Sometimes there are evil characters in novels. How do we create them and why?
To get at the answers to these questions, we first have to understand what we mean by ‘evil’. My Chambers Dictionary defines evil as ‘something which produces unhappiness or misfortune’. But suppose we are considering a situation where a love affair has ended. Is the one who ended it evil? Most of us wouldn’t consider a married person evil if s/he ended an extra-marital affair, but one (or both) parties to the affair may be very unhappy. Or consider someone who went to Las Vegas and lost £10,000 in a night of gambling. S/he may consider the event a real misfortune, but I doubt that most of us consider gambling to be ‘evil’. ‘Foolish’? Yes. To be avoided? Yes. But not ‘evil’.
For me, ‘evil’ is the creation of sin, and ‘sin’ is the act of intentional harm to another human being. Notice the use of the word ‘intentional’. With the use of ‘intentional’, the person who ended the affair did not commit a sin in ending the affair if s/he ended it without intending to hurt the other person. The other person may indeed be hurt, but causing hurt was not the motivation for ending the affair. Similarly, the gambler did not intend to hurt himself by continuing to gamble and lose.
I think it is fair to say that I tend to consider ‘evil’ as a semi-religious term, and, as such, it has extra significance. For me, things and actions which are ‘good’ are God-given, while evil things and actions arise from God’s antithesis – call him the devil, if you wish. We human beings are in the middle, pulled in both directions, but having free will – the freedom to choose.
Two of my novels deal with these themes. Sin and Contrition has six characters, three boys and three girls whom we follow from the age of 13 to about 52. Amongst them, they commit most of the available sins, except such violent sins as rape or murder. (One of the characters, however, does go to war.) There is always at least a weak intention to commit the sin, and generally a certain amount of repentance, but the character and his/her motivation is viewed in the unique situation in which they are found, so that I, as the author, try not to judge them. Rather, I let them judge themselves, with, of course, the input of the world around them. My expectation is that the reader will judge them. The point I’m trying to make is that sometimes evil and sin are very clear, but often ‘extenuating circumstances’ make them less clear, and that this is what life is: challenging, a bit foggy and uncertain, even though there may be a beacon – often barely visible – to show the way.
The other novel is Sable Shadow and The Presence, which deals more explicitly with the ‘beacon’. Sometimes the beacon is a God-send, but often it is not. Who guides us and why? Part of the answer is who and what we are as people: our identity, over which we have a great deal more control than we sometimes like to believe. Henry, the principal character in Sable Shadow and The Presence, uses his identity and a particular beacon to achieve a great success. When multiple tragedies strike, he must change both his identity and his beacon!