In this guest blog post, Powell discusses the perfect evil character.
Readers love an evil character, literature is strewn with them. I would say an interesting evil character is often multi-faceted, never straight forward, they themselves are often in a way, victims.
Who can forget the Stephen King character Jack Torrance, who has slipped into insanity, a danger to his wife and child as well as other people who cross his path. He is interesting in that he himself has been victim, having watched his father, who he adored, abuse his mother. There is this baggage, along with the fact that the hotel where he and his family reside over a bleak winter is slowly taking control of him.
Evil characters are full of character flaws, Jack Torrance, for example, has a major problem with alcohol. There are a whole range of character flaws a writer can imagine.
Many evil characters are cruel and carry out unspeakable acts, which leave readers disbelieving they can be so gruesome. The manner in which an evil character enacts their murders, also leaves a strong impression on the reader.
Some evil characters are deranged. Take the character Patrick Batemen. This man, on the one hand, a clean living yuppie, but on the other hand, a murderer, or contrary to this, perhaps the murders are just an insane delusion. This schizophrenic character is used as a ploy to make the reader question what is reality and what is going on in the darkness of Batemen’s mind. Batemen has no strong personality to speak of, it is his imagination that has a richness, be it one of toxic evil.
Evil characters often have strong fixations and are on their own bizarre missions. Grenouille from the book Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, has an incredible gift of smell. This gift leads him to do unspeakable crimes, in the pursuit of a creation of a master angelic perfume. He sets about robbing beautiful virgins of their smell. Grenouille also could be described as hedonistic.
Similarly, Hannibal Lecter from Red Dragon, by Thomas Harris tests the limits of how far a man can go with no moral compass. He is a sophisticated character, not only in his tastes, (he loves opera) but also with sophisticated culinary skills (he sautés human brains). Hannibal is a highly intelligent man, who can outsmart those in pursuit of him. He is precise with how he goes about his killings. He is certainly audacious, as are many evil characters.
Not all evil characters are performing evil physical acts to their victims, there are also those who are more psychological. The evil nurse in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest works in Oregon State Hospital, a mental institution, where she exerts total power over the patients, limiting their freedom and taking away their freedom and privileges at will. Played brilliantly by Louise Fletcher, in the film version, at times you would like to throttle her, which is what the main character, Randle McMurphy, tries to do. One of the main victims of her evil regime is the character of stuttering suicidal Billy Bibbit, who is so terrified by her, that any hope he might get outside the institution is quashed.
Writers have to immerse all these cocktails of character flaws into their characters, to come up with interesting and memorable deviants. A mindless slasher killing for no obvious reason is not going to engage readers, whereas a murderer with a lot of previous baggage and an air of sophistication will. Writers need to delve deep to create deviants.
Born in 1961, in Reading, England, Francis H. Powell attended Art Schools. In 1995, Powell moved to Austria, teaching English while pursuing his varied artistic interests of music and writing. He currently lives in Paris, writing both prose and poetry. He is the author of Flight of Destiny.