L.J. Smith and the Concepts of Good and Evil in Characters
L.J. Smith has a true gift for writing characters. Many of them are complex and almost all fascinate me. When I was considering the topic of this paper characters seemed like a natural subject to tackle since anything that happens in a plot happens because of conflict between characters, and many of L.J. Smith’s books seem to be a matter of good vs. evil so whether or not those characters are truly good or evil is extremely important.
I detest putting characters into categories because to me characters are people (comes from being a writer myself I guess) and people are complex. Looks can be deceiving and even the way a person perceives themselves isn’t necessarily the perception of those around them. On the other hand, without some sort of categorical organization my thoughts are liable to delve into chaos, a mixture of observation, philosophy, and personal inclination. Therefore I’m going to save you the trouble of wading through muddled thoughts and offer up categories.
It seems to me that L.J. Smith’s characters can go into three basic categories, those of good, evil, and balanced. As you’ll find in a moment, the balanced category is the largest category, which it should be since otherwise your characters are unrealistic and difficult for readers to relate to. And as I’ll explain in a moment, the good and evil categories fill both sides of the scale, thus finishing up the balance necessary for a good book.
Occasionally it has seemed to me that there’s a token good character in each book by L.J. Smith, though when I dig deeper I sometimes find these are balanced characters in disguise. The good character is the one who wouldn’t hurt a fly, who never seems to do anything wrong. These include Diana of The Secret Circle trilogy and Rob Kessler from Dark Visions. These characters many times seem thrown in for contrast with another character (Rob and Gabriel, Diana and Faye.) I won’t dwell too much on them here since there aren’t that many and I’m eager to move along in my analysis.
This can some time’s be a hard category to figure due to the number of characters that appear on the scene as evil but later turn out to be good in their own right. To me these characters don’t belong here but in the balanced category. There are a few characters though that we’ll all agree to be evil. One example is Mr. Zetes from Dark Visions. Others would be Maya from the Night World series or Katherine from The Vampire Diaries. These are characters that don’t change as the book wears on, and they’re always in conflict with other characters. As with the good characters, there aren’t many of these, so I believe it’s time to move on.
By far the largest category of characters, a category that can further be divided into two sections, that of the immediately apparent balanced characters, and that of characters that appear at first to fit into the evil category, but as the book goes on we learn aren’t quite so easily categorized.
Easily Apparent Balance
In the opening chapter of the first Dark Visions book Kaitlyn is attempting to convince herself that she doesn’t care about being invited to parties thrown by the other kids. Her establishment as a balanced character is immediately apparent since she appears as lonely but also wishes for a couple of the girls to die, or have an accident. A purely good character would certainly not wish violence on anyone and a purely evil character would not be so easily relatable to in their loneliness. Immediately after this she begins to stress over her doodle of the spider web and the child. She’s racking her brain to come up with ways to find and help the girl in trouble. Then she’s leaving the room, turning an icy gaze on Chris Barnable and referring to him as a jerk. The most immediate laying down of balance in a character that I’ve ever seen.
Easily apparent balanced characters are seen from the start as having contradictory thoughts or urges. In other words, they’re shown to be realistic. Almost every main character of L.J. Smith’s books fits into this category, just a few examples being Cassie Blake from The Secret Circle and James Rasmussen and Raksha Keller from The Night World.
From One Side to the Other
We all know these characters. The one’s that are singled out are usually male and are the ones we’d refer to as “bad boys.” They’re characters the first appear to us as heartless and cruel, the kind of characters that are always causing trouble or pushing people away, the kind of characters that give a “so what?” answer when you tell them something terrible is happening. And yet these characters have hidden depths. Beneath their tough exteriors there’s warmth, a kindness that inevitably makes its way out. An example of one of these characters would be Gabriel Wolfe from the Dark Visions trilogy who arrived on the scene threatening the other psychics for his room and doing everything he could to show them he didn’t give a darn about them. In the end he’s the one who ends up saving the day though, showing that there’s always more to a person than what meets the eye. Other examples are Ash Redfern from the Night World and Nick Armstrong from The Secret Circle. Not that it’s exclusively males. There are a few females that fit into this category such as Blaise Harman from the Night World. These are some of the most interesting characters of L.J. Smith’s books, the ones that keep you wondering and turning pages so that you can see for yourself what’s going on with them.
L.J. Smith’s characters work together well. By having most of her characters be balanced she keeps them relatable and she sprinkles in just enough good and evil characters (who balance each other out) to keep the plot interesting. L.J. Smith, wonderful character creator.
Reflections on LJ Smith