by L. M. Warren

One of my aspirations as an experimental writer is to do away with simplistic labels like Good and Evil.

I don’t believe in heroes or villains. I don’t write about heroes. I write about anti-heroes.

I don’t write about villains. I write about antagonists. The ones who stand in the way of the anti-hero accomplishing their goals.

Sometimes I say in my interviews that I don’t “like” heroes or likable characters when I read. True…but that’s not to imply that I never actually write them!

I do. At least according to the loose definition of “likable.”

But “likable” is a nothing word like Hero or Normal.

I think to an extent readers do desire characters that are likable at least in the sense that readers can:

(A) Understand how the character feels by pathos
(B) Notice characteristics of this person that seem familiar
(C) Admire the character for their unique (and possibly latent) abilities that are “beyond average”
(D) Admire the character for an unusual but entertaining perspective
(D) Appreciate the situation the character is in and the opportunity to live vicariously through this character
And here’s the challenge…
(E) Adore the character for having good intentions.

This is a challenge for a writer because altruistic “heroes” are so outside the bounds of reality, they’re cartoons. They’re caricatures. It’s a stereotype, just like the buxom blond or the studly gym rat.

It’s much easier to write a villain that has good intentions but a flawed plan of action, (vs. a familiar hero archetype) than it is to explore a realistic anti-hero who has the capacity for both Good and Evil.

When I write, I don’t intentionally choose deviants, criminals and monsters to focus on. That’s boring. The True Crime genre has enough of that.
The goal of literature should be to find the heroism and the villainy in more realistic and true to life characters. Heroes and villains are in all of us…but no one is capable of being either one for their entire lives.

Propaganda taught us that some people are good and some people are evil. Nature gave us the desire to find fault with each other – the thirst for war, vengeance and separatism.

Conflict in literature comes from the clash of ideologies, misunderstandings, and a failure to communicate and compromise.

Along those lines, I’ve decided to create a D & D Alignment Chart for my satire quadrilogy, The End of the Magical Kingdom.

Rather than create stubbornly absurd labels like Good and Evil, I’ve decided to use other popular and judgmental colloquialisms to better pinpoint the character’s personalities.

Behold the Alpha Nerd

Rather than Good, Hero, or Princess, I opted for “Nerd”. Nerd has historically symbolized someone who thinks against the grain, doesn’t fit it in (nor tries to), and excels in a particular field to the point of being an expert. Nerds outrank Geeks because Geeks are socially inept but still lack the patience to learn as much as a Nerd. Nerds are the true alphas of the socially stunted.

Valiant, Mary and Jerry represent the gamut of benign personalities, each one uncompromising to the point of alienating others, and yet all three beautiful in what they stand for.

The Rise of the Asshole

Rather than Evil, Villain or Bad Guy, I opted for a more universally accepted term: The Asshole. The asshole eschews traditional labels because they are admittedly self-centered and anti-social compared to more polite and respectful characters who are easier to get to know. But the Asshole is not necessarily evil, nor do they think of themselves as mean or even an unlikable person. They are simply less tolerant of what they perceive as annoying people. WE, the observers, are the ones who give them the moniker we feel they deserve.

Blossom, Rita and Katrina represented Assholes in different stages of life: the Idealist, the Cynic and the Corruptor.

Prepare to Judge the Slacker

I used the term Slacker to replace Neutral because in theory Slacker characters COULD have accomplished something admirable and become a savior or at least a friend to the protagonist. However, in the end, they didn’t quite reach as far as we thought they might. Or perhaps they didn’t try hard enough. Maybe they would have won their contest if they had a better plan. They failed to help the protagonist, not necessarily because they didn’t act, but because they made a questionable choice that resulted in bringing about no change, just the status quo.

Perhaps characters like Galileo and Gemini were self-sabotaging, more than misguided. They knew what they wanted to accomplish but fell to their own demons. As for Randian, the motivations of some slackers will always remain a mystery.

Be Nice to the Jackass

The Jackass character is neither a true Asshole or an admirable Nerd. The Jackass simply screws up, understands more or less why they screwed up, and continues to screw up all the more so. The Jackass is easy to root for, easy to admire because of good intentions…but then makes such dunderheaded decisions, they inevitably bring harm to themselves, harm to their friends, and pretty much harm and suffering to everyone they know. The Jackass is not necessarily irredeemable. However, waiting on them to grow up and become anything resembling a Hero or a logical thinker might be an exercise in futility.

Aaron, Elena and Tom wrestled with their moral compass, to the point where they seemed capable of making humanitarian decisions. In the end, their egos and the darker aspects of humanity overwhelmed their desire to be make people happy.

Tolerate the Weirdo

Finally, we have an entirely different class for characters who are proactive, somewhat admirable, and have good intentions…but due to their esoteric, confusing or gonzo motivations, they never quite earn the trust of the reader. When they are given any responsibility, they disappoint. When they are told exactly what to do to achieve a simple goal, they rebel. Even though they can make moral and socially guided decisions, they are surprisingly impure when it counts…and not because of a lack of ability or understanding. They’re just weird!

Salem and Wendy both fell short of being stable and altruistically guided characters. Their respective personality disorders may have prevented them from achieving the “perfection” they sought in the world. Unfortunately, traumas from the past proved to be their primary motivators for the future. In the case of Bianca, the past, present and future were all so closely intertwined, it would be impossible for her to settle on such a vague descriptor as Good, Hero, Nerd or even Goddess.

In conclusion, labels tend to be as misleading as synopses, and as ambiguous as as the “moral of the story”, which is far better when it’s unclear.

I as an author can only aspire to be an Alpha Nerd someday, preferably one notch above Asshole and one notch below Lawful, since always following the rules tends to be a bore.

Check out The End of the Magical Kingdom’s “Writer’s Commentary” coming to YouTube, Facebook and WordPress this December.

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