The Definition of Evil
Authors tap into their personal experiences to create story and characters. These experiences can be positive or negative. Within our negatives lies an element which we deem to be evil. This negative quality is beyond poor judgment and bad behavior. For me, the difference becomes apparent when a person embraces the negative and turns their back on the positive. Essentially, there is a joy in being bad.
Evil takes many forms in our lived and in our stories. The good detective hunting down the despicable criminal. The anti-hero Mad Max who saves a life one day and kills 10 people the next. The desperate Bonnie and Clyde criminal who are “just trying to survive” against the “man.” The trusted person who is a pedophile. The leader who removes subversive people to save society. The mental patient who “does not know any better.” Then there is the despicable Hannibal Lecter or serial killer Ted Bundy who enjoy torturing people to death.
Towards the lesser end of the evil spectrum is a “normal” person who appears to have bad judgment, but there is an element of evil contained within their core. For example, a best friend that steals from you. An alcoholic relative who rams their car through a crowd of people in a drunken rage.
People often justify their evil tendencies. “This is something that has to happen. I’m not enjoying this.” If we look at the deplorable people through history, the majority genuinely perceived their actions as good. “The bad people needed to die.”
Often an “honest” person feels they are performing good deeds with their deplorable actions. An extreme example is killing the “non-believers.” A less extreme example is a parent who constantly punishes their child to “keep them in line.”
The worst evil is when you realize that you, yourself are evil. You try to convince yourself that breaking your brother’s arm was an “accident.” That person looking back in the mirror is a drug dealer and not a “spiritual helper.” At one point, a person realizes that “breaking his arm was wrong.” From that time onward, this person must rationalize their existence. Sometimes a person can understand they are evil, make a change, apologize for the past and they try to make amends. I believe an evil person can become a good person. Other times, an evil person embraces their inner demon. “I like being a drug dealer.” “Breaking his arm felt good.”
Protagonists range from annoying to an ongoing deplorable level of evil that can only exist in outlandish fiction. Can a fictional character truly be considered evil? Stories are a collection of words and concepts that only become real when a reader thinks about them. Does this mean that a protagonist “brings out the evil” in a readers mind? In some ways, I think it does. Can a bad story corrupt a reader? There are many examples of bad people who got their inspiration from books or movies.
People are complex. They have a lot going on in their minds with a variety of backgrounds to guide them. People have witnessed actual events that range from acts of supreme kindness to unimaginable horrors. A good story will pull from experiences out of a reader's minds and allow the reader to visualize the story. This includes visualizing evil.
Let's explore two actual “evil” people from my life. This first is a former coworker. He is a pathetic man who overcame his incompetence by blaming others. I came into his crosshairs and suffered through his wrath. From my perspective, the result was hurt feelings and a messed-up project. I still harbor disdain for this individual all these years later. What did he think of me? I’m sure he felt that everybody around him was incompetent and out to get him. I was simply one of the people that upset him more than the others. He would likely summarize me as a non-team player.
Was he truly evil? At the time, I thought so. I have since thought about how evil this man actually was. He was suffering from severe arthritis and he took powerful medications. The medications had severe side effects including mental impairment. He was the only provider of a family with two children. I am sure he was under enormous pressure. However, there is no doubt he was fully aware of the medication effects and his poor job performance. However, we never asked for help, understanding or forgiveness.
The aspect of his personality that brought out the evil was his enjoyment to inflict pain. Rather than accept his circumstances and try his best to overcome them, he went out of his way to blame others for his shortcomings. When this happened, I felt his passion. He savored the success of his negative efforts. His actions were beyond poor judgment. Something else was present in that man. My guess is that this “evil high” distracted him from his own arthritis pain and prevented him from facing his own severe incompetence.
I based a protagonist upon this man. I copied the way he dressed, his bad decisions, the way he covered up his bad decisions, his supreme incompetence, low ethics, and the condescending way he spoke. My character served as a good foil. In retrospect, something positive came out of that situation. It’s fun to be a writer. Or is it budget therapy? Hmm.
Three years ago, our house got robbed. The traumatic experience harshly affected my family. A year later, they caught the person. Joey Ramos is a despicable man that committed several crimes. I was one of many people who testified against him. He was convicted and they are asking for 140 years.
In the courtroom, I faced my accuser. I could see the evil in his black eyes. [They were actually black. I absolutely could not see any white and I could feel his hate. It was very unnerving.] This man truly had no soul. He only existed to steal, cause pain and corrupt others. By the rules of society, he is the definition of evil and for me, he is the supreme proof that evil exists.
This is the guy that robbed our house.
Am I going to base a character upon him? Absolutely not. He is far too bad for my style of writing. Readers would encounter with a vastly evil character with no positive attributes. However, I’m aware that other writers choose to use characters of this nature. He could easily be the despicable criminal that a great police officer chases. Or the criminal equivalent of Hannibal Lecter who likes to steal.
But wait. Joey Ramos is real, and he really affected me. Taking an objective approach, he is not that bad when compared to a fictional person like Hannibal Lecter or the real-life serial killer Ted Bundy.
For me, such an evil character like Hannibal Lecter are impossible for me to relate to. I cannot alter my mindset enough to think like Hannibal Lecter. There has to be at least one foot in the real world. When I develop a character, they need a motive beyond embracing evil. Perhaps a bad circumstance they are attempting to overcome.
Is it ethical to write about an evil character? In past blogs, I stated that I am a deeply ethical person. However, my stories contain death, torture, murder, and hardship. My first book is about a 500-year-old murdering psychopath. In this [well-written] book [you should buy] [right now] [please!] I attempt to justify her existence. Essentially my story attempts to make her less evil. At very least, I attempt to justify the evil within her own mind.
Overall, my main characters are good, and I expose them to evil. Sometimes the evil stays around. However, the evil deeds are not rewarded and evil characters are not embraced. Why? That’s just who I am.
My goal is writing is to make a story that entertains the readers while retaining my ethical boundaries. In order to appreciate the bright positive parts, the negative parts must be experienced. A good story explores evil while good people do not. Within my own life, I try my best to be a good person and suppress my evil tendencies. When I find that I have crossed the line, I do my best to make amends.
It is clear that I allow myself to write about evil. Am I propelling the evil concepts that I write about? Hey, bad people here’s an idea. Go read Bills book and learn how to kill. At least get yourself in the mood. Hmm.
Would that make me slightly evil? I read books and watch movies that have evil characters. I play video games where I “kill people.” That’s me clicking the mouse button to shoot a gun. I fully comprehend that I’m no saint and I have regrets over my past negative actions. Does that make me at least some percentage evil? Dang… That’s certainly something to think about.
You’re the best -Bill
February 20, 2019
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