Saturday, 22 June 2013

A Great Afternoon & How to Write Bastards

I've just returned home from a fun afternoon in Biggleswade. It was a lovely drive down through the countryside and I got to meet a great bunch of people.

Who were these wonderful people you ask?

Some of the guys and gals from the UK Amazon Kindle Forum Goodreads group. If you don't know who that is then pop along to:

While there I fluffed up a brief discussion about writing bastards, here is the talk in a more coherent form. And if you read or write Kindle books in the UK, the pop along and join the discussion :-)

How to write bastards

I like writing dark characters. That probably says something about it more than anything, but I am assured that I create well defined dark characters. More specifically evil characters, so in this post I’m going to share some of my thoughts on creating evil characters.

Before delving into the characters themselves, let’s take a look at the nature of evil, after all, evil is the wellspring from which bastards flow. Some people like to differentiate between human evil and supernatural evil. I have some sympathy with that viewpoint, not so much in the nature of the evil that they perpetrate, but how that evil is expressed.

In human characters the evil is more nuanced, in most cases it is the act that is evil, rather than the person. It is rare to find a truly evil human being, even Hitler, probably considered one of the most evil people in history had a few saving graces, but the acts he initiated were truly monstrous.

With supernatural evil you can (if you wish) do away with such nuances. You can make it black and white, but traditionally even in these cases there’s usually a mitigating factor. The ghost seeking revenge or the demon that no longer experience’s Heaven’s grace. The most evil character of all, Satan, even he has shades of grey amongst the black of his sin.

His sin, some say the first sin, was that of pride.

That brings us back to the nature of evil. There are numerous acts that are considered evil, but if you examine them closely they all reduce to a single cause – selfishness. That might seem simplistic upon first glance, but the act of putting one’s self above others is the root of all evil. That’s not to say all selfish people are evil, but they have the potential to become so.

Let’s look at that for a minute. Take Lucifer, the primarch of evil, his sin was pride, putting himself above God’s word, above God and the other angels that obeyed. Now look at a more mundane example, the drug dealer that kills to protect his income. On one level he is protecting his life, putting his life above others (but often we can excuse that, we all have the right to live do we not?), but on another level he’s really saying, my life as a drug dealer is more important than other lives.

Again those two examples illustrate a difference between human and supernatural evil. If we look at the dealers life we are likely to find a string of experiences that led into his current situation. In essence there is some justification for his behaviour. Now many of us might not agree, but to him it is very real.

So how does that apply to my own characters?

In The cult of Me (the first book in The Third Path trilogy) the main character is on the face of it evil and unashamedly so. I told the story in two strands, the first about who he is now and in that strand he appears to be a psychopath.

Naturally it isn’t as simple as that, the second told the story of how he grew up. Here we see that he doesn’t exhibit the common signs of a serial killer. Instead he has an ability to enter people’s minds, and not only can he read their thoughts, but he can control them as well. This was one of the aims of the story, how would a child without any enforcement boundaries and restraint. He grows up to be quite evil, principally for the reason that he doesn’t really grow up.

If you watch children interact, they can often be quite cruel with each other. Imagine this, but in adult form with an ability that makes him greater. Children know they are the centre of the universe, you can tell this by how upset they get when they discover they are not. The Deathless Man (he doesn’t have a name, not won I’ve revealed anyway!) is just such a child.

Conversely with my latest book, Faust 2.0 I look at a more supernatural (or at least non-human) form of evil. This evil sparked first from the instinct of survival, the entity found itself, from the moment of birth, under attack from humanity (although we weren’t aware of this). In an effort to defend itself it created a persona for itself, one that is an implacable foe of humanity – a demon.

In both cases the characters aren’t pure evil, nothing is. There are no absolutes, it is the flaws in the characters that make them real. Readers need something to identify with, even with the blackest villain, so give them a tiny glimpse of something they recognise. That doesn’t have to be a good trait, just something they can recognise.

Finally, my favourite reason for writing evil characters is that I love the juxtaposition of a bad people doing good things for the wrong reasons.

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