When I mentioned to a friend and colleague that I was considering doing a blog post series on the nature of evil in writing, her response was typical for her:
“Oh my god, Laura! Aren’t you tired of this? I swear you have to be the only person in the world that deals with this stuff all the time! Is it really necessary? All this evil stuff?!”
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was by far not the only one that deals with this “evil stuff”. Not even close.
True, as a ghostwriter, I have researched, interviewed, and wrote about quite a few people or situations that would be considered “evil” by most. People such as serial rapists, white supremacists, kidnappers, psychopaths, even child killers. You know, the people who never “seem the type” until you find out that they’ve been arrested and are facing multiple life terms with a maniacal smile and a dead look in their eyes.
But my friend’s exasperated demand did puncture my psyche just a little bit.
Is evil truly necessary?
Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not here to debate whether or not evil exists. My question is that in the grand scheme of things when the great stories of our lives are told, is evil – true unadulterated evil- necessary?
I would submit that it is.
I would also submit that it’s not always for the reasons you might think.
As the many great writers have said in this series, a well-made villain serves as a foil for the hero of the story. Something to rally against, to raise your hand against, and to possibly even sympathize with.
There but by the grace… yadda, yadda, yadda.
But admit it; sometimes the most delicious part of the story is the bad guy.
Every so often, evil makes sense, it speaks to our basic human instinct.
Every once in a while, I’ve felt the urge to destroy something beautiful; I’ll freely admit that. But I chose not to. Why?
Because, in part, I can destroy beauty vicariously through reading a great story.
And then, of course, there is what the idea of evil and its many varied manifestations can teach us.
Evil teaches us about perspective. Murdering a child may be a horrific idea to you. But what if, as the killer I interviewed, you were convinced that you were saving them from suffering in a hell called Earth? What would the truly evil choice be?
Evil teaches us about balance. For every atrocity, there is a heroic deed. For every murder plunging their knife into the back of a victim, there is a convict sitting in the jailhouse library teaching others to read. For every police officer who takes advantage of a drug-addicted informant, there is a detective that is reading the Miranda rights to a murderer who has gone unpunished for three decades.
Evil teaches us about the human psyche. The parts of us that we choose to ignore when we look in the mirror. It brings our “shadows” to the forefront and forces us to deal with them. Compels us to become a more whole, more complete version of who we were before.
I don’t write about crime and evil because I find it appealing. I don’t write about it because I find it abhorrent. I write about it because I hope someday to truly understand it, and therefore understand myself.
And I hope, that someday that those who read what I write will understand it as well.
At least a little bit.
© 2018, Laura Seeber. All rights reserved.