I don’t know about anyone else, but I have a problem writing irredeemable characters. Cardboard cutouts that just need to be vanquished aren’t that exciting to me. If you look at the characters in history who hold the brand of evil and take a broader view of who they were, one thing is apparent. No one believes they are evil, for whatever their reasons may be, they believe they can justify their actions. So how can I write characters of any realism or substance without considering that they don’t think they’re evil.
Then we have the sticky problems of what exactly is evil. That’s a dissertation I’ll just slip by here. We will call evil for literary purposes the willingness to harm people for personal gain. We all know the slippery slopes of life. Choices we make define our leanings one way or another. When it comes to writing characters that readers can connect with abandoning the internal friction of the dichotomy of good and evil makes things bland. I’ll leave the archetypes to Carl Jung. I want the struggle of the antagonist and protagonist to not just be as simple as destroying the enemy but justifying why it’s acceptable to do so. If each can see slivers of humanity in each other than the dynamic is more interesting to me and more realistic.
How many times have you had someone ask you to do something you wouldn’t normally do? Maybe your boss wants you to hide something from HR. Or someone’s fudging their time sheet and wants you to back them up. What you do once doesn’t necessarily define you but it’s a start. It’s my belief that a character I write must have choices like this and define the ambiguity for themselves. It’s hard in life to make such choices but it defines our character. So, I take the same tack when writing. It defines my character without telling you they are mostly good or mostly evil. It allows them more dimension and helps to connect them with readers.
Defining evil in my universe of fiction is an important distinction for all my characters. It’s where I start. My characters start there too. The hope is that their journey to one side or another is worth the ride.