When I was young, my view of art was that it should be as beautiful as possible, the World being ugly enough. I wished to write stories about the relationships between good characters, who had their disagreements and misunderstandings but without malice or deceit. In this way I wished to show what life could and should be like. Let the evil fall away.
I came to realize that when one wishes to convey a particular message, a character representing the problem can be useful. I came to see how an evil character added excitement and drama. While I prefer to live on a planet of peace, I understand we do not yet. Then evil became to me another color on the artist’s palette: useful sometimes to serve the message of a story, never arbitrary.
While an evil character can add drama, there are many kinds of drama, and I see many writers make the mistake of thinking that evil is the only kind of drama there is. They go so far as to equate the two.
Yes, we must have conflict of some type to have a story, but some conflicts are so terrible I cannot read or watch them. It is because I feel and understand their terribility that I cannot read or watch them, not that I do not. Schindler’s List, for example, I have not seen. I cannot bear the thought of watching mass murder. I do not need to see it depicted to understand its horror and evil; it is because I feel that horror and evil acutely that I cannot bear it. That is but one example.
Lately I have been reading Dune. (I remember reading it in the ‘Eighties, but I don’t remember any of the details from that time. Reading it now is as if for the first time.) The first several chapters introduce the characters and settings, but they do so in the context of just about the worst situation imaginable: a noble leader, his family, his entire organization are wiped out most viciously by the most grotesque and heinous villains imaginable. Yesterday I skimmed the horror until the protagonist is free to fight back. It takes until page 236 of the edition I am reading.
Two hundred and thirty-five pages of horror and suffering before the protagonist can start to fight back. Dune is brilliantly written, up there with To Kill a Mockingbird, but one can only stand so much suffering.
Nowadays, in my own work I try to strike a balance. If I am writing something with a message, I do whatever it takes, pull any stop, to serve the message. (Some will be persuaded by logos, some by ethos, some by pathos, so apparently all three are necessary.) If I am writing a story about good persons facing disagreements and misunderstandings, I do whatever it takes to show how reasonable human beings solve their problems.
There is more than one kind of model.
“How to Fight Evil” is popular and necessary.
“How to Live Peacefully” is less popular and less possible now, but someday it will be more popular and more possible, I predict and hope.