22.1.12 | By: Megan Langham

Weep for the Wayward

People aren’t either wicked or noble. 
They’re like chef’s salads, 
with good things and bad things 
chopped and mixed together 
in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.
—Lemony Snicket

Did you miss me?

I've not been completely idle during my absence from the blogosphere. For example, I have been on and off ill (which I shall kindly not elaborate on); I have undergone the elaborate agony of having my wisdom teeth ruthlessly ripped from my mouth (can you say chipmunk? I couldn't, for a while); I have read a rather frightening number of books (more on that later); and while I haven't made much discernible progress with my own writing, I have learned some painfully beautiful lessons from the time I've spent with my brain-born people.

One exercise I tried (without initially considering the fact that it was an exercise) involved writing superfluous scenes from the viewpoints of characters who wouldn't normally have a point of view at all. As a character-building activity it was excellent practise, but when I reached the end of the first scene I realised it had become much more than that. I had learned to love the most uniformly evil of my charactersand because of that his actions felt all the more abhorrent and painful. I knew why he had done what he did, I knew how he became the person he was, and I saw those same stirring seeds of darkness in even the purest person associated with him. I saw them in myself.

Some time ago Jenny wrote a thoughtful and engaging post on giving one's villain a reasonable motive for actually being the villain. Well, it wasn't quite as simple as that, but the gist was similar. Villains are people too, you see, unless they are robots (and even then there must have been a human mind and heart behind them) and to reduce a person, no matter how outwardly abhorrent, to the caricature of a cackling devilthat's incredibly lazy writing, at the least. And it makes for a much less meaningful story.

It's so easy, I think, to distance ourselves from the evil in fiction. It's natural to identify solely with the protagonist and the friends who adore himafter all, that's what the protagonist is there for, right? But I think it is equally important for us to see our own failings in the characters who made the wrong decisions, to realise that if it weren't for the grace of God in our hearts we might have followed them down the darkening path, and as a result of that to care for them as people, not as plot devices. 

Because the best and truest books fit their readers for reality.

Silently berating himself for his foolish fancies, Evan stepped back. At the same time the cloaked man turned, and the light from the candle fell full on his face. It was Lord Iorweth. His face was grey and haggard, as if he had aged twenty years in two hours; even in profile, Evan could see the pain etched in every line of his expression. His hair fell loose and curling over his forehead, and his hands were white where they grasped the edges of the table. He looked like a man in the throes of death.
—Volunteer Mission

8 missives:

Alyianna said...

Love this post!

Jenny Freitag said...

Hurrah, I think likewise. Your comment about villains being people too, and not (in essence) being merely black is of a piece with my mind exactly. Because everyone (including characters, or else they would not be human) have the image of God, everyone is a tangled skein of good intentions (we know where those lead to) and wicked desires. The heart is desperately wicked, and that is the heart of the villain, but even a wicked man gives bread and not a stone to his son when he is hungry.

Common grace, saving grace, sustaining grace, grace for grace... What an interesting currency our spirits have in this economy! What a challenge it is to show that in our stories, too.

It's good to have you back, Megan. I've missed you badly.

Lilly said...

I MISSED YOU! *hops up and down in unibunny fashion and waves paws* Okay... so that sounded childish, maybe, but I did. And this is a good thought provoking post. Seems to help me process through what I need to do in find the villain in my fanfiction story. Maybe I will do your exercise and try to write from his point of view. *looks over at creepy wizard villain* Ugh....

Rachel Heffington said...

I missed you too! :) Excellent comeback post, and I hope to have more of Megan in the future days. :)

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, as always. I work hard at finding a balance between showing evil and having it be too dark - harder than it sounds! I'm so glad to have you back! (Oh, and if I freaked dyou out by calling you Merry, I'm sorry =) I know Jenny through email correspondance, and she told me about the nickname. :)
~ Mirriam

Megan Langham said...

Alyianna (may I call you Aly?) - Thank you, dear! I'm always greatly encouraged when something I've written speaks to one of my readers, in any way.

Jennyest - Even when I'm already quite sure of an idea, your agreement with it makes me feel vindicated in my belief. Your image of the tangled skein felt especially right to me: that's like all the essential conflict of a good character-driven story, summed up in one line. I adore it.

Lillypet - Awww. I feel loved. ^_^ And yes, I'd heartily recommend you try this exercise! In my case it's done wonders for my understanding of even the creepiest villains (though I haven't got any wizards, so I can't speak there).

RachelDear - You're too sweet, you are. I've been behind on reading posts as well as writing them for a while -- so I'm looking forward to catching up with yours! I shall definitely try to post more steadily in future. :D

Mirriam-of-Rohan - Oh, goodness, you didn't freak me out. I know you from Tumblr as well as here, so of course I don't mind you calling me one of my favourite names. (And thank you much!)

Sparrow said...

...And after all my toiling, striving months of trying to convince my browser that leaving a comment on your posts won't make it die a dreadful, wretched death (as it seems to fear, not letting me do so, and all of that), it seems to have finally decided to believe me...

I often wonder what my life would be like without Christ. Yes, there is the thought of our End, which has a way about it of catching us in our unsuspecting manner and killing everything else into shivering silence for a time. But I don't mean the End, though I think of that often enough. I mean the life without Christ, the wanderings of my soul and mind and body in the suspended time between my first and last earthly breaths. Perhaps this is why your scribblings have resonated with me; because there is always a Reason, if only it be a tangled view of love driven by Fallenness, a sense of goodness warped by foul experience, or something far more complicated, that a person or character must bear the title of villain, of being wretched. When truly, it is the shame we all deserve to bear, save for - glory be, saved by! - the blood of Christ.

It's good to hear your scribblings resounding again. ^.^ I am resolved that once eight-week school is over (awail! awhost!), I shall sit down and have a letter-writing party to all of the people whom have lost sight of me through my mounds of books. But I hope that I might be able to keep better tabs on my Megan, and better words between us, now that I seem to have somehow undermined the terror that my computer feels at the sight of the comment page.

...Assuming, of course, that my browser doesn't keel over and kick the bucket when I click 'submit'. O.o

Megan Langham said...

My dearest of Dear Vons and Sparrows and Such! I have so horribly missed keeping up with you. And "there's a double meaning in that", because you always outpace me, as you have here. It's hard to know quite just what to say in response to your beautiful words -- except that they are beautiful, and true, and I am so glad you took the time to express them. Also I am glad that your browser overcame its unreasoning fear long enough to let you do so. ;P

I love you. ^_^

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