by Dawn J. Stevens
There is nothing that ruins a good book more than a horrific scene that seems all wrong for the character or a setting. On the contrary, a book can seem slow and boring if nothing bad ever happens to anyone in the book.
You may have heard an event or action referenced to as a ‘necessary evil’. In terms of plot, you must have all kinds of necessary evil, else you don’t have a story. In most cases, you have a good character with sound morals, who represents the ‘good guy(s)’ in your story. You need to add evil in order for your character to have something to do, or at the very least, something to reflect on. Without evil to contrast the good, there is no conflict, thus no book.
How do you find the balance? Simply put – you find the ‘balance’ based on how much evil you can stuff into your plot without going too far. There are three elements of the story you should keep in mind when testing the waters on how much evil (or conflict) is too much.
The Main Character’s Limit
First and foremost, keep your character in mind. What can they handle? How much conflict can you throw at them, without them cracking? You know the MC best, and how they will react to specific situations. For example, if your character is having a hard time with the death of a parent and is relying on the living parent, you wouldn’t want to kill off their only support. Feel free to push them to the limit, but not so far that they turn into a blubbering mess on the page and can’t resolve the situation. This should be the easy part since you already know what their limitations are mentally and physically.
So, say your character is a tough cookie and can handle all kinds of abuse. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should show all they can take. You’ll need to keep your audience in mind, and if the ‘evil’ is appropriate. For example, you probably wouldn’t want to write about adult ‘evils’ or situations that may be hard for an adult to swallow in a children’s book. Yes, those things do happen, and maybe your character works through it, but that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate for the audience. Another example to avoid is throwing in evil actions that don’t help or hurt your main character in any way. If there is no point to the evil in the plot, don’t do it. Your audience doesn’t want to read about puppies dying unless the main character is taking revenge for it in some fashion.
Finally, you should always keep yourself in mind when inventing evil events and how to work through them. If there are sensitive subjects that you know you can’t write about without feeling mentally exhausted, you probably shouldn’t. Writing about situations you aren’t ready to tackle isn’t healthy for you. Pick topics of trauma that you can handle or are ready to personally work through because there most likely is plenty of them. Don’t put yourself in a dangerous place mentally just to write a good story. Always keep yourself balanced, or else your story may fall apart.
Bottom line, the ‘balance’ of good vs evil in a plot is simply finding the worst events you can think of, then limiting your evil based on three elements – the main character, your audience, and you. Do your worst, just don’t break any of those three people, and you will always have a balance between good and evil plots.
© 2018, Dawn J. Stevens. All rights reserved.