Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Writing Evil

How do you write evil? Evil is in the news these days, but is evil the absence of good or a force of its own? Writing can be similar to lawyering, in that we have to come up with justifications for our character's motivations. Every protagonist has to have an antagonist. So how to we make our antagonist human?

Do they have to be human? Zombies are easy. They're dead. They want brains. They keep coming. Repeat. I don't write zombie stories. George Romero who wrote Night of the Living Dead, once said that the bad guys were never the zombies, they were always the humans.

So how do you write evil? In my first novel, Rattlesnake Lawyer, I began my fascination with felon envy. The young lawyer couldn't help but notice that the alleged criminals were cooler than he was. While he wallowed in self-doubt, they did not. Evil was enticing, but in the end the main character stayed good.

In my second novel, Crater County, I attempted to make the "me" character the suspected bad guy, someone that the heroine could realistically suspect as being the killer. It was a fun book to write, but I wimped out in the end. Spoiler alert, the character was a nerd not a killer.

In my latest novel, Rattlesnake Wedding, I had to come up with motivation for a killer who shoots at several people during a wedding reception. I went with the grab bag approach--childhood trauma, abandonment issues, drug addiction, mental disorders, lost love and just to be safe a head injury from a fall while pole vaulting. I should have made her bitten by a radioactive spider from outer space just to cover all bases...

On Sixty Minutes, they recently had an interview with a man known as the "Angel of Death" who had killed dozens if not hundreds of people while working as a nurse. While they offered some history, when it came time for him to explain himself, he really couldn't. His biographer also had problems explaining the man.

It's hard to write evil.

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