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 Writers Roundtable #1

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The_Burning_Eye
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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Thu Jun 27 2013, 07:41

My thoughts exactly, I got lost somewhere just after Ciaphas Cain.

I do have a few thoughts about the morality point though. It basically revolves around who your readership is. Most of us writing stories are likely to have those stories posted here rather than published, and as such, our readership is actually extremely knowledgable about the dark eldar psyche. That means that there's less need to 'justify' the actions of the characters as being entirely normal because the readership understands that a dark eldar lord will have a room full of slaves to torture if he needs to relax after a hard day, whereas in a published book potentially attracting readers new to the concept of dark eldar, such a thing might put them off quite early on.

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Barking Agatha
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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Sat Jun 29 2013, 18:26

I think maybe I killed it. I'm sorry Thor, I didn't mean to. Sad 
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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Sat Jun 29 2013, 19:33

I don't think you killed it, I think we just exhausted the conversation somewhat quickly. Basically there are those who think the heroes should look better, and they use what I use, and there are those that don't - and they basically just use a 'deal with it' method.

I think we may have found about the extent of writing DE there Wink

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Wed Jul 03 2013, 18:03

I come to this much later than I had intended, and I'd like to start with something I posted from the rules to my roleplaying thread here:

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The Evil Disclaimer: As you know, being Dark Eldar, characters are fully likely to be extremely evil in an evil world. But to me, being evil is not in itself very interesting. All right, so you are a soul-sucking, power-hungry malevolence fuelled by the suffering of others … now what motivates and moves you? How does this affect your interactions with others? Have you lost control? Are you rigidly self-controlled to the point of paralysis? Are you an escalating consumer of ever-new experiences? Are you paranoid? Do you care nothing for life and death? Are you ruled by instinct? Do you want redemption? Do you lust for power, more power, because you can never have enough? Do you want to be loved or feared, or just love being feared? … that's why I love exploring Dark Eldar. What does it mean to be living an evil life?

Before we begin, I'll state where I stand on the question "Can Dark Eldar be heroes?". No. Not unless they are very atypical Dark Eldar, and our subject matter here is how to make typical, evil Ynneas Eladrith. I distinguish between heroes - those who perform heroic acts - and protagonists. A protagonist is a main character, the one (or ones) the story is about. We are dealing with protagonists.

Now that's done, my method of dealing with the presentation of evil is twofold. Well, maybe threefold. I'll start with the maybe first.

There are, and these are all just my opinions, feel free to have your own, that's why we're here, three ways to characterise an evil character.

The Cartoon Villain: aka moustache-twirling villainy. Great fun as an over the top, top-hat-and-cape-wearing, tie the heroine (or hero, this is Commorragh) to the tracks in front of the oncoming train kind of way, this one is easy to identify by their overly dramatic, exaggerated mannerisms, easily recognisable uniform of evil and complete or almost complete lack of motivation for their actions beyond simply being the one who's the villain. They are easy to recognise because they use the shared library of symbols that most of their readership instantly recognise, such as the wearing of black and keeping people (especially the innocent) chained up in dungeons and threatening them with the unspecified Fate Worse Than Death.

Great for panto, not that useful for Dark Eldar as it tends to be too simplistic by not being very three-dimensional. I find that it is most useful to borrow little bits from occasionally, or for use by characters who know they are doing it for deliberate effect.

The Despicable Monster: There are no poor Despicable Monsters - they are always in a position of power and untold riches. They have to be, because they are never bound by consequence or lack of resources. Everything they do is evil, and turned up to eleven. They wear shoes? They are made not only from baby seal skin, but baby seal skin that is somehow still alive. They wear lipstick? Then that lipstick is rendered from the fat of unborn babies and the blood of tortured saints! They have minions? Then all of their minions cower in abject terror all of the time and they are still killed on a regular basis for no reason other than to sow fear and uncertainty! They were wronged? Then the entire Kabal of the one who slighted them must pay, and be tortured to death then resurrected and be tortured to death again (hang the expense)! This kind of evil is on a grand scale; there are no minor atrocities, no sense of the action matching the reaction - the level on which the monster responds is always off the chart. It is huge and grandiose evil. The problem is, that as with any escalating behaviour, once you've shown them massacring an entire planet because they stubbed a toe that day, you quickly run out of new atrocities. If they respond so hugely to the merest of insults, what do they do when they are seriously wronged? You quickly run out of places to go, of things to escalate to that are truly more horrific. You run either into atrocity fatigue - not another planet-wide genocide, yawn - or you run the risk of alienating your audience because most of us simply do not want to hear about ever worsening horror piled upon horror.

Use grand scale evil like this just once, as a character-defining scene, and it can be useful in determining just who is Alpha Bastard. Use it multiple times and all you will achieve is making evil dull, commonplace and ultimately, ineffective by sheer repetition. That is, and should be, a bad way to treat your audience and your characters and ultimately does a complex problem a moral disservice.

Evil has Reasons: The underlying point for this one is that most people have reasons for what they do. They may or may not understand the depth and complexity of their own motivations, but such motivations do exist. Actions seldom take place in a vacuum and any character with more than two dimensions needs to have a a reason for what they do. Evil characters respond to things in ways that most people consider to be morally unsound: the definition of evil here is "choosing to do something which you know to be morally wrong". Evil is a complex notion and that is a simple definition, but I'm using it as my starting point. This kind of character is sometimes more of a slow burn than the one above, and works to get what they want in more devious, less overt ways. They still get revenge when they are wronged, but rather than simply wiping out an entire Kabal, they first have to find ways to get into a position where they can manipulate their way to a state where they can reap their revenge. There is depth to this kind of evil; what motivates them can be understood, and sometimes even sympathised with. Perhaps they go out of their way to toy with, use and destroy the people that love them. Once, long ago, the person they loved treated them in a similar fashion and now they are eternally acting out revenge in place of the resolution they can never have. Their reaction is unfair, extreme and misdirected, but it has a root that can be traced. The difference for an evil character is that how they react to their causes is always negative, twisted, unpleasant and to the detriment of others. A Dark Eldar doesn't want to build a better, more nurturing society because they had an unloved, unhappy childhood full of suffering. They want to find a bunch of weaker, less powerful people and beat the snot out of them until they feel better.

Use this kind of evil most of all. Give characters motivations, and then make the reactions they have to them more selfish, more egotistical, more extreme, more underhand, more devious, more twisted. Go further, but don't go over the top.


So, those are my three kinds of evil characters. It's obvious which one I think is the most effective, but there are places for the others (Games Workshop and I differ on just how much Wink). So, to make a believable evil character, if you're with me, we have established the How, and to make the How we need the Why.

Why?

Why do Dark Eldar embrace the ways they have? Because this is what they know. Because if you have been brought up to see backstabbing, treachery, betrayal and casual violence as everyday occurances, and self indulgence in every kind of vice as your birthright, then these things constitute your version of normal. But, additionally but perhaps just as importantly, they know what they are doing is wrong. To paraphrase the Design Podcasts, there may come a time in a Dark Eldar's life that they see that there are options. Other Eldar do not live as they do. There are ways to not live in an evil society constantly surrounded by the threat of your own untimely, unpleasant demise. They could choose to act differently, but ... "Shall we try not being evil? ... Naaah." Simply put evil requires choice, and the choice every Dark Eldar makes is to be evil, to take the morally worse option. Perhaps it's easier, more selfish, more satisfying in the short term, provides more tasty tasty suffering, is funny, or they just wanted to hear that body hit the ground. But at heart they know it's an evil act and they choose to do it. More than this, they enjoy and embrace being evil.

Quote :
Bellathonis, Master Haemonculus, on why he is torturing an innocent: "Because I like it, and because I can."

But, but! What about all the little people? The Kabalite warrior just doing his job, just following orders? The Tubeborn who's never known any other way? Do they truly have a choice? In some ways they don't, and so one could argue that they are less culpable. But there are often still choices. One can choose to kill an opponent quickly, or draw out their suffering by breaking all their bones first. But in other ways the lack of choice for those trapped in the mass of lesser inhabitants of Commorragh is their tragedy, and this sense of having to be evil to survive can be used to gain sympathy for their situation. This is how one can draw a reader in to being on side for a character that is ultimately a pretty nasty piece of work. It isn't that what they do becomes less evil; it's that we can see why they do it, and that much of that motivation is forced by circumstance.

Motivations can be simple or complex, but they should be there. And that brings me to another important, perhaps the most important point: having three dimensions. Side characters, bit players, they can have simple sketches where a main character has 3-D, but really that's another discussion. I want to concentrate on the one at hand, so I'll stick to a character who needs to be fully considered. To present and engage a reader with an evil character, you need to consider:

Evil Has Limits

Also known as "evil is evil is evil".

Among criminals in prison, there are different classes of offenders, most of whom consider the actions of those other criminals (the ones who are the real criminals, not me!) to be beyond the pale, whereas what they do is ... shifty. Dodgy. A bit ... you know. The computer hackers would never consider arson (people might get hurt!). The arsonists despise the muggers who pick on little old ladies. The muggers hate the murderers. The murderers know that they just killed someone who was asking for it, but the rapists should be strung up. Each group - in somewhat simplified terms - has justified what they do to themselves enough to do it, but they also have limits on what they consider acceptable. A three-dimensional Dark Eldar doesn't have to embrace and enjoy all kinds of evil to be demonstrably evil. They may not feel the need to excuse their behaviour choices to anyone (they are just allowed to do what they want; they are Chosen; they are Ynneas Eldarith born to rule the galaxy; they are special; they are an Archon and so on), but there are still things they would never do. And the reasons they won't do them need to be realistic but do not have to be nice. A Dark Eldar refuses to kill children? Perhaps he thinks they are too young to have developed a proper sense of suffering. Perhaps she thinks it is simply a waste of a potential lifetime of delicious pain. Perhaps there is just a bigger bounty on an adult corpse. Whatever the motivation, there is an act they will not perform, even though they may do things that to the reader are just as evil. This limit on their behaviour is another way of engaging the reader to root for them over everyone else. Well, maybe Archon X is a murdering bastard, but he would never kick a puppy.

There is a more complicated way to add another layer to this. The real reason that your character will not engage in an evil behaviour is, secretly, that they think it is wrong. They explain it to others in simple Dark Eldar terms ("Eh, no, I simply didn't want to waste good splinter ammo ...") but inside, perhaps even hidden mostly from themselves, they have a spark of good moral feeling.

Don't overdo this. I can't stress it enough. No-one wants to start to make an evil character sympathetic and end up with the Only Good Drow instead. This tiny, suffocating, unrealised potential of goodness is not enough to stop a character from being evil - it is there to add a little bit of greyscale, some interest, some sense of wasted potential or tragedy of What If ... What if the Incubus had been born on a Craftworld? Would they now be an Aspect Warrior, would they have a chance at peace? Would all the unrealised facets of their character, their excellent singing voice, their ability to paint a likeness, their natural empathy, their gift for languages have a chance to shine? This is a way that you can gain sympathy for your character from the reader, though it may be outweighed by the fact - and perhaps should be - that they still chose to live an evil life instead.

A sense of sympathy for the character's situation, a sense of the tragedy of wasted potential, understandable motivations - these can create the temporary illusion that the character is not so bad. They help to make a more engaging character that people want to read about, perhaps want to see succeed. To be engaged with a character, though - and this is crucial - they do not have to like them, though this unquestionably helps. They may just want to see them get their just desserts. Evil has consequences. Don't cheat your readers by having no consequences for the evil actions characters take every time (unless you are using a Despicable Bastard). Actions don't take place in a vacuum any more than personalities are formed in one. Keep just enough realism to make the fantasy believable.

This is the Dark City. Certain actions, or at least a certain level of background nastiness, are a given. I agree with The_Burning_Eye that to an existing player of WH40k, this will be understood and doesn't need more than a brief setting - a little casual violent conflict here, a body there, a drug den over there and so on. For a new reader, this background level of evil - of an evil society - has to be established, and I would recommend that you do this in two ways: one, use scatterings of evil scene-setting here and there, not as a constant overwhelming in your face EVIL LIVES HERE, because this can be off-putting. If you put your audience off, your work has failed. This is a strong statement, but I stand by it because as an author you want your story to be read. I'm not talking about the odd exception; if people are avoiding your story in droves because of the way you handle your subject matter, you did it wrong. And two, make sure that whatever example evil act you put in place, your characters react to it as if it is completely normal for them. It is everyday. It is commonplace. They don't think about it any more, but it is, to the reader, unquestionably evil.

So you have established that your character is evil, with a three-dimensional personality and motivations for their actions. Does the reader care about them, or do they just want to see them burn? I would argue that either is a viable result, so long as the reader is engaged enough to want to keep reading. So long as you know how a character is evil, why, and how, you can make a realistic Dark Eldar.

To sum up, much of a Dark Eldar's life revolves around seeking to avoid consequence. Archons seek to avoid Vect noticing their scheming. Lesser Dark Eldar try to pass off blame on the other guy. All Dark Eldar seek to avoid having their souls drained away by Slaanesh. The sympathetic element is that this was a fate sealed for them long ago by the actions of others. The tragedy of it is that even if they tried to live another way, most of them lack the tools or the opportunity. And the evil of it is that, when faced with their situation, they try to shove someone else in front of the speeding train of She Who Thirsts, all the while trying to hang on the front of that train and surf along getting further, higher and faster than ever before. They want that rush. They want to be evil. Lose sight of that in the task of supplying motivation, personality, depth and reason and you risk taking way what they are: evil, soul-sucking bastards.

And don't forget the Helmasks.

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Wed Jul 03 2013, 20:57

@Lady Malys wrote:
This is the Dark City. Certain actions, or at least a certain level of background nastiness, are a given. I agree with The_Burning_Eye that to an existing player of WH40k, this will be understood and doesn't need more than a brief setting - a little casual violent conflict here, a body there, a drug den over there and so on. For a new reader, this background level of evil - of an evil society - has to be established, and I would recommend that you do this in two ways: one, use scatterings of evil scene-setting here and there, not as a constant overwhelming in your face EVIL LIVES HERE, because this can be off-putting. If you put your audience off, your work has failed. This is a strong statement, but I stand by it because as an author you want your story to be read. I'm not talking about the odd exception; if people are avoiding your story in droves because of the way you handle your subject matter, you did it wrong. And two, make sure that whatever example evil act you put in place, your characters react to it as if it is completely normal for them. It is everyday. It is commonplace. They don't think about it any more, but it is, to the reader, unquestionably evil.
I really agree with this statement on many levels. I love reminding readers just how horrible Commoragh is, but I think it is much more elegant and fun to do it casually.

I like to read a story where a character is walking down the street and circles around a murder or something while having a conversation - and leave it as simple as that. Let the reader pause and go, oh, what, they just walked by a shop selling virgin souls and bonsai kittens? What the hell, Commoragh!?! In my aforementioned 'dropping guy off a roof' scene, one of my favorite lines in the entire story is just a casual half sentence mentioning people noticing it about to happen and trying to 'get good seats for the show'. It's an evil and horrible place, but it doesn't take a lot of time and effort to establish that.

Also, I do submit Dark Eldar can be 'heroes' without being Drizzit-clones. I think they are evil, but there's a difference between being evil and being evil 24/7.

I have a campaign/story I'd like to run/write that is basically DE helping humans oppose Slaanesh cultists.

The DE will be heroes.

Now...I'll admit, maybe at the end...y'know, when Slaanesh is delt with...there might...just might be some...awkwardness involving how the DE treat their "allies". But that said, they're still heroes of the story, even if they are also evil themselves. I don't think evil has to equate to 'impossible to be a hero' just as good does not equate to 'impossible to be a villain'. I can thik of a number of 'good' characters that have been presented quite masterfully as villains, and the reverse also holds true.

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Lady Malys
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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Wed Jul 03 2013, 23:58

Well, part of me suspects this is really an issue of semantics. I would certainly say that protagonists can be good, and in fact that heroes are also protagonists.

A lot of my argument states how being evil doesn't involve being "EVIL 24/7", so again I don't think we really disagree Very Happy Particularly as this is one of the ways I've suggested to make convincingly readable evil characters - give them something other than unrelenting evil as part of their nature.

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Thu Jul 04 2013, 00:51

@Lady Malys wrote:
Well, part of me suspects this is really an issue of semantics. I would certainly say that protagonists can be good, and in fact that heroes are also protagonists.
Protagonists are often good, and heroes are usually protagonists. But, yes, I understand the distinction there.

My point was simply a counter to your comment ""Can Dark Eldar be heroes?". No." which I find too absolute of a statement and disagree with it.

I mean, for basic starters a hero is defined simply as someone who is brave. Let's consider the definitions;

1. a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal: He was a local hero when he saved the drowning child.
3. the principal male character in a story, play, film, etc.
4. Classical Mythology .
a. a being of godlike prowess and beneficence who often came to be honored as a divinity.
b. (in the Homeric period) a warrior-chieftain of special strength, courage, or ability.
c. (in later antiquity) an immortal being; demigod.

Just as an example, take Zak from 'Trueborn'
I would submit that he qualifies for - 1, 2 (debatable - it's not clearly stated), 4b, and (arguably) all DE qualify for 4c Wink

Even if we want to move into the semi-idealized concept of hero=good - functionally, what he does in that story is fall in love/lust, take off his shirt a bit, try to help another person understand themselves, rescue them from a dangerous situation, and offer them a future when they think they have none.

I dunno - I'd call that heroic.
Now, is Zak still an 'evil' character? Well...he's...an ambiguous character. He certainly seems to have little regard for the lives of those he hasn't been hired to protect or decided that he is fond of. He certainly has a sense of honor about him, but has served for a, likely, lengthy period of time with the unquestionable evil Archon Douraal - and it's not like Douraal seemed to be sending letters back to the temple complaining about the good-hearted Incubus who wouldn't kill people whenever asked.

There's a reason that when asked if Zak is evil the proper answer is, 'ambiguous' because I, as the writer, intentionally left it so because my desire and goal was for him to be seen as heroic. I diminished, downplayed, and didn't dwell into how evil he may or may not be. I did present him as a hero, and a hero he is, even if only within that slice of specific time.

Zak is likely not a character that I would want to be alone in an alley with.
That said, within the scope of that story, his actions are what I would call 'heroic' actions. He could have walked away and left his potential lover to die. Instead he entered a dangerous situation, killed to protect her, and tried to educate her more about herself and the world allowing her to mature and become stronger.
There are a myriad of potentially self-serving reasons to have done what he did (protect the Dark Elf boobies, naturally) but that doesn't change the basic actions nor their end results from being heroic, which is the technique I advance as a good way of presenting respectable DE leads the audience can more easily bond with.

Don't get me wrong, I support doing it the other way too; Tael, Kyssindree, Ben'rik. They were all main players in the story and though they all had their up moments, they were much more base at their core. That said, when I wanted the reader to be behind them I downplayed how evil they were (ranging from just having Kyssindree lie to herself, to Ben'rik just coming across as more acceptable evil in comparison to others) But I think all are needed in the context of making a DE protagonist and, in addition, specifically for a DE hero.

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Thu Jul 04 2013, 21:43

At the risk of being a wet blanket again...

@Lady Malys wrote:
They don't think about it any more, but it is, to the reader, unquestionably evil.

Personally, anything I would be interested in writing would be with the intention of challenging the reader's assumptions regarding that. I don't want to get too metaphysical, but unless you believe in a religiously ordered universe (and I don't), there simply isn't any such universal quality as 'good' or 'evil'. These are human concepts that matter only to humans, and even among us they are not universally agreed-upon. What is 'good' at one point in history becomes 'evil' a hundred years later, and what is 'evil' in one society is seen as 'good' in another.

Everything I've read about the Eldar and Dark Eldar emphasizes that they are utterly alien, and not thin pseudo-humans with pointy ears. Our notions of good and evil would mean even less to them than they do to a bee, although they might have different ones of their own. For example, flaying prisoners alive might be seen as nothing more than a nerdy pastime, but chewing with your mouth open could be considered a shocking and unforgiveable crime.

I realise that this requires some effort from the reader, and a willingness to question some pretty basic principles. It takes some considerable effort from the writer as well, but I'd rather fail at it than write 'safe'.
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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Thu Jul 04 2013, 22:02

Now you're getting into the philosophy of 'good and evil' though, and though I think your position is defensible it's hardly as solid as all that either. I would certainly submit that it is possible to argue for the existence of good and evil without the need to bring in deities of any stripe. (take Aristotle, who separated from Plato's view and argued a non-divine proof of 'good' in the world)

Also, Humans actually do, across the board, have some universal ideas of 'good' that have developed across cultures with no interaction. There is no culture, ever, in human history, that has decided it is 'good' to kill your Mother.

I personally think that probably the Dark Eldar concept of good/evil is based on the rather simplistic concept of hedonism. That which brings pleasure is 'good' that which brings pain is 'bad' and then they apply it from a strictly subjective viewpoint. Pow - alien intricacies explained in three seconds Wink

I feel like you're muddying the concept between good and evil with social mores.

Have you written anything in the 'requires effort from the reader' milieu that I could read so that I better understand your standpoint?

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Fri Jul 05 2013, 00:57

Thor Very Happy

I agree with everything you've said in reply to me above and I fully understand and believe that some Dark Eldar can be heroic, can in fact be heroes. Zak is a perfect example of a Dark Eldar who is at times selfless, thoughtful, capable of real affection and shirtless. (That last one may not be relevant as such to the role of hero, though certain album covers may call me a liar Wink) Zak is certainly a hero. He is also a convincing Dark Eldar. As other examples I would also suggest that Jorik, and even Ben'rik, are not entirely without some traces of compassion - mixed in with other motivations, perhaps, but still there. Obessa is more than capable of self-sacrifice for another, and Wren has a strong sense of loyalty. I would be the first to suggest that a Dark Eldar can be capable of doing good things for good reasons - even if it's not a majority thing - in fact I have a long-running NPC in one of my games who has been exploring this for some time.

I can see exactly what's happened now I've slept Very Happy

I was thinking that the question posed was "How do you make an evil character engaging enough to read about, while still having them remain evil?". So my long post (and it is, looking back, hugely long ...) was centered around that concept. And for clarity I would edit my statement to "Can Dark Eldar be heroes and still be 100% evil? No." Because I was running with the How to make an Evil character theme, I didn't think I'd need to say that but maybe I do Smile

Can a Dark Eldar be a hero? Yes. Can a Dark Eldar be totally evil and be a hero? I would still say No. Can a Dark Eldar be slightly evil, ambiguous, have heroic traits, have some spark of less than evil in them - well I know I went on about that at length so I'll just sum up with Yes, but too much and you no longer have evil. Take away all the evil from a Dark Eldar, after all, and you have an Eldar.

We might still disagree, of course, but I hope my position is clearer now, or at least which position I was talking about Very Happy

Also

Quote :
I personally think that probably the Dark Eldar concept of good/evil is based on the rather simplistic concept of hedonism. That which brings pleasure is 'good' that which brings pain is 'bad' and then they apply it from a strictly subjective viewpoint. Pow - alien intricacies explained in three seconds

Yes. *nod* These were, after all, the ones who looked at the Fall, pondered for maybe a nanosecond, "Hmm ... I wonder if we should rethink our lifestyle?" and then went back to what/whomever it was they were doing. At the heart of what they consider worthwhile are "things that gain me something I want". If it gains them something, then it is good, if it thwarts or lessens their gain, it's evil. It's the ultimate in selfish 80s business ethics.

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Fri Jul 05 2013, 02:40

@Malys - I suspect I get you this time and agree.

Also, solid point about the hedonism angle - functionally this is confirmed by word of gawd as part of their psyche within the fluff, so any evaluation of the DE philosophy of life needs to address that in some manner or other.

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Fri Jul 05 2013, 11:25

@Thor665 wrote:

Have you written anything in the 'requires effort from the reader' milieu that I could read so that I better understand your standpoint?

Yes, but it's not related to Dark Eldar or even 40K, so it's probably not something that ought to be brought up here. I will work on something appropriate, though.

@Thor665 wrote:

Also, Humans actually do, across the board, have some universal ideas of 'good' that have developed across cultures with no interaction. There is no culture, ever, in human history, that has decided it is 'good' to kill your Mother.

The pre-Hellenic Greeks. In the original myth of Orestes (before Aeschylus) his heroic act was killing his mother Clytemnestra. In a related myth, the god Marduk slew his own mother, Tiamat, as one of his heroic 'good' deeds. Also, as we know, certain cultures would approve of killing one's mother even today as a punishment for 'shaming' the family name. Which is horrible, of course, but it does suggest an absence of absolutes when it comes to what is good or evil.
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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Fri Jul 05 2013, 16:18

Yes, the killing of a mother who had murdered a father, or the killing of a mother who is a primordial dragon.

And both the Greeks and the Babylonions are known for killing their mothers and considering that okay? Last I checked the answer is 'no'. There are always exceptions to the rule, but neither culture considered mother killing a good thing.

As to the 'certain cultures' again, though they would kill a woman who 'shamed' the family, that is seen as the appropriate punishment for that crime - the important distinction here (as with Orestes) is that the mother in question has committed a crime. Crime is punishable, and I don't think there is any culture that does not believe that. They wouldn't kill her without the crime, because then that would be a crime - so though we may disagree with their reasoning, it has internal logic and still upholds the basic concept that one should not kill their mother.

To toss back your example, there are many examples in Greek (like, say Oedipus) and I suspect in Babylonian (though, not knowing it as well, I'll simply toss out Enkidu) where the slaying of friend and family is clearly and specifically taken as a *bad* thing.

You have found extreme exceptions where the cultures allowed a shift in their ideology due to specific breaches - I do not feel that affects or weakens my standpoint. Neither culture thinks killing your mother is a good thing (unless the mother is a criminal, or murderess, or something else akin). Your modern day example falls into the same rote. They still have a holy book that dictates many things, like "Worship God and join not any partners with Him; and be kind to your parents..." Yes, they will kill their mothers, but not for yucks, only if the Mother has committed specific crimes. Again, I don't think that example weakens my position.

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Fri Jul 05 2013, 19:50

I believe I'll concede the point. Smile

I still say, though, that we ought to be trying to challenge the reader, to take them out of their comfort zone. I don't know that I'm personally capable of that, but it's what I want to aim for. Of course, if you push too hard you may put them off and lose them, which is not what you want at all, but that doesn't mean that the attempt shouldn't be made.

Ideally, I would like to lure the reader into sympathising and identifying with characters whom they would otherwise find despicable, bringing them to a point where they find themselves questioning the nature of good and evil, revealing it as an illusion, and hopefully shattering the reader's whole notion of morality. That's a tall order, but even a little success would go a long way.

Added: I enjoy this kind of discussion, maybe a little too much, so if I'm becoming a nuisance please feel free to tell me to shut up. I promise I won't be cross... this time. It's just that I honestly can't tell when I'm pushing it too far.
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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Fri Jul 05 2013, 20:30

@Barking Agatha wrote:
Ideally, I would like to lure the reader into sympathising and identifying with characters whom they would otherwise find despicable, bringing them to a point where they find themselves questioning the nature of good and evil, revealing it as an illusion, and hopefully shattering the reader's whole notion of morality. That's a tall order, but even a little success would go a long way.
The thing is, my method works for that. just look above at Malys' comments about the character of Ben'rik.

When I wrote Ben'rik I always just went with the word 'slimy' and applied it to him in pretty much every way possible. He lies, cheats, steals and will do anything to get ahead of the game. He spends most of the story trying to kill not just one, but two of the other main characters. Toys around with the sympathies of another semi-main character, and whenever he figures out anything is going bad his first instinct is to hide/get away and he doesn't worry about the other characters at all as far as that goes.

Malys likes him and thinks he has some admirable traits.
And, really, in the grand scheme of what some of the other characters are up to...she may be right.

That said, I don't think that reveals the nature of good and evil as an illusion (I specifically believe otherwise). I do think it's fun to play with the question of morality within their culture, and even have a desire to get players to like characters that are not good characters. But I don't think that requires tossing away the concept of good and evil. In fact, I think it helps to embrace and understand the distinction.

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Fri Jul 05 2013, 21:08

It's hardly a ringing endorsement of Ben'rik Very Happy I wouldn't go nearly as far as admirable, but your point is well made. While he is undoubtedly deeply unpleasant - crass, immoral, self-centered to a high degree, I think there's a tiny shred of almost paternal feeling for Wren in there. He is evil, but he also has complex character traits that allow him to be viewed in a sympathetic light. He develops over time. He is also contrasted with other characters who make him look better in comparison. That's two or possibly three ways in which someone objectively unpleasant can be made to look more engaging.

Furthermore, at one point he specifically describes himself as "an old gentleman at heart". What behaviour of his merits such a description? He thinks it's wrong of Tael to toy with Wren if he's done with her. Ben'rik, you see, would have shot her in the back as soon as it was over. (Of course ...) Ben'rik's words for Ben'rik are more likely to be rakish, charming, shrewd, practical, streetwise, survivor. A reader can see that difference between his perceptions of himself, and what he actually is. But because he is well characterised and set in place, it's possible to see why he sees himself that way so the end result is not jarring, but more readable. Context, I'd submit, gives reasons but does not define absolute morailty.

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Fri Jul 05 2013, 21:10

I was fond of that 'old gentleman' line Wink

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PostSubject: Re: Writers Roundtable #1   Fri Jul 05 2013, 21:37

It was a good one Very Happy Classic Ben'rik. Madame Dior had him down to a T.

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