By Tim Pietz, a professional writing student at Taylor University.
Grey and edgy—that’s the way to write a real story. “Good” is a simplistic notion, a synonym for “weak and boring,” a malady of the Mary Sue. Or is it?
Let me pose a question: if Voldemort tried to take over the Dursleys’ neighborhood, would you care?
Really, would you? I doubt it.
Yet when Voldemort attacks Hogwarts, you care. J.K. Rowling rips your heart strings out one after another, and you can’t stand it! It’s intense, it’s vivid, it’s real.
Why are these two situations so different? Conquering a suburban British neighborhood with soul-sucking dementors and unforgivable curses is evil. Probably just as evil as conquering a wizarding school. But the threat falls flat. Why?
Because the Dursley’s neighborhood isn’t good.
Sure, the neighborhood isn’t bad, and there are some decent people in it, but it’s not the sort of place you’d dream of living in. It isn’t full of friends, adventures, laughter, and beauty. It’s not Hogwarts. It’s just a blasé neighborhood. If the entire world were like the Dursley’s neighborhood, Voldemort would be less of a villain.
At its essence, evil is the corruption or destruction of something good. Without good, there can be no evil.
Sauron isn’t feared because he lives in a volcanic wasteland and has armies of orcs and trolls and Nazgul. He’s feared because he can and will destroy everything we know and love about Middle Earth.
Imagine the trees of Lothlorien being cut down by trolls. Imagine orcs trampling the Shire and taking the hobbits as slaves. Imagine Fangorn and the last of the Ents being burned to the ground. Imagine Legolas staring blankly with an orc-shaft through his neck. Imagine Merry and Pippen’s blood-caked bodies lying on the field of battle. Imagine Gandalf frail and helpless before Sauron’s ringed hand. That is why we fear Sauron.
What about Narnia? Step inside the White Witch’s frozen courtyard. Walk between the silent rows of once-living things. Run your fingers down the icy stone of Mr. Tumnus’s anguished face. Don’t you fear her?
No matter how powerful, how intimidating, or how repulsive a villain is, he or she has no power over the reader unless the reader loves something in your story world. Maybe it’s a character. Maybe it’s a setting. Maybe it’s the adventure or comedy or beauty. But let me tell you: if your world has nothing worth loving, it has nothing worth hating and no story worth telling.
So, write about something good.