So Tuesday is Mr. Tart's class night (that, and Sunday daytime)... I got home last night to make dinner for the childings... come inside... it's dark and quiet. I holler. No answer. I go to the top of the stairs and holler again. No answer. I turn on the tree and lights in the living room and go to the porch for a soda. Dog is whining. I let him in and ask him who left him out, but mostly he just wiggled his butt and gave me the greeting whine. I came downstairs to turn on the computer... dark. I went back upstairs and picked up the phone, calling my daughter.
No answer. I try again... I hear, “Mom! Why are you calling me?” Both kids had been hiding in the basement... *rolls eyes*
But that isn't actually evil... just a little naughty.
What I am REALLY here to talk about today was inspired by one of Colene Murphy's questions yesterday. She was asking about evil... evil PEOPLE. She watches a show which I've never seen about really horrible people, but her question was... how might they be different if somebody had helped? I have some educational knowledge here for the real life case, so I thought I'd start there, but then take that a step further and look at how we can use that for our villains in our fiction.
Now if you don't know the difference between these, you're not alone. There is actually some professional disagreement on the matter and both fall under the heading Antisocial Personality Disorder. I actually had to look them up, as they are often used interchangeably, especially by lay people. What I got out of the description I went to though, is a Psychopath can fake it better. Both lack empathy, are manipulative, can be cruel. But a psychopath takes the effort to observe and learn how one ought to behave and so SOCIALLY can seem quite charming. The sociopath can't hide his pathology in a social setting... totally makes sense... one's pathology is limited to psychology (Psychopath), the other also extends to the social domain (sociopath). It isn't clear whether this is because the sociopath lacks comprehension to learn those skills, or lacks desire (doesn't care what anybody thinks), but it means that the Psychopath is infinitely scarier because we don't always know who they are.
The rate in prisons of psychopath/sociopath-ism (according to the Google *shifty*) is 20-25%, though the manifestation is more often scamming and scheming than violence. The motivation of a 'normal' criminal tends to be hardship, learned benefit (living somewhere criminals have more than non-criminals, or at least fewer negatives), difficult upbringing... in a psychopath they enjoy pulling one over... tricking—proving their superiority over others.
The key here though, to part of Colene's question, is the brain issue... YES these people do tend to have a genetic propensity, that is—their biology is different. HOWEVER, in order for the disorder to manifest itself (aka: show up) there also needs to be 'nurturing risk'--abuse, horrible experience, learned behavior—it won't show up all on its own (though it won't show up at all in others).
Well that depends on what you mean by EVIL... in reality, most people who can be seen as evil believe they are doing the right thing—they just have really messed up thinking on the matter (typically taught, sometimes tricked). They have justified to themselves, either that the ends justify the means, or that the means themselves also are okay.
They have been put in desperate circumstances and think they have no choice (perhaps they are cowardly)...
It would have taken an awful lot to have made Tom Riddle NOT AWFUL, but I think it could have happened. And for the Umbridges and Malfoys, they would have had to be raised differently, but they really are products of what they are taught. I happen to hold the Marauders responsible for Wormtail. I think he was the picked upon of the group and if they'd shown him more kindness he might have found it in him not to turn on them.
NOW what about in YOUR BOOKS?! What do you need to keep in mind?
For starters... I would say even though Psychopaths are the scariest bunch in real life, I don't think they are nearly as interesting to read. I mean... I know there are exceptions... somebody like Hannibal Lecter has a certain CHARM that makes him fascinating in spite of himself, though I would argue he is at least as fascinating because of the exception he makes of Clarisse as he is for anything awful he does.
I think it is far MORE interesting to read about a villain that we can understand... someone who is bad because of hardship or because they've been badly misguided by trusted figures... manipulated, used, abused. A villain is much more fascinating if we can say, “holy crap, I could see that,” and wipe sweat from our brow in relief that we didn't have that happen—don't you think?
Is there a better character in literature? Not many. People STILL (series over) argue whether he is good or bad. We see bits of his childhood—abuse in his household, bullying by his peers... ACCEPTANCE on some level from the deatheaters (most speculation suggests he is recruited for talent, though the canon on the matter is much more vague). So he works for the bad guys. He does horrible things. He is a NASTY PERSON (bullying Neville, for instance, or Hermione), yet.... he is trusted by DD... and the book 7 reveal... well I won't go into it in case you haven't read or seen, but he's a GREAT example of how compelling a character can be who initially seems one thing, then another, then we understand a little better so it is yet a THIRD thing... There are at least 5 iterations of Severus Snape in those books.
So what are the things you can do to make a compelling hero?
* Create a backstory with WHY they are like they are. (this doesn' t mean you have to put it all in the book, but you need to KNOW it and HINT at it)... bad experiences or indoctrinization in some wonky thinking.
* Give a compelling motive that actually RELATES to the story.
* Make them SMART. (except possibly in cozy mysteries) But a dumb villain is not worthy of the effort to solve the crime.
What else? Can you think of things that make for really compelling bad guys?