Beloved Readers, I have a rule.
I didn't quite realize it until a few weeks ago, but I've been writing by this rule since I seriously picked up writing as a craft somewhere in the neighborhood of 2004. A rule first introduced to me by The Last Unicorn and later fully codified by Princess Mononoke for all characters, but especially for all villains and antagonists. A simple rule by design, if not always in practice.
Reader, I do not write monsters.
Please, do not misunderstand me. That is not to say I don't write characters who do monstrous or unforgivable things, but rather I don't write characters who do monstrous things for no reason. That is also not to say all villains or antagonists are required to have a maudlin backstory of abuse and hardship to explain their mindset, nor does it require them to always moral extremists working for what they see as the greater good. It is especially not to say that I only write antagonists who are/will be/is worthy of a redemptive turnaround.
I'm not asking for all characters to have Walter White levels of complexity every time all the time, here. Sometimes someone is just straight up a terrible person, but they still must be a person. People have reasons for what they do, even if they themselves don't always realize it.
Are they good reasons? Are they complex reasons? No, not always.
Maybe Diamond Tiara tripped Apple Bloom because she's bitter about constantly losing and under intense pressure to win, while Apple Bloom's always winning with barely any effort. Or maybe Diamond Tiara tripped Apple Bloom because it's funny and Diamond was bored that day. Maybe it's both.
People—even awful people—have other sides to them besides evil schemes and puppy kicking. What else do they do? Who do they love? Does anyone love them? Do they feel bad about what they do, and if not then why not? Do they think they're justified? What would they die for? What would they kill for? What's their down-time like? Are they spending Christmas alone? Can they become better people? Do they want to? And—perhaps most important of all—how did they get to this state in the first place?
These are not the questions we ask monsters.
We don't speak to monsters. Monsters don't have feelings and monsters don't have mothers. Monsters are one-dimensional roaring, hateful, evil things not to be understood, sympathized with or spoken to.
Monsters are there to be slain. That's all. A monster is not a “who” but an “it”.
There is a time and place for monsters, yes, but when it comes to actual characters, I prefer my monsters to either be internal. (Or in horror, but that’s a different animal, since the entire purpose horror is monsters in some way, shape, or form)
While this rule extends to all of my stories, it's arguably the entire cornerstone of The Silver Standard. Like, rounding out one-dimensional jerkhorses is the entire point.
Then Spoiled Rich showed up. As I taped up my headcanon and swept up the debris of my original outline, I realized three things:
1) This character is intended to be a hate-sink and succeeds because holy crackers I wanna kick this nag in the teeth.
2) This character is gonna show up in "Standard"
3) I don't write monsters. ...Goddammit.
Now, Spoiled Rich wasn’t the first jerk we’ve seen in the show and wouldn’t be the last. Yet, because of her role is to act as a hatesink, her sheer hateability climbs through the roof. Diamond Tiara’s no angel, but she’s got the excuse of being a child fighting petty battles against equal opponents. She had (very) small moments in the background of doing something other than being a vile tyrant; we at least knew she loved and respected her dad and has a friend who cares about her.
While her villainy sometimes tiptoed close to it, Diamond Tiara was never written as a monster. As of her only appearance*, Spoiled Rich absolutely is. While Diamond’s role purpose was to push the Crusaders into becoming better ponies, Spoiled’s role is to be slain
Not only that, but because she’s a relatively minor character and Silver Standard sticks close to Silver Spoon’s perspective, the option of spending quality time with her was off the table. That’s not entirely a problem, since an author need not lay out all their cards anyway. But that does mean that I need to know why this jerk is a jerk even if the reader never fully gets to. I need to know so I know when and how Spoiled works when she appears. I need to what she’s thinking when a well-to-do little grey filly pops up on her doorstep and what makes her go from mild interest to pulling out daggers and going for the throat.
Before starting the final draft, I actually rewrote an entire alternate perspective of that scene with Spoiled Rich and it helped immensely. I’m incredibly tempted to detail the methodology of that verbal attack, but my better instincts advise me to wait until the story’s finished, for fear of possible spoilers.
Right now, I’ll just state that she’s a bitter, pessimistic mare who works with what she has. And that Filthy Rich is one of the three ponies she genuinely likes. Spoiled’s relationship with her stepdaughter is...rocky, but she’d like for Diamond to be one of these ponies too.
When I started The Silver Standard, I centralized it around a song. While it still fits Silver Spoon’s character and relationships**, especially in the first half, I’ve come to realize that maybe another song might fit the story better over all.
People make mistakes holding to their own, thinking they're alone. Honor their mistakes. Do better, because ultimately you decide what's right and what's good.
People are more than what you make of them, and to label monsters can result in creating your own. Truffle Shuffle thinks he's dealing with monsters. So does Diamond Tiara and (to a lesser extent) Silver Spoon. It's natural to only see yourself as good and everyone who opposes you as evil; after all, monsters live in fairy tales and you're not grown up yet.
Monsters are indeed there to be slain, but they are most often slain because they are outgrown.
*I really must emphasize that it's her appearance as of now. The running time of "Lost Mark" demanded her appearances be short, clear, and brutal. She simply had no time to be character.
**"It's not about aptitude, it's the way you're viewed" is pretty much the story's tagline, really