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Thor665
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PostSubject: Writers Roundtable #1   Tue Jun 25 2013, 07:09

So…what is the Writer’s Roundtable?

Greetings and welcome to what will hopefully be a…I dunno, bi-monthly(?) project here in The Dark City. We have a lot of aspiring writers of fluff who are looking to get better, and we have a large pile of rather talented writers who, I suspect, are hoping to hone their craft and become better. I noticed that on the (rare) occasions I logged into the Chat Box that I often seemed to be drawn into discussions about writing and my ideas about it. Since I casually poke into the Chat Box only rarely due to (fear) not being really about live chat, I figured maybe I could come up with a way to translate those discussions into regular forum debates.

What I hope to do with these is not really teach generic writing advice (though, I dunno, maybe if we have demand in that regard we’ll give it a whirl) but instead to try to generate discussion *specifically* about writing Dark Eldar in the Warhammer 40k universe. My plan is to pick a topic, sort of expound on how I handle the situation, and then toss open the doors to the other writers here.

Do you do stuff differently? Tell us how.

Do you see an interesting extra tweak to give it? Then share.

Do you have a question about accomplishing something related to the topic? Ask.

Do you have a story that you wrote that is relevant to the discussion? Bring it up, describe the situation.

The main goal is to give us all a chance to chat about writing, Dark Eldar, and how we work our magic or what struggles we have with it. Make sense? Awesome, let’s see how this flies, Orville.


Writer’s Roundtable # 1

Get Ready to Root Write For the Bad Guys!

I’ve got a shocking concept that I am forced to share at this time.

The Dark Eldar…I’m pretty sure they’re not…well…y’know…the good guys.
I mean, sure, it’s a grimdark world our 40k, and in the grim darkness of the grimdark even the heroes tend to be a touch morally ambiguous. The Imperium, the arguable heroes of the setting, tend to be mass murdering, bigoted, genocidal, exploitive, religious fanatics. It generally goes downhill from there, with races whose primary goals are described as ‘likes killing things’ and ‘wants to consume the galaxy’ or even ‘would consume the galaxy but is afraid then there wouldn’t be things to kill’

That all said…the Dark Eldar…they’re kinda evil. I mean, even in the grand scope of the 40k-verse they’re sort of accredited as right proper bastards. Heck, they went ahead and put the term ‘Dark’ into their name…for *themselves*. That would be like if I decided to change my name to ‘Dark Thor’ legally…that would make for…awkward interactions on the street. Especially if I then announced that mass murder, torture, drugs, and sexual deviancy are the only things I’m about anymore.

I mean, sure, I could move to Amsterdam and everything would be swell, but… Wink
But, yes, seriously – the Dark Eldar…they’re BAD GUYS. Just straight up, leech vampire, murdering, spike wearing, bad guys.

And we lurv them.
And are going to write a story about them.
Starring them.
With them as the protagonists.

That makes things a little touch awkward with the readership though. Because, yeah, we as readers have chosen to read about Dark Eldar. That said, if I’m reading a book and someone starts murdering babies and wearing their skin as panties I’m not too likely to be fond of that character. Also, if that’s your ‘hero’ then what exactly do you do for the villain? Have him kill twice as many babies or something?

Welcome to ‘a character no one will like or care about’.

So…well…guess we can’t write a story about Dark Eldar then, huh? Of course not, we can, I’ve written what is functionally a novel about them, and I had heroes and villains and DE characters that people were rooting for. So the question is, how do I do that? Heck, how do *you* do that? I’m going to discuss my methods and what works for me. If this works for you, GREAT! If not, please share your own thoughts.

So, let’s consider;

No One Is The Villain of Their Own Story

I think this is the core concept you need to first come to an understanding of. Think about it, have you ever done anything bad? I mean, just flat out bad – have you? I know my answer is ‘no’. Now, that said, I see *other people* do ‘bad’ things all the time. Odd how that works, huh? Why is it I (and you, of course) never do anything ‘bad’ but other people out there do? What’s wrong with them?

Circumstances and perception of course. If you watch a documentary about something truly horrible (an immediate thought is ‘The Killing Fields’ a film about the Cambodian genocide wherein the filmmakers get together the victims/prisoners and the guards (some of who, for the record, see themselves also as victims). It is interesting because while some of the guards see themselves as victims, others see themselves as, at least, not guilty of anything. They just did…what was expected.

In someone’s story, those guards, they probably killed sons, daughters, spouses. They were bad, evil, THE VILLAINS!

In the guards’ stories they were trying to protect themselves or their families from also being killed. Some of them even agreed that it was a good thing to do. They were victims, or HEROES who were trying to save their country. Maybe they even saw themselves as both.

Ah…now, wait a moment, this is interesting. So…it’s possible that villainy is all a matter of perspective then, right? If the story is about a poor dog on the loose, a dogcatcher is the villain. If the story is about a brave dogcatcher trying to catch the disease laden feral mongrel on the loose, the dog is the villain. Dark Eldar are, to my mind, the same thing.

What makes them evil?
Drug use? Well…even in today’s society there is really more an issue of *certain* drugs being bad, others are good.
Wanton abandon? Okay, so they like sex, good food, and pleasure…oh the evil!
Murder? Every day humanity murders countless cows and chickens to feed themselves. It’s legit because they’re not considered by most to be of an equal level with humans.
Eldar…don’t see too many things as equal with them. Heck, by the sourcebooks there is actually a decent argument that they’re right, certainly their souls operate in a totally different way to humanity’s, and they laugh and love *more* than humans. The Mon’keigh are really just glorified cattle – cows that have learned to organize and shoot guns, but we still need their meat to survive.
Heck, think of them as carrots that have learned to shoot guns – we’re still gonna eat carrots, because carrots taste great and are healthy for us. Heck, we’d certainly create situations to deny carrots their guns and make them readily available for our consumption when we wish it, wouldn’t we?
Can’t leave a carrot with a gun, y’know.

So, at that stage you’re getting closer to how to have a DE be your protagonist, and more than that, a hero protagonist. It’s a matter of looking at it in the right way to justify in your own head why they do what they do. They live in a society where they need to ‘eat’ other sentient life…albeit sentient life that is drastically inferior to them in every way.

So Now Evil is Shades of Grey – How is Your Character Worth Reading?

So now we know that the DE see themselves as perfectly fine individuals. Now, comes the question, what do we do with that? It’s possible that we’ve already gone far enough for your needed purpose, but let’s say you actually want the character to be a hero in your story? I mean, yeah, you can *justify* them just stabbing everyone they meet immediately upon meeting them and explain how that’s okay, but that (generally) won’t convince your readership that this character is remotely an okay individual. So then we’re at an issue again, how do we present them as not only acting proper, but also still being Dark Eldar while being a hero? They need that little je’nes’se’quoi.

So, what makes a hero?

Well, first off recognize that, generally, as you write DE you are having to keep in mind that you’re still writing a somewhat despicable character, so you just have to paint them the right way, some of this is, as addressed, being subjective about their actions, and the other goal is to play up their good traits…however questionable they may be.

It’s important that you believe as much as your character does that they are ‘correct’ and present it as such. Allow me to make an example of some of my characters, now this example will probably spoil some things for the story in question, but I’m going to discuss Kyssindree and Obessa from ‘Trueborn’

May ruin ‘Trueborn’ if you read this before reading that story:
 

There are other things you can use to amp up this technique, and that’s to try to ‘soften’ the DE in question a bit. I certainly have a few characters that I use that, if you stop and think about it, are probably all about the murdering and the soul-sucking and everything else. But I just don’t dwell on that aspect of the characters – I want them to be the heroes so I downplay the bad stuff they probably do in their off time and don’t leave them many chances to burn down mon’keigh cities for a fun afternoon outing.

I will also usually play up their ‘good traits’. Even as bad as they are, DE are still capable of having traits that we, the reader, can find enjoyable. Does your character have a sense of honor? Is he brave? Is she clever, and always has a funny jest on her lips? All of those characters can be DE. A stern Incubi who will not break his contracts. A Kabalite Warrior who is always the first in the fray and won’t leave a squadmate behind unless it benefits him. A Hellion ganger with a wry smile and a wicked sense of humor. People can relate to those characters, they can find aspects of them that they even admire. At that point it becomes *much* easier for them to come along for the ride of ‘this is your hero, cheer them on’.


That Said…Your Hero is Still a Villain, They’re DE

That all said…

You’re still writing DE, so it’s important to include moments that show that they are still Dark Eldar and that they are still alien and different. The trick is to try to do so in a way that makes it less objectionable.

I am fond of a scene in ‘Trueborn’ where two of my characters (arguably the most ‘heoric’ of the story) are interrogating someone. During the course of the questioning one of them kills the man they’re interrogating (functionally an uncool moment, I mean, it was murder). The other character reacts negatively…but not because of the murder, rather simply because it was unexpected and not needed to happen. The first character offers back the logic of why the killing needed to happen.

These two have this debate very casually (and, actually, with a little bit of flirting) all while having just killed someone. When you stop and really think about…that’s kinda messed up. Neither of these two are the sort of person you ought to invite over for tea. That said, it was handled casually, almost off-handedly, and I injected humor into it. The humor was very pointedly chosen, because I used it to help distract and soften from what just happened.

You should do this for characters you want to look heroic. They’re still DE, they should still act like DE, but you should take pains to allow them to act like DE while not dwelling on it – if you keep it soft and on the edges of their actions, then the reader will be able to more easily hand-wave away the issues behind the actions, and hopefully leave themselves just sort of shrugging and saying’ well, they *are* DE after all…on to the next chapter!’

Another option is to kind of happily embrace the evil. This tends to work best for minor characters or characters in short stories, as it can be hard to keep going as a full length novel when there’s little nice about the character. That said, it can be interesting what you can force the reader to do for you. Take, for example, the movie ‘Psycho’ at the mid-point of that movie the ‘hero’ becomes Norman Bates…who is actually the villain of the piece as well. The audience is somewhat forced into accepting it simply because most of the other main characters are dead, and Norman is all you’re left with.

Far be it for me to compare myself with Hitchcock, but it’s possible to do this in writing a story about DE as well. In my story ‘Kisses Sweeter Than Poison’ the main character is a Dark Eldar hoping to become a graduating Lhamaean. She is not a nice person, and it shows. She’s superior, condescending, paranoid (though, admittedly, these are probably good things for a prospective Lhamaean to have…) That said, what choice does the readership have? This is the only character they really have, so, by extension, they’re obligated to root for her.

Like I said, that can be very effective, but it can work in short spurts. So, yes, one of my bits of advice on how to write good DE is to just be nasty and run with it and hope the audience runs with you Wink

A Villain’s Villain – Your Main Character is Evil, Now, How Evil is the Villain?

That all said…they aren’t going to run with you too long if you don’t at least give them a villain. A real villain, someone for this undoubtedly villainous character who is their protagonist to work against. But what can you do about that? How do you make a villain or a character who is, at heart, a blackguard in their own right?

There are a couple of techniques I use, and I think they work well.

What you need to do is set up the basic protagonist/antagonist situation. The ‘hero’ DE needs to want to accomplish something and the ‘villain’ needs to want something in opposition with that.

A very, very easy way is to set up a story about revenge. If one DE killed another DE’s family, then the DE with the dead family would likely want the other DE quite dead in revenge. Now, that can work nicely, the readers are likely to be able to get behind the idea of revenge in this manner, and if you give the killer DE a few nastier moves and motives about his killing, well, you’re well on your way to a real villain.

Another idea is give them a foe who is unquestionably evil – like Slaanesh. No DE worth his salt would want something Slaanesh is working towards to go easily, and no one questions that literal daemons from Hell are basically a bad sort of folk – so, this also can work, it’s unquestionably evil versus potentially misunderstood evil. Or bring in something like the Necrons, or the Nids. Both are excellent foils for the Dark Eldar because the Dark Eldar, while evil, are also full of life, whereas both of those races are a kind of unfeeling, clinical, and cold evil. This puts all the human like’ traits on one side of the equation…guess which side the readers will root for? Again, you set up your main characters as the heroes by default, because the alternative is blatantly worse.

A third option, and what I mostly did in ‘Trueborn’ is to simply work the underdog angle. Humans as a matter of habit tend to root for underdogs – we don’t know why, it’s just in our nature. So, when I craft a story of a band of desperate Hellion gangers attempting to bring down a powerful Kabal? Well…clearly one side is the side to cheer for, right? The small guys – because they have it tougher! It’s a surprisingly simple and elegant solution and works very well.

Also, always keep in mind the softening I discussed earlier. While you soften your heroes bad actions, make sure the villains in your story are painted in sharp contrast. Allow their bad actions to seem more petty, cruel, or childish. People will react to that. Yes, at the core it’s all just a shade of gray degrees, but you want to emphasize those shades, really rub them in people’s faces, so that they can see for themselves why it would be better for one side of the conflict to triumph over the other side.




Conclusions

So that really sums up my methods.

I try to keep all my DE a touch evil.
But I soften the ‘good guy’ side a bit.
I emphasize their admirable traits.
I want to make them likable, or at least force the reader to accept them as ‘not as bad’ as alternatives.

Conversely I play up the villain side.
I can happily wallow in their dark acts, and point out how vile they are.
Or I can manage to produce a bad guy that is so blatantly evil it is beyond conventional mortal evil.

That’s how I write the bad guys and still have ‘heroes’ in my stories.
How do you do it?

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Tue Jun 25 2013, 12:35

Oh boy that took some time and effort to read. Surprised

Big fan of Trueborn here, and I had noticed at least some of these methods earlier.
All from the perspective, the evil guy can be good, or at least better than that other guy.
In "The Dooms Hidden", I write about the view of multiple people, and well... for some of them I dont try to make them look nice, I want them to look like they are evil, even though I may consider them good. Mixed feelings will make it more difficult for me to kill that person in the story even though I have considered it!
I often feel influenced by the "GRRM"-way. Only a handful of people are clearly villains, everyone has reasons not to like every person, and of those you do like, there is no guarantee that they will live till the end. (A song of Ice and Fire, also known as Game of Thrones...)

If I have to use an example, here is the "Marquis" (from the previously mentioned Dooms Hidden):
Very clearly crazy, but he is also powerful and rich, and some people love him, others hate him, and most try to please him in every way to avoid his anger.
He also has some mysterious traits, and he is clearly something not quite what it seems.
He has donated money for poor arenas so they could host reaver-shows. So he is also, kind of, good?
I dont know how many would like this character and how many just simply keep him as an evil villain that will likely cause trouble to the main chars of the story.

Sometimes I think of using the way of making a helpless character, who just doesn't get anything right and who just isn't good at anything (not good at fighting, for example, not "good-good").
I know lots of stories where the main protagonist doesn't really know anything and is not smart or strong or brave or anything, but she/he is just that "hero-stuff" that causes the whole story's epicness.
As an example for that, here is a character from a finnish fantasy novel:
She is a respected storyteller of the community she lives in, but otherwise no one really values her. During her adventure, she wastes a lot of money, gets a few enemies by mistake, accidentally drinks a love potion and falls in love with another main character that previously was completely unrelated to the adventure in which she was in, and every time there is a conflict, say a tiger trying to kill her and who she is travelling with, she runs away and hides, and someone else does the fighting!
Yet I like that character, because she is kind and respectful.

For a Dark Eldar character, I think that turning the above to the complete opposite could be something, could it?

Then one question.
How do you feel about other aliens/humans who share their goals with a Dark Eldar?
How would it work for a friendship between them? Not the kind of "I will get this job done with you (and then I will backstab you when I wont need you anymore)"-friendship.
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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Tue Jun 25 2013, 13:16

One of the best ways to make a villain a villain is to have them kill off what the reader considers to be a hero character. BL example would be the Gaunt's Ghosts books. *Spoiler alert* No-one who's read the first few books could doubt that Bragg was a hero type - naively good and always the first to put himself in harms way to protect his friends. One of the most shocking moments of the whole series is when Bragg is killed, you find yourself waiting for him to be simply wounded, or to recover somehow, but it just doesn't happen.

The TV show Spooks is the same, the movie (and to some extent written) industry has 'brainwashed' the public into thinking that the cavalry always arrives in the nick of time. What if they don't? That heinous crime the villain was planning has just been carried out and x number of innocents/heroic types are now dead. Not only have you just ramped up the villain's evil rating, but if done right you can also create a memorable hook for the story (COD:Modern Warfare anyone?)

My own plan for creating the heroic character is to start off with them as the hero (well, heroine), and follow her decline to the DE way, with the reader hopefully understanding the morally ambiguous choices made along the way, even if they might not have made the same choice themselves. Desperation to survive makes us make choices we wouldn't take in less dire circumstances (for example, stealing is bad, we all know this, but what about stealing a loaf of bread to feed a dying sibling/child?)

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Tue Jun 25 2013, 16:12

@Mngwa wrote:
I often feel influenced by the "GRRM"-way. Only a handful of people are clearly villains, everyone has reasons not to like every person
This is certainly a good method and not one I addressed. I will admit I think it's a very complicated method to use for Dark Eldar, but I bet if done well would come out excellently.


@Mngwa wrote:
Then one question.
How do you feel about other aliens/humans who share their goals with a Dark Eldar?
How would it work for a friendship between them? Not the kind of "I will get this job done with you (and then I will backstab you when I wont need you anymore)"-friendship.
For my writing this would be a tough one. Oddly my current story 'Incubi' will touch on this eventually.

But for me the core issue is this: Would you make friends with a milkshake?

To the Dark Eldar every other race is totally below them - so, no I would not see them 'making friends' with the other races. Now, with specifically other Eldar (Craftworlders, Exodites, ect.) *there* I could see the possibility of something happening. After all, they are actually sentient and functional beings in the opinion of DE - just wussy and useless ones. I don't think a friendship would come easily, but I could see it potentially happening to some degree.

@The_Burning_Eye wrote:
The TV show Spooks is the same, the movie (and to some extent written) industry has 'brainwashed' the public into thinking that the cavalry always arrives in the nick of time. What if they don't? That heinous crime the villain was planning has just been carried out and x number of innocents/heroic types are now dead. Not only have you just ramped up the villain's evil rating, but if done right you can also create a memorable hook for the story (COD:Modern Warfare anyone?)

I agree with this and think it maybe touches on the revenge theme I mentioned. The catch with it is that for a proper protagonist/antagonist relationship you would need to have a given DE take exception to the slaughter. That would be the tricky part unique to writing DE.

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Tue Jun 25 2013, 16:51

I'd see it working not so much as moral outrage, but let's say our DE 'hero' has been grooming a relationship that will bear fruit in terms of power etc in the near future, and our villain kills off said character in a way that's morally outraging to the reader, and in a different way to the hero character. You don't need to be explicit as to why the hero sets out for revenge, anyone familiar enough with DE would pick up on it, others would just assume the 'human' justification.

Ironically (given the above) it doesn't have to just touch upon the revenge theme though, simply demonstrating how nasty the villain is could be enough to make you dislike him, even if it doesn't directly affect the hero.

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Tue Jun 25 2013, 17:19

I find that how I create a villainous protagonist varies from story to story. First I start off thinking of a few physical traits, notable marks and how these came about. I first like to get a sense of where my characters come from before I write about their lives. To explain in greater detail I shall start with a main character from the story Night Hydra named Hyllna Tsallion. He’s your average Trueborn: he likes to look down upon the Tubeborn and cut down those of no use to him. He has a long and dark past which I found myself writing about as the character progressed. I found one main problem with this, however. This past makes him somewhat aloof from the rest of the squad, making it difficult for one to relate to him.
Yes, he oozes arrogance (in a somewhat roundabout fashion) but can somebody really relate to that? How attached can one be to a character that has nothing good and human about him? Then it twigged in my brain that this character wasn’t really at the forefront of the story, just of his own storyline within the tale. It was at this point I started to preen one of the Trueborn’s Squadmates, Helspaan Baranda’ch, into being a more noticeable character.

The main difference I made between Tsallion and Baranda’ch was that Tsallion was a man that had gone through all of what his younger comrade was currently going through, plus a few hundred years to mull over what had happened and stick to the darkest, most hateful route he could travel out of it.
Where Tsallion had hate and contempt for those around him Baranda’ch was gifted with a loving woman. He experiences the Dark Eldar equivalent of love, hopefully making this villainous Dark Space Elf more relatable.
Even with all the love that could be gifted by the most talented Lhamaen-actresses, however, it does not eliminate the fact that he is as cold hearted as the rest of his kin. In one scene he embraces his loved one, and in the next he brutalises a captured bodyguard of a certain target with Hyllna Tsallion.

What I like to think makes Baranda’ch a readable character is not a single factor. I like to think that people can relate to him at times, but I find that a character by him/herself is not enough to write eighteen chapters about. What makes this character fun for me is how he interacts with others. He has a story, one that is in my head that he is set to follow. It will be a story on angst and woe, unbridled joy and ecstatic encounters for him. It will veer back and forth across a line that divides positive and negative emotion; but how could all this be possible without the intervention of other characters. Other characters getting in the way and causing grief sets out an antagonist, (and hopefully a good one if the readers are emotionally involved enough with the antagonist) it changes the story suddenly and tests the character. They must deal with bad situations, overcome certain problems and test the limit of their cunning and treachery while certain allegiances must be held strong.
A character could be the most charismatic thing ever to have been noted down, but that charisma gets dull if he or she is stood next to a tree for two acts! Wink

Baranda’ch is most certainly still a villain, along with Hyllna Tsallion and the rest of the squad. The story, however, is based around a single man. Dracon Krass’ull Thryck’ytrhys’killion is the ‘hero’ of this tale yet he is probably the most villainous of all of the characters. His bodyguards may have committed crimes that would make the Geneva Convention cringe, but this man is much more evil than any of them. In the beginning his motive is power. He almost kills the son of Grand Archon Cavash so that he can be the first to the fight. Then, after the battle has finished he returns to the fleet and is bound in razor-chains, where he is made to answer for what he has done. In the fight he became separated from his bodyguard, meaning that they are elsewhere on the ship and unaware of what is happening. Then the Dracon blames the plan on one of his subordinates and gives a lot of names of people that weren’t involved in the incident. Then Kabalites are sent to hunt them down while he and Baranda’ch (who was dragged in half way through the conversation) are sent to the slave cages.
They end up escaping, naturally, but fails to provide any of his squad with the true reasons behind what had happened.
He is responsible for an attempted assassination, drags his subordinates down into the dust of society with him, uses his charisma to lie to them and keep them on side, then starts a power struggle to earn power once more in the undercity.
He isn’t overly villainous at this point, but I cannot unveil the next part of his story yet.

It is easy to make an evil hero and then an extremely evil villain, but what I like to do when making the villain work is to make everything subjective. Is the villain evil, or is the villain just evil in the hero’s eyes? If written from a neutral point of view which faction would truly be considered evil? I have thought this to myself on a couple of occasions and realised that in the Dark City, if these two factions were warring, who would care? Certainly not the Supreme Overlord! Yes, it’s good to have the villain as more evil, but in a race where you only survive by being evil it can be effective to keep both sides roughly equal in nasty acts (I still like to keep the antagonists looking more evil, though, as stories tend to be through the protagonist’s eyes).

And now I’ve noticed that most of my DE writing is about political schisms within Commorragh itself and must expand into realspace!

I probably haven't thought of all that I wanted to include, so I might post more later. Smile

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Tue Jun 25 2013, 17:43

@Cavash wrote:
And now I’ve noticed that most of my DE writing is about political schisms within Commorragh itself and must expand into realspace!

Waiting eagerly for that! Always funny to see the mon-keigh make fools of themselves on their home ground!
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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Tue Jun 25 2013, 21:01

@Cavash wrote:
Where Tsallion had hate and contempt for those around him Baranda’ch was gifted with a loving woman. He experiences the Dark Eldar equivalent of love, hopefully making this villainous Dark Space Elf more relatable.
Exactly the sort of method I employ. 'Humanizing' them does wonders to making them likable.


@Cavash wrote:
Dracon Krass’ull Thryck’ytrhys’killion is the ‘hero’ of this tale yet he is probably the most villainous of all of the characters.
Is he the hero or is he the protagonist (though, frankly, Tsallion sounds like the protagonist).
I consider there to be a notable difference personally.

@Cavash wrote:
It is easy to make an evil hero and then an extremely evil villain, but what I like to do when making the villain work is to make everything subjective. Is the villain evil, or is the villain just evil in the hero’s eyes?
Everyone is the hero of their own story.

@Cavash wrote:
I probably haven't thought of all that I wanted to include, so I might post more later. Smile
Look forward to it if it happens Very Happy

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Tue Jun 25 2013, 21:21

@Thor665 wrote:
Exactly the sort of method I employ. 'Humanizing' them does wonders to making them likable.
The amount of humanising is always under debate in my eyes. I always find that it depends on how evil the antagonist is. If the antagonist is hyper-evil and makes Vect look like a flower girl then not much humanising is required. I tend to try and keep my main characters a few steps of evil below the main villain.

@Thor665 wrote:
Is he the hero or is he the protagonist (though, frankly, Tsallion sounds like the protagonist).
I consider there to be a notable difference personally.
The Dracon is the Protagonist, I believe. Tsallion... he's not really a hero nor a protagonist. Baranda'ch could be considered the hero of the story when I end up writing more.

Spoiler for Night Hydra. Seriously, don't read if you're going to read Night Hydra. Well, you can if you want. I'm just recommending that you don't :
 

Also, thank you both for the encouragement! Very Happy

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Tue Jun 25 2013, 22:15

Lot of good stuff here!

I've always found when creating a darker protagonist I always keep in mind the adage that history is written by the victors. By that I mean its a lot about spin if you will, how you tell the story and from what perspective you tell it. One only has to look at the glut of morally challenged TV characters (Dexter, Tony Soprano, Nucky Thompson to name a few HBO series alone) to see how writers can draw you in to the world of a "heroic villain". Dexter is a psychopathic killer that only really kills other psychopathic killers. Does this make him more loveable? Fundamentally no but in the context of the supporting characters it kind of does.

Humanising a character is a valid technique-but balanced with the occasional reminder that the hero really isn't. As an example if we look at a series like the Sopranos when it started; our Hero is a family man, he has a rebellious son, a teenage daughter who is starting to understand adulthood with all the fun that can bring a father, and a wife that he has grown apart from over the last 15+years. A pretty normal everyday guy, that is easily relatable to most family men and women in north America, if not the world. BUT by the way? He's a mob boss. We barely see him get his hands dirty for the most part, but he is quite ominous when ordering others to do his bidding (see an archon parallel yet?). Occasionally when he does do something heinous its set against the backdrop of a more humanising act; like taking his daughter to visit a potential university but stopping by a mob informants house to throttle him with his bare hands, then returning to take her home after her interview.

I think I am echoing what others have said, if your hero is bad, make him less bad than those around him- not outright heroic but if xyz squad member is firing an entire magazine of poison darts into a writhing enemy, have him step in and remind the trigger monkey that its a waste of resources to do such a thing. You make a point about the hero not being completely bloodthirsty, your reader can infer correctly or not that he has a stopping point morally, and suddenly he is more of a hero than the rest.

As an exercise I also found it useful to take some of history's greatest villains and look at what they did through their own eyes, try to balance their morality by their own scale. As Thor has said, everyone is the hero of their own story.

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Tue Jun 25 2013, 23:46

Not coming at this as a writer.

I found that James Waller's Becoming Evil to provide excellent insight into what makes "evil people" tick. Without getting too deep into it, I think that focusing on the "banality of evil" is a good way to go forward. Sure, Dark Eldar are "pure evil in its most sickening and elemental sense," but Commorragh is also a functional society. That means that most everyone has to be acting somewhat normally most of the time. Taking a leaf out of D&D, chaotic evil does not mean chaotic stupid.

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Wed Jun 26 2013, 08:32

I think you have to keep in mind that you're writing from a specific narrative viewpoint. For a writer, if not for everyone, good and evil are not universal absolutes, they are value judgments based on whatever the local values are. For example, you and I would probably consider it evil to put babies on spikes. An ancient Roman soldier, though, might consider it not only not evil, but his patriotic duty to put babies on spikes. If you were writing a story from the point of view of a loyal Roman soldier, the 'villain' of the story could be the unpatriotic Roman who refused to put babies on spikes. We must make it clear that our protagonist is only putting babies on spikes out of loyalty and heartfelt patriotism and that it is absolutely normal and even expected of him in this society to put babies on spikes, while his antagonist is ambitious and corrupt and is plotting to betray the Legion to the Parthians, and has such contempt for Rome that he won't even put babies on spikes. The reader will side with the baby spiker over the non-baby spiker even though none of us approve of spiking babies, as such.

Take this bit from Cain's Last Stand:

Quote :
Narrowing my eyes, I was just able to make out the familiar shape of the black-painted truck from the judiciary in Havendown, making its way up the winding track which led to our gates, with its weekly delivery of condemned criminals for the interrogation, execution, and live fire exercises. Sure that everything was peaceful and orderly...

As we know, Ciaphas Cain isn't evil. He's actually nicer (by our standards) than his contemporaries in the Imperium, but he is still an Imperial citizen of the 41st millenium, and he sees nothing wrong with any of that. We don't approve of using people for target practice, but we understand why Ciaphas does and we don't like him any less for that.

There's also this:

Mark Twain wrote:
Fenimore Cooper wrote:
"Magua alone sat apart, without participating in the revolting meal"

Cooper is not clear. He does not say who it is that is revolted by the meal. It is really Cooper himself, but there is nothing in the statement to indicate that it isn't Magua.  Magua is an Indian and likes raw meat.

Similarly, when we write that the Dark Eldar are 'evil', it is really the writer who is making that value judgment. They are Dark Eldar and to them it is normal. We must not allow our own values to break into our narrative point-of-view.

Another good writer who is especially good at writing from the perspective of the 'Other' is Clive Barker. Extremely relevant to the Dark Eldar because the Haemonculi Covens owe more than a passing debt to The Hellbound Heart.

Thus, when writing from the perspective of Dark Eldar, we should set aside our own value judgments about what is 'good' or 'evil' and imagine instead what theirs would be. I would not make the protagonist 'less cruel' in order to make them more sympathetic to the reader, nor would I make the antagonist 'more cruel' to justify our siding against them. They are both dark eldar and products of a society that may be evil by our standards, but seems normal to them.

Why would we care about one dark eldar in particular then? Because they may have virtues and flaws that we sympathise with while still remaining every bit Dark Eldar -- just like Ciaphas Cain. For example, maybe the protagonist is intelligent and subtle, while the antagonist is brutish. Dark Eldar value cleverness, and so do we, so we're likely to root for the smart guy over the dumb bully boy even when both of them are cruel bastards. Or maybe the protagonist is driven by revenge against the antagonist (c.f. Elric v. Yyrkoon). We can empathise with Elric even though he is as mean and cruel (and often meaner and crueler) than his enemies.

It's also worth noting that we often love characters more for their flaws than for their virtues. If you create a DE antagonist who is clever, devious, brilliant, strong, two steps ahead of everyone else, well-connected, and always succesful, it won't be difficult to get the reader to hate them and root for the 'Donald Duck' protagonist.
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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Wed Jun 26 2013, 09:09

@Barking Agatha wrote:

Thus, when writing from the perspective of Dark Eldar, we should set aside our own value judgments about what is 'good' or 'evil' and imagine instead what theirs would be. I would not make the protagonist 'less cruel' in order to make them more sympathetic to the reader, nor would I make the antagonist 'more cruel' to justify our siding against them. They are both dark eldar and products of a society that may be evil by our standards, but seems normal to them.

I agree with your post and was about to write something along your lines but chickened out Sad

I don't really believe in the "Hero of our own story" when talking about DE or any evil character here, so a good idea would be to leave the good and evil concept behind and leave that to the readers to deal with. One particular example that I have in mind is: Snatch (2000). In this movie, I don't see any clear "hero vs villain" or good vs evil. Just some gangsters and mobs minding their own business. And the story is simply hillarious and entertaining.

Also, I think that Love and Romance in DE nature should not be like humans love. I don't think it is in DE nature to be compassionate, caring for others or have this kind of relationship dependancy of eachother. It should be more of a pleasure/lust/obssession kind of thing, where they are simply crazy or something that makes them "love" someone or fall in love. Where they expect something in return, you know.

So when writing, don't think like a human with a heart! Think as if your heart is of gold ehm stone!
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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Wed Jun 26 2013, 15:58

@facelessabsalom wrote:
I don't really believe in the "Hero of our own story" when talking about DE or any evil character here, so a good idea would be to leave the good and evil concept behind and leave that to the readers to deal with. One particular example that I have in mind is: Snatch (2000). In this movie, I don't see any clear "hero vs villain" or good vs evil. Just some gangsters and mobs minding their own business. And the story is simply hillarious and entertaining.
I find that an interesting thought - because I think 'Snatch' does what I'm talking about and very much has a hero/villain dynamic to it. Compare Turkish to Brick Top and I don't think it takes much squinting to call one the good guy and the other the bad guy.

Me disagreeing with your example aside Wink the core question is one of should there be a 'hero' of the story. Now, I personally think, that for fantasy adventure, which is what 40k is, the answer is 'yes'. I can happily accept that the hero is in shades of gray, but I want there to be someone to contentedly root for in the story.

Is it possible to write stories without heroes? Again, I would answer 'yes' but they tend to be depressing mean-spirited stories and not what I would care to read for fun in fiction. (indeed, for pure fiction I would be hard pressed to name such a story - which is why I'm hand-waving the example I disagree with. I don't think i can give you one.)

I think it's possible you're misunderstanding my use of the word 'hero' to mean something that lacks any flaws or issues - which I am very much not intending to mean. I mean a hero as in a character who is discernibly good when compared to the villain of the story.

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Wed Jun 26 2013, 19:00

Quote :
Also, I think that Love and Romance in DE nature should not be like humans love. I don't think it is in DE nature to be compassionate, caring for others or have this kind of relationship dependancy of eachother. It should be more of a pleasure/lust/obssession kind of thing, where they are simply crazy or something that makes them "love" someone or fall in love. Where they expect something in return, you know.

The closest thing DE have to love is known as Inyon Lama-Quanon, and is explored in the story "Mistress Baeda's Gift" by Braden Campbell. It is to make one person your prized posession, because in Commorragh everthing is just a state of ownership.

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Wed Jun 26 2013, 19:21

Thor, what you are suggesting seems to invoke the trope of BLACK AND GRAY MORALITY:

Quote :
It is often found in fictional media that the protagonist/antagonist conflict takes the form of the shining knight whose breath smells of flowers and has holy light shining from his every orifice versus the very fount of all evil who Eats Babies as a hobby, and Kicks Dogs as a profession.

In an effort to portray "realistic" conflicts, writers often introduce flaws in their heroes and redeeming qualities in their villains.

These can be deeply unsatisfying. Movie-goers want a hero to celebrate and a villain to vilify. But if both sides have flaws and redeeming qualities, how do they know which is which? How can a writer create such a satisfying world without making it all impossibly unrealistic?

It's simple: leave the job half-done. Only the white gets removed, leaving behind a Crapsack World where the choice is between mundane corruption and baby-eating supervillainy. This is the essence of Black and Gray Morality; the only choices are between kinda evil and soul-crushingly evil.

This is certainly a valid way to distinguish your protagonist from your antagonist when both of them belong to a society that we would consider 'evil'. When writing from a Dark Eldar perspective, though, it invokes Values Dissonance, because the judgment of what is 'evil' is not really coming from the dark eldar themselves, but from the author and/or reader. It is a way to avoid having to deal with thorny questions by (somewhat) cheating.

A better trope to apply in this case, in my opinion, would be BLUE AND ORANGE MORALITY:

Quote :
The strangest of these characters are those who espouse Blue And Orange Morality. These characters have a moral framework that is so utterly alien and foreign to human experience that we can't peg them as good or evil...

Just to repeat: that doesn't make them bad, although they are often likely to commit acts we would see as horrific; in that case, they're likely to follow these with completely benign behavior, and not act as if anything was the matter. Because in their world/mind, that's just what they do. This trope is one of the trickier to pull off well, because Most Writers Are Human, and it's often hard to portray alien without simplifying it to Evil-by-another-name.

A relevant example is listed on that page:

Quote :
In Clive Barker's The Hellbound Heart (which eventually became the basis for Hellraiser) the Cenobites are very much examples of this trope: they have explored pain and pleasure to such an extent that their understanding of either is almost incompatible with that of most human beings, which leads to trouble when people try to contact them in order to take advantage of the "pleasures" they can offer. All in all, the Cenobites do not appear to understand or care that their charges are in agony most of the time- after all, they did ask for it, and if they aren't enjoying themselves, they'll just have to learn how to do so.


Two other authors who often make use of this trope are Neil Gaiman and Michael Moorcock. I don't believe you could call their stories 'depressing and mean-spirited' or that you wouldn't read them for fun!

We should note that:

Quote :
Likely candidates for Blue and Orange Morality include the Fair Folk, who follow rules of their own making...

The Dark Eldar belong to the Fair Folk archetype. In fact, they are listed in the Examples on that page:

Quote :
According to 5th Edition Dark Eldar codex writer Phil Kelly, the Dark Eldar were designed with a "faerie-tale elves" look and feel, and it shows; wild hunts on defenceless human cities and worlds to snatch captives, mirrors that shatter and kill the people they're reflecting, witch-like Haemonculi covens that make deals in abstract payments such as your ability to laugh. The Dark Eldar are beautiful, soulless horrors, exactly like the fey folk of old.

Therefore we should write them as such. How do we do that? Well we can draw inspiration from good writers who have used such characters in their works. Michael Moorcock (GW was built on raiding his pantry), especially early Elric; Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Poul Anderson (The Broken Sword), and so on. There are many types of anti-hero that readers have always found fascinating, without having to resort to making them 'good' in order to make them 'likeable'.
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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Wed Jun 26 2013, 20:28

Moorcock's Elric falls into Black and Gray though, very much so, especially when you bring his brother into play, which is the point of early Elric.
The Cenobites are neither the protagonists nor antagonists of their story, they are a plot device. ou might be able to argue antagonist by the time you get to some of the less good Hellraisers, but I think the point holds.
Neil Gaiman's Sandman opposes Hell, battles the misuse of Dreams, and seeks to restore a sort of balance. Though he occasionally does 'bad/wrong' things he also has remorse over them.

I understand the concept of Blue and Orange, I suppose, but I think it's not functionally applicable to my mind and, if it is, I'm not sure how it applies to the DE without applying Black and Grey if you want a DE protagonist and antagonist. Even if you look at my discussion I concede the 'different morality' concept and fully embrace it - I don't think that gives me the ability to then write a story about evil guy versus equally evil guy. I don't think that's an interesting story. I'm not denying it could be done, I just don't think I can come up with examples of it being done well.

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Wed Jun 26 2013, 21:19

Yyrkoon was Elric's cousin, actually, and Elric was always much more evil than him. The only reason it seems otherwise is because when Yyrkoon did something bad, he was always a jerk about it, whereas when Elric did something bad he was broody and introspective.

About the Cenobites, fair enough, but what about Mr. Lichfield in Barker's 'Death, Sex, and Starshine', or Jacqueline Ess in 'Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament', the ancient monsters in 'Skins of the Fathers', Botch in 'Mr. B. Gone', etc.?

I was thinking more about Neil Gaiman's version of the faeries than about Dream himself, but didn't he condemn a woman to hell for all eternity because she didn't want to go out with him? He didn't understand why it was wrong, either, he just trusted Death's judgment on the issue.

Another good example is DC comics' The Shade. He is capable of doing horrible things but he is neither a good guy nor a bad guy. He is 'c) other'.

What you have to ask, when writing 'about evil guy versus equally evil guy', is this: evil according to whom? Can we use our imagination to imagine a world in which 'evil' means something different, or is evil always evil regardless of our character's views? Our writing is not likely to settle philosophical questions on the nature of good and evil, but it will be a lot more interesting if we confront them and examine them than if we drive the long way around them.
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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Wed Jun 26 2013, 21:31

Again, I sort of feel like you're trying to debate something I'm not saying.

Could you clarify what you think my stance is?

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Wed Jun 26 2013, 21:34

After reading and catching up now, I'll better leave this discussion to the pros Razz

Long live evil!
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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Wed Jun 26 2013, 21:47

Sorry if I've misunderstood, but I think you've posited a problem: How do you write a story about a protagonist who commits horrible acts, but still make him sympathetic enough for the reader to care about them?

Your solution to the problem, if I've understood it, is to make the protagonist seem good by contrast with their antagonists, either by softening up the protagonist a bit or by making the antagonist utterly and unambiguously evil, so that the reader sides with the protagonist by default. Or both. Hence 'Black and Grey Morality'. (e.g., 'In a world of cruelty and horror, sometimes a monster is the only hope!')

Apologies if I've misunderstood?
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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Wed Jun 26 2013, 22:52

Yes and no. The question was "How do you write about evil Dark Eldar effectively?".

If a question like that had only one answer, I'd be worried Very Happy

Your answer can certainly work, though Smile

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Wed Jun 26 2013, 23:49

Also, Agatha's answer involves a lot of the same logic I use in my answer.

I'm not so down with the Blue and Orange aspect though, I'll admit, but it's only because I actually don't think it properly applies or works.

That said, I don't think 'good' is an abstract concept wherein it applies in some ways to some peoples and in other ways to other people. Which is probably why I don't think blue orange really exists, and in reality it's all degrees along the white to black spectrum.

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Thu Jun 27 2013, 03:49

EDIT: Blanked out. I think I should let other people talk now.
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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Thu Jun 27 2013, 06:44

Ah, this really makes me feel guilty about having abandoned "The Dulled Blade" for so long. Let's see if I can remember how I envisioned each of the characters.

Well, first of all there's Talari, the impulsive, proud fighter that rather dies with a blade in her hand than gets played around with too much. Driven by hatred against archon Rojar, she agrees with the devil's bargain that Siticus presents, as long as it gets her what she wants - if that means her strings might be pulled around, so be it. This does lead her dancing blindly straight into traps that, unless she's careful, can end up with her demise. She's hardly a leader figure, preferring the thick of battle to countless of hours of planning.

Siticus, well, he's quite fun to write. Eccentric, aloof, always in control and absolutely loving it - everything is a part of his plan, all the unfolding events have been foreseen and already have a failsafe in place, and yet all of it is only in the name of the great arts of science. And yet, his almighty facade hides the fact that much of what he does is driven by despair of being overwhelmed by his own madness and schizophrenia. It is his biggest fear of all, being trapped in his immortal body and unable to continue practicing his art.

Araj, he's humble, loyal and faithful to a fault, to the point where he believes himself strayed too far from the image of Incubus, abandoning the name while retaining the outlook. He is blunt and can be quite predictable, yet also brutal and merciless, when needed. He sees himself as a sword, a weapon that does what its owner commands, and if it means breaking against another, so be it.

I think what is really great about writing Dark Eldar is that all it takes is to imagine the complete reverse of what could be considered a peaceful, minimalistic life, and that's exactly what they would do. They are, after all, quite horrible people, but with it they seem overwhelmingly human - letting their emotions run to their extremes, and causing big, bloody mess along the way.

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