Hello, fellow Nerd Cacti! Welcome back! Today’s topic is going to be very creative-centric, because I’ve been tackling one particular topic quite a lot, as of late, and I’d like to share my thoughts. Let’s get to it.
The nature of evil has been following me recently. I just closed a 3 month run of a production of Alice in Wonderland in which I played the conniving, discipline-loving, Queen of Hearts. I am also working on a novel in which I am responsible for three distinct characters (one of whom is essentially a murderous politician). So naturally, the question of where evil comes from and how to portray it as realistically as possible has become rather important to me.
Now, a little disclaimer: I do not consider myself to be a particularly evil person. I am kind to animals, I believe whole-heartedly in equality, and I make charitable donations to cancer research when I can. So, you see, all this evil crashing down on my professional (i.e. creative) life is really quite baffling to me. But then, so is the concept of evil itself.
Sadly, evil exists in the world and we see it everyday in the news. We are assaulted daily with images of war, hate, injustice, and terror, but it is rare that we are directly confronted with the evil of individual persons. In many ways the evil we see or don’t see in individuals is almost subjective. Some “evil” may be intentionally malevolent (robberies, murder, etc.) while other forms fall into a category that we’ll call… amoral (ignorance, intolerance, etc.).
So in order to do my job and create these morally awful characters I have to figure out what makes them tick. As a professional performer I have had my fair share of acting classes, all of which stressed the need to approach characters with honesty and as little prejudice as possible. While backstory, motive, plot, and personal actions can help inform the “who and why” of a character it doesn’t necessarily provide the “how”.
How does one embody a psychotic queen who spends her days in bloodlust? How can it be done in a believable, non-cartoony way? Yes, we all know she’s written to be the antagonist. Yes, we all know she’ll spend a good portion of Act 2 shouting “off with her head”. What’s her justification? What’s the underlying psychosis? Given the acid-trip nature of Alice in Wonderland can she be humanized? Should she be humanized?
All of these questions also apply to the character I’m currently writing. And I’m finding it even harder to tackle his personality because I’m essentially building him from scratch. More than anything I have found that I have to be careful to keep my own ideals and morals in check when I put him to paper. On multiple occasions I’ve written stuff that turned me off and I had to force myself not to edit it for being too atrocious (he’s a wretched human being, really).
Which brings me to my next point. I have found that the best villains are hate-worthy because of what makes them human. The possibility that people like this could actually exist is the real kicker. Joffrey from Game of Thrones, for example, is one of the most universally hated assholes in the literary and cinematic universe. Why? Because he’s an honest-to-goodness little shit. He has not been specifically vilified, but his actions are consistently the worst. He does not cackle with villainous glee, he does not monologue his vile intentions, he’s just a royal brat with a handful of serious personality flaws.
Figuring out the formula for writing a terrible but believable human is now my personal goal. What I’ve learned in my quest is that the nature of evil is dependent on where it stems from. You can’t just tag a character as “evil” and call it a day. Evil can take on many forms and often the real evil lies in the character’s justification of morally questionable actions.
If you have some insight on evil or the creation of dastardly villains please feel free to drop us a line in the comment section!
This has been your Monday Muse.