how to have sympathetic “monsters” and “bad guys”

Goblins, harpies, trolls, orcs, giants, dragons, ogres, ghouls… they generally fall under the “monster” or “bad guy” category in fiction.  Trolls in fairy tales hide under bridges and eat people. Ogres are gross and well, yeah they eat people too.  Orcs and goblins… they’ve a long history of being vicious, evil, killers who yes, often eat people, but more often just flay them alive, etc etc etc.  As you may have guessed, I don’t like following the grain all the time.  So I like to occasionally sit back and try to do it differently than generic fantasy says I should. 

I’m not the only one, certainly.  There are a very few authors today who’ve decided to try looking at what these guys might actually be like.  Jim C Hines’ goblin trilogy is my favorite example of it; he writes with humor and interest about goblins, noting their personalities, who they could be other than just machine-loving, man-hating lunatics (no offense to Professor Tolkien).  World of Warcraft has also done a fair job of it, and this is one of the things I truly love about that game:  it presents both sides of the story, it allows people to play trolls, orcs, goblins, even undead people.  And on the RolePlay realms, folks get truly creative with this, making bandit groups, Undercity Patrols, and so on.   If you played an MMO, and had to characterize a “bad guy”, what would you do with it?

Now, there are some “monsters” that are presented in a more ambivalent way.  Dragons, for instance, have a long history of being BOTH good and bad.  Chinese mythology has shown both sides of them, while European mythos tends to go with the “monsters that must be killed” logic.  Anne McCaffrey and dozens of other writers have tried to show dragons as friendly, loving creatures; I myself tend to show both sides of them.  Which do you prefer?  If you think of dragons, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?  And yes, Blizzard, I know you show both too…

In my working on a Kritter platform for DNDOG, these past few years, I decided I was going to show a bit of this.  Kritter goblins and harpies are fleshed-out in my mind, not just “monsters”, so I thought I’d put that in with the humans, dwarves, elves and so on.  It’s partly pride, yeah, but it’s also ME.  This is who I am as a writer; I like to see all sides of a story.

How about you?

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2 Responses to how to have sympathetic “monsters” and “bad guys”

  1. J A,
    I am finally getting around to reading some of your blog. I love getting insight into an author’s mind. So glad we met on WANATribe. Thanks for following. Also, I’m nominating you for the Sunshine Award.

ooh, messages from aliens!

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