The best evil is close to home.

I’ve seen several memes floating about regarding character death.  All of them begin with a picture of J.K. Rowling saying “It’s hard killing off so many characters.”  On the lower half was a photo of another writer and their response.

George R.R. Martin:  “You’re adorable.”
Joss Whedon: “You’re new here, aren’t you.”
Stephen King:  “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the sound of my characters’ screaming.”


This is a joke (as most internet memes are) and the responses are of course fictitious.  What I’m driving at here is that stories are driven by conflict.  Great achievement must come at great sacrifice — such as a dead protagonist.  Sacrifice comes through conflict, and conflict cannot exist without evil. 

Evil doesn’t always result in death. The worst evil is slow and subtle, and destroys your soul long before your body.

I advise every writer who reads this to dig inside themselves and find a shard of evil.  I don’t mean maniacal overlord evil, I mean preacher evil.  I mean schoolyard bully evil.  I mean passive-aggressive-boss evil.  Something that not only exists and walks in this world; but something that knows, deep down, the pain it inflicts is just and fair.

Writing and reading is a form of escape.  We live vicariously through the people and worlds we create.  It’s important every now and then to open the trap door, walk down into the basement, and say hello to the creature you’ve kept locked in the psychic cage.  Some of them are abstract — from children, to purring liars, to twitching monstrosities that drool acid and hiss obscene desires directly into your brain.  Imagine the same spirit in a housewife.  In a friend.  In a colleague.  They all believe they’re right.  Let them show you why.

Maybe the hero will believe them, and then make the wrong choice.

Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”
– H.L. Mencken

Hell is paved with good Samaritans.”
– William M. Holden


4 thoughts on “The best evil is close to home.

  1. Brian C. E. Buhl

    You’ve touched on one of my favorite subjects: evil characters.

    There are mustache twirling, cape swirling, black hatted, evil laughing caricatures of evil in lots of stories, in all mediums. I’ve never been a fan of this type of evil, because I don’t really believe in it. I think that there can be a reactive perception which paints a picture of someone like this. I think that certain psychosis can make a person appear like this. In general, though, I don’t think this kind of “evil” is very believable, though.

    Real evil has to do with acting on convictions that are ~wrong~.

    “Wrong” might not be the right word. “Opposed” or “different” might be more fair. But those convictions have to deviate from the protagonist’s, and the actions have to commitment behind them. That’s when you find real “evil.”

    The person acting on their convictions don’t have to be enlightened enough to know what they’re doing. The schoolyard bully is probably acting without much thought. Underneath the actions, however, there is some strange justification, usually along the lines of “the kid deserved it.” Maybe it’s because the bully perceived their victim as smaller, weaker, or stranger. It’s not necessarily rational.

    You can take that sentiment and find “evil” in anyone. Vengeance feels good to the one trying to correct what they perceive as a wrong, but to the outside observer, the actions can certainly look evil.

    This concept crosses all sorts of boundaries. Well intended people taken all sorts of terrible, cruel, abhorrent actions in the name of religion, politics, love… From their perspective, they weren’t doing evil.

    I really like my bad guys to fall into that category of evil.

  2. Setsu Post author

    As far as the bully, it’s absolutely rational; but it works within a different set of priorities. “He has a cookie. I want. I will take it, and beat the crap out of him if he tries to stop me.”

    “Picking on him is fun. It’s easy. No one will stop me or tell me I’m wrong, so it’s totally cool.”

    I think what makes bad guys so attractive is that they enact what we fear to do. They represent our will to power, to sex, to violence, to doing and getting what we want and feeling no remorse for the consequences. It’s a liberating prospect. It also runs counter to popular philosophy that advises against selfishness so there’s the added spice of rebellion against authority that so many people can relate to (see passive aggressive boss.) There’s charisma in heartlessness… especially when we choose to see it as gumption, entrepreneurship, or bravery. In the US at least, we love loners and self-made men far more than paragons of compassion.

  3. Pingback: A new writer/thinker:C Fred Alford | Cool lady blog

  4. Pingback: Evil ; some books I have read lately | How my heart speaks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s