I am an absolute, self-proclaimed fangirl, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I might find myself browsing forums on televisions shows I am obsessed with like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For those of you who follow the show, you know that the recent tie-in to Captain America: Winter Soldier was a massive game changer for the series, and revealed that someone we thought was good was really bad. Like really, really bad. It was a big shocker, but what surprised me even more was how many posts I have seen from fans hoping that this bad guy never gets a redemption story arc and just stays bad, which got me thinking about how villains are treated in fiction. And in particular, fantasy.
We’ve already discussed How To Write Real Villains and how to Turn Your Heroes into Antagonists, but what about redeeming a villain? More often than not we see villains that are simply power hungry or have ideals that would walk hand in hand with the Nazis. There’s really no excuse for Sauron or Voldemort, so it is easy to root for Frodo and Harry. But what about a villain that is doing all the wrong things for the right reasons? Is there still no hope for someone willing to sacrifice their very soul for the greater good?
I’m not saying the character on S.H.I.E.L.D. is heading that way or a triple agent or any of the other theories out there. But I am saying, shouldn’t we give the writers a chance to explore that? This got me thinking about my own series and a recent conversation I had with a reader who sympathized with the rebel Cahirans in my book. The group as a whole has the right ideas, but they have the absolute wrong methods. There’s a huge grey area because you see a group of people fighting for a cause they believe in. Whether or not they turn out to be the true villains of the story hinges on whether or not they win or lose—because let’s face it, the winners are the ones who tell the story.
If we look at our own history and the wars that have been fought in the name of freedom, there were always two sides (There usually is with a war). And it is easy to look at something like World War II with Hitler heading up one side and see it as black and white, good vs evil. But what about the Revolutionary War, which gained America independence from Great Britain? Was there really a good and evil side to that war, or merely two opposing sides willing to fight for causes they believed in?
So if grey area exists in real life, why do some people feel there is no room for it in fiction? Is it a matter of needing more clear cut boundaries than what we receive in life? Or is it lack of imagination? And more importantly, are we, as writers willing to explore that grey area, even if it does get a little uncomfortable? Head over to the comments section and tell me what you think!