I’m interrupting our discussion of self-publishing frugally to pose an off-topic question to you. It has to do with the antagonists in our stories.
You do have an antagonist, don’t you? A bad guy? A villian? A Big Boss Troublemaker, or BBT (as one of my favorite bloggers, Kristin Lamb, calls it)? Because if you don’t, then you don’t really have much of a plot, which results in not much of a story.
An antagonist does not have to be entirely evil, and in fact if it is, it becomes a shallow caricature; not very believable or compelling. Some would argue that the antagonist doesn’t have to be evil at all; they just have to do bad things, or at least things that hinder the progress of our good (or good-ish) protagonist.
But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about motive, and/or motivation of our antagonist(s). What makes a bad guy, you know, bad? There are a number of possibilities. It could be their upbringing or past experiences that motivate them to seek revenge, or harm others, or just be plain difficult to get along with. They could be an oblivious antagonist, thinking they are spreading peace, love, and rainbows everywhere they go, when in fact they’re leaving a wake of destruction. (Have you met someone like that in real life? They’re perhaps the scariest antagonist, because they always think they’re the protagonist.) Maybe their evil stems from mental illness (which doesn’t really provide any answers about its source, does it?) Or they could be just purely, simply, inexplicably evil. I think of serial killer stories. True confession: I love serial killer stories, both in book form and movie form. I want to know what makes a seemingly completely evil person tick. Why are some people seemingly amoral, that is, they have no empathy and can heartlessly cause others to suffer? A good example of this is John Doe, the serial killer in the movie Seven, who seems to push the limits of deep, pure evil, stopping just short of becoming two-dimensional.
Anyway, my creative process, and what I read/see of others’ works, makes me pause and consider: From whence cometh evil? It’s an age-old question, and one that should bother us, especially when we find that evil within us. You know what I mean–those times when you and I have asked, “How could I have been so selfish?” Some of my social media friends seem to deny the problem, either by using minimizing terms such as “mistake,” “ignorance,” or similar; or by blatant avoidance (“Hitler provided extreme solutions to current conditions,” etc.).
As an evangelical Christian, I happen to believe in a real, personal being called the Devil or Satan, whom I consider to be the source of evil, both generally and within humanity, including his enticement of the primal humans into making a tragic moral choice with epic repercussions. Now, I realize that this raises more questions: When and how did the Satan figure turn evil? And what was the original source of that evil? For many of those questions I reluctantly, and with disappointment, must punt to mystery. But getting back to the source of evil within us, I’m hopeful that my worldview goes a long way in explaining the source of said evil in both us and the fictional villains within our stories.
Part of maturity is, I believe, the uncomfortable realization that we’re not the basically good people we thought we were. We hear it all the time. “People for the most part are good at heart,” “The human condition, while flawed, is basically good,” “Yes, my son is a serial killer, but he doesn’t deserve to die, he’s a good boy!” Sound familiar? It should. It’s carved deeply into our culture. Could it be that culturally we’re in denial? Do we have a flawed group-think going on?
In the words of Bugs Bunny, “Mmmmmmmm, could be!”
But what do you think? From whence cometh evil? And how does it play out in your stories? Give your opinions in the comments section below. Let’s share and discuss!