I spent the bulk of this weekend struggling with the villains of my series. Evil characters who are mindless, snarling, ugly and stink of dog poo are, well, dull. Lazy fiction will create the stock character villain with nothing redeemable or clever about him or her. A great story creates a villain that evokes real emotion. To accomplish that, a villain must have scope. This is difficult as we so desperately need to divide everything into this or that, right or wrong, good or bad.
Writers are tasked with thinking beyond common dichotomies. Almost no one thinks of themselves as evil. In fact, most of us, I would wager think we are good people or at least making a go of being good. Evil, I am afraid, is often in the eye of the beholder. And its not even that simple. We are so afraid to name evil, it often has its way with us. We never see it coming.
This weekend alone, a seven year old boy was executed for blasphemy, more were beheaded for believing something the headsmen did not, and one gunman of the same ilk that executed the child and the unrepentant headsmen, walked into a nightclub and killed fifty people. How easy it would be to simply dismiss all these people as aberrations and mentally challenged individuals with nothing at all in common with each other.
None of these people think they are doing evil. They don’t even think what they are doing is wrong. They believe with all their heart that the people they are killing are evil. Put in more general terms, everyone, no matter how good and decent and tolerant, is thought of as evil by someone else, someone who feels quite justified in making them dead.
When it comes to conflict, for me writing about the dark side of humanity, even in fantasy, is difficult. It’s unsettling to do, but when creating an antagonist to build conflict in a story, writers need to stand in the villain’s shoes and understand why they do what they do and think what they do. Feeling sympathy for the devil is a damn sight easier than understanding a kiddie rapist or a raving fanatic that kills in the name of God.
It is something that if a writer can get it right, they can offer hope that somehow evil can be overcome. Frodo Baggins did finally destroy the ring of power, but if not for the villain, Gollum, he would never have managed. Anyhow, I go to battle my demons. As always, they remain leashed but untamed.