The Enemy Within

There is a place for everything and everything has a place. Given today is Monday Mayhem, I can attest that if nothing is in its place, there will be mayhem.

Star Wars' Darth Sidious
Star Wars’ Darth Sidious

In the past, I’ve written extensively about zombies, The Walking Dead, aliens, the end of the world and other flavors of destruction you might consider chaos for the choosing. I think one of the most interesting subjects is what would happen to this world if all social boundaries no longer existed. What I’m thinking has to do with human interactions. Although I’ve written about the subject in my book Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise, the matter keeps popping up. One can only cover so much in a book before the themes spill into other works, such as this post you’re now reading.

One of the themes I wanted to explore with the book, and related to this subject, pertains to the absolute corruption of the human soul. For example, when people turn into zombies, it is easy to see them as enemies—they see their food ahead, they smell it and they want to eat it.

However, when people are not zombies, and they try to kill the hero, that becomes a more fascinating story. I read somewhere that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. I don’t think that is too far from what I’ve learned when dealing with dark characters in my books. Again, I’ll bring up zombies. With zombies, you can see them coming. They are easy to spot. Humans, though, are tougher.

Edge of Tomorrow
Edge of Tomorrow

Of course, not everything is easy to understand. In the film, Edge of Tomorrow, the adversary is simple to find. They’re creatures bent on the destruction of humanity. They will not rest until every human is a grease spot.

The tougher challenger is the one you can’t see coming, or even worse, the one who at first is not an enemy at all. A great example of this is Darth Sidious of the Star Wars prequel trilogy. The term wolf in sheep’s clothing comes to mind when I’m thinking about this particular breed of maleficent.

All right, now you may be wondering what I’m talking about, since I’ve completely deviated from the subject matter. Or have I?

It is my opinion that the corruption of the human soul is the key to a good story. And as I said, it is one of the most fascinating aspects of writing. Not only does it provide a great deal of conflict for the reader, but the theme also provides a remarkable sense of accomplishment for the writer—if done right.

I’m wondering aloud. That’s all. I suppose I’m wondering about evil characters. Are they compelling enough to write a story centered only around them. Do we always need a hero?

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What do you think? Do we always need a hero in a story?

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14 thoughts on “The Enemy Within

  1. Some of my favourite stories are the ones without a hero. Which isn’t to say there’s no narrator or no protagonist for us to follow along with…just…nobody who we are rooting for or looking to for guidance.

    • Right. A few years ago I was watching a movie about wolves. It wasn’t a documentary, and it wasn’t narrated either. But the story presented such a wonderful perspective from the wolves’ point of view and their plight to survive that it was easy to forget there was no villain or hero for that matter for the audience to cheer.

  2. Good question. No, we don’t need heroes in stories, we need issues, themes, concepts, explored and experienced by real human beings. To divide them up into good and bad and then pitch them against one another is the 19th Century way of writing. Lazy, unimaginative.

    Complexity creates richness in a story. Moral ambiguity makes the reader think.

  3. Whenever I read I usually end up liking the hero but it is the villain that generally interests me the most. That corruption of the person, wondering how they got to that point, does make a very compelling story most of the time. Interesting post!

    • Me, too! There’s nothing like a story with a good villain. I’m thinking about the film Speed now. No matter how bad the villain is, he’s so good with how he presents his ideas.

  4. First, Darth Sidious looks like he’s made out of clay. I mean, I really just want to mush his face to erase his mouth or summon Batman to stop him. Was he like that in the prequels?

    Anyway, I do think there has to be some kind of protagonist in a story. This doesn’t necessarily mean a hero. Sort of. You can follow the villain who would become the protagonist and the hero would then be the antagonist. At least from the villain’s point of view and now the readers since he/she is who is being followed. Honestly, I think this is the key difference between the terms protagonist/antagonist and hero/villain in today’s world. One set focuses on the POV characters while the other denotes more of the characters’ morality from an outside perspective.

    I’ve been thinking about how people would act when society crumbles too. Not because of zombies though. I have that post-apocalyptic action comedy coming out soon, so I had to consider where I wanted humans to go. Strange that we always seem to make anyone who isn’t in the protagonist crew act like they were looking for a reason to drop their morality. Part of me wants to believe that more people would try to save others or help, but that might come after the initial rush. Look at what happens when a regime falls and, at least according to the media, you get a push of riots and anarchy. That has to settle down eventually unless everyone gets wiped out.

    • I think you’re right about that, Charles. It doesn’t matter if there is a hero in the story. As long as there is a protagonist, everything else in the plot will fall into place. I’m think about The Sopranos and how Tony sometimes is the most lovable guy, but then can be the most ruthless of all the characters.

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