1. jmhoffer
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    jmhoffer Contributing Member

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    Making evil truly evil.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by jmhoffer, Jul 2, 2013.

    Most fantasy stories are written with some sort of assumption that calling something evil makes it evil. It is rare to find any descriptions of what actually makes many so-called evil creatures 'evil'.

    Why are orcs evil? Because they act a lot like the Vikings on land? Why was Sauron evil? He was the least racist character in the series!

    This being said, I'm looking at a world controlled by daemons. These daemons aren't evil simply because they are daemons; they are evil because they are evil in the most horrendous religious sense of the word. They force humans to war for their entertainment, they spread diseases to watch human suffering, they torture innocent people only for their own sick pleasure. All of these things fall into evil, but I'm looking at making it even a few steps worse; rape (both men and women), eating children and babies and using live infants for sick games.

    This is a very, very dark fantasy setting, but I'm wondering if maybe this kind of description of evil goes too far?
     
  2. Acanthophis
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    Acanthophis ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) Contributor

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    Sauron the least racist character in the series?! He looked upon men, elves, dwarves, hobbits, and every other living thing as inferior to himself. He was corrupted into thinking in such a way, but that doesn't justify his actions. He is evil, make no mistake.

    As for your question, I myself don't believe it goes very far, but that all depends on your overall atmosphere and tone; if Voldemort started raping women at the end of the last Harry Potter books, it would be completely out of place and would be taking it too far. Just be consistent with your darkness, and it will be fine.
     
  3. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    Same thought I had. Sauron thought everyone was equal, but only as long as they were beneath himself.

    Making a character do evil things to innocent people is a start.
     
  4. jmhoffer
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    jmhoffer Contributing Member

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    Every dictator puts everyone else beneath him. All the 'good' armies were racially pure, though. Sauron's army was made up of orcs, goblins, men and other creatures.
     
  5. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    The worst kind of "evil" I've encountered in fantasy is the sort you can't really disagree with (except maybe their methods). I know that's not really what this thread is about but I thought I'd toss it out there anyway.

    I think these are all very straightforward and blatant interpretations of evil. I might even go so far as to say "generic" despite the moral shock of some of them. Have you ever seen the movie "Fallen"? I find insidious evil/maliciousness far more scary than such things as rape, torture, and all that other gory stuff. Psychological torture and getting people to question themselves and reality is far more effective in my opinion. If these daemons possessed people and got them to do things they wouldn't normally do (though force is an option, it's less interesting than convincing them to do stuff so it's all on them rather than something that the daemon can be blamed for) or were able to cloak themselves in the appearance of people and did evil things in their name so as to undermine the credibility and such of the real person (even destroying their life in their own name) would be great. I hope that all makes sense and I didn't repeat myself too much...
     
  6. jmhoffer
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    jmhoffer Contributing Member

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    I'm basing this world off of Jewish theology rather than typical Christian theology. There is no evidence of daemonic possession in Jewish theology and I outright reject the very concept due to its inherent violation of free will. Jewish theology instead seems to point towards them being primarily spiritual beings with physical manifestations as there are physical descriptions of several kinds of daemons. Kaballah compares these daemonic forces to a vicious dog held by its owner on a long lead. While it appears to have independent power, it can be pulled back by HaShem before getting out of control. In the case of this world, G-d has released the lead.
     
  7. mbinks89
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    mbinks89 Active Member

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    Exorcism doesn't negate the prospect of free will. A person who will become possessed has usually invited the demon in some way into their life by the absence of Christ in their lives, because demons cannot be around God/Yahweh, and vise versa (and of course, God takes dominance here.) Demons are powerless against the will of God. To possess someone, they must have God's consent, and this is only granted when that person has rebelled against God and opened themselves to what is Satanic -- given, they may have done this unintentionally, through meddling with Ouija board, or other seemingly harmless "games."
    All that's from a Christian paradigm however, so it might not be helpful to your story. Just thought I'd chime in because I like theology. :D

    (PS: You want a cool twist on the whole "demon" thing? Maybe go with Islam and jinn/afreet, or Zoroastrianism and their evil God. Also mind sending me sites about Jewish demons? I've never heard of them before and would be interested to read about them).
     
  8. jmhoffer
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    jmhoffer Contributing Member

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    Yeah, none of that is helpful, sorry, heh heh. In Jewish theology, daemons are controlled by G-d, they aren't independent of Him. They can tempt, they can whisper lies and half truths, they can even see a short time into the future, but they can't outright control.

    Jewish demonology primarily falls under Kabbalah. I'm sending you a few links via PM that I'm looking at right now.

    Edit: Also, exorcism in Judaism is different from exorcism in Christianity. You exorcise a demon from a place, but never from a human body.
     
  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Again, like so many other traits people write about, I think the trick is to look at the real world.

    Obviously, if you're writing about 'the forces of evil' in a fantasy or supernatural sense, then you can do whatever you like to make them 'evil.' As Schofield said, above, just make sure what evil they do is similar in tone with the rest of your story.

    For me, though, I find 'good' and 'evil' more interesting to think about, when applying the terms to the real world. What is the most evil real person you can think of, and what made them the way they are/were? Why did they do what they did? What happened in their brain, to make them so 'different' from the rest of humanity? At what point did their actions become 'evil?' You can go all the way to Hitler and obvious world-famous choices like that, down to the neighbourhood boy who tortured animals and smaller children when he was young, but now hides his past and lives like an 'ordinary' citizen, controlling his impulses because he knows that acting them out will get him into trouble.

    I keep hearing people say the term 'pure evil.' Is that possible, outwith fantasy, religion or the supernatural? I wonder.
     
  10. jmhoffer
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    jmhoffer Contributing Member

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    Well outside the scope of the OP, but to answer your question, no, it isn't. Hitler did a lot of good for Germany, despite knowing full well that what he was doing to the Jews and other groups was wrong (if he didn't know it was wrong, he wouldn't have felt a need to hide it). He was unquestionably evil, but not pure evil.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Those things are certainly evil, but they don't draw the reader in--they're a sort of generic evil, an arms race of horrible things that a character can do.

    I think that the most gut-wrenching evil for a reader comes from relationships, and from people who _could_ choose good, who understand good, but who nevertheless choose evil. You can talk about a character murdering a million puppies, and your readers will shrug. You can follow a character training a puppy, going through traumatic experiences with him, building his loyalty, drawing out his love... and then if that character just kicks the puppy, you'll get a stronger reader gasp than you got from the puppy massacre.

    In your world, the creatures that do all of those horrible things will essentially be forces of nature; they'll be a shrug. If a human character, on the other hand, betrays a loved one, someone with whom that character has a relationship that the reader has witnessed and they care bout, and delivers that loved one into the hands of those creatures... that will be, again, a gut-wrenching evil that the readers can understand.
     
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  12. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Intention is the source of evil.
     
  13. jmhoffer
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    jmhoffer Contributing Member

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    I didn't say these were the only things the daemons did, but thank you for the advice. Part of what I have written so far includes the daemon rewarding his most loyal followers. The MC was rewarded with a garden populated with plants and butterflies from all over the known world. You've actually given me an idea to make the scene where the daemon is introduced more horrific.
     
  14. maskedhero
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    maskedhero Active Member

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    It doesn't go too far, but I would note caution. Trudging through gore, rape, and descriptions of vile things can get old, very fast. Used once, the impact is vicious. Used over and over, and it becomes lame.

    Just like we can see a person suffering, being dragged, kicking and screaming to the middle of a square and shot, and feel THAT scene, we see large numbers as simply a statistic. 500 people had that fate. 5000. 5 million. It ceases to have as much impact, because we don't feel connected.

    So yes, make evil evil, but do so in tempered moments, or even in just assumptions of hearsay. Showing it over and over again would be a chore.
     
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  15. ArnaudB
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    ArnaudB Member

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    I define "Evil" as a non-necessary means of inflicting destruction/pain and taking pleasure in it. The "classic" tortures don't go well in book because those are things which a reader can't relate, and when announced there isn't that impression of twisted pleasure which can make Evil characters frightening or awesome.
    Pure Evil can't really exist outside fantasy, for the simple reason that wanton destruction isn't self-substantive. Thus a Pure Evil character who is concerned only by it would destroy himself in fairly short order because absolutely nothing could stand by its side without destroying one or the other.
     
  16. jmhoffer
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    jmhoffer Contributing Member

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    I should correct myself. I shouldn't have said 'dark fantasy'. I'm not looking at this being a horror. I'm just looking to showcase evil, daemons in this case, as it really is. Creatures that derive pleasure from the suffering of others.
     
  17. B. anthracis
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    B. anthracis Member

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    There's a difference between evil and shock. Shock is baby eating and the like, but evil is another matter. I'm in agreement with another poster who said that real life evil is much more instructive on the topic because it has a real reference. I've always found it difficult to be horrified by demons and devils because it's all unreal. Fun, definitely, but I feel so far removed from it intellectually that it's nothing that disturbs me.

    I think the only fiction writer that's ever shocked and appalled me was Hubert Selby Jr. in his book, The Room. It's the only book I've thrown away after reading. Selby himself said that it took him years to read it again after it had been published. It's a difficult read, not only because of the subject matter but because of the way Selby uses punctuation; truly frustrating at first. But once you get used to it, it's okay. I'd also look into some true crime murder books. That is truly horrific stuff.
     
  18. Makeshift
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    Makeshift Active Member

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    This brings the point of free will: is the most terrifying form of evil someone who could have been good but still chose to be wicked or one who is incapable of being good. As far as depictions of purely evil characters in fiction go, Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs is a good example. Serial killers in general are something you might want to look into. I'm actually writing a story about a society that has collapsed morally and the MC speculates this is because the previous centuries had been so hard on them and therefore natural selection allowed only the most ruthless to survive. Personally I find that kind of evil to be more terrifying: humans who due to their heritage are corrupted and incapable of being anything else. It's so unnerving partially because it makes me think whether our goodness is an achievement on our part or just good luck that we weren't born that way.
     
  19. Shinji26
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    Shinji26 New Member

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    I feel that for an act to be evil the thing committing the act must be aware that what they're doing is evil, and the act must be unnecessary. For example, if a cheetah saw an infant child and ripped it apart it would be simple instinct and a desire for food, if I did it it would be an obvious act of evil, as long as there wasn't any crazy circumstance that forced me to do it. Going with demons always runs the risk that the reader will think "well, that's what they'd be like anyway". You should make it seem clear that the demons have the option of not committing evil while still achieving what they want, if that makes any sense. That's my spin on things, anyway
     
  20. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    A well developed plot by one of your daemons to ultimately destroy a character for which you cause the reader to feel deeply could produce the darkness you seek. As another poster suggested, you might consider transcending physical violence and explore the possibilities of forcing characters to betray themselves, deeply held beliefs, or cherished loved ones. Have the Daemons trick the character into committing atrocities of his or her own. Make him destroy everything that ever meant anything to him. Develop the character to be destroyed. Make the reader identify with them and sympathize with them. Allow your daemons to slowly and painfully excise any and every good trait and chronicle the cherished character's descent into wretchedness. I believe this would disturb me more than the admittedly graphic violence you alluded to in your original post.
     
  21. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    No need to not say "dark fantasy" because there's more to that than horror. Just, for future reference, provide us with what guidelines you want us to work within. :) Responses will be a lot more relevant then.
     
  22. CrimsonReaper
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    CrimsonReaper Active Member

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    "Evil" is a word. And like a great many words it is meaningless without context. But if you want some absolute definition, then Shinji hit the mark. There has to be no real need for an "evil" act to have been committed. Or at the very least it has to be the easier option. A vampire has to kill to survive in my urban fantasy. They feed on the life of a victim with blood as the medium, so blood banks are not an option. But if they were then draining bums dry for that "extra kick" would be evil if most vampires stuck to donated blood.

    By comparison, my fantasy setting has demons that most would certainly view as evil. They need nothing from humanity (no feeding on psychic energy or any of that crap). They just get bored. The mortal realm is basically a video game to them. A demon pops in, screws around with mortals, and then leaves or gets "killed". Upon the destruction of their physical body, their demonic essence returns home. A few years later the same demon could just come back for a second go. Hence the only permanent method is to seal demons away using holy magic. Trying to kill them only ensures the next generation has to deal with them. And yes, there are several demons that amuse themselves by coming back to fight the same family line over and over again. Eternity is a long time and one needs a hobby. There is no long-term plan to corrupt or conquer mankind. We are just toys to them. And because large-scale plotting does not hold the same interest to most demons. They adore the personal touch of skinning someone alive or turning brother agaisnt brother. A hundred faceless soldiers dying on some distant battlefield in a war a demon started just doesn't hold the same interest. Most demons would in fact laugh at some "tiny mortal" tyrant that wants to lord over others. How pathetic.
     
  23. Keitsumah
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    Keitsumah The Dream-Walker Contributor

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    Believe me, evil has no limits, it depends on that audience you want to read it for how far you will go.

    I use a race of creatures (two actually) besides humans. One is the Shifters, portrayed as the "dark" race, and the Imirri, portrayed as the "light" race. Shifters are pretty much human males who can transform into huge wolves (like Twilight but not that big) and they run in a single pack dominated by an Alpha. They don't have to enslave humans, but they do in order to avoid doing any actual labor other than what they enjoy, which is fighting, killing, and (as they are only male) reproducing through humans or Imirri women.

    As for the Imirri, they look human in appearance other than their gem-colored eyes. They have powers over weather, pressure, light and gravity, but gave that up to create the Starshade (the ultimate weapon in a female Imirri for her to destroy all Shifters). There are Light Spirits and Dark Spirits, the ghosts of past Shifters and Imirri who are still in conflict even after death. This world is totally messed up with both the living AND the dead at war. Add that to the conflicts within the races themselves (such as the Shifters killing one another to be more dominant) it can get pretty nasty.

    Then throw in the human race who are sided with the Imirri, but add the fact that it all began... every bit of it... between three brothers.

    Canus, who tried to murder his brother Adaephus. He started the Shifters.

    Adaephus, who was nearly killed by his brother Canus, started the Imirri after finding a tree filled with ghosts that saved his life.

    And Ellion, the youngest, who wanted peace between the two but died without finding it. He started the humans.

    Overall, this whole war between thousands is actually between brothers and sisters after each generation, even if that past has been long forgotten.
     
  24. Anonymoose
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    Anonymoose New Member

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    Personally I feel that if you want a TRULY evil character, you must make it clear that the character is perfectly sane, in control of his/her own actions and relishes in that fact. There are countless 'villains' from various novels/stories that crave money/power, or have prejudices that are backed up with past experiences, or even just due to full on insanity. However, I feel that the most evil characters are those which simply decide to be evil, for the thrill of it. Those that understand their decisions and simply don't care. I can forgive a villain with a horrific childhood, I can feel sorry for a psychopath that believes in what he/she is doing, but by simply being evil for the thrill of it... that's TRUE evil in my opinion.
     
  25. jmhoffer
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    jmhoffer Contributing Member

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    Thank you for that, that gives me some motivations for some of my human characters.
     

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