Villains: What is the nature of evil?

Stories are spun from elastic band-like tension. Conflict is the axis upon which a story revolves. The conflict may be internal — one of ideas, conflicting responsibilities, or emotions. The conflict also may be external. At this point in our history, it appears as though literary form requires depth to our conflicts. There is no such thing in modern literature as pure evil.

Consider that our comic book heroes and their nemesis have all acquired complex characters and bad guys no longer simply do things because they are evil. Villains have to have tortured pasts that give rise to unique obsessions and the desire to inflict harm. Even in our everyday reality, serial killers no longer are simply an evil walking the streets. They are former abused children whose sense of humanity has been severed and hence they take a gruesome pleasure in killing and inflicting harm.

Recently, as in last summer, I reread Paradise Lost. Despite the difficulty of the text, it is by far one of the most glorious pieces of literature ever written. And the passage where Lucifer rallies his forces in hell is stunningly beautiful. Lucifer is seductive. His words are a flow of sensuous poetry.

Evil has to have an allure. Or it has to have some complexity. Or it simply isn’t believable because it is lacking real power. Perhaps, in a different age when the audience for written works was more trusting and wanted to believe and be swept away by the adventures of written stories, evil could be without depth. However, now it has to have more life than that depicted by wide brushstrokes and the designation of villain.

This leads me to thoughts of what really constitutes evil. I do think evil walks the streets. But it is not a personification. It is choice. The choice of those who would choose to do harm.

I do not think carelessness is evil. Selfishness can be depending on the circumstance. Thoughtlessness is also grey.

Is a person who robs automatically evil? No. It’s complex.

Is a person who hits another automatically evil? Not necessarily. Again, it could be complex.

In addition to the the choice of the person committing evil there is also the evaluation of others and the context of the situation.

What to your mind makes something evil? How would you construct an “evil” character?