On November 19, 2013, J. Garf wrote, I was wondering if anyone knows how to make evil beautiful. I don’t mean making the villains physically beautiful, that’s relatively easy. I mean the act of evil itself. For example, in the Phantom of the Opera, the phantom calls light “cold, unfeeling” and “garish”, while he calls darkness and evil “sweet intoxication.” Is this simply his mad opinion, or could you write something like that? I plan to read the book soon which will hopefully give me some ideas, but does anyone have any advice? Also, how difficult is it to write a protagonist as a villain?
Bibliophile commented, I would say, pretty difficult. I mean, we all want to root for the protag, but can we if they’re evil?
I think that good examples of this on TV are Breaking Bad and definitely Dexter. Don’t watch those shows if you’re squeamish. But in general, if the evil is backed by some good, then we might be able to relate. Like when we had to read Mein Kampf by Hitler, he kept stating his mission over and over again. It’s a good read, there were some things in there that you wouldn’t have expected of him.
If you were to write a story like that, it would definitely need to be in first person. Otherwise, the character wouldn’t come across as well as he could have.
In the nick of time, Bibliophile clarified: Reading that over, it sounds like I agreed with Hitler, I DO NOT!!!!! It just was interesting to see how his mind worked.
And Michelle Dyck weighed in with, I’m not sure if you can make evil TRULY beautiful. I think you can make it understandable, or beautiful from the perspective of the evil character. But at some point in the story, the readers will begin to see the evil for what it really is.
First off, I want to mention that Dexter and Breaking Bad are both TV series for adults, and for adults with stronger stomachs than mine!
Villains are fascinating! But I’ve never tried to create beautiful evil or an evil protagonist, so what follows is just speculation.
Say we have a species of intelligent cockroaches locked in a war with humans for dominion over the earth. The roaches hope to wipe humanity out, except for a handful who will be kept in zoos. Our MC, Hunneeha, is a young roach lieutenant, who has risen in the roach ranks by dint of her enthusiasm, skill, and team spirit. She and her squad have been assigned to infiltrate an elementary school and kill all the adults and children. In the first scene Hunneeha and her squad are getting ready for their mission. Let’s say the story is written in the first person, and it begins like this:
We gathered in the basement sink. Eleven of them looked at me, waiting for my orders, but Jujo, youngster that he was, sucked on the end of a feeler. I waited for him to come to attention, grateful for the time to think of what to say, how to prepare them. Pretty Panay’s carapace sparkled. She must have spent half of yesterday polishing herself, thinking, perhaps, that cleanliness might contribute to victory. Gross feet thundered overhead. What chance did a shiny carapace have against the filthy soles of a human shoe?
Can we make these cockroaches beautiful? I bet we can, although we may have to get past our own revulsion first. We may write about shine, delicacy, big eyes–and not highlight the icky aspects. We’ll have to individualize the bugs. Some are probably better looking than others. Hunneeha may obsess over her skinny legs.
Are they evil? Suppose we alternate chapters from Hunneeha’s POV with chapters from the POV of Marcy, a high school student who has a part-time job in the school cafeteria, which is the roaches’ target; they’re intending to poison the food. Marcy and the children suspect nothing. We make the reader admire Marcy, too, and his brain somersaults whenever the chapters shift.
The point is, everything depends on perspective. We have to get inside our evil MC’s world, understand his goals, discover what he treasures. As an example, let’s make a hero of a tyrant, one who practices genocide, who by any reasonable standard is evil. His most important characteristic is that he’s an extreme nationalist. At the beginning of our story his people are poor and divided into factions. He realizes that the economy needs a war and that people won’t come together without a common enemy, so he, quite deliberately, picks out a tribe of his own people to demonize. Let’s call them the Bup tribe. Suppose he shines a spotlight on the wealthiest Bups. He publicizes their wealth and contrasts it with the plight of the poorest in the other tribes. As the writer, we don’t show members of this tribe who are poor or charitable or struggling or sympathetic in any way. Instead, we highlight the slow steady improvement in the economy. Maybe we zoom in on a delightful family that’s benefiting from the tyrant’s policies. We show violent acts by Bups but not the treatment that led to the fighting back. For the beauty part, we show a ceremony that unifies the other tribes. There are marches with candles and children singing in enormous rooms with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows and banners. There is an air of solemnity and purpose and occasional joyous laughter.
I think we can make this evil beautiful. In addition to perspective, we’ve been selective. We’ve chosen not to show the whole picture of the Bups. By selection, we can make the tyrant sympathetic and heroic. We can make him handsome and even lovable. I bet we can even confuse ourselves.
If we write something like this, are we evil? Maybe not. Are we doing something wrong? I think so.
And I’m not sure we can produce great stories this way, because we may have to try too hard to make the point. We probably have to make our tale less complex in order to force the readers’ feelings. We shift closer to propaganda than to true story-telling. It’s not very different from writing a moralistic story. In both cases, the subtle grays that make fiction thrilling are sacrificed. It’s why I prefer MCs who are a little flawed and villains who are somewhat sympathetic.
Having said all this, we always stack the deck to some degree in our stories. We definitely want the reader to like certain characters more than others. But we also let our stories find their own way and surprise us sometimes.
Here are five prompts:
• Write the scene in which pretty Panay is killed by a first grader. Make the reader feel terrible. Make him hate the child who killed her. For extra credit (ha!), make the child seem as disgusting to the reader as roaches usually feel to us.
• Decide who wins the school battle. Write the final scene. For more extra credit, make the reader have mixed emotions about the outcome.
• Write “Little Red Riding Hood” from the POV of the wolf. Make him more than likable. Make it a tragedy when the hunter kills him.
• If you’re in the mood for historical research, read up on the American Revolution. Pick an MC on the side of the British, and make the reader root for the cause of the monarchy.
• Write “Sleeping Beauty” from the POV of the angry fairy who wants the baby to die. Make her sympathetic. Make her even correct.
This turned out to be a pretty serious post. But have fun and save what you wrote!