Practice Makes Perfect Villains

Fiction writers have an advantage in life that centers on the need to develop a rare skill for objectivity in creating a villain.

Memorable villains need to believe that the harm they’re causing is necessary and right. To accomplish this, their logic must be accessible and human. Villains can’t all be masochists and cardboard psychopaths. Even serial killers can believe they’re doing good work, or at least think the universe is a random place without right and wrong.

Having read, The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyle, I’m all about focused practice. But how do you practice objectivity?

Here’s an idea: select a highly controversial topic for which you have a strong personal bias, and see if you can make yourself realize that a decent, rational person could exist on the opposite side of the argument.

Personally, I might start with the war over vaccinations and this video…

The pediatrician on the left of the screen claims to be in the middle ground of this complex fight, catching hell from both sides. He has written a book he claims is pro-vaccination. He says he has given many vaccinations to his young patients and continues to. Yet because his book promotes temporal spacing of the inoculations, he says pro-vaccine people want his book banned.

The interviewer is fully in the anti-vaccination camp and says he’s devoted his professional life to the cause. Yet he seems supportive of the “pro-vaccine” pediatrician. Something is going on beneath the surface.

The offstage villain in the video is the CDC / mainstream medical community with their rigid vaccine schedules that seem to expand each decade, supporting a commercial industry that cannot be held liable in court for any mishaps or negative side effects of their product. That’s unique, isn’t it? Fortunately, our politicians didn’t grant Monsanto the same deal for their big product, RoundUp, touted as saving countless lives from starvation through the virtues of genetically modified crops that can tolerate glyphosate, the poison in their weed killer.

Since I’m highly disenchanted with mainstream medicine despite my degrees and indoctrination, my challenge here would be to give the “vaccine villain’s” logic and data a fair hearing, both intellectually and emotionally.

To do this, I would need to see the historic cause-of-death stats for all the relevant communicable diseases in the US prior to vaccinations. Then, to sense the emotional viewpoint of this villain, I would need to read historical accounts written by parents whose children suffered and died from the diseases in question.

Having done that, I would probably have enough objectivity to avoid ascribing two-dimensional evil to a pro-vaccination villain of a fictional tale.

But this superficial preparation wouldn’t be enough. I don’t write primarily to entertain. Wish I could, but it doesn’t hold my interest. I need to also teach. Because of this character flaw, I would strive to determine if I was placing my villain on the genuinely misinformed side of the vaccination war.

I’d have to read the relevant medical literature objectively and develop an informed opinion. My present opinion, though strongly biased, is weakly informed despite years of interest in autism. As a scientist and lifelong teacher, I need to know my biases and either abandon them or justify them with data. As a fiction writer not satisfied with entertainment, I have to do the same.

The side effect of realistic villain creation is a blessing to all who write fiction. The process, if we practice it, will force us to become skeptical of real-world character assassination, authoritative emotional claims we can’t verify, and the outraged black-and-white political reporting on all news outlets.

Morrill Talmage Moorehead, MD


10 thoughts on “Practice Makes Perfect Villains

  1. Bene Gesserit wisdom from “Dune”: “Fear is the mind-killer.” I would add that anger or any strong emotion will hinder our critical faculties. If I’m in the middle of a post or comment and feel too much emotion, I take a step back.

    • Great quote, thanks!
      “Fear is the mind-killer.”
      It’s interesting that our dear overlords at YouTube have cancelled the video I linked. It’s remarkable how gullible these people must be to believe that censorship protects the public.

  2. Thanks for this interesting posting. My son is autistic and all of the points and conjectures you wrote about have always made me wonder. He was born in LA and I remember days when the air was yellow from the mosquito spraying. He also had a severe reaction after a vaccination. Gave up trying to figure out why and just worked with his strengths. But I do believe that companies like Monsanto are the cause of widespread cancers.

    • There are times when wisdom comes along and allows us to give up analyzing and looking for someone to blame. Then we’re able to focus on our strengths and move ahead. I need to take your example and move forward rather than blaming myself for the troubles one of my kids is having. Thanks for sharing your positivity. 🙂

      • My son gets all the credit. It was his decision in third grade to do it the hard way because all he wanted was to be “a regular kid” in reg. ed. classes. The school system made his life miserable by putting him with kids who had behavioral problems. It was like being stuck in a cell with someone scraping their nails on the chalkboard. The school came to my doorstep when I insisted on the change and they made threats. I slammed the door in their faces and they left us alone after that. In his teens, my son bucked when I forced him to be responsible for his actions. When he was a senior, he told me I made the right decision to make him understand and accept consequences. I am immensely proud of him. Mostly because he is a good and kind man.

        • How incredibly awesome! You stood up to the school’s cookie-cutter mentality and also held your son accountable for his decision. I’m sure you helped the school administrators in something similar to the way you helped your son. Congratulations on your courage and great judgement!

  3. I write the same way: there’s got to be a reason for a character I write about to be an antagonist or a villain, as tough for me to accept as that reason may be. In the past, aversion to such a character’s behavior has been so great that I’ve put off finishing scenes in which that person appears, but eventually I have to deal with it. The result has been the development of some degree of empathy: I still don’t like the character’s behavior, but at least I understand what’s behind it.

    BTW, I think there’s a greater positive association between intrauterine ultrasound exposure and autism than there is between vaccinations and autism, but nobody wants to go looking for it, because that would be medical heresy of the worst kind.

    • I know what you mean. I have a conflict aversion in real life that creeps into my fiction and turns my villains into helpers. Everybody in my stories wants to talk things over rationally. I have to fight that or it gets way boring for the reader.

      I’ve wondered about the effects of fetal ultrasound on child development but haven’t come across the studies making the correlation. Thanks for enlightening me. I’ll go searching.

      Yes, medical heresy is a career stopper these days. I know a doc who won’t even look at that video I’ve posted above, not because he doubts there’s a correlation, but simply because he has to feed his family and he knows he’ll lose his license if he makes a negative peep about vaccinations. Mainstream medicine has become crippled by power and politics. Free speech is a thing of the past.

      Lucky thing we’re fiction writers. 🙂

  4. Your last sentence is quite the understatement when it comes to the news media, and you see more than you’re saying. I’ve been posting this poem around as a comment here and there, and it’s gone nowhere. You must pardon me if posting it here puts you off some, a natural reaction perhaps because it doesn’t fit into the box, and there are so many places to publish poetry, but I’ve found there can be countless places, and there’s one thing they don’t publish, and that’s poetry outside the box. This is an engaging article by the way, many-sided, as your articles usually are, and it’s an honor to post here sir. Thank you.

    At an Opening the Citizen-Like Siege the Data Quoted

    U.S. press associate Jeff Plankton –
    I found cars on silk stools;
    I’d druther we didn’t do that.
    Primary feelings,
    let’s dig a little deeper.
    A cell phone I make reckless;
    just try to read this please.
    I’d like to call the shelter of art.
    You’re so great to report on culprits.
    I understand your study.
    It’s how you keep society in line,
    warn us of what bad does
    and how it gets caught in the end.
    You completely dismember everyday life.
    You brush our teeth with oatmeal.
    I don’t know how you get along in life without you.
    It’s opposites attract.
    Now you 9 to 5 us asleep.
    It’s author hiatus.
    You’re not winning any literary awards.
    It’s the run the media,
    based on novel we’re truth.
    Come on people all the news from normal,
    would you mind playing me there?
    Ring my b-e-l-l, ring my bell.
    Another landmark win over at the office.
    Have to get sometimes out of the media.
    I’m gonna face your time.
    I don’t know but
    you own the times today.
    You know I’m close quarters.
    The press want all the room we are living for.

    Invader skies –
    take back our lives from the media now.
    You know they have a hold on us.
    We don’t go a day without them.
    We put them in our morning cup of coffee,
    look at our world through their eyes,
    ponder what needs to be fixed
    when they tell us we have a problem,
    get all wrapped up in their issues.
    They are in the halls of government
    where government leads us.
    I think they’re more of a giant than the two of us thinking.
    We need them,
    and we need them to fulfill their function:
    tell us what’s going on,
    inform us of the events in the world,
    not so much persuasive commentary,
    manipulative opinion,
    and un-news worthily filling themselves.
    All this talk leads to distraction.
    We miss the import of our lives,
    the gauge of our inner life.
    Editorial news fills out the problems of fake news.
    It’s human to be biased,
    but that human element can be continually engaged,
    and self-examination see what follows.
    We need a press corps determined to be press,
    not any form of government over our lives,
    not what we should wear to work.
    How do you afford this system?
    “Development’s Model” is a poem for you.
    His home permits this goal by the same joy.

    • Hi Donny! I enjoyed your poem. Thank you.

      Yes, it’s at least ridiculous the way the media, especially the news, stirs up division and animosity with emotional bias and disregard for reality, spirituality and meaning. It’s probably the natural result of a scientific priesthood making materialism the cornerstone of rational belief, giving us a meaningless universe and a sea of untested chemicals in the food, water and air.

      Time to meditate and get some sunshine out back with my dog, Halo! 🙂

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