Tag Archives: story

Heroes, Villains, Anti-Heroes, and Sadsacks

Heroes and villains populate our fiction and our imaginations: Batman and the joker, cops and robbers, the Allies and the Nazis. Not every central character fits the standard hero or the standard villain, though; the anti-hero shows up too, with the BBC’s Sherlock or Yossarian from Catch-22.

Last weekend at Ravencon, I went to a panel called “writing believable villains” with T. Eric Bakutis, Tim Burke, Andy Beane, Kate Paulk and Gregory Smith. One of the panelists briefly summarized anti-heroes and villains: the anti-hero does the right thing for the wrong reason, and the villain does the wrong thing for the right reason.

That is, the anti-hero does things we would consider good, but not for altruistic reasons. Han Solo transports Luke and Obi-Wan from Tatooine because he is paid, not because he is trying to help them or take a stand against the Empire. Conversely, a satisfying villain does things we consider bad, but motivated by ethics or values of his own. Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest does horrible things, motivated by her belief in order and conformity. The villain in the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, is motivated by his obsession with M.

We often disagree with the villain’s ethics, but they are present, and can make them even more dangerous. Hitler wasn’t so damaging because he wanted to kill millions of people; he was dangerous because the mythos he used to support that goal drew others in.

Clearly, then, the hero is a character who does the right things for the right reasons, like Luke Skywalker or Superman or Frodo. The boundaries between each character type is complex, and these categories are more food for discussion than iron-clad designations. One story’s hero is another’s villain.

Still, I thought that the anti-hero/villain comparison above invited a fourth category: the sadsack. The sadsack does the wrong things for the wrong reasons. We are emotionally compelled to root against the sadsack, and feel a sense of satisfaction when they fail or face justice. A lot of newer characters fall in this mold for me: basically every character from “It’s always sunny in Philadelphia”, Lester Nygaard in the new “Fargo” TV series, as well as the main character in “Being John Malkovich.”

What do you think? What are some other examples of good villains, anti-heroes, and sadsacks?

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March Reading Review

Below is a list of my favorite science fiction short fiction in the last month (you can find my review for last month here). I like to read them and give myself a little time to think about them. If you still remember and like a story weeks later, it was a good story.

Happy reading on this snowy Monday!

February Reading Review

Every day, new, wonderful works of fiction are published, more than most could ever read. Lately, I’ve tried to read a couple of science fiction or fantasy stories each day. It’s a good way to learn about the magazines, and the state of the genre today. It’s also a way to read some great fiction. In this post, and in the ones like it in following months, I’ll list some of my favorites.

Short fiction:

Longer stuff:

  • Beyond the Glass Slipper: Ten Neglected Fairy Tales to Fall in Love with by Kate Wolford (2012): In this book, Kate Wolford, editor of the fairy tale magazine Enchanted Conversation and teacher of fairy tales at Indiana Southbend, presents ten unusual fairy tales. All are historical, but told less commonly. She offers commentary and discussion about each. I bought this on a whim rather than a purpose, but I absolutely loved it. Her discussions pointed out things I hadn’t considered about fairy tales, and gave me a whole new angle on them. I found it both fascinating and very inspiring.
  • Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer (2013): I am still working my way through this book, but thus far I am very pleased with it. This is a guide to writing that actually inspires while you read; I find myself jotting down notes about things to try or aspects of old things to revisit. Often, I find myself feeling somewhat self-conscious and discouraged, no matter how kind the tone of a writing book, so I really found it noteworthy. It is packed with quirky or even absurd illustrations, and lots of visually based diagrams. It is also not only by VanderMeer, who has taught at Clarion workshop, but features essays by writers both super famous (Ursula Le Guin and Neil Gaiman, for two) and unfamiliar to me. I have read 3.5 chapters of 7, so I will have to report as to my final reaction, but so far, so good.