What does evil look like? That’s a question that has dogged people for centuries. When you look back through history, images of Vlad the Impaler, Adolph Hitler, Charles Manson and Osama bin Laden come to mind. Then again, so does Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahlmer and Jim Jones.
I’m in no way saying I’m an expert on evil, but as a writer, you have to be able to dip into the darkness once in a while. How can you create a villain for your story without knowing the evil that lurks inside?
For most of us, evil falls back to the representation of the incarnation of evil … the Devil, Satan, Lucifer, Prince of Darkness, etc. Some writers try to make him sexy, human-like, attractive and appealing. I could never think of the devil that way.
I was raised a Southern Baptist, so I was taught that evil began with Satan; from his rebellion against God, to the temptation in the Garden of Eden and the first murder by Cain.
Evil, to me, is the absence of morals; a complete incapacity to see the difference between right and wrong with a total lack of remorse. When I watch news reports of James Holmes, the man who killed 12 people in the movie theater, I see the face of evil. They’re trying to call him insane, but I believe insanity is just the mind of a killer justifying their actions. It’s evil, pure and simple.
I can admit how uneasy I feel when I’m writing scenes that involve such acts of evil. In the wedding scene of my latest book The Dark Tides (caution, spoilers!) when Morgana Le Fay returns to Avalon, she and her compatriots kill many friends of the Gil-Gamesh. I cried as I wrote this chapter of my book. It was hard to write but a necessary part of the story.
I could never imagine doing something like that and here I was, writing about it as if I caused it to happen. To have that kind of emotional impact on me demonstrates just how writers are capable of tapping into the heart of evil.
Authors can be, at times, the worst serial killers in history. I’m sure Game of Thrones fans feel that way about George R.R. Martin. We must tap into that evil without succumbing to it ourselves.
I always thought the best portrayal of evil was done by Al Pacino in three very different roles. As Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Tony Montana in Scarface and as the Devil himself in The Devil’s Advocate. You looked in his eyes and knew there was a man in there but it terrified you none the less.
We can demonstrate the evil in man, in society, in what we write; but when you do that, there always has to be hope. Hope is the saving grace for the writer. Hope means that evil can be overcome, it can be conquered. Evil may win the battle, but hope means they will lose the war.