1. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Does Evil Need a Reason?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Elgaisma, Nov 24, 2010.

    Have been discussing this with friends tonight. I argued that the only reason an evil person/antagonist needed was they liked it or they wanted to be that way. Everyone else disagreed with me saying that made for a flat character?
     
  2. Top Cat
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    Top Cat Senior Member

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    Personally, I like antagonists that are merely oppositional. But evil is interesting. It depends on your theme - if your theme is the world is not so black and white - then yes, having a motivation for acts perceived to be malevolent can make for interesting literature.

    I wrote an essay on this about fictional violence. Socially, we accept that male serial killers can kill because they are evil (summed as personified evil, or mentally tortured in some way.) A female serial killer on the other hand always requires some ridiculous exposition and explanation, such as Monster. So, that's an example of audience expectations. The writer could have just had her as a serial killer...So that's an example of where simplification might have made things more interesting.

    What I'm getting at is it's interesting if you're either exploring something, thematically, or it makes the story fresh. :rolleyes: Least that's my opinion.
     
  3. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    I would say evil needs a reason. Of course it does. They may have no choice - an ancient curse compelling them to be evil (I know you write fantasy). They might desire power or money or greed or respect. Even Voldemort in Harry Poster can be summed up well as a racist who is afraid of dying. Thats what drives him.
     
  4. Top Cat
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    Top Cat Senior Member

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    Another good example is from No Country for Old Men. The antagonist Hitman casually wonders the desert murdering victims in his quest for money.

    Sometimes, the act is indulgent, and other times necessary for his mission. The story never explains his actions - he is a true Black Knight, or a mysterious stranger, if you will. What worked about it was that the antogonist did not feel two dimensional, and if that is key to whether they are compelling or not.

    In the story I'm writing, my protagonist is the only character to perform evil deeds. The antagonist merely has an opposing goal. :)
     
  5. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    Some people are evil but they think they're really good. The Authoritarians is a book by Bob Altemeyer, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba. In it, he describes the type of person who wants to do good by forcing everyone to march to the beat of the same drum. And those who don't are the enemy. Notable authoritarians of the past: Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong.
     
  6. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am just curious because I have yet to give any depth or even identify the ultimate evil in my stories (beyond they take the form of a Great Skua). I have taken out several evil characters and each time it has come back.

    The character who I think it may be has no real reason - no jealousy etc merely just thought she would behave that way. There seems to be no good reason beyond having lived a long time she was bored maybe.

    I love the horror where there is no real reason to it just it is.

    EDIT: The discussion did throw up some interesting ideas. I am happy to just accept something is wrong because it is but in examples I used noticed people had gone looking for reasons.
     
  7. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even just wanting to kill people is a reason though, but if a person is walking around killing people just because he wants to, there is probably some reason behind that again. I definitely don't think evil needs a great reason, but if they have none it just seems pointless and stupid. Power, money, fame, something in their past that made them see things differently, etc. Good enough reasons to be evil.
    But if the evil person is an important character, they will need more to stay interesting.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    oh she is an interesting character - was a school secretary, lived for 4000 years at least, has good interactions with everyone. I am not revealing who it is yet but her only reason seems to be that is the way she wanted to behave/
     
  9. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    I don't think there is ever a situation of something having no reason. Many serial killers derive sexual gratification from what they do. Some might see the evil things they do as a challenge, a game that they keep playing until they lose. It could just be good sport or the way they see the world.

    How ever much you reveal is up to you but there must be a reason I think.
     
  10. Top Cat
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    Top Cat Senior Member

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    There's probably emotional reason buried within the character. I mean if you flip it on it's head - does good need a reason? It's typical in a subconscious sympathy for others, or dissatisfaction with one's environment, or a search for validation. That doesn't need to be exactly -uttered- but it may be present in subtext, and the emotional journey.
     
  11. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think evil can be it's own reason. I like complex villains who have a good reason for the things they do. But if they go too far, then I feel like the author is trying to unsuccessfully make me sympathize with a piece of dirt. Sometimes a bad guy is bas simply because they are a sick son of a female dog, and that's all she wrote. I think those bad guys can be fun. Like any character, they can be flat or interesting depending on how they are written.

    I think a bad guy who is evil and makes no apologizes for it can be a lot more interesting than the cliche motives for evil like revenge, "taking what's mine," or the like.
     
  12. Newfable
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    Newfable Senior Member

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    Reasonless evil is an easy and tantalizing cop-out I think. It's easy for most people to think that those that commit horrible deeds act without reason; it's part of the act of dehumanizing these kinds of people and these kinds of actions to give distance between good and bad, us and them. It's a load of garbage though, as we're all capable, even if we're not willing, to do the same. That's where the power of evil lies.

    Take the Joker in the new Batman film. He seems reasonless, and even says that he's simply an agent of chaos. But the things he does have a reason to them, he has a greater purpose, even if his standards on how to get there are slack.
    Sure, but again, that seems like the easy way out. These people are still human on some level (even if they are monsters or demons), and are driven to do what they do, just as the protagonist is. Hell, evil for its own sake is still having a reason to do evil deeds: because it's evil. It's still a slippery slope though, as the definition of evil comes into question, and that's already highly subjective, depends on who's on the receiving end.

    To me, it's not the motivation behind evil that makes it great, but the depth. Sure, you can have a character act out of jealously, but if that character does truly horrific things out of mere jealously, then it's a show of a great villain. However, I find this also depends greatly on what's at stake.

    Cruella de Vil. She's vile, greedy, and does whatever she wants to get what she wants. That's the blueprint for an antagonist, but I can't chalk her up as a great villain, simply because of what's at stake. Dalmatian coats? For fashion? Please. There may be something lying under the surface for Cruella's character, but since it's never developed, I can't buy her truly villainous characteristics because she's thinking too small.
     
  13. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks Show that has given me a lot to think about- hmm I think that is what she is - no apologies if there is a reason it was lost thousands of years back. Don't think she even knows. I don't think it is sexual there is no indication she has any sexual feelings at all (She is not infertile, and has not reproduced during this time. My immortal characters become mortal once they reproduce naturally).

    She is evil enough to have hidden it and to have gone completely under the radar. No-one suspected her.

    My main character conducts the powers for good - she has equal ability and uses them in a way that can destroy all known existence. She uses other people rarely does the evil herself. Her mind invasions work like a complex mobile phone network bouncing the signal through several towers.

    Guess she is turning into my version of the Christian view of Satan lol That was not my intention she has been a school secretary peering over her spectacles for three novels.
     
  14. Top Cat
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    Top Cat Senior Member

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    Sympathy is different from empathy!
     
  15. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Maybe, but I don't think it matters. I feel there is only so far a villain can go before I don't care why they're doing it. I really don't care how good the writer is; if the villain has crossed a certain line, there's really not much I can do to empathize with them.

    And that's always the point whether you agree or not. xD

    Is it the easy way out? Sometimes I think it takes more courage to have an unapologetically evil character than some misunderstood or well-intentioned guy. One can still make an unapologetically evil character have some human traits, and I think it's impossible to have "reasonless evil." Maybe the reasons are just selfish and evil.

    I am not saying there isn't room for villains with some human reasons for why they do what they do, but sometimes I just like to read a bad guy who isn't trying to disguise who and what he is with pitiful excuses.
     
  16. Klogg
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    I think the term, "reasonless evil" is a little misleading. There cannot be reasonless evil just as there cannot be reasonless good. One does not do good without a reason, even if that reason is only the warm fuzzies inside. In fact, I think evil characters can be evil for the same reason good characters are good, they enjoy the outcome.

    I have an evil character who is evil for the simple reason that he enjoys being evil. He derives pleasure out of killing and causing people harm.

    There are a number of reasons a character can have for doing evil acts. It could be something from their childhood or a vendetta against the human race. Many commit evil acts because they think they are doing good.
     
  17. Newfable
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    Newfable Senior Member

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    Don't get me wrong Show, I understand what you mean; I'm the same way. There's times when an absolutely evil antagonist makes the story much more interesting and engaging. However, the easy way out for me lies in drawing a distinct line between "us and them" (here meaning good and bad). The humanization of antagonists doesn't come with making them more humane or empathetic, but from either destroying the distinction between "us and them", or making such a distinction much more blurred. The protagonist isn't "better" than the antagonist or vice versa, but that both are capable of making the same choices of the other; their distinction doesn't lie in them being unreasonably evil or good, but from the choices they make.

    Sorry if that was a bit confusing; I think I confused myself too.
     
  18. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^^^And I think many stories can benefit from such a setup. I just don't think it's always workable.

    Maybe for me, my villains do such heinous things that the closest my protagonists will get to the villains is threatening to kill them. xD

    But I think there is much room for the setup you describe; I just think it's one useable setup among any.
     
  19. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even unforgivable evil has a reason. Someone who completely lacks a conscience still isn't evil just for evil's sake - she does it because it's a challenge, or because she is a sadist, or because she likes power, or some other reason.

    Doing evil for evil's sake makes a character into a comic book villain - which of course doesn't have to be bad, if it fits your story. Sauron in The Lord of the Rings never had a good reason to be evil, but his character is interesting and fits the plot.
     
  20. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    hmm my character is a little perplexing lol Might just leave it for the reader's imagination somehow. Personally don't think she has a reason
     
  21. Newfable
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    Newfable Senior Member

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    One of the many reasons I absolutely love the craft.;)
     
  22. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well I'd argue it's pretty impossible to have a character do or be anything without a reason. Even if there seems like none, there's one. I merely took the OP's question to be a bit deeper.
     
  23. Top Cat
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    Top Cat Senior Member

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    Again, you're making it sound like empathy gives about sympathy. Merely, I'm referring to antagonists having a psychology. Like Newfable says - adding depth, to avoid cheesy antagonists as caricatures.

    Hannible Lecture, Scorpio-Sniper from Dirty Harry (psycho whosuffers throughout his mission), Norman Bates, Kluas Kinski as De Aquirre, The Teminator or T-1000 (programmed), Catwoman, Darth Vader (paternal figure + sympathy arc).

    All considered iconic villains, yet their are some essential extra qualities beside the fact they're evil. That's why they're considered great villains, and not just some cackling cartoon maniac only Disney could produce.

    All these characters have an emotional motivation to be evil - yet they're humanised enough to actually make terrifying and memorable. They suffer, or lose, and grow equally to the protagonist. More so - they have a purpose...a goal.

    Cheesy villains:

    Skeletor from He-man, Darth Maul - prime example of evil for breakfast (no one really found him interesting - I thought he was intensely boring, anyway), the Wesley Snipes character in Demolition Man (fantastically terrible movie), Dr Evil (pretty funny guy :D)

    Their motivation may be political, sadistic, vengeful, or it could be good - ill intended. Such as the antagonist to beauty and the beast, Gaston. Depicted as a character you love to hate...narcissitic, ignorant and full of himself. His quest to destroy The Beast is in his mind his act as the Hero, or protagonist - and more so - to liberate The Beauty.

    Conclusion: If you interview your antagonist and ask them: "So why are you doing what you are doing?" and they say back to you: "Because, I'm evil?" You might not be exploring your stories' max potential. That or might just be writing either a children's story, or a cheap action movie starring Sylvester-Schwarzenegger.
     
  24. goldhawk
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    goldhawk Senior Member

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    Sorry but Sauron did have a reason. He was the right-hand "man" of Melkor, one of the Vala who thought the earth belong to him. Since Melkor was banished, Sauron inherited his reign.

    Evil for evil shake just means the writer needed the antagonist to do something without reason, in other words, he is melodramatic. Antagonists are heroes of their own stories. They do what they do because they think is is the best thing for themselves.
     
  25. Top Cat
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    Top Cat Senior Member

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    As one might say eloquently: "Lol, wut?"

    That's not an emotional motivation...You see to me, Sauron is merely a symbol. He works in that story because he's visual. An all watching eye of darkness - which might work in a fantasy. That reason just wouldn't give push to shove in a drama. Also, if you repeat that you run risk of cliche.
     

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