The bad guy

The other day, I realised something weird: my books don’t often have an antagonist.

They rarely have an archetypical bad guy who does evil things all the time.

My books will have bad situations. They will have bad situations made worse by incompetent or uncaring people. They will have groups with aims that are perceived as harmful in the story.

Amoro Renkati in Ambassador 1 is akin to a terrorist group with a clear political aim: to rid themselves of the dominant Coldi. Some of the people in it, like Seymour Kershaw, have landed on the off-side of mainstream politics.

The Pretoria Cartel wants a better deal for African interests.

But the organisations don’t usually have straight-up bad people.

The Pretoria Cartel’s Minke Kluysters is up there with my favourite antagonistic characters I’ve written. You never really know where he stands and what he’ll do. One the one hand, business is important to him, so he’s unlikely to do anything that will harm business. On the other hand, he has enough money not to care about anything. He has an interesting history, briefly dated Margarethe Ollund and has an Olympic medal in his game-park reserve house. Except it turns out it’s not really a game park, he likes the animals. And just when you’re ready to stick the “racist” label on him it’s turns out he’s married to a PanAf delegate.

You see, I don’t believe in good and evil.

I believe that everyone is a mix of both.

I also believe that good an evil don’t always manifest in the typical ways.

Let’s take “good”

Someone who “does good” by helping people can actually be evil by helping perpetuate the situation that is the cause of the need for help. Or worse, they do it for themselves. Even if they do good for the right reason, there is always that element of wanting to be thanked, wanting to feel praised. But even the most selfless person can be good to the community, but emotionally neglecting their family, with all the consequences.

What about evil?

The numbers of people who would do evil for evil’s sake is very small. They’re your psychopathic mass murderers who disembowel and eat their victims. People with severe issues. Those are a specific kind of antagonist belonging in horror movies.

But your run of the mill antagonist is often only in that position because their goal is at cross purposes with that of the protagonist.

Even a more traditional evil guy like Nemedor Satarin, who features in the Aghyrians series, does so out of pride for his people. The books in fact need several ersatz antagonists who work for him for various reasons. Plain evil bad guys are boring. People who are bad guys because of their circumstances or because they don’t see a certain issue, or because some complex issues, are much more interesting.

For example:

Iztho Andrahar (Return of the Aghyrians) – was forced to do a job he hated by rigid traditions
Dexter Freeman (Project Charon) – Was never properly paid and rewarded for his hard and dangerous work
Regent Bernard (Dragonspeaker Chronicles) – Tries to cover up for the fact that he never wanted the job and is incompetent
Tandor (Icefire Trilogy) – trying to please his mother

There are reasons why people are arseholes and I find discovering those reasons much more interesting than proving that “good always wins”, because looking at the reasons why people do bad things tells us a lot about ourselves.

Crossposted to my Ko-fi page

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