1. struggler
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    struggler Member

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    Why do bad people do bad things?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by struggler, Sep 12, 2015.

    I'm trying to make one of my antagonists in my story more than just a one-dimensional character. This individual is actually pretty evil, has done evil things in the past and plans to do more in the future. I'm having a hard time trying to flesh out this character.

    A lot of 'bad guys' in novels (and other forms of media) are written simply as 'they're bad, that's it.' I'm finding it hard to provide a reason why bad characters do bad things. This individual in my story does evil things because they like to do them. Why do they like to do them? Well, why does anyone want to do anything that they enjoy?

    Anyone got any thoughts on this?
     
  2. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Two general reasons:
    • They want to do the right thing, but what they think is right is actually wrong.
    • They want to serve themselves (gaining wealth or power, preserving themselves, etc.) but to do so would hurt other people. They care more about themselves, so they serve themselves at others' expense.
     
  3. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Really evil people are hurt deeply, but it doesn't show. They masquerade as free and believe wrongdoing is empowering. Also look up etiology of sadism, psychopaths, narcissism.
     
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  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Some make themselves feel powerful by deliberately hurting other people. Bullies do this. This usually means that, to some extent, they feel powerless otherwise. Interesting to explore.

    I believe that's one of the reasons bullies nearly always back down, when a potential victim stands up to them. The power shifts immediately, and the bullies slink away. They don't really want to overcome a challenge, they want somebody they can easily dominate. It's not so much that bullies are cowards (although they may be) but that bullying a person who refuses to be cowed negates the purpose of the exercise. Bullies want to be feared and respected. When they get neither fear nor respect, they usually quit.
     
  5. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    Don't forget that it's not only bad people who do bad things. We've all done things we're (hopefully) ashamed of. And then there are the things we've done that others consider bad, but we disagree with or are oblivious to. Good and bad can just be perspective.

    I think most of my bad deeds have been the result of:
    - Not thinking things through carefully enough (failing to consider the impact on others) - could count this as accidental
    - Letting pride get the better of me (e.g. sinking to someone else's level or further during a conflict)
    - Consciously doing bad things to achieve a greater good (definitely an area where perspectives may differ)
    - Being bored and deciding to press buttons (possibly counts more as 'being a prick' than 'bad' per se, but if you act like enough of an arsehole for long enough...)

    Also consider that there are acts of commission (e.g. kicking your dog) and acts of omission (e.g. neglecting to feed your dog). The latter being the crux of that 'evil triumphs when good men do nothing' thing. IMO omission does more damage overall, but it's less eye-catching.

    I'm not usually one to get biblical, but the seven deadly sins might be a good starting point for other motivations.
     
  6. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don’t believe there is such a thing a truly bad person. People are mostly alike and there is always a reason why people do what they do (determinism). People do what they think is best, for themselves, their family or the population. This may be a narrow minded view based on personal desires, or strange ideals of how the world should be (discriminate against people to promote their own ideas). People can have a short term view, where obvious lasting consequences are overlooked (believe the action is correct, and trust that all will work out well in the end). People can be overwhelmed by a long term objective and overlook the morality of their actions (violent uprising to eventually produce political change (you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs)). People can feel they’ve had a raw-deal in life and attempt to put that right (the rich don’t deserve their wealth, so I should have some of that).

    What’s common in all of this, is the inability to perceive ‘the big picture’, or to consider life from the point of view of others.
     
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  7. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    As an evil man I would argue most acts of evil are delivered simply for my entertainment, or because it is funny.

    For example - when you slice a worm in half with your shovel it is funny. This makes you laugh, of course. When you pick up a lizard and the body falls from the tail - in your hand, this is funny also. Making girls cry, this was funny once upon a time. Ultimately, it is a war. The creeps gather on one side with their tiny minds, and they drip often - from their sense of justice, whilst we, the forces of enlightenment, perhaps darkness, we stand on the other side of the pond in which we threw them earlier.

    As for the common myth of weaklings standing up to bullies, this is pathetic. Violence must be increased, a fellow bully, a trainee, may be coerced to apply thumb twist or stamp upon toes, hand, any limb will do.
     
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  8. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    They've got their reasons for doing evil things, but they never think they're the bad guys, they think everyone else either don't get them, or are the bad guys themselves. Remember, we all think we're the heroes of our own narratives, and this applies to the people we deem 'bad'.

    Some of the classics that I can think up of are that:

    - They want to make the world a better place, but to do so, they have to hurt a lot of people.

    - They care about self-gain above all else, but they do have random Pet The Dog/Even Evil Has Standards moments to keep the readers interested in them.

    - They were hurt. Badly. All they can think about now is the pain, and the raw, burning hate they have against either the individual that caused it, or the group, or society as a whole for seemingly just sitting there and letting this happen. They want to make everyone else hurt just as badly as they were hurt. They're so blinded by this rage, this thirst for blood that they won't listen to what anyone else says because then that would mean they were agreeing with the perpetrators of that pain. They were once the victim, but now they're gonna make everyone victims.

    Funny enough, it can be a mixed bag, and this can even apply to the protagonist as well. Maybe the protagonist was hurt by the villain and he/she has to tread carefully when plotting revenge less he/she 'falls to the Dark Side' as it were.

    That's the beauty of making villains, there's no set category for what drives them and even your hero can become one of them for a short while, or for the rest of the story if you wanted.

    However, I will postulate that there are people who are, in fact, just plain evil. There's no rhyme or reason for why they do what they do, there's no tragic past to justify it (I may sound like a prick here, but a tragic past doesn't excuse you becoming a monster in the present), they just want to hurt as many people as they can for shits and giggles.
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2015
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  9. theoriginalmonsterman
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    theoriginalmonsterman Pickle Contest Administrator Contributor

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    It all depends on your perspective; one person's good could be another person's evil. That's why it's somewhat ironic when a villain calls themselves evil.
     
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  10. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I usually chalk that to the villain being affably evil, or knows that what they're doing is perceived as evil to others, they just don't care.
     
  11. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    You need to change the title of this thread. Your question answers itself -- why do bad people do bad things? Because they're bad. As a writer/reader, that isn't very interesting. The real question is why do *people* do bad things.

    It's not very satisfying to read a story of someone who is just bad/evil because they are bad and evil. What you want is something more nuanced -- how can this person, who in some ways I like and identify with, do something that is so evil? That's where you get an interesting story and character.
     
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  12. DueNorth
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    DueNorth Active Member

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    A "bad person" which I would define as a psychopath so without a conscience or capacity for empathy does "bad things" for their own personal gain of whatever sort, self-aggrandizement, stimulation. wealth, sadism, etc. Many of these "bad people" have become so common in fiction that they have become comic-book-like in nature. To me, the more interesting question, and the more interesting characters are those "good people" (not psychopaths) who do bad things. And I would venture that the number one reason as it relates to good people doing a bad thing of a violent nature is revenge/retaliation. Otherwise "good people" seem to be masterful at rationalizing retaliation and also at rationalizing extramarital affairs from the spouse who "doesn't understand them" or theft from corporations that "cheat the public anyway."
     
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2015
  13. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    This thread made me realize that I need to add more depth to a bad guy of mine.
     
  14. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    If you are having trouble 'seeing' how to justify an evil bad guy, I would recommend watching (listening) to a series called Confessions of a Serial Killer on Takedownman channel on youtube. It is maybe 2 hours long and it gave me chills at times just how evil a human can be in the real world. It will disturb you and might give you nightmares if you can't palate that sort of content. That being said check it out, as it is from purely the killers perspective.
     
  15. tasjess
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    tasjess Active Member

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    Every villain is the hero of their own story. Hitler was saving the world in his own eyes. They are winning the game, gathering power, protecting themselves and what is important to them, imposing their own sense of justice and right, committing acts of evil in the name of a greater good, punishing those who deserve it, manipulating situations to place them and those important to them in positions of power, authority and/or safety, studying and learning and gathering knowledge, are in a position of superiority which (in their eyes) makes them greater than those they are hurting therefore justified.
     
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  16. TheClintHennesy
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    I'm gonna reply based on experience rather than observation in media. Media is good- but I feel like taking reference from real life is always the best when making characters. :D

    I think there are lots of reasons why people do "evil things", you know? It's so vague that you can't really pinpoint a "reason". But there are definitely some factors that I've observed one people I know who are just a*holes. Of course- there are some who are probably just inherently "like that" because they were "born that way" (like kleptomaniacs, for example. I know one in real life and it's very difficult to understand why she did those things.)

    Anyways, moving on. The people whom I knew in real life that weren't very nice people- well, environment played a huge factor on their behavior. I have this one "friend" who was really superficial and called his other friends names because that other friend had more friends than he did. At the same time, I knew this friend's mom as well- and from the way this friend's mom talked, they were pretty much the same... Really superficial. I know it's a fallacy to assume so- but just think about it. If you're in a house where cursing is accepted, chances are, everyone in the house would curse. If your main villain character lived in a house where "evil" is being done on a regular basis and is seen normalized, odds are, your character is evil as well.

    In relation to that, I think a very common thing I noted in "evil" characters/antagonist is they would usually have really bad self-esteem issues. Which is why they crave and obsess over power, beauty, love- whatever. Sometimes, when a person is oppressed and insecurity rules over them, it backlashes and makes them react violently- so in the end, they're not really evil, they're just misunderstood. "That boy who was bullied growing up is now bullying everyone around him cuz he doesn't want to show signs of weakness" for example.

    I think that's a good way to start thinking about it. Making characters that are "misunderstood" rather than "evil." The fight for black and white morality is real! :p

    Hope this helped! :D
     
  17. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Don't ask. 1970-01-04 08.40.23.jpg
     
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  18. Aaron Smith
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    Aaron Smith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Because good people tell them they're bad.
     
  19. Basil Lee
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    You may want to look up James Fallon's work. His premise is that there is something fundamentally different about the brains of psychopaths. They just don't process information the same way. The part of the brain that inhibits your aggressive/violent desires doesn't work properly. That's just a part of what makes someone a full blown psychopath. He mentions other factors that when mixed can turn deadly (interestingly, he has the same brain abnormality and isn't a murderer... to the best of my knowledge). Google him. It's interesting stuff even if it may not exactly answer your question.

    My guess, is that for someone like this, they think they're just doing what everyone else is thinking and wanting to do, but they're the only one with the guts to follow through.
     
  20. Daemon Wolf
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    Daemon Wolf Active Member

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    Put simply:
    There is no "Good and Evil", there is no bad and nice. There are simply three things to us: Art, Animal Nature, and Violence. Our Animal nature drives a lot of what we perceive as bad or good via our animal instincts and our survival instincts. As a species we are also quite violent but on the other part of the scale we have the beauty of art. People do terrible things all the time for no good reason. But that's just my 25 cents.
     
  21. nhope
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    nhope Contributing Member Reviewer

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    There is a big different between "bad" and "evil", and a wider spectrum of what you think is bad and evil and what I think is bad and evil. How old is your character? Has he (or is it she) always been evil or did something happen - was he coerced into this life or forced into it? Is he picking on the kid down the street bad or Hitler evil? Figure out his life story then you'll be able to more appropriately characterize him than just trying to make bad or evil things fit because you think he's too one dimensional.

    And, he may have been raised in a violent environment and can't comprehend kindness or compassion. So...does that make him a monster or a victim?
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2015
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  22. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    So many reasons.

    1 They generally believe they're doing good things
    2 Sometimes they know they're doing bad but it's for a good cause - end justifies the means etc.
    3 Emotional issues - anger, hatred, jealousy, rejection etc etc.
    4 Justification through some sort of higher power - religion, Nietzsche's philosophy
    5 Psychological problems - delusions, psychosis, sociopathy
    6 Poor ability to make good decisions - this is what lands most criminals in jail
    7 Peer group pressure and acceptance of antisocial behaviours as normal or even acceptable
    8 Desperation / fear.

    I could go on.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
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  23. DancingCorpse
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    DancingCorpse Member

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    I was about to suggest the very first thing psycho said, many devoutly believe they are not acting in a dark way, they vehemently believe what they're doing is beneficial to themselves or to a wider crowd. It's evenly balanced on the creepsville scale imo whether they understand they are propelling an evil force and stride forward confidently, or they have no sane moral compass and are acting under rigid armour that tells them what they are doing is healthy and admirable...
     
  24. Flying Geese
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    Flying Geese Contributing Member

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    There are some people who are just deeply flawed in that they simply do not have anyone's interest but their own at heart. Take the Roman Inquisition for example. Or the Holocaust. I don't think that the Popes really thought that god was on their side. Although they claimed to.

    Hitler just thought that a certain kind of human was inferior. I'm not a history buff, but I don't think that Adolf really even cared whether or not what he was doing was right for everyone.
     
  25. AspiringNovelist
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    AspiringNovelist Contributing Member

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    Because good people do bad things and refuse to admit it...

    Seriously, the below is from an internet article that you may find useful: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-moral-molecule/201109/why-some-people-are-evil

    So how do human beings go from good, to bad, to evil? My experiments have shown that 95 percent of the thousands of people I have studied release oxytocin when they receive a positive social signal. Oxytocin-releasers include having someone trust you with their money, being touched, and even watching an emotional movie. Five percent of those I have tested do not release oxytocin after such stimuli. These individuals have many of the traits of psychopaths: they are charming, deceptive, and even self-deceptive. And, when there is money that can be shared with others, they unabashedly keep it all for themselves. Greed, you will remember, is one of the seven deadly sins.
     

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