Character alignment

Another great podcast is Imaginary Worlds, a show about "how we create them and why we suspend our disbelief." Even though I'm not a sci fi/ fantasy nut, I'm  hooked on this show. Mainly because it gets at what I am interested in: story telling and fiction-making.

The most recent episode, on the topic of character, is especially instructive. Good versus evil and all the shades (six, to be exact) in between.

The Three Types of Evil

  1. Evil but law-abiding: a character like Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter books whose uses rules as a way to enact her cruelty but would never act outside of the law. Remember: Umbridge was never a Death Eater. But maybe only because that was "illegal."
  2. Evil but neutral about the law: a character like Voldemort who cares nothing for laws and institutions and definitely does not mind killing even loyal followers when they cease to be of use.
  3. Chaotic Evil: an anarchist villain whose only motivation is upheaval. The Joker!

It's a valuable exercise to think about character in this more in-depth way. Beyond morality, how do your imaginary friends interact with the law? Kirk and Spock are both good but one is law-abiding and the other will happily bend the rules. And that difference is where the conflict in their relationship lies, it's what makes the dynamic between them rich. Or consider Marvel heroine Jessica Jones who is actually good but wants so desperately to be neutral, a lone wolf. The conflict in the show then becomes Jessica Jones versus herself. Of course there's also a dastardly villain but this internal battle of woman vs. herself is the true emotional heart of the story.

Go listen to Imaginary Worlds to hear about the rest. The episode is called "Why they fight" and it runs 23 minutes.