When it comes to writing fiction, it seems each author has their own unique challenges. For some, it may be something as simple as coming up with names for characters. For others, perhaps it’s hard to write lifelike dialogue. Yet, even for others it may be difficult to craft a really good scoundrel, the nemesis to the main character.
In the epic fantasy genre, the scoundrel or nemesis is absolutely critical to the story. And the author has to excel at crafting not only one evil character, but usually several. For in an epic fantasy, much like life, evil and despair is all-around.
Readers of The Harrow: From Under a Tree seem to be very curious about my methodology relative to the development of evil characters. I have received several emails asking questions about some of the characters in From Under a Tree, but also about the upcoming sequel and especially in light of some of the artwork that has been posted on this web site and my blogs. [Yes, some new artwork is included in this blog.]
For me, characters that embody evil provide a critical plot element – conflict. Conflict is everywhere in real life and should most assuredly exist in any piece of fiction, to include the epic fantasy. To get to conflict, the author has to find weaknesses, or failings in the story’s protagonists. Such failings give birth to the antagonist, and their character makeup. Yet, each antagonist will also have weaknesses.
So, as you see – failings permeate life and therefore conflict abounds.
In real life, perhaps it’s the self-absorbed boss who overworks employees and neglects customers. Maybe it’s a dirty politician, or people who committed heinous crimes. Or, maybe it’s a family member whose motives seem unclear or not aligned with the issue at-hand.
I notice people’s flaws, mistakes, and think about what people would be like if those flaws were embellished and magnified to outweigh the person’s good qualities and positive traits. Suddenly, an evil character is born. And before you know it, you will have created another, and then one after another, and more and more, like a little herd of evil creatures.
I make up characters in my head all the time. Sometimes I write down my ideas, but most of the time I let my ideas stew in my mind. Most of them never make it to the story, but the really compelling ones do.
If you want to write a good piece of epic fantasy, you need characters who create tension and who are at odds with the forces of good.
Now that I’ve found a surefire way to harvest evil characters from reality, the character sketches have really started to pile up. The challenge is to ensure a good harvest, carefully selecting those nasty characters that make for a delicious feast of words.
If you want to write good fiction, you need a character who creates tension and who is at odds with the forces of good. For the writer, conflict is absolutely fun! Evil characters are those we love to hate because they are the harbingers of obstacles and challenges through which the heroes prove themselves. They bring us both conflict and conflict resolution!