When I read fairy tales, I wanted to be the dragon.
Even in the watered-down versions I read before I found the real stories, the knights and princesses seemed to be made of very thin cardboard and so remote that it was hard to care about their lives or dreams.
The dragons, at least, were understandable.
Plus, they could fly.
I’ve heard more than one interview with an author or the creator of a successful television or movie franchise where they remark in bewilderment that they have no idea why their consumers are so much more drawn to their villains than their heroes.
There are many reasons for this, starting and ending with what we like to write not necessarily being what people like to read.
I want to talk about dragons.
See, the thing is that most of those knights and princes and princesses were saying the lines that the story thought they should say rather than what a living, breathing person would actually say in the situations they faced.
Now dragons, dragons seldom spoke in those stories.
When they did speak, it was for important things: death, valuables, flying about terrorizing the countryside.
I didn’t have to agree with what the dragon wanted, but I could understand it. Their desires were clear and obvious, backed by their words and actions.
Now the rest of those characters…
While being a hypocritical muddle or a walking morality play is true to many real-life people and situations, it is a lot less fun to follow as a perspective.
Creating an ‘evil’ character allows room for charisma, for showy depth of characterization.
Creating a ‘good’ character seems to strait-jacket the ability of the character to find their own feet and voice beyond what the story needs them to say.
The thing is, many good characters are blind to the destruction they leave in their wake. The story needs them to get from Point A to Point B but very little time is spent on the price of that movement. We do not always consciously acknowledge this hypocrisy, but it often becomes hard for us to empathize with those who show little empathy themselves.
The evil characters at least have actions consistent with their perspectives.
When I read about princes bravely charging towards the dragon, their lances upraised, it was hard to forget the villages they had destroyed on their way to their destiny.
When I read about dragons, I thought about what the world looked like when you could fly so high that the petty concerns of everyone else faded into tiny pictures on the ground.
(Really, most problems could be solved by giving heroes more flying sequences.)
(Get on that.)
We like to look up. Be willing to help us look down.
I have many thoughts about the higher connection with villains than heroes. Here are a few of them.
I have a few ways I’ve tried to handle the normal hero/villain dichotomy. If you’d like to see my attempts, my fantasy novel, The Guests of Honor, is available here.