Philosophical Musings: On the Nature of Good and Evil

Funny how often my mind shifts into overdrive when my hands are busy with mundane tasks like laundry and dusting.  Yesterday, as I was trying to use my housekeeping time to advance my WIP, I thought about my bad guys vs. my new good guys (second novel in series with different protagonists in the same setting) and how to make them bad enough to hate without rendering them caricatures, while at the same time making the good guys heroic but not disgusting.

Because I consider myself a good person, and most of the people I know are also good (not all sad to say), it is evil I have the hardest time writing.  We are generally appalled by evil actions because they would never even occur to us.  My children have made me mad enough to want to slap them, but I cannot imagine the mindset that would abuse a child.  I know that my husband has often found marriage to me trying (artist temperament and all that), but I have never been afraid that he would hurt me because of it.  Animal abuse? Really? Who would do that?

As I said, I am glad I don’t understand these things, because that means I am not in tune with the evil in nature.  So does evil exist as an entity, like the Devil?  Is its essence an energy that possesses unwary victims as suggested in X-Files? I certainly do not consider myself an authority, but within the framework of my story good and evil exist in all people, and the person is defined by his or her choices.  Creation itself is perfectly conceived, though we may not always be happy about its laws.  We alone within the great, beautiful, amazing puzzle of nature are the pieces that can change ourselves so that we do not fit.  Good, we fit; bad we don’t and the whole picture gets screwed up.  Evil exists because of the choices humans make that go against the laws of nature.

Those laws are set out perfectly in the Ten Commandments, but that is just my tradition; I am sure the same concepts are expressed in others.  One of the things I have learned from Joseph Campbell’s Hero has a Thousand Faces is that across all cultures truth is truth.  Don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t covet what isn’t yours–these are pretty basic guidelines for keeping the peace and making any society a decent place to live.

How do I apply this to my writing?  By having my characters come to decision points in their lives and make the decisions that inform their natures.  I have to build these points consciously into the story without making them contrived, and my characters have to use their decisions to fulfill their roles in the story.  As I outline today, I will make that my framework of choice:  Where within the plot do the characters have to make decisions? What motivation does the bad guy give in to that overcomes what should be his natural goodness? Where do the good guys overcome those impulses to do the right thing? I do believe that, like anything else, goodness and badness are habits.  Laken (my bad guy) gives in to his violent, self-serving impulses at every turn so that by the time of this novel, he is always going to make the evil choice.   Sophie, my young protagonist, is at a crossroads where her actions can either set her on a path to a miserable, bitter life or a rich, happy one.  That will be the key.  Laken is not evil in the sense of being a demon or devil; he knows the right thing to do and choses not to do it.  Sophie is not an angel; she has the impulse to be angry and vengeful, but she makes the choice to grow beyond those base feelings.

The next question is one of retribution.  When my good characters release their anger and grow beyond it to live happier lives, how does my bad guy get his due?

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