As always, important parts are in bold, other details are non-bold, for those who like or dislike longer/shorter.

So, a couple of just intro disclaimers and whatnot: this is sort of a “black and gray morality” world, in addition to exploring very deeply the implications of a “perspective flip,” where what you were maybe expecting to be good is bad, what you were expecting to be bad is good, what you were expecting to be up is down, and so on, you get the point (as compared to what is typically “expected” in these kinds of fictional universes). Both of my main warring factions have their flaws. Neither faction is completely perfect or 100% evil, and even the worst among these factions has at least some adherents who believe they are doing what must be done, out of loyalty to their race, their creed, their nation, their ideology, their religion, etc., all that stuff. My attempt here is to be a bit more even-handed and fair in my approach, in the interests of a more realistic portrayal of war in my world. That being said, it's like World War II, where both sides murdered, both sides committed genocide against civilians (Holocaust, Nuking Of Japan) the objective case could be made that the Allies and the Axis were both evil, to some extent; yet still, we can all agree, that the Nazis and Axis Powers were certainly more evil, and are portrayed as such, and that America and the Allies were certainly less evil, and more good.

So the one faction is basically this numerically inferior breakaway civilization of rebels who are uprising against… the other faction, the numerically superior “establishment” faction, so to speak. The setup here is similar to Star Wars or The Matrix. You've got this little seceding civilization, and they're up against this big, bad, ugly, demon-worshiping, hegemonic, monolithic dystopia, like the Galactic Empire from Star Wars, or the Machines from The Matrix. My rebel faction, like in the other examples given, are essentially fighting a guerrilla war, albeit that their skill as warriors, their belief in the righteousness of their cause, and in a few instances, even, more sophisticated tech, helps to give the rebels at least a fighting chance.

My biggest concern is that my designated “good” faction may well be perceived by all too many readers/players as more like the bad guys, while my designated “evil” faction may well be perceived by all too many as the relative “good guys” in this whole equation. I mean, if you had to put it in D&D Alignment terms, you would have to say that my designated “good” faction is characterized as aligning with the Chaotic side of things, whereas my designated “evil” faction would fall under a very Lawful alignment. People tend to look at anything associated with Chaos as necessarily being a big sea of evil, especially the more law-and-order types, especially of the last decade or two. How do I drive home the point that they're into freedom and personal autonomy and all that groovy stuff, they're the good guys, at least by comparison to the evil dystopia? And, to make matters worse, like the Resistance from The Matrix, like the Rebel Alliance from Star Wars, my rebellion has a very religious aspect to it. It is this zealous, fervent belief in this god-figure who will lead them to victory against seemingly impossible odds that gives them the strength to keep fighting, that gives them a foundational myth around which to organize their nascent civilization, should it survive.

And this, too, I know will not really jive with the weltanschauung of a lot of the increasingly atheistic people today, even though it's not a real religion, obviously. But how would you advise I could help to emphasize these points to those who might not want to see it that way?

P.S. If you have more questions about the details of this world, there are multiple posts around. Here's one that might be particularly germane to this question specifically: What species, if any, would survive this kind of apocalypse, and what would global environment be like?

Thank you, fellow Worldbuilders!

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    $\begingroup$ From my experience, people are much more likely to be lenient towards fictional religions than real ones. At any rate, if you want your heroes' violent actions to appear as the greater good (or the lesser of two evils), you need to make sure that the acceptable losses are ones that the reader can, well, accept. $\endgroup$
    – lea
    Nov 6, 2014 at 12:27
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    $\begingroup$ Why force a moral conclusion? Why not let the reader decide for themselves which faction they consider less evil? Would make for a much more interesting story IMO. $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Nov 8, 2014 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ Well yeah I mean, to an extent, that is what I'm doing, but I am also still having it where one faction is the protagonist faction basically and the other is the antagonist faction. Are you familiar with Warhammer 40,000? The Imperium is presented as the protagonist faction in all the core books, (even though they are not exactly nice people, by our modern standards) but obviously not in the Codices of non-Imperial armies. Same situation here. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2014 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ For the religion part of this question, consider reading Dune (if you haven't already), their use of the Bene Gesserit prophecies to mold religion into a people before using it at a later time is very interesting and believable. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Jan 8, 2015 at 7:57
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    $\begingroup$ It should be noted that for WWII, the Allies attacked civilians, but didn't commit genocide against them. The Allies where probably about average when it came to good/badness (bonus for democracy), but the Nazis where off the evil scale in modern terms, so comparing the Allies to the Nazis would be similar to comparing a naughty kindergartener to, well, the Nazis. $\endgroup$ Jul 16, 2015 at 5:56

8 Answers 8


Right, stick to the tropes

You've correctly identified that any modern story must stick to the tropes.

Evil corporate-fascist state is a great start. Everyone from their Disney cartoons to their video games to their college education gets shoveled fed nothing but images of evil corporations. If Disney and Chomsky both say Stalin's interpretation of Fascism is the right one who are we to argue. (I mean who knows what happened to Dr. Junker or Carl Thyssen?) Not a single popular entertainment or education depict corporations as anything but evil. Break that trope and you get filed over next to Ayn Rand.

So, you're off to a good start.

But religion is very, very tricky. The only people allowed to be religious are people from primitive cultures, someone whom the reader will never regard as an intellectual equal. In modern popular culture, African-Americans are allowed to be religious for the same reason.

All religious people in industrial culture, especially white Christians, must be portrayed as viscous, bigoted irrational, selfish and never right about anything and never been. You can't mention their hostility to Eugenics, Freudian psychology or any of the dozens of other intellectual failures of the secular over the last century. You can't show religious people being far more generous and self-sacrificing and less violent than the non-religious population, no matter what the social research shows.

To make an acceptable religion, it must be non-traditional, having no history and thus innocent as new born babe. It needs to focus on the happiness of the individual but not require any sacrifice, obligation or self-restraint on the parts of the adherent. The religion is all about making the adherent feel good about themselves.

I'd suggest basing it on one of the Hollywood religious fads. Maybe Hollywood Buddhism (no vows of poverty, no requirements of charity like traditional Buddhism) combined with some kind of matriarchal clergy. One must play up to female chauvinism after all.

The real key, as I cover under Chaos below, is that the religion cannot restrain sexuality in any form or to any degree. You can't suggest that obligations to the religion, society or children requires sexual self restraint. Otherwise, you’re a redneck bible thumper aching to set someone on fire.

As a crowning touch, make them the real nature worshipers, who worship a biosphere most of them have never seen.

That should make the religion acceptable to the target audience.

Now for shades of grey.

The best way to make a shades of grey story is to get inside the delusional world view of the "bad" guys and show how they sincerely believe they are doing the right thing. Look at the Nazis, the Imperial Japanese, and the Communist. Most of the people who fought so hard for all three regimes where not bad people. Quite the opposite, they were people who cared and loved deeply, people who believed in making a better world for those they cared about.

Hate doesn't make a man a monster, love does. Hate fades, the sociopath will not sacrifice himself. To make a monster, find a loving man and threaten what he loves. He will come for you, unwavering and uncaring for his own fate.

That was Hitler's secret. People tend to concentrate on his hate mongering but that's not what made him effective. Instead, he created an elaborate fantasy narrative in which the German people as both a "race" and a culture, were under threat of genocide from a World Historical Conspiracy on the part of the Jews. Threaded all through the fantasy was a lot of truth but connected or bent to make them lies. Germany got unjustly blamed for the war, true. The Treaty of Versailles was unjust and harsh, true. Communists inside Germany were trying to cause it to collapse either so it would adopt communism or be unable to defend itself from Soviet invasion, true. A disproportionate number of Jews were communist, true. The Jews had created Communism and American free-market capitalism to destroy the German people, false. Americas commerce centered culture, its popular culture and pacifistic leanings were Jewish tools for destroying Germany, false. Stalin was planning on attacking into Europe, true.

A lot of people became fanatical Nazis because they believed that the German people faced genocide and had to fight their way out of "encirclement", seize the resources of the Soviet lands, knock out Communism and ship off the Jews to somewhere, or everything and everyone they loved would be destroyed.

Communists believed they were murdering for a utopia, a utopia so grand and inevitable that it was a sin not to kill for it.

If you want to make a future totalitarian state that sounds plausible up front, I'd suggest one based on environmentalism. Since everything every individual on earth does affects the environment in some negative fashion, environmentalism give the pretext to regulate absolutely everything that anyone does. Even worse, environmental damage might actual require a great deal of control. (If Communism hadn't been a real threat then Fascism would have never got off the ground. Anyone who questioned fascism, got accused of being soft on Communism.)

But no matter how pure the goals at first, centralized power always corrupts.

The corporate-fascist state could arise because the government has to force people to use expensive and less effective technologies in order to protect the environment. That would devolve to the government dictating which technologies could be sold and thus what corporations prospered and which failed. Business success would not be about economic or technological creativity and testing in the market, but about government connections. The entire economy becomes a military-industrial-congressional complex. (It worked for General Electric big time.)

Any one who raised accusations of corruption, would be accused of not caring about the environment. (Wrapping in the flag.)

To further protect both the environment and the government allied corporations, the state will suppress all new technology under the doctrine of "precautionary principle" all technological change is assumed to be more of a threat than a benefit. Of course, the definition of threat and safety will be done by the state which will only allow those technologies whose sale will benefit the allied corporations.

Because of stagnated technology, resource creation stalls and they must use the resources that the frozen technology used. Instead of replacing metal with graphemes, ceramics, etc. they founded space colonies to bring in metals that the frozen technology can use. (Space refining and perhaps manufacturing might solve energy and environmental problems as well.)

So, you have a "green" tyranny that looks perfectly fine to a lot of people these days. If it had a gloss of democracy and disguised the symbiotic relationship between government leaders and the allied corporation as regulation and high taxes, then it would look very plausible to most modern readers.

Behind the scenes things could get even more ugly with mass killing to eliminate "individuals excessive to the environment's carrying load" and murdered by others who believe they absolutely must do so to protect the environment and thus the future of the human race.

Nobody would know because everyone on Earth would be so immersed in the ruling narrative that they regard as heresy any questioning of the current political order as the same as being hostile to the environment, a green version of wrapping one's self in the flag. People would be indoctrinated to only accept news from certain specific sources. Enough doublethink and you don't need active censorship.

Meanwhile, in the outer colonies...

In the real-world, workers sent out into dangerous and isolated environments are well trained, well paid and have their grievances quickly addressed. That's because one pissed off, untrained, exhausted or sick worker can cause millions of dollars in damage. Not to mention the cost in capital that it cost to get them and their gear out there.

But that's not the trope so we forget that. That would make corporations economically rational which isn't allowed. Instead, the corporation must act like communist, sending workers out into the space gulags.

The workers, mostly political prisoners, will be shot into space with little care how many of them survive as long as enough do to get the archaic resources back to earth. (Ignore how easy sabotage would be in space. Perhaps sending their families along as hostages to maintaining the facilities would work as would separating food production into other facilities.)

But desperation causes them to develop new technologies, possibly biological so they can disguise it from the Earth authorities.

The war would come when a failing out among thieves happens between the various alliance between specific political leaders and their allied corporations. Formally, insiders would find themselves pushed out and failing.

At that point, they begin to turn to the outer colonies technology to try and prop themselves up. All evilly of course. They won't trade for it or pay for it, they'll steal, kidnap and torture to get it.

The outside corporation-politicians begin to gain, not more power, but more possible military power. A kind of war of economic sabotage breaks out. (They can't actually fight, that would destroy the environment, although killing people inside cities is probably okay.) The insiders then decide that the way to end the problem is to cut off the technology at the source then attacks the outer colonies either to destroy them or to place them under harsh and close supervision.

That's when all hell breaks loose. The Earth regime has the overt power, the spaceships, the millions of military personnel, and billions of potential brains to turn to solving problems. Plus, they have a stable ecosystem to fall back on. The outer colonies have to devote a lot of time and energy just getting air, food and water. But Earth technology has stagnated and they've likely forgotten how to innovate. Their internal divisions make them hostile to anyone who does innovate.

Earth propaganda depicts the outer colonies as both starving Earth of desperately needed "natural resources" while at the same time flooding Earth with dangerous technologies sure to destroy the environment. Believing they sally forth to protect the economy and lives of Earth's human population while protecting the environment from sinister unknown technologies, Earth's military heads out with the belief that the desperation of the situation justifies any ruthless extremity.

Meanwhile, the outer colonies have little to fight back with.

It's unlikely they would have been permitted large spacecraft and of course no overt weapons. They would have to fight dreadnoughts with laser and nukes using rail launchers and perhaps bioweapons.

Their only real advantage would be that the Earth powers wouldn't want to destroy the facilities and kill the workers unless they had to. They just want to regain control, especially of the technology. So, they'd only use the hammers when they had to. Otherwise they would just occupy. This would expose them to infiltration, bioweapons and computer hacking.

A lot of their attacks will resemble terrorism (but won't be if targeted at specific military targets or specific individuals carrying out operations.) But most readers won't understand that so you can add some moral ambiguity on the part of the colonist.


Politically, chaos merely means freedom. Freedom means that individuals can make decisions that others would not make. When there is no freedom, everyone has to make the same choice.

The problem is today that for people on the left, political freedom boils down only to matters of sex. You don't have freedom in jobs, business or any economics, housing, transportation, education, communications, reproduction no freedom. It used to be leftists were big free speech advocates but no longer, so not even that. Just sex.

So, to make your colonials the good guys and the advocates of "freedom" just make their religion indifferent to or even actively promoting sexual promiscuity.

Meanwhile, ease in an awareness of sexual restraint on the part of the Earth government. Perhaps an attempt to control population. Maybe they give people drugs to kill their sex drive so they lose interest in loves and family, just have loose friends and devote themselves to work and the friends they make there. That's what a stereotypical fascist-corporation would do, right? Arrange for the perfect workers.

As long as the colonials have sexual freedom, they will be seen as the good guys even if they drop asteroids over half the earth. As long as their religion doesn't interfere with their sexual freedom or impose other restrictions on individuals it will be seen as a "good" religion.

People might at first see the Earth government as the good guys, protecting the environment and regulating the corporations but once its revealed they don't allow sexual freedom, bang, instant bad guys.

Remember, making your story "understandable" means appealing to their existing prejudices and using common tropes.

I think you're doing fairly well, The "religious good guys" idea is daring but just make it a self-esteem religion with no strictures and judgements and it'll be "understandable."

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    $\begingroup$ Wow lol. I can't help but detect a few notes of sarcasm and bitterness in your answer, yet still, quite the in-depth and on-point analysis. About half of what you've suggested is exactly how I already have it written. Like the Global State (bad guys) do absolutely present everything in a greenwashed wrapping, that humanity is a virus that needs to be enslaved, reduced, and eventually annihilated. And my good guys' religion absolutely also does, in the tenets of its faith, very much teach that restricting personal desires (sexual or otherwise) is a sin against God's gifts. But you're only… $\endgroup$ Jul 20, 2015 at 9:17
  • $\begingroup$ … about halfway right, the other half is not really in line with my setting. There are some assumptions you've made because I obviously didn't have space to explain all aspects of the setting. Like, as far as politics, I really don't want to be taking any overt stance with regards to right vs. left. Both factions have aspects of each, overall, the colonies are libertarian/anarchist, (anti-authority aspects of left and right) the Earth government is fascist/communist (pro-authority aspects of left and right). The colonial religion is not going to be Hollywood Buddhism lol, nor is it going… $\endgroup$ Jul 20, 2015 at 9:26
  • $\begingroup$ … to focus only on sexual freedom to the exclusion of all other types of freedom. The colonies allow all types of freedom, the Earth government allows no types of freedom, simple as that. Also, I'm not really trying to add legitimate shades of gray, I just want to give it the superficial veneer of seeming that way, lol. But you know what? I should hire you on as a writer haha, you seem to have all the realistic implications of which factions would do what and why, down better than I do! : D $\endgroup$ Jul 20, 2015 at 9:45
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for "It needs to focus on the happiness of the individual but not require any sacrifice, obligation or self-restraint on the parts of the adherent. The religion is all about making the adherent feel good about themselves." $\endgroup$
    – Crettig
    Apr 2, 2018 at 15:33

I'm going to answer this from a designer's perspective rather than a writing one (as if you're looking for writing techniques you're off topic).

As you've stated in your question no nation is inherently evil, evil is (at least until reviewed afterwards) often a point of view. Were the rebel alliance freedom fighters or were they terrorists? They stole secrets and blew up a military facility killing thousands of people after all!

My point is that if you find your nation veering off into evilness you need to decide on the motivations for creating these deeds, very few people commit evil actions for evil's sake and bureaucratic nations even less so!

  • Is your nation conducting experiments on prisoners of war? Are they trying to cure a disease ravaging their own population?
  • Did they wipe out a small town? Perhaps that town was filled with kidnappers and pirates?
  • Did they unleash a biological weapon? Perhaps they didn't want to risk the lives of their soldiers when they had an alternative.
  • Are they spying on their own population? Maybe their worried about spies infiltrating their country?

Make sure you understand the motivations for each act which may be deemed as evil - if you don't know why atrocities are being committed then it will be very hard to convey a balanced view to your readers/players/watchers.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. Yeah, I'm not looking for writing techniques, I'd post under Writers if that were the case! Trying to get it from a worldbuilding perspective, of course. I see your point. Like as with the Death Star, of course, the atrocity must be justified for that faction to remain “good,” i.e. killing thousands/millions to save billions/trillions, correct? But it is not that easy to know what would necessarily be a “justifiable atrocity” in all instances. For example, if one faction were trying to destroy the universe, what would that justify in the other? $\endgroup$ Nov 5, 2014 at 8:12
  • $\begingroup$ I mean the reason that the atrocities are being committed is because each faction is trying to drive the other into extinction, so all bets are off, really. But I'm not sure if that's exactly what you mean. $\endgroup$ Nov 5, 2014 at 8:15
  • $\begingroup$ @JoshZmijewski I'd suspect you'd have to go back to the motivations which led to the "Kill them all!" approach $\endgroup$
    – Liath
    Nov 5, 2014 at 8:27
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah. I mean, it's complicated. Motivations: Extreme cultural divide/hatred. Religious warfare. Crusade/Jihad-type situation. “Clash of civilizations.” One side wanting to enslave or, if not possible, destroy the other; the other side wanting to secede or possibly convert the other. Motivations for the respective factions would be somewhat analogous to like a mixture of USA vs. England in the American Revolutionary War, Eastern Bloc vs. Western Bloc in the Cold War, and Christianity vs. Islam in the Crusades. $\endgroup$ Nov 5, 2014 at 9:29

The goodness, or evilness of a group is portrayed by the people in the group, so being able to show the goodness/badness of a group is best portrayed in the actions of characters...this doesnt have to be super strait forward. Maybe a guy on the good side bombed a neighborhood and killed lots of civilians because there were weapons of mass destruction being stored beneath. He did his duty, it was for good reason...but that doesn't mean he can't feel bad about it...or refuse to do it next time.

In war, both sides will do things that are not good. Civilians will get killed, people will snap and commit atrocities, morals will be bent often and occasionally broken.

So. For an army at war to be considered good, we are now talking about just war theory. Is the war being waged just in the first place? If it is not, the morality of the soldiers fighting is irrelevant (that doesn't make the soldiers inherently bad). My personal favorite is Aquinas, but if you prefer someone else check this wiki out, it covers it pretty well. Just War Theory

Thomas Aquinas[edit] Nine hundred years later, Thomas Aquinas — an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism — used the authority of Augustine's arguments as he laid out the conditions under which a war could be just:[13]

  • First, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state. (Proper Authority is first: represents the common good: which is peace for the sake of man's true end—God.)
  • Second, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than for self-gain (for example, "in the nation's interest" is not just) or as an exercise of power. (Just Cause: for the sake of restoring some good that has been denied. i.e., lost territory, lost goods, punishment for an evil perpetrated by a government, army, or even the civilian populace.)
  • Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence.[14] (Right Intention: an authority must fight for the just reasons it has expressly claimed for declaring war in the first place. Soldiers must also fight for this intention.)

If your good army abides by these conditions, and the bad army does not, it will become quite clear who is on what side.

  • $\begingroup$ Hmm… this is difficult to judge. I would say each faction probably believes itself to be fighting for these reasons, but this is a world of gray morality where it's basically become all morally relative as to which faction one is in, that will determine their morality. The narrators are almost all from one faction, so we see the world through their moral lens. For example, each faction believes in different gods, so each will tell you they are fighting for the sake of THE ONLY TRUE GOD(S). Hmmmmmm… $\endgroup$ Nov 6, 2014 at 4:28
  • $\begingroup$ @JoshZmijewski if that is the case the question you ask is a little misleading as it reads as one faction is intended to be good and the other evil. All that said the main point I mention is still valid. The best way to demonstrate good vs evil is in the actions of characters. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Nov 6, 2014 at 14:35
  • $\begingroup$ Well, what I'm saying is that from the perspective of the person actually designing the world—me—the one faction is good and the other is evil. But from the perspective of other readers/players, who may not have the same ideologies as me, it might look very different, you know? $\endgroup$ Nov 7, 2014 at 0:29
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    $\begingroup$ @JoshZmijewski that is a good clarification, thank you. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Nov 7, 2014 at 14:50

Often times, people identify good guys/bad guys based on how they are introduced. If you want to introduce someone as a good guy, immediately humanize the character. Show them saving a neighbor from a flaming building. Readers will then have more of a tendency to be lenient about future immoral acts committed by the character. Even if it's something simple like playing with a puppy, you identify the character as a real person, and therefore as someone worth sympathizing with. This is a fairly common trope called pet the dog.

The contrary is also true: to make someone seem more evil, leave them as a more faceless character and show them doing some 'bad stuff'. Burn a village, kick an animal, do something cruel to a child. Introduce some likable character and then have the bad guy kill them. It doesn't really matter that this killing could be a perfectly legitimate action in the context of a greater struggle/war, if the bad guy is a faceless killing machine, he will be more likely to be identified as bad.

The actions of an identified 'good guy' also shade our view of a potential bad guy. Consider Harry Potter, in which we hear quite a bit about Voldemort before he ever shows up. We know to boo and hiss when he does because the good guys have all told us that's what we're supposed to do.

Often times, this presentation of the character can matter more than the policies and practices of their organization. If the organization is filled with good characters, then they become good by default, and their actions are more permissible. Consider Starship Troopers by Heinlein, for example: the good guys are shown blowing up a neighborhood in one of the opening scenes in the book, but since we're show the characters as the 'good guys', it's something heroic, or at least excusable, rather than an atrocity.


Let me try to tackle some of your concerns on both the religious tendencies of your smaller faction and the alignment issue.

As you've noted Chaotic and Lawful do have certain considerations semantically, but both generally have greater connotations within the D&D style rule set. Chaotic alignment tends towards flexibility in morals and decisions, they tend to view more disputes as "shades of grey" then lawful characters; Robin Hood is a typical example of the Chaotic Good character, he steals (against the law) to help the poor afford basic things like food and shelter (charitable to those less fortunate) and victims of his theft are members or a corrupt government (booo!). In short laws are only useful if they serve some good purpose or help protect people.

Lawful on the other hand refers to a strict adherence to the letter of the law. Both Good and Evil characters can be strictly lawful imposing laws on everyone regardless of the conditions that led to the breaking of those laws. The typical example that I use when explaining a lawful demeanor is a poor man stealing to feed his family. To a Lawful character the reason is immaterial and he is guilty of theft!

Religion may be important to your small faction but what are the tenants of that religion? It's fairly easy to see where some of our modern religions get into conflicts based on their scriptures and modern interpretations of them. However some religions have simple and general guidelines rather then all encompassing rules; look at the Orks from the Warhammer 40k universe. Orks have a belief that "Might makes right" and so any and all disputes are solved with violence and conflict. The winner is obvious since the loser is usually unconscious (or dead) and the spoils are easily claimed. (Disclaimer: I'm making a fairly large inference that ork behavior/"kulture" is indicative of their "religion" "Might makes right." so bear with me).

It could be that your religion simply encourages things like toughness, strength, and ingenuity (like space marine MacGuyvers) the enemy may see your creative use of toothpaste and paper clips as terrorism; but to a chaotic struggling group of underdogs that is pure heroism.

Further you say "god-figure" but a zealous following doesn't need to be based around a religious concept it could be based on scientific advancement or like the space Orks it could be a sort of blood/war-thirst.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes. Culyx, good to see your input again. Of course not everyone is familiar with 40K but since I know you are I can explain it in simpler terms: basically my universe is sorta like a “perspective flipped” version of the 40K universe (not exactly, but sort of). So if you can imagine my evil faction being like a mix between the Tau and the Necrons, and my good faction as being like Grey Knights mixed with the SoB/Ecclesiarchy mixed with Eldar mixed with Slaanesh and Tzeentch and a little bit of Ork, you'll get sort of the idea (yes I know that sounds impossible, but that's how they are). $\endgroup$ Nov 6, 2014 at 4:44
  • $\begingroup$ Culyx, it seems to me like you really almost intuitively get the concept of what I'm going for with my setting, first with the inspired “xenophage” idea and now, once again. I feel like I ought to hire you to do some writing for my game world! $\endgroup$ Nov 7, 2014 at 1:59

One thing I have noticed is how one illuminates a character/civilization. We as an audience tend to distrust secrets - parts of the character that we are not allowed to see in any light. If your good characters are fully illuminated, so we can see all sides, we are more likely to accept them as good. If your evil characters always have a shadowy side that we cannot see, we are more likely to accept them as evil.

One less obvious way of doing this is to have the good characters be very smooth, while the bad characters have obvious facets. A good natured rogue may have something to hide, but the audience will be given hints that what is hidden isn't so evil. A good natured paladin, with a strong faceted "I am good" attitude will have to be illuminated fully to ensure he doesn't have a secret dark side. A evil natured anti-paladin will have clear facets, so that he appears to be hiding something, even if he looks to be good on the surface.

The hardest character I find to write (in my personal experience) is the evil manipulator, who doesn't have obvious facets, but for the life of you you can't pin him down to see on all sides at once. He constantly has the feeling like he's moving his secrets as you look at him, and you wish another audience member would work with you so you can observe all 360 around him at once. My favorite example is Russel Crowe's character in 315 to Yuma. He is so unbelievably shifty that it is almost impossible to tell if he is good or bad... but you assume he's bad just because he seems to be hiding something.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, this is very helpful! This is like an easy “shortcut” to make my evil faction seem even more evil just by having them appear to be hiding things, (even beyond what they are already known to be hiding) and more things behind those, and even more things behind those! They are the evil manipulators, for sure. The high echelon are already hiding from their own populous the fact that they worship dark extradimensional entities, just have to add implications of even more dark secrets that even the readers/audience don't know about… thank you for this idea! $\endgroup$ Nov 6, 2014 at 3:58

Determine a target audience by political leanings, then cater to their preconceptions. It helps vastly if you are (or have been) of the same leanings.

Look at Cyberpunk genre material, it tends to be 2 or more of: Libertarian, Anarchist, anti-corporate (American) Leftist, and/or Eco-Mentalist.

Proceed aiming at your target audience's political/social values and accept that it won't appeal to everyone.

Perhaps, once completed, approach the other faction from the opposing viewpoint, but beware: This can fail hard if you are not/have never been of that view (qv rural people in most movies).

  • $\begingroup$ Mmhmm. My setting is Libertarian and Anti-Corporate lol, that's already how it is. That's the problem, as I mentioned earlier, is I'm afraid that pro-establishment-type people will boo at my hero faction and cheer for my villain faction, which is a fascist world state/Borg-like collective/empire thing. $\endgroup$ Nov 8, 2014 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ If you can write (including writing your world building) from the other side (examples: greater-good, needs of the many, Noblesse oblige) standpoint for the other side, do so. Just get someone you trust, who does/has held that view, audit your work. They could help write too. Do NOT write from the other standpoint if you can't, unless your aim is to caricature and offend. $\endgroup$
    – Smithers
    Nov 8, 2014 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ Some good examples of books that heavily straw-man the opposition would be Atlas Shrugged and the Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Both take the tactic of making the opposition do cruddy things, like kill goats or throw frail old men in jail. Te opposition is painted as a distant parasitic establishment that forces subservience and is helpless on its own, rather than a legitimate entity. The books both have huge fanbases, but the straw man approach has always made their arguments seem easily dismissible to me. $\endgroup$
    – ckersch
    Nov 10, 2014 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ @ckersh - Interesting you call Atlas Shrugged a "straw man" given it is inspired by her growing up the daughter of Jewish shop keeper under Lenin and Stalin. The Communist through them out of their shot and was going to let the revolutionaries run it. Within a few years they were back as were about 80% of people who ran businesses before the "revolution" Communist merely renamed many existing companies as "State Enterprises" and renamed executives "Red Managers". $\endgroup$
    – TechZen
    Jul 15, 2015 at 22:43
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    $\begingroup$ When the Cold War ended, they just switched back. Rand's point was that economic productivity was ever bit a creative endeavor as art and requires the same degree of freedom. Marxist said it wealth just happened and that therefore the economically-productive needed no freedom and could be knocked around and even killed without any harm to society. They were wrong. $\endgroup$
    – TechZen
    Jul 15, 2015 at 22:44

Disregard for inherited advantages vs awareness of low level procedure

A good way to portray a society as being crueler (ergo more evil) is to emphasis its disregard for wealth handed over by older generations (3+ generations) [1] and a wide spread obliviousness to the lower level societal structures which enable their way of life [2]. Just don't make the mistake that humans are descendant from angels as opposed to self aggrandizing monkeys. Civilization is built on a mountain of human skulls and we not quite done yet - and its even harder to find methods to break communities out of poverty then it is to get a culture to agree to do it.

Some examples: [1]:If your great great grandfather was a rich slave owner and your neigbour's great great grandfather was one of his slaves, guess who's mowing who's lawn. Depending on your ideology, you not necessarily responsible for being at an advantage over your neighbor, if on average your wealthy class actually believes they do better because the poor don't try hard enough by failing to make life choices the wealthy never have to make themselves, there is a certain ambient narcissism to that culture - and a narcissism that can only maintain its standard of living through the suffering of others is on the evil side of the spectrum.

[2]:America invaded Iraq and several other oil rich states to ensure the arab nations could not skyrocket the price of oil through their monopoly on supply. The decision to destroy these countries is "evil", just be aware that the nature of the worlds economics and politics would be alien to the current positions if America hadn't - with the Arab princes probably being the world super power instead of America. This choice is so grimdark its hard to pin American citizens as being evil for not protesting this cosmic level path of bloodshed. What could better be described as "evil" would be a disinterest by the American public in the atrocities committed by their government on their behalf and a disinterest in trying to understand the complexities which underpin their quality of life.

For the state vs for the children

Does your state believe that the strength of the nation uplifts its citizens or does your state believe that uplifting its citizens strengthens the state. Nations which believe individuals should sacrifice for the sake of the state are problematic because sacrifice is never handed out equally, the poor will always carry more of a burden with less opportunities for rising in society and if the strength of the state is reliant on the continued sacrifice of the people, expect more hardship to be forced on the people at gunpoint when the going gets tough. If a state believes its duty is to uplift its population, in the long run it will usually reap the rewards of higher taxes from higher educated citizens. Very importantly to this sort of approach is that just because one societal system is more "good" then the more "evil" philosophy of its neighbor does not make it more viable or even viable at all. Even if your more "good" faction has a more benevolent manifesto, that does not mean they will be able to set up a prospering society upon those lofty ideals :p


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