I don’t do it all the time, but occasionally when working with characters, I think about their alignment.
You know. Dungeons & Dragons. Two sliding scales. Chaotic/Lawful, Good/Evil. It’s a more nuanced way of thinking about characters: rather than just saying “this is a bad guy,” you get “this is a character who is going to do everything he can to further his own ends without breaking the rules of society.” Or “this is a girl who will do everything she can to help somebody in need, even if it means hurting herself in the process.”
This approach was particularly instructive when drafting Villainous (working title!), a central theme of which was the blurred line between good and evil. I didn’t want cookie-cutter good- and bad-guys, so I tried to make sure that each character had strong motivations and believable reasons for the things they were doing and their worldview in general.
Why am I thinking about the alignments of my heroes and villains when I really should be focusing on the edit that’s in front of me?
Because of our goldfingered president.
I thought I was crafting a pretty cohesive psychopathic chaotic evil villain in my novel, but it turns out I had no idea what I was doing. Trump is chaotic evil to his orangey, fatty core:
A chaotic evil character tends to have no respect for rules, other people’s lives, or anything but their own desires, which are typically selfish and cruel. They set a high value on personal freedom, but do not have much regard for the lives or freedom of other people. Chaotic evil characters do not work well in groups because they resent being given orders and do not usually behave themselves unless there is no alternative. (Wikipedia)
And of course, just yesterday, Trump literally put his own short-sighted interests (namely: money and continuing to appeal to those in this country who have already voted for him instead of, you know, anybody else) above the interests of the ENTIRE FRIGGIN’ PLANET with his decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris agreements.
Let’s say nothing of the fact that he can just do this when 70% of the country he represents is against the decision. That’s a political power seminar I’m not qualified to even wonder about. Let’s not even say anything of the fact that the rest of that blurb fits big Orange to a “T”. (Resents being given orders? Check! Do not behave themselves? Grab them by the check!) I’m just concerned with the morality of it, which is entirely bankrupt.
He’s literally willing to watch the world burn if it benefits him for an election cycle. (Oh, and it’s yet another not-so-subtly-symbolic middle finger to his predecessor.)
I mean, in a way, it’s inspiring, because I can take a page from that for the characters in my own work.
But it seems a bit hopeless to be thinking about works of fiction at a time like this, when the villains we face are all too real.