By W.D. Gagliani On Jun 13 2012, 8:55 pm
Very recently I attended a regional convention and sat on a panel titled "Defining Evil." As you can imagine there was a spirited discussion among panelists and the audience, even though the con was primarily SF-oriented. SF loves its villains as much as we horror-thriller guys do, apparently. We began with serious intent, examining individual definitions of evil. For some, war itself is evil. For others, war is acceptable if justified. Soldiers almost always get a break. But what if they're on the side deemed evil by everyone else? ("Nazis… I hate those guys!") What if they enjoy killing? Murder is evil, but where does that leave capital punishment? Are there levels of evil? Are there evil people? Do evil people have any redeeming qualities? If dictators are evil, and many are, why do other governments prop them up? Why do rebellions against evil dictators so often turn evil themselves?
It's strange that rarely do evil people consider themselves to actually be evil. From their points of view, they may have Right on their side. They may have what they consider justification. The end justifies the means. But what if the means are evil?
Why do we love villains, antagonists, and enemies in our fiction? Why do we enjoy watching villains in our movies? Why do the actors who play villains have the most fun? Why do we cheer heroes, but secretly love the villains who keep coming back?
You see, there are all sorts of paradoxical and ethical traps when we start to set down definitions. Some things we touched on and considered unequivocally evil were genocide, sex trafficking, and the enjoyment of others' pain and suffering. That seemed satisfactory, to a point. The panel was great, but you could tell the subject remained relatively undefined, with individual lines both blurred and bold depending on situations.
As a writer who seeks to explore evil in short stories, as well as thrillers such as Savage Nights, and in my Nick Lupo werewolf thrillers (Wolf's Trap and Wolf's Edge, both from Samhain, as well as two middle books, Wolf's Gambit and Wolf's Bluff), I found the exercise fascinating. Writing horror and horror-thrillers gives me the opportunity to step into the heads of despicable characters all the time. I don't always like being there, mind you, but even if it's a dirty job someone has to do it. Because our villains give the fiction the spark I believe all fiction needs, and that is conflict. I've never been drawn to "slice of life" fiction because it's always been too light on conflict, or too dependent on conflicts that are familiar and therefore not compelling. I've tried to write even-handed villains, and I've both written unrepentant evil villains. You know what, no matter what anyone tells you, it's always more fun to write the nasty stuff because it allows us (writers and readers) to step out of our comfort zones and explore the darkness that scares us, but which also draws us…
And why not? Sometimes the villains have the most fun. And who are we to stop them? It's definitely better when they keep coming back.