ok... first off, let me say that i hate stories that are good vs. evil. good almost always wins and knowing that, i never feel that the main character is in jeopardy of losing. i never felt frodo wasn't going to make it to mount doom.
having said that, i am not going to have a clear good vs evil in my story. i'm thinking of 3 main factions that center around religion. there are the unbelievers, the fanatical believers, and then..... some time into the book, God gives his true believers "magic".
now, not wanting to deal with good vs evil (aka God vs Satan), i'm not going to have a evil counterpart to God. but that creates a problem. i can't come up with reasoning for the fanatics to.... ah.... be so fanatical. maybe they hate the magic users because they think of them as blasphemers or something, but what about the unbelievers?
as a side note, i'm also planning racial issues between human, elf, giant, etc. not that any are inherantly evil like in LOTR, but some people don't trust/like people of other races. perhaps that can be added to your brain storming.
There's a difference between what's true and what people believe. Just because it's true in your world that there's only "God" but no evil counterpart to God doesn't mean that the people of your world will believe it. Different races and different cultures will have their own beliefs and religions. They may not believe in "God" but in many gods. Or they may believe in a god that doesn't exist and believe that the "God" who does exist is the evil counterpart to the god in which they believe. If you think along these lines, you could probably thing of a 1000 reasons why the magic users are hated.
I personally think you can't have good without evil. That would be like having Light without darkness. Without evil Good isn't defineable. If you want to write a story without the good vs evil then don't even talk about God. (of course you can have people doing evil things without having a devil, it's just harder.)
Posts: 1895 | Registered: Mar 2004
I'm not going to go into any detail here cause I don't wish to divulge how I'm approaching this issue in my own writing
But I will submit to you some cultures don't believe in Good or Evil. The Tao discusses the difference between What Is and What Is Not... Neither the philosophies of Taoism or Buddhism see things as good or bad, they see things as neutral, and our attachment/response to it causes our suffering or our release from suffering.
Evil is a relative term. Readers are going to project their own ideals onto a story, regardless of what the author intends. The characters in the story should be no different. Some see evil, some don't. Posts: 270 | Registered: Jan 2005
quote:That would be like having Light without darkness.
And there is no reason why there cannot be light without darkness.
Light is something (energy, wave, paricle, whatever you want to call it.) Darkness, on the other hand, is the absence of light. Defining darkness requires the concept of light, while defining light does not require the concept of darkness.
Here's an e-rumour that has been going around the internet. Maybe this could inspire your God vs Evil dilema in someway:
This has a thought provoking message no matter how you believe. Does evil exist?
The university professor challenged his students with this question. Did God create everything that exists? A student bravely replied yes, he did!" "God created everything?" The professor asked. "Yes, sir," the student replied.
The professor answered, "If God created everything, then God created evil since evil exists, and according to the principal that our works define who we are then God is evil." The student became quiet before such an answer.
The professor was quite pleased with himself and boasted to the students that he had proven once more that the Christian faith was a myth.
Another student raised his hand and said, "Can I ask you a question professor?" "Of course", replied the professor. The student stood up and asked, "Professor, does cold exist?"
"What kind of question is this? Of course it exists. Have you never been cold?" The students snickered at the young man's question.
The young man replied, "In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold is in reality the absence of heat. Everybody and every object is susceptible to study when it has or transmits energy, and heat is what makes a body or matter have or transmit energy. Absolute zero (- 460 degrees F) is the total absence of heat; all matter becomes inert and incapable of reaction at that temperature. Cold does not exist. We have created this word to describe how we feel if we have too little heat.
The student continued. "Professor, does darkness exist?"
The professor responded, "Of course it does".
The student replied, "Once again you are wrong sir, darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in reality the absence of light. Light we can study, but not darkness. In fact we can use Newton's prism to break white light into many colors and study the various wavelengths of each color. You cannot measure darkness. A simple ray of light can break into a world of darkness and illuminate it. How can you know how dark a certain space is? You measure the amount of light present. Isn't this correct? Darkness is a term used by man to describe what happens when there is no light present."
Finally the young man asked the professor. "Sir, does evil exist?"
Now uncertain, the professor responded, "Of course as I have already said. We see it every day. It is in the daily example of man's inhumanity to man. It is in the multitude of crime and violence everywhere in the world. "These manifestations are nothing else but evil."
To this the student replied, "Evil does not exist sir, or at least it does not exist unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God. It is just like darkness and cold, a word that man has created to describe the absence of God. God did not create evil. Evil is not like faith, or love, that exist just as does light and heat. Evil is the result of what happens when man does not have God's love present in his heart. It's like the cold that comes when there is no heat or the darkness that comes when there is no light."
Well, you could have human evil without an evil god. Or you could check into just what the heck Hindu fundamentalism is -- Hinduism doesn't seem to have evil in it. Maybe Hindu fundamentalism is political in nature. Maybe your fanatics are too. Or it's economic. Or . . . if they really don't believe in evil, why NOT be fanatical? Why not put to death your opponents, if it's not evil to do so, and it gives you power? AFAIK the Maya didn't really believe in evil, but they were at war all the time, they tortured and sacrificed people, etc. I don't know that they were fanatical about it, but they sure were bloody.
But I think a cooler question is: what is it that interests you about having the fanatics fight the magic-users? Why is this cool? What grips you? And who might have that trait? What would someone like that be like, how would he behave in the rest of his life, etc.
[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited May 20, 2005).]
Well, I don't understand why nobody has commented on this, maybe you all know something I'm being a bit obtuse about here, but...
Stoney doesn't like the typical good vs. evil thing, since good always wins.
So the proposed solution here is to eliminate evil and have this god give his faithful magical powers.
So...am I missing something here?
I mean, sure, this is fresh and new compared to the old trick of avoiding good and evil conflict by having evil vs. evil or one human/whatever level "good" pitted against another human/whatever "good".
But how does this novel solution address the problem of good not having any real chance of losing? Am I missing something here?
well, survivor.....my take on it is this. in LOTR, if you could have seen events from sauron's side from the begining, and viewed both side in an unbias way, then there would be no true good vs evil. you, the reader could choose the one you wanted to side with, or simply read to find out who will win. but that is only a two sided fight. mine will be 3 or more, i have yet to figure that out.
Posts: 10 | Registered: Dec 2004
Okay...that didn't really answer my question.
By the way, I seriously thought a lot of times that Frodo was going to die and Sam (or somebody) would end up having to take the Ring the rest of the way. I even wondered if any of the original company would survive. And you'll remember, Frodo doesn't cast the Ring into the fires of Orodruin, in either the book or any of the many movie versions. And I have a hard time buying that it could really have been written from Sauron's side...something makes me think that readers would tend to want the orks and Nazgul and all them to loose no matter how you told the story.
Anyway, back to the subject. I got that you're increasing the number of sides. But now one side is unambiguously backed by a fully interventionalist god, and none of the other sides have this particular advantage. So how does this make it seem that "good" might win?
Or is the god that gives out the powers an evil god opposed to goodness generally? From what you've been saying, that doesn't seem to be the case, but...what you do seem to be saying doesn't make any sense to me.
Isaiah hinted at what I want to say. Everything is relative. That includes evil. People who do bad things can justify it a billion different ways and never consider that what they are doing might be bad. To them, it's a means to an end; necessary to acheive their goal, whether misguided or not.
And every story should have some sort of conflict. An "us vs. them" would suffice (or even an "us vs. them and everyone else, too"). No side is evil -- each side as a belief system and are acting based on their beliefs. Bad things are done by all sides, justified by their belief system.
Let's take the Protestant vs. Catholics in Ireland for example. Both believe in the same God, yet neither agree on the methodology of worship. They split a long time ago and still they don't get along. But which side is evil? Neither side is.
Further to the story idea outline above, I don't think you need to even give God an active role. Your story will work without it. Some people have magic because they simply do. Those magic user believe God gave it to them. Whether God did or didn't is irrelevant. It's the belief that matters. Only the belief.
Fanaticism will exist in each group. Setting aside one particular group as fanatics clearly shows author bias. Avoid it. Make each group have good and bad people in it, just like it is in real life.
Unbelievers come in all shapes and sizes. Some might have turned away from their prior beleifs; others may have never learned any theology for whateve reason, and so on. Jealousy exists within all groups. Surely, there is jealousy within the magic user group because some dude can do a super-spell and someone else can't. But, with unbelievers, it's more likely that the fanatics in that group will cause the fanantics in the other groups to hate ALL unbelievers, and vice versa.
Then you get a split within groups and no one gets along.
That's more realistic. If it were my story, I would pick 3 characters, one from each group, and have them work together to solve the problem(s). Stop worrying about that good vs. evil thing -- waste of time. Write a good story and we'll read it. Write a polemic or something contrived, and we will put it down. We want characters we can care about put in situations that are difficult, dangerous, seemingly unsolvable. We want to see them work hard to acheive their goal.
Few people in the world really see everything as Good vs. Evil. We're smarter than that. We realize that people make poor decisions. Good people can be every bit as "evil" as bad people.
It is all relative. Period.
[This message has been edited by HSO (edited May 22, 2005).]
I can think of a story like what you might get if LotR was written from Sauron's side: The Screwtape Letters. POV character is a devil advising another on how to ensnare a human, damn him, so they can then torture him forever. We very definitely want him to lose.
Posts: 2830 | Registered: Dec 2004
I think exploring why the fanatics hate the magic-users would provide some interesting psychological/sociological/philosphical/theological depth to your story. Is the conflict driven by the obvious, stated motive (e.g. difference in theology), or is it really rooted in hidden motives, such as competition for shared resources (e.g. arable land), past histories (e.g. tribal feuds), etc. In the real world, religion may be the guise under which wars, atrocities are committed -- but many times, I think, the offending parties will have fought even if they shared the same beliefs.
In regards to the topic of showing things from the perspective of the "bad guy," Gordon R. Dickson does, I think, a great job of that with YOUNG BLEYS in his Childe Cycle books. It makes it really hard to dislike this bad guy come the FINAL ENCYCLOPEDIA and is an interesting reading experience.
i like hso's comment on the protestant vs catholic example. no side is evil when looked at from a neutral vantage point. that fits very well into the idea that i have. now if i wrote a book from just one side of the story, it would inherently make the other side "evil". i don't like that. i'd feel pretty good betting my life savings that "good" will win. so i want to write a neutral story..... sort of a world history.
and i've had a sort of vision. draw a 5-pointed star. each point that is connected by a line are allies and all unconnected points are rivals. throughout the story, points rivals become allies and allies become rivals.
Well, that's a bit odd from a geometric point of view but it makes perfect sense as a strategic alliance map under certain philosophical systems. Namely, the idea that those entities with which you share a "border" of some kind tend to be competitors, and thus you should make alliances with those who share borders with your competitors but not with you.
Making it five sided is funny two, since it means that the two people you're trying to ally yourself with are always competitors with each other. That tends to prevent a stable situation from forming.
Of course, eventually someone has to realize that simply making a common border with one neighbor and not contesting it gives both of them an enormous advantage against everyone else.
But none of this speaks to how putting an interventionalist god into the mix helps you tell your story.
quote:now if i wrote a book from just one side of the story, it would inherently make the other side "evil". i don't like that. i'd feel pretty good betting my life savings that "good" will win. so i want to write a neutral story..... sort of a world history.
Well, I do think you should write your story from both sides. And each side should be given clear motivation for their actions. But if you make it too neutral, you risk your readers not caring about any side. Your readers are going to want to identify with someone, to root for someone. If you don't give them that opportunity, they may put your story down if they can't determine which side to root for.
Now, they may automatically choose a side based on their own biases. But as an author, I feel it is your job to nudge them in the right direction. And if no side "wins" or if nothing changes, then what's the point of the story? Many might find a history lesson rather dull, no matter how clever the scenario.
I'll say it again. Pick some characters to follow, give them clear goals and problems to resolve, and we'll happily follow along. You can still write each side's POV. In fact, I strongly encourage it. But just know that your readers are going to expect someone to prevail in this saga, and 95% of the time, they will choose a side that is the most good or noble. To get around that, then you have to put good people on every side, all of them possibly working towards a common or similar goal, say "peace" for instance. Then, your reader will identify with ALL of the groups, and no side is clearly evil or good. Your reader will naturally want Peace to prevail in your world. And they'll believe in those characters that are trying to acheive that, and those that aren't they will consider the "bad guys".
It's just human nature, in my opinion. There's a reason why so many stories are Good vs. Evil. Deep down, most of us want to root for someone, for them to overcome and win the day. It's not cheapening your story to write something like that. Rather, you could possibly risk far more integrity trying to NOT write something like that on purpose.
In summary, write a story that will draw in your readers by engaging their basic and natural emotions. Avoid the Quentin Taratino method of storytelling whenever possible.
An interesting thing to do, if you're writing from multiple perspectives: shade the wins and losses. If one group wins the whole ideological war, or whatever you're doing, make sure they also pay a price (either on a personal or national level). For the groups that lose, maybe stick in a little triumph, over some aspect of the situation.
If you do this, though, I'd recommend that you don't make it as evenhanded as it sounded when I described it. That's a personal preference, though.
StoneyG: "I am not going to have a clear good vs evil in my story."
I personally write like that all the time, not making good and evil clearly defined... because if you think about it, it's unrealistic otherwise... in comics we have people calling themselves Dr. Doom, and Evil Lynn and what ever, but in reality, nobody ever really calls themselves "evil"... like when OSC explored a little bit with Achilles, when he put the POV in his view, Achilles believed that was he was doing was what should be done for the good of the world. Everyone thinks that Hitler was very clearly evil... of'course, Hitler didn't... and most of the people who followed him didn't. Good and evil are completely in accordance with perspective... what may be good to you can be evil to someone else, and vise versa...
[This message has been edited by RavenStarr (edited May 24, 2005).]
StoneyG: good is in the eyes of the reader.
Every character can think of himself as good, but if you portray a character in a way that your audience (21st century American, perhaps?) considers good then you are all set. You don't need to call anyone evil, if the reader wants to think of one of the people opposing your "good" character as evil then the reader will do so with no prompting from you.
Selfishness is generally held to be evil. I mean, when it comes right down to it I merely think Satan is the most selfish being in the universe whereas God is the most loving. Satan and his followers are those who don't grasp that "Love isn't love until you give it away" (envision happy teen choir using sign language while singing). Heh heh heh.
So, yeah, the fanatical types are mostly kind of narcissistic and not properly focused on the Love. But there is the problem that folks see anyone more commited than themselves to be fanatical. P.S. But I guess anyone who is comparing their own religiosity to another, from above or below, is engaging in pride. In Christianity for instance the only measure is Jesus and any true believer realizes they fall short. Being less falling-short than someone else is pretty pointless.
P.P.S. I'm not really sure how this applies with Dune. Am I wrong in thinking any speculative fiction with religion as a major theme has to reckon with Dune? The thing about Dune (and at this point I give up on proper italicization) is that Herbert lifted the legitimate feeling of the religion by having Islamic words arranged in Zen sayings. But the actual religion had to do with the hand wavium element of prescience from the spice. One has to wonder if a Muslim would find Dune as interesting as a westerner does.
P.P.P.S. And of course Dune had the Bene Gesserit, which combined some Latinate/Catholic sounding stuff with what might be called, if you can dissociate it from the unfortunate movie, "practical magic". But the union of spells with the language of religion and power especially by females (those disenfranchised by religion) is a familiar one in western culture.
Anyway, I think if you want an interesting look at a religious view without Satan you could read the original volume of "Alcoholics Anonymous". I think it talks about Satan figuratively at times. A more literal approach to Satan may be found in the alternative to AA in "Rational Recovery" which replaces reliance on a higher power with confronting the voices in the addict's head.
[This message has been edited by franc li (edited May 29, 2005).]
Recall the communication problem in Speaker for the Dead? This would seem to be a good example of a major conflict based not on good and evil so much as misinterpretation of biological necessity as a religious belief system.
In this story IIRC the basic emotions driving the conflict were fear on the one side and total obliviousness on the other.
I understand StoneyG's dislike of the traditional good vs evil format. I have several fantasy authors I finally quit reading because their evil guys are sooooo bad and evil, and their good guys are soooo noble and flawless. Mercedes Lackey comes to mind, as does Anne MacCaffery.
I LIKE that gray area, when good and evil are influenced by a sense of ethic and random decisions. The analogy of Hitler is a good one. Hitler felt he was doing God's work and purifying the race. The rest of us don't use the same criteria as he did. I firmly believe the good guys in any story should have flaws and the bad guys should have intentions of bringing some sort of twisted order to their world. Stories are so much more entertaining if you have to grapple with the nuance of motive.
This trinity of unbelievers, fanatics and true believers has been done throughout history, so your dilemna does not exist except to choose the role of "God", magic and belief. Christian advocates influenced against sorcerors, augerers, healers, alchemists, oracles, priests of the pantheons, many of whom were merely practicioners of early technologies and utilizers of unfettered, undeciphered physical forces. True believers might be the sort of natural philosophers that Allow, rather than interpret and bespeak. Non believers probably believe in something. Like peasants, it might just be in the mechanics of survival. Tomorrow I will dig or plant a potato, whichever is called for, then again. Because I've seen it work. I fish for shellfish when Cancer is high, because they are there then. I've seen it happen. I expect it and I see it, but if it doesn't happen, I don't believe it. Fanatics are in competition with God. They believe that they have enough dogma or doctrine to "take it from here" or that their role is one of "front man" that God requires of them in order to receive beneficence of some kind. They are drawing from a stingy well and trying to maximize their yield. Of course they would hate a "true believer" who did not abase himself and received the wisdom of the workings of magic without rabid professions and strict proscriptions.
Posts: 9 | Registered: May 2005