Writing Exercise: Black or White Hat

Acquired from the Internet Hive Mind

ConGregate 2017 could have devoted a track to the Hero-Villain Spectrum. Panels included  “Bad is the New Good”, “Heroes, Anti-Heroes and Villains”, and “The Dichotomy Between Good and Evil”. With the Suicide Squad making villains into heroes, and Marvel’s Civil War and DC’s Batman vs. Superman where the heroes battle each other, keeping track of good and bad is no longer who is wearing the white hat.

In a world where we question our politicians, our parents, our police protectors, and our own morality, a simple black and white doesn’t apply. Writers get called out for the perfect good character (Mary Sues) or uncompromising villains (Snidely Whiplash); everyone is expected to have some shade of gray applied. Even when a person in real life appears to be pure, an investigation has to happen to find that one piece of dirt in their lives. Mr. Rogers can’t be real (*). Likewise everyone knows villains have a good, logical reason for their bad actions – within their own minds they are the hero of their life story. No one could possible look into the mirror and go, the black hat is the way to go. And even Hannibal Lecter has to have some good traits.

And yet … maybe not. Maybe this drive for everyone to be gray is as unreal as everything being black and white.

It certainly limits writing. Why does the bad guy have to be sympathetic? Why does the good guy have to be flawed? The Anti-Hero and Anti-Villain are becoming as worn out as the White Hat Hero and the Black Hat Villain.

My take-away from the convention is the Brightness Spectrum. Bright Hero/White Hat Hero; Dark Hero; Anti Hero; Anti Villain;  Gray Villain; Black Villain/Black Hat Villain. What does each of these people represent?

Bright Hero/The White Hat – Good hero. Righteous and true. Always acts above the board. Lives by morality. Examples: Superman, Captain America, the Lone Ranger, Hermione Grange, Rory Williams from the new Doctor Who series.

Dark Hero – Pushes the envelope but stays on the side of right and good. Lives by ethics and rules. Examples: Batman, Iron Man, Matt Smith’s the Doctor.

Anti-Hero – Straddles the line of good and evil. Breaks the law as needed. But at the end of the day wants the good to survive – the most people or the best government. Knows about morality, but those morals and their ethics may be traded in to help others. Often acts in a manner which would be consider bad if we weren’t on their side. Still they are the protagonist of the story, the one we are rooting for. Examples: Punisher, Captain Jack Sparrow, Oscar the Grouch.

Anti-Villain – Straddles the line of good and evil. Basically everything an Anti-Hero is, but we are not rooting for them. They are acting against the protagonist we are sympathetic with. But the fact is, if they were not acting against our protagonist we would be supporting their actions. Examples: The government in the Firefly television show, Magneto, Rob Pierre of the Honor Harrington series, Professor Snape.

Gray Villain – Has ethics, rules to live by which will not be crossed. Knows the actions are selfish or even bad, but kind-of likes seeing fear in people’s eyes so not going to stop doing bad – though will even act on the side of good on occasion. Examples: Draco Malfoy, Harley Quinn, Misty of the new Doctor Who series, River Song of the new Doctor Who series.

Black Hat Villain – Owns that Black Hat. Unrepentant in the villainy. Examples: Lord Voldemort, the Master of the Doctor Who series – all incarnations, Emperor Palpatine.

(*) – Reality check, yes, yes Mr. Rogers was really that good. He is a true Bright Hero.

WRITING EXERCISE: Choose two from the spectrum who must act together to accomplish something. Write a flash of at least 300 words.

READING EXERCISE: For your most recent read, where are the protagonist and the antagonist on the spectrum. If you were the government/legal system, where would you consider the characters to have fallen? If there is a difference, how did the author create a “hero” against “law”?