Is Evil born or is it Made?
Let's talk about evil, about the bad guy, about the one True Embodiment of All Things Evil! Let's talk about the antagonist only the Chosen One can defeat because narrative causality loves to leave anonymous Chosen One's scattered around for Mentors to stumble upon by pure chance. It actually turns out that it wasn't so pure after all...turns out there is no such thing as chance anywhere a writer has been!
Now tell me about your most memorable villain. Was it someone like Sauron that you knew next to nothing about? Was it that snake-faced fellow in Harry Potter? I will admit Rowling did quite well there; the faceless force of all evil with a later introduced back story. It was decently done. But it wasn't enough on time, I feel.
I enjoy a quote which is somewhat popular
"No-one gets up in the morning and as, they they prepare their decaf and muesli, decide that today is the day they make the commitment and get that whole 'Epitomy of all Evil' thing started up..."
Maybe there are one of two who did but I doubt it. Think about this one too;
"No-one is ever the villain in their own story.."
This is also very true and, if you really want to get into it, profound. No-one is ever the villain in their own story. Do you realise the one difference between - aha - Readers and Writers? We writers tend to share our stories as an extended form of allegory.
Everyone is Writing their Own Story.
Every hour of every day, every single person on the planet is writing their own story. We could, at great depth, take a dive into the subject of consciousness. We could talk about our conscious narrator, or unconscious narrator and even the sub-conscious narrator. We could apply these to writing styles, we could even expound on how literature is a direct result of craziness but not today. You can do that if you like, we can use this as a prompt.
Let's just leave it as an idea. We write our own stories in our own heads as we organise the events of the day. Those who tell lies, build a narrative to fit their lies into and even convince themselves it is truth in order to be able to tell their story convincingly. Today we might call such a thing FAKE NEWS or similar.
The take away from that is simple, though; ten people who experience the same event might later tell it differently. Even the one who is later labelled 'Villain' might have their own version of events which contains justification for that which others call 'evil' or 'wrong.'
The Villain is Never Evil to Themselves.
Even someone like Hitler did not jump to his feet one morning and decide "I will become the most hated man in history today!" I am sure that he was convinced that he was doing good, that his course was right. He was probably sure that he was, in fact, the hero.
Look at all the serial killers who thought that God was giving them instructions. The murderers who were certain that they were eliminating evil. The war criminals who were convinced that they were saving their country. The list goes on and on. One could spend hours and days researching this subject and see the same thing, repeated over and over;
"I Did not know!"
I did not know...I thought it was right, I thought i was saving lives...I thought that if we took away the bad two-thirds of life on Earth, then all would reset and the good would rebuild...and end to starvation, war and want...I did not know the innocent would die...
One scene which strikes me is when Lestat goes to Hell in Anne Rice's Memnoch the Devil. Almost all the guests of Hell are, when confronted by the reality of their actions, horrified. Once they see the consequences they scream as one "I did not know!" and beg forgiveness. Sooner or later, they will beg, it is said. Some, convinced of their Right, might take longer than others. Some might take forever.
We did not Know...
We've all done it, I'm sure. We all have. Ignored a person in need. Ended a relationship we could not handle. Spurned the attentions of a person we did not like. Said someone hateful and nasty. We did not consider the consequences though because we are convinced that we are doing right; our inner narrator told us so. We did not know...
There is a vital difference though.
In simple narrative explanation this quote surely applies;
"The hero is one who is aware of their failures and blames themselves for one failure or another and seeks to make up for it. The Villain is one who blames others for their failures and seeks revenge of those same people they blame..."
Simple right? Perhaps overly so but, as they saying goes, the simple truths are the the most powerful.I would like you, though, to revisit those villains I asked you to think about earlier. Tell me about about them.
The Villain who Stands Out
The villain who stands out is the one who is most memorable. The one who makes the reader uncomfortable, who squirms as he reads about them. She will get shivers and nasty feelings as she considers their thoughts. Why?
The phrase "there, but for the grace of God, go I" will often fill the mind of the reader as they see what the villain who is written well. "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions" apparently and a good villain will be one who started out doing good. He or she will have had what they were certain were the best interests of all at heart but then they were faced with a choice. I call this choice The Hero's Test. This choice; let us use a coin to visualise it correctly. Heads means you take choice A; tails elects choice B. What you may or may not know is that one choice may mean the complete and utter failure of your plans, the other their absolute success.
If you choose one, everything that ever matters to you might well be gone. Choose the other and you save it. not only do you save it but everyone knows that you saved it and they will praise you for the act.
At least that's what you think. We all tend to believe that other people think as we do, don't we?
The Hero's Choice
The hero tends to be seen as the one who has it all together and is universally admired by all who meet them. They slay the bad guys and save the maidens or whatever male maidens are called. They slay the dragons and vanquish the darkness. They bring an end to horrors and smash the plans of the villain forever and ever! They are the business and no mistake! Right?
Not entirely, eh?
At some point the would have been presented with a choice and, chances are, that choice was not necessarily the right one. In the short term, that is.
In the long term, that choice made the hero into, in fact, the actual hero. The decision, the choice, taught them deep and important lessons. They may have wanted revenge at first and either sought out or encountered Wise Mentor. After finding Wise Mentor, they may well have learned what truly matters and might also have discovered their Chosen Oneness at the same time. They were then presented with a new choice and how they decided at that moment, placed them on the Hero's Path.
Let us not forget they their earlier choice tends to result in the immediate deaths of everyone that they ever cared about.
The Villain's Choice
Remember that coin we were speaking about earlier? I intentionally did not mention it again until now. What do coins always have? It does not matter where the coin is from, whose portrait it bears, of what material it is made and from what part of history it comes, all coins have this in common. It matters not their shape or value, all coins have two sides. The heads and the tails are it were.
Now what are good and evil but two sides of the same coin? What are the hero and the villain but two choices under the same circumstances?
Remember what we learned earlier about choices and blame. The hero will take one path because he blames himself, the villain another because she blames someone else.
The hero will perhaps begin with vengeance as his goal but Wise Mentor might teach him that there are more important things than bathing oneself in the blood of the guilty. Like saving the lives of the ones who are left, for example. Of stopping the Evil One from putting others through what the hero has been through.
The villain, though, has a different approach. he will make sure that the guilty pay and he will also make certain that no-one can hurt him again by taking over and passing laws about it, as well as surrounding himself in elite soldiers and monsters to make sure of it.
You see it is all a matter of perspective. I use one more quote which, I feel, shows the true difference;
"Remember the dead, but fight for the living..." (Hellgate : London, Flagship Studios)
See how neatly that encapsulates it? The villain will remember the dead and this will drive him to making sure he is able to control death by accessing secret teachings and powers. The hero will protect those left alive in honour of those who have died. She will never forget those she has lost but decides the best way to honour them and return to them as worthy is to save as many as she can can before she falls in their defense.
The villain, though, turns inward instead of outward. He takes the short cut, the easier way. He does not consider nor admit failure. Again, it's about perspective.
This is what can make the villain interesting, though. The idealist, the shining light, the Greatest One, becoming the Shadow, the Evil, the Bad Guy!
Think about the most famous fall from grace there ever has been. One of the central characters of the Chronicles of Enoch in fact; Lucifer, the Light-Bringer, Star of the Morning, The Devil.
In the Chronicles, we meet Lucifer in Chapter Four and learn something vitally important about him. He is convinced that Mankind will disappoint his Father and dishonour Him. He has set out to create and refine the human race with his nephilim and has been improving the strain over the eons in order to create a race worthy of their Creator. A race in his image. Not the race in the Creator's image which he started with but in Lucifer's own image.
To Give what is Needed, not What is Asked.
Lucifer is certain that the Creator made him because of one vital difference he discovered in himself when he made his Choice. Intelligence and creativity. He compares himself to Michael who will follow the Creator's orders blindly as he does when Judgement is brought to Atlantis and the world drowned.
He famously tells Michael "I am giving him what He needs, not what He asks.." to which Michael rages "who are you to deign to know the mind of the Creator?"
Who indeed? Lucifer, apparently, was made for that very purpose. Everything he does is to make his Father proud of him. He will bring the universe down to prove to his Father that he loves him! Look at how many sacrifices he is prepared to make in His honour! His own life? Why? Who then would make sure things are done right?
Lucifer will selflessly and generously sacrifice each and every life in the universe to show his commitment to his Father's ideal.
To do What is Right no Matter the Damnation Awaiting
The we have Sable. Sable is the opposite side of Lucifer's coin. Sable was also there when Michael delivered the Creator's Judgement. he saw almost all his people wiped out. he heard the Herald declare all nephilim Abomination in the Father's eyes. He expressed a desire to erase them - each and every one - from existence. Understandably, Sable was initially quite bitter about this. Then he saved Enoch's life (again) from a group of marauding nephilim near Gemorrah and had a moment of deep epiphany that shocked even the Prophet who thought that he'd seen it all and was, therefore, quite unshockable.
Sable chose to focus on the Outward. He decided that it didn't matter that the Creator had damned him and his entire race. He knew what Right was and he would be better off dead than to do Evil. He was already damned so what did he have to lose?
He'd already lost everything but had one thing of value left, his soul. He might as well keep that for however long he remained on Earth, right? He was sure to lose it when he eventually died but until then...he knew what Right was and to do anything other would be a lie.
A Necessary - ah - Evil? Someone Must Do That Which Nobody Else Dares To Do...
Of course we have black and we have white. We have light and we have shadow. We have a coin with two faces; head and tails. Yet we do, limited as we find ourselves to be, neglect that a coin is not, in fact, two dimensional. The coin was width, the coin has height, the coin (if circular) has circumference and radius. The coin, being a three-dimensional object, also has depth. It has an edge, that space between it's two faces or 'sides'. Between two sides, it would appear, there is an area which is neither side but also part of each...
"Suppose you toss a coin enough times, suppose that one day that coin lands on it's edge..."
So; we're only allowed Hero and Villain then? Why? You're so stiff and controlling that you might be turning into a villain at this point! How better can the difference between Light and Darkness be best considered than by observing the Eclipse? The Twilight, The Dawn?
We forget about Asmodeus but, then again, he likes it that way.
Asmodeus feels that he had the same Choice as Lucifer and Sable but he had to decide not selfishly for himself as they did. He had to make the choice neither of them dared to. The choice which made sure that they both survived long enough to let the two sides of the coin decide which one would win. To walk the edge and be the edge which held them together but apart long enough for the matter to be decided once and for all. Even if that meant the coin was destroyed in the process.
Asmodeus is a great believer in the saying "evil contains the seeds of it's own destruction" but feels that, at times at least, the conditions needed for those seeds to germinate must be - ah - assisted.
"I am walking balanced on the thinnest and most dangerous line in existence. So narrow and thin I can barely see it unless I move my eyes just right. So dangerous because I must hide as I sway this way and that for on either hand there are hands which will pull me down.."
Someone has to do it though, right?
A Coin with Two Sides, then, but Also an Edge?
Real life does not contain simply two types of people. There are not just paragonic Saints and deplorable devils. Half of the problem with the world of today is the two-dimensional short-sightedness of the people and what they read. In the world of today; in politics mostly, we have One and we have Another. We don't have in-between, apparently. We have no room for shades of grey between black and white.
Why can there only be one side or another in your story? In the real world you will have Us and Them; Them and Us, true. You also have the waverers, the undecided, the almost-rans, the apathetic, the no-ones, for silent and forgotten. You have so many classes or people that you forget the most vital lesson this life must teach us.
There are no classes, only people. People do not fit into boxes nor class. People are people and no two are the same.
Now, there is no reason to avoid archetypes and the odd stereotype here and there, people expect them. Equally there is no reason not to try and surprise them and break their expectations apart when you can now is there?
Hero. Villain. Anti-Hero/Almost-Villain. Why used a two-dimensional decision structure to represent the three-dimensional being? People indeed have three dimensions and perhaps they more than that.
What matters is that you give them something they want to read, something unique and completely new while still keeping it comfortingly the same where it truly matters.
Now it is your turn to do the thinking.
Go! Your thoughts in the comments, please or, if you like, drop us an email.