No human is perfect and the questions of good and bad is an ongoing debate.
But I’m not a philosophy major so I’m not going to get into that. Instead I’m just here to discuss some ways characters can do bad things without changing sides.
1.- Ignorance, of any kind. Sometimes we do bad things because we know no better. This doesn’t make it okay, but it does separate somewhat our actions from our intentions.
Now, when it comes to ignorance an interesting thing to note is there are different kinds of ignorance, here are the ones I can think of:
1.1.-Induced ignorance. Somebody in a character’s past or present has purposefully tricked your character. They believe something because they are ignorant and that ignorance is not accidental.
1.2.-Voluntary ignorance. This is something lots of people, probably including you, definitely including myself, experience. This is where the information is readily available and clear, but there is in some way a choice to not engage. An obvious example of this is companies, there are a lot of terrible unethical companies, and a quick google search for any company, celebrity, you name it, will tell you. So when we enjoy something it’s tempting to… just not want to know.
Now with that example you probably think modern day society, but we can see this in any fantasy setting too. A kingdom where a certain behaviour is harmful, there are whispers in the street of the consequences yet the main character doesn’t pause to listen. They glance at the signs, sigh and turn around, not wanting to hear the explanation. Refusing to learn.
1.3.-Pure ignorance. Something isn’t obvious, the information isn’t available, everybody is ignorant to it. It’s just bad luck. People will argue that with more research but… we can’t research everything especially in a fantasy environment (where pretty much all my stories take place) and there was nothing pointing to needing to research. Everything was going so well!
2.-Second up is, for the greater good! Does this need further explaining? Is killing bad? Yes, but are there times where the alternative is letting others die? Yeah. And this doesn’t need to be killing the bad guy necessarily. I kind of love the trope where a curse, too much power or something means that a good guy must die. Usually it’s the protagonist and they prove it’s not true and there’s another way but… what if there isn’t? What if it’s a side character and your protagonist has to make the decision to end them, something inherently evil, but for the greater good?
This situations aren’t fair but… c’est la vie.
3.-Not greater good but… lesser good. Because sometimes character’s are selfish and being selfish is not the same as being evil. The other day my friends group posed the question of who would you save if only one could live, your pet or a random three year old. It was surprisingly split down the middle. And I consider all of the people at the table good people. And after throughout arguing I could understand both sides.
Offer up this same decision to your character, their sister who is in some way involved in this whole fiasco of a plot, or some random stranger? Let them choose their sister. Let some random stranger die for no reason and know that an innocent person died by decision of your protagonist. Yet they’re not evil, just selfish.
4.-By accident. I hate it when we have the “clumsy” protagonist who never is clumsy. Let them accidentally shoot a weapon they didn’t know was charged and deal with their boyfriend having an arrow stuck in their shoulder!
Shooting your boyfriend is evil (unprovoked obviously).
Accidents do not make you evil.
So those are my four ways to do evil without being evil.
Note I as usual probably used extreme examples (death, death everywhere!) but breaking a belonging that is beloved to somebody, stealing from the poor, polluting the environment or supporting the evil overlord are all evil behaviours too! I was taught to exaggerate when making examples and for some reason that advice stuck in my heart and created the drama queen I am today.
I hope these inspired you to try something new in your current story or a later story.
As usual, check out my book, stories I’ve written plus other social medias: here.
So, what’s the most evil thing a “good guy” in one of your stories has done?