World's Oldest Fledgling

The blog of Stephanie Wardrop, Y A Author

Making Villians and the Nature of Evil

on October 30, 2013

WIP It Wednesday, Halloween 2013

I’ve been thinking about the nature of evil as I work (slooowly) on this WIP. I’ve never written a real “bad guy” before so this is new to me, and like all good liberals, I do not believe in a Manichean universe or a world in which some people are just born evil. If there is anything we can truly call evil, I think, it develops in a person as a result of complex environmental factors. I have to believe that this applies even to the pus-bucket who was just arrested (thankfully) for buying a puppy on Craigslist so that he could torture it.  Only two things in the universe would prevent me from punching that crapbag in the face if I saw him. One: I really need to believe that I am “better” than that. And two: I know that I wouldn’t be able to punch him hard enough. Better to donate to an animal rescue group to help other victims and hope karma eventually takes care of this sphincter muscle masquerading as a human being.

Image

As for my writing, to create this character, a villain with a capital “V”, I have had to think a lot about what makes him so villainous, so I’ve thought a lot about some of the literary and historical characters I have found to be truly evil. I’ve read some great books about evil and psychopathology, like Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test and Philip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect: Why Good People Turn Evil, both of which I’ve read fairly recently. But I think the first time I became aware of what could be called evil was when I saw a film in in fifth or sixth grade about Hitler and the Holocaust and realized for the first time that human beings can do some truly despicable things to one another. I had nightmares for a week. Then in late adolescence, I was fascinated by the Manson family, because I was a neo-hippie myself and horrified by the idea that young peace-and-love chicks could be persuaded (or coerced) into stabbing people. And as an adult, I was a huge Sopranos fan, in large part because, like many viewers, I was captivated by Tony’s balancing on an icepick-thin point between being an average guy from a messed up childhood home and a truly amoral, unfeeling “monster” capable of hurting anyone. A lot of us must feel this way, because Tony has morphed into a Son of Anarchy, a Blacklist baddie, and a meth cooker who manages to strike fear in viewers’ hearts while wearing tighty whites. Clearly I am not the only person who finds these characters so compelling. Image <-miss you, Mr. Gandolfini 

One thing that really fascinates me about those we could label “evil” is the fact that, as far as I can tell, no evil person in history has ever thought they were evil.  I don’t think Vlad the Impaler sat around his castle, drinking blood out of empty human skulls, and saying to himself, “Yep, I sure am evil.”  I think most “evil” people do what they do because they think they’re on the side of good, or at least because they think they’re right.  I heard an interview on NPR a few weeks ago with Louise Fletcher, who played Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and confirmed my suspicions about villains’ sense of themselves. She seemed genuinely surprised when the interviewer characterized Nurse Ratched as evil, because she always saw the character as someone who was convinced she was doing right in a difficult situation.

Image  <- Louise Fletcher – totally not evil

So for my WIP villain, Count Giancarlo Montoni,  whose name is taken from one of the first Gothic villains ever in Ann Radcliffe’s The Castle of Otranto, I have used the notion of a bad guy who is convinced he is good, or at least that he’s right.  He has powers beyond those mortals possess and believes that this gives him special rights or privileges – or  greater insight into what needs to be done to make the world a better place (as he defines that). He’s also modeled on the devil figure in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, a guy who waltzes through history seeing what mayhem he can instigate, and in that vein, he’s also somewhat like the demons in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, who use their powers to do little more of use than mess with people. (They knock the hat off of a bishop, for example, if I recall correctly). I find fascinating and disturbing the notion that people with power and ability might do very bad things just because they can, and Montoni does this to a great degree. The world is his board game and we’re all just little plastic figures to move about.

Image

In this regard, I hope to make him like the literary character who most scares the crap out of me: Iago, from Shakespeare’s Othello. What always gets me at the end of that play is not the body count, the sheer number of lives that have been cut short or otherwise ruined for Iago’s caprice. It’s that when he’s asked by a thoroughly debased and shattered Othello why he did it, Iago refuses to tell him. And that destroys Othello even more. Because Iago made all of this awful stuff happen to him and Othello will never, ever know why. Iago is not the cartoonish super-villain in a crappy movie who dangles the hero over a shark tank while explaining, in great detail, the twelve points of his plot to destroy the world as well as his complex motivations for doing so. No. Iago is not going to give Othello – or the theater goers – any closure. Like Honey Badger, Iago don’t care. And a person who doesn’t care is truly scary. Because they are capable of anything.

Image <- if i just bummed you out with this post, go immediately to Youtube and look up this guy

So that’s what I’m working with as I try to flesh out my first bad guy. I’m a little bit like Victor Frankenstein, stitching together influences from here and there to make a monster.  Let’s hope things turn out better for me than they did for Herr Doktor.

What I’m reading

The-Statistical-Probability-of-Love-at-First-Sight

what I’m listening to

lou NY albumRIP, Mr. Reed. As my friend Chris said, “The world just got a little less cool” with you gone.

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