book III" will have a very strong conflict between hero and villain.

On the book III front, I'm in the process of assembling snippets of writing from the various scenes that are coming together in my mind.  I think I'm getting close to the point where I could create a chapter outline, but I'm debating whether I should.  I don't want to loose the magic of "pantsing" so I will probably wait for a good block of time to present itself, and then just start writing.