It’s that time of year when the things I love the most get noticed and celebrated at least a little by everybody else (even though corporations still hate creating typical Halloween products that actually include werewolves; seriously go check your local department store, it’s been this way since I was a tiny tiny child)…
Happy Howl-o-ween! Time for a special Halloween post!
First off – welcome (again), new followers! I had a big ol’ followers flux, in part because my werewolf masterlist made the rounds and in part because of Overly Sarcastic Productions’ new video on werewolves! I communicated a lot with Red about research for it; be sure to check it out. You’ll recognize pretty much everything in there, if you’ve spent a lot of time on this blog (and if you’ve read my latest book, too)!
For a while now, I’ve been getting lots of messages and asks about werewolf stories and character concepts (and I always enjoy those!), but a lot of them have a something in common… an antagonistic or generally evil werewolf/werewolves or discussions thereof – or asking how to make a werewolf who isn’t an antagonist.
While villain werewolves are great and can be totally awesome, they are generally terrible, and on average, we do not like those or support or encourage them here on this blog. My goal with werewolf (and wolf) education is to encourage the creation of sympathetic and not evil werewolves and wolf-related characters. This doesn’t mean they have to be “cuddly” by any means (I’m not a fan of that, either), but it would be great to see werewolf characters that aren’t one-note villains.
Using them as villains is great, but I would so much rather see werewolf and wolf villains be done sparingly instead of the overwhelmingly “almost always” that you see today and have always seen throughout the history of entertainment.
Historically, werewolves (and wolves in general) are always cast in a bad light and as villains, often being pure evil and menaces that must be stopped (read: killed), and that needs to stop for so many reasons. If you want to hear more about that, though, you should read my book on how werewolves in folklore are not what they are in pop culture, how werewolves are nothing but misconceptions today, and why that isn’t a good thing.
All that being said, let’s move on to the meat of this post…
How do you make werewolves not evil?
There are many characters in stories. Not all of them have to be protagonists or antagonists. They do not have to be good or evil. Werewolves fit perfectly into shades of grey, whether they are directly cast as heroes or villains or not.
I want to emphasize something here: Werewolves are characters first and werewolves second. Essentially, werewolves are people, too.
It’s like any other character creation. If you create a character specifically to be “a female character” or “the love interest” or whatever, they are inherently going to suffer from that. If you make “the werewolf character” instead of making a character and then making that character happen to be a werewolf (or whatever other template you are applying), your character will never be as good as that character who was created as a character first and then the other element second. Do not let “being a werewolf” (or whatever other element is at play) dictate the character.
Almost all werewolf characters in media are werewolves first and characters second. They suffer for that. They aren’t really people – they’re just plot elements.
Werewolves are so much deeper than throwaway villains. At their core, werewolves are sill human, and they have problems and motivations and hopes and dreams like everyone else. Their lycanthropy affects that, not destroys it.
If you do not want the werewolf to be a primary hero or working with the primary hero, they do not necessarily have to be the villain, either. Werewolf characters can come and go like any other characters. Their motivations can be a mystery – they themselves can be part of that mystery. They do not necessarily have to be good or evil, but characters with their own motivations.
Being a werewolf does not have to impact them being good or evil at all. They could help the hero(es) directly or indirectly or only now and then, or they can be a looming threat the heroes hope they never have to face. They can be something that only helps the hero in their greatest moment of need due to the potential risks of doing so.
Werewolves can be a mysterious hermit, the wandering loner, the person who never lets anyone get close. They can drift in and out of a story and help the protagonists in only minor ways. They can be the Gandalf.
They can be literally anything in any story, if only horizons would be expanded. Werewolves are not a villain or antagonist, throwaway or not, by nature. They are characters, like everyone else. They just happen to also be werewolves, which only adds yet another very interesting layer to their characters – a layer that offers endless possibility and exploration, with so much character growth and development.
Werewolves are generally assumed to be villains. The natural line of thought is to make them such. That is exactly what I want to change.
The uncontrollable werewolves do not necessarily have to be the type to come charging out of nowhere, wanting to kill the protagonist and their friends for no reason at all. Give their animal side more depth, too. Why would it behave in such a way? What motivates it? Do you really want your readers to se your protagonist thinking that anything animalistic is an evil plague that must be destroyed, instead of just a part of nature that is trying to keep to itself? Or what if that werewolf was a hero, whether a hero or an anti-hero, instead of a villain – like all those other werewolves?
There are so many things one can do with werewolves. They can be enigmatic heroes, they can be the shades of grey. They could be a force of nature, they can be guardians, healers, sages, seers, shamans – they can be the thing that goes bump in the night, the thing you never see but know is there. They can be knights in shining armor with a dark side (my favorite and also my primary werewolf protagonist), they can be the absolute perfect anti-heroes – the possibilities are endless!
Werewolves do not inherently represent a force of evil or something to oppose the protagonists. They can take up any role in a story. Turn to folklore for ideas and inspiration! Read about them as great warriors, as heroes, healers, as simple wandering travelers – and as that friend you never expected could turn into a wolf and bring you a deer to eat when you got too hungry on the road.
Werewolves are not something that always has to be “fought” in a story. They can simply be a part of the world and part of the environment, a character someone sees in passing. They don’t have to be at the forefront as heroes and villains. They don’t have to be “faced” and “dealt with” in some way every time they are encountered. The fact that so many people write stories in which the werewolf must be immediately dealt with and is “evil” only highlights further the fact that werewolves have been put in this evil light because humanity feels it must destroy and restrain the forces of nature instead of letting the wild be free.
And if you want to have a werewolf who isn’t a hero (not all stories need werewolf heroes, either, after all), a great role for a werewolf is a red herring, since everyone does naturally assume a werewolf will be evil – but maybe that werewolf just wants to be left alone instead.
Werewolves are often at their best when they are only under suspicion – when the characters are wondering and worrying about it. Wonder if that thing behind them is the werewolf. Is the werewolf evil? Is it going to kill me? Are they even a werewolf? Like any horrific creature, werewolves are at their strongest when they are not front and center and tearing up everything, but when they are mysterious and a source of fear – when they are more characterized and less a monster encounter action scene that comes and goes in a hurry. When they are too powerful to be fought directly and are best just avoided.
This is why werewolves make for such great horror and mystery – and that can also help characterize them.
Maybe the protagonists cannot be sure if the person is a werewolf or not – and if that person is on their side or not. Maybe the werewolf doesn’t specifically help or fight them. And maybe ,at some crucial moment, the werewolf will appear and offer aid. Werewolves make for great enigmatic characters, especially when they are trying to hide their nature.
Most folklore werewolves are not necessarily heroes or villains (though they often came in a more heroic variety before the Renaissance, of course). Werewolves can take so many different roles, depending on what story you want to tell.
My favorite werewolves will always be those that have a dark side, not those that are sweet and cuddly. To me, if a werewolf is not in some way dark, it isn’t actually a werewolf (especially if they are just dog-people, which isn’t werewolves at all, but you’ve all heard me rant about that before). But that absolutely does not make them inherently villains – it makes them extremely interesting characters with endless depths to explore. Giving a character lycanthropy only gives them that much more substance. It should never take substance away – which is what tends to happen with a lot of werewolves in media, especially those one-note villain ones or the simplistic ones that are just a plot point in a mystery (and then are generally killed anyway).
So do not fall into that trap of making werewolves the villain(s) in your story/setting/etc. Think of them as you would both individuals and a force of nature – the most dangerous wild animal of them all… but not in any way inherently “evil.”
I hope this provides food for thought about making a character first and putting the werewolf element second – having that character you created react to being a werewolf the way a real person would, instead of existing solely as a plot element and/or a villain.
Expect more in-depth writing advice posts on this topic in the future!
And in conclusion… Happy Halloween!