Lord Dunstan: the villain that needed to die
Why did Shadyia kill Lord Dunstan Mienhard?
On the surface, it was a heroic act to kill Lord Dunstan. Three men came to the Silver Rose to rape and beat Shadyia. She kills them rather than submit. In hind sight, this was the first Domino to fall that ultimately led to the destruction of Anderholm and a lot of bad things—maybe even the annihilation of all humanity. Does that make Shadyia’s act less heroic? Maybe if she had allowed herself to be beaten and raped by Dunstan’s men—take one for the team, so to speak—maybe that would be more heroic. Killing an enemy is easy. Allowing horrid men do evil for the greater good, in this case to protect the sisterhood, is far more difficult.
If Shadyia were standing before you, and you were to ask these questions, she would tell you that she is no seer. She acts on the moment. If a house is burning down, you save who you can and then grab a bucket and run to the well. You don’t debate whether or not the house burning down would be for the greater good, nor if one of the persons trapped inside might someday become an evil overlord that slaughters millions.
A far more appealing reason
But there is a far more appealing reason, from a writer’s perspective, for Shadyia sending those men to the next life. It displayed her flaws for the reader to see. She is rash, prideful, and vicious toward her enemies. The night she killed those three men, she went to bed worried she might be dismissed from the Silver Rose. That’s all. There was no guilt or anxiety. She opened the throats of two men, got squirted with their blood, and skewered a third. She is no Mary Sue, and that is a good thing.
Ah, the Mary Sue. Readers hate them and amateur authors adore them. “What wrong with perfection?” the Newb author asks. “This is fantasy. Magic and dragons and swords and stuff. Don’t we want larger-than-life characters?”
No. Readers want flawed characters that overcome a series of near-impossible odds to achieve a worthwhile goal. As I stated in the dedication of Penance of Pride, Shadyia went through many changes from concept to final print. In her original form, she was the very definition of a Mary Sue; perfect in every way. I created Shadyia for an online computer game (Age of Conan, if you must know.) She could wade into a band of bloodthirsty pirates and kill them all without getting a scratch on her perfect skin. She was as beautiful as a Luis Royo heroine, wore her bikini armor with pride and carried a sword that would take three strong men to lift off the ground. Worse, she was devoid of personality. Then I met someone and we created stories together, and some of those stories have made it into the books—and some have yet to be told. From these stories came a personality. Bold, serious, prideful, passionate, reckless, easy to enrage and slow to forgive.
Shadyia was not a heroine
I had a test-reader tell me she hated the fact that Shadyia killed Lord Dunstan. Shadyia was not a heroine, she argued. Lord Dunstan was at her mercy. Yes, he was an asshole, but when the hero has a villain hanging by his fingers off the cliff, the hero doesn’t stomp on said fingers; s/he offers the villain a hand. I was puzzled by that criticism. For me, Shadyia butchering Lord Dunstan felt as natural as her putting on boots. She even offered him a chance to surrender, and he spit on her face. After that, it was time for Dunstan shish kabob. But, I had to take all criticism seriously. If one person felt this way, many others might as well. Fortunately, Dunstan remained Dunstan the Dead; his slaying not only helped define Shadyia (the for mentioned reckless, prideful, etc) but was the first Domino that set off a chain reaction that led to Aaron’s house and eventually into taking on Verthandi. If she had spared Dunstan, he would have gone back to his horse, rode to his estate and returned that night with twenty Wolfguard. Would Deresi still have fallen in love with Shadyia? It’s impossible to say, even for me. When she and Caprasia bathed Shadyia after the sisters had staged Dunstan’s death in the forest, Deresi was smitten. As I wrote in Penance of Pride:
Shadyia slaying those despicable men had much impressed her, but only until she had touched Shadyia’s body and looked into those blue eyes had she truly fallen. On that night, Deresi had discovered a woman possessing the strength and dignity to take on the world and never lose heart. This was who she loved. Not the slayer. Not even the friend. The hero.
Not killing Dunstan?
If Shadyia had let Dunstan live, and he had returned with twenty men, she would have been dead. If Shadyia had killed those twenty men in her nightgown, I would have created a Mary Sue. Either way, the story would have ended there. Shadyia’s flaws would continue to haunt her. She could not save Anderholm or her sisters. In book three, she kills bandits with no thought of the consequences. In book four (currently a work in progress) that flaw becomes a steamroller that crushes everyone and everything in its path.
The Mary Sue mistake
The Mary Sue (and the male version of this called the Gary Stu) is one of the worst mistakes an author can make. A Mary-Sue is never humanized by struggle or failure. A character who can swordfight while walking on a tightrope, quoting Shakespeare and casting fireballs, only to cut the rope and—as the villain falls—save him by suddenly sprouting angelic wings and flying him to the other side of the cliff—such a character becomes invincible, and nothing is more dull than invincible. Without danger, without risk, what’s the point? No one can stare too long at the sun.
If you want to see how I translate this into my work, Download my free short story here!