Vladimir Putin – Olympic Host” by DonkeyHotey is marked with CC BY 2.0.

In my last dispatch, I talked about the creation of a memorable fictional protagonist, what some call Homo Fictus. It’s always a challenge to build a hero from scratch, especially when the only recipe is: “combine water, blood, human frailty, and something superhuman. Bake for about two years, give or take, and let rest for six months or so. Serve warm.”  

The protagonist is typically the toughest because he/she is the person around whom the story revolves. But the bad guy, the villain in a novel—someone I call Homo Dictus—can be just as difficult. Writers want a Homo Dictus who is every bit what Dan Brown calls “a worthy opponent” for our hero. We want him to have a compelling backstory, something that allows the reader to appreciate his point of view and even sympathize with it. This recipe lifts Dictus above the stock one-dimensional, quintessentially evil Bond villain to a three-dimensional anti-hero who really believes in his cause. Add a pinch of humor, and our bad guy is now a richly textured adversary.

But what happens when Homo Dictus is just a plain, old, well…Dick? You know who I’m talking about. A man with no redeeming qualities. A whacko whose worldview is pretty 17th century. A pure punk. A thug. Well, one thing that happens is that this kind of bad guy has no chance of winning. History is replete with such brutes. They make for a bad story because we know how it’s all going to end. That end will come at a huge cost, but it is inevitable.

The steps that have led us all here are largely irrelevant now—we can agree or disagree on our foreign policy (or lack thereof) for the last thirty years. The only piece that remains to be written is how long it will take for Vladimir Putin to be removed and how that sentence will be carried out. The people of Ukraine will have a good deal of input in writing that ending, as will the Russian people who will have to cohere enough to face their own centuries-old fears of miscreant Tsars. But the rest of us will help determine the when and how of it as well. 

We’ll do it because we know we could be next. We’ll do it because sometimes a bad guy is just a really bad guy, and it’s time to edit him out of our story.

In my last dispatch, I talked about the creation of a memorable fictional protagonist, what some call Homo Fictus. It’s always a challenge to build a hero from scratch, especially when the only recipe is: “combine water, blood, human frailty, and something superhuman. Bake for about two years, give or take, and let rest for six months or so. Serve warm.”  

The protagonist is typically the toughest because he/she is the person around whom the story revolves. But the bad guy, the villain in a novel—someone I call Homo Dictus—can be just as difficult. Writers want a Homo Dictus who is every bit what Dan Brown calls “a worthy opponent” for our hero. We want him to have a compelling backstory, something that allows the reader to appreciate his point of view and even sympathize with it. This recipe lifts Dictus above the stock one-dimensional, quintessentially evil Bond villain to a three-dimensional anti-hero who really believes in his cause. Add a pinch of humor, and our bad guy is now a richly textured adversary.

But what happens when Homo Dictus is just a plain, old, well…Dick? You know who I’m talking about. A man with no redeeming qualities. A whacko whose worldview is pretty 17th century. A pure punk. A thug. Well, one thing that happens is that this kind of bad guy has no chance of winning. History is replete with such brutes. They make for a bad story because we know how it’s all going to end. That end will come at a huge cost, but it is inevitable.

The steps that have led us all here are largely irrelevant now—we can agree or disagree on our foreign policy (or lack thereof) for the last thirty years. The only piece that remains to be written is how long it will take for Vladimir Putin to be removed and how that sentence will be carried out. The people of Ukraine will have a good deal of input in writing that ending, as will the Russian people who will have to cohere enough to face their own centuries-old fears of miscreant Tsars. But the rest of us will help determine the when and how of it as well. 

We’ll do it because we know we could be next. We’ll do it because sometimes a bad guy is just a really bad guy, and it’s time to edit him out of our story.