Monday, August 1, 2011

Making Evil Too Exciting


Photo by Harlequeen
If you've been familiar with my blog for any length of time, you'll know I talk about evil a lot, mostly about the writer's relationship to the portrayal of evil.  If you're familiar with my stories, you'll know that my interest in exploring the nature of evil is core to what I do.  The past few days what's been niggling at me is the notion that we (writers, TV producers, movie directors, playwrights) make evil pretty exciting.  In truth, most of the time, evil is an uncomfortable sort of boring.

When I think back to my time doing forensics, it's pretty apparent that facing evil is not a hot rush of adrenaline.  It is a cold, empty ache in the belly.  It's not a thrill ride, heart pounding as you wonder what's around the next corner.  It's a dull, weepy mood as you realize that you know what's around the next corner for someone.  Maybe you.  Maybe a loved one.  Maybe a stranger.

Despite all the wild, intriguing motivations we right about -- and which occasionally do exist in reality -- most murderers are a lot more boring.  On one case we were involved with the murderer explained his motivation as, "They made me mad.  When I get mad, I shoot people."    On another case, the killer was too drunk to remember why he kicked a man's head in.  On a cold case I was part of, we identified a woman as the victim of a serial killer who himself was long dead, and it all happened as if we were sorting mail.

Is there interesting psychology and human drama in these stories?  Yes, to be sure.   Is there adrenaline?   Excitement?  Not much, at least not the kind we usually write about or portray.

I suppose this isn't news, but it's something that weighs on me sometimes as I write.  My stories are surreal and larger than life.  I want them to be exciting.  I want them to be compelling and memorable.  I think, in some ways, they are effective because of that.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if I'm doing a disservice to real evil, or injustice to the people who confront or fall victim to real evil in the world.  Their experiences aren't exciting.  They're devastating.  They're destructive.    They're dramatic.  But their lives aren't thrillers; they're just miserable.



  1. "they're just miserable." Great way to end this post. The sentence really sums it up. I haven't written enough to know really, but I tend to agree.

    Media tends to really liven evil up. But isn't that the point of art? Entertainment? To take real life and make it bigger so that everyone can see that they all have this common experience. We like to see caricatures of our lives so our experiences don't seem so narrow, unimportant.

    Just a few thoughts. Enjoyed reading your take on the subject. Keep the exchange flowing!

  2. I like stories that are "surreal and larger than life". It's why I read so much genre fiction - I don't want to read about someone whose life is just as boring and ordinary as mine. I want to be entertained, and I want to escape.

    As for evil, that's a subject that never gets old.

  3. As writers we (OK me) know that the real life of a cop isn't as exciting as the media portrays. And, we are part of the media.

    You gotta ask yourself one question Nevets: do you want to read about the boring, or the excitement of success? How much boring do you want to wade through before you get to the minimal excitement?

    Those that want to read reality read/write memoire and biography. Those that just want to believe the good guys go to extradorinary lengths to catch the bad guys read/write/watch fiction for the instant gratification.

    I know the Ted Bundy's of the world are rare; but I deal with the ~downtrodden~ of society every day in my real life, and I want to read the overblown version so I feel hope that good guys always win, and bad guys get caught and punished.

    I have lived through and worked within "the system" most of my life Nevetes. I understand what you're saying here. It makes me cry; it really does.

    But I hope you keep in mind as you're writing your sensational and surreal stories that it has to be that way to catch the attention of the reader; the person that might look at the insignificant in their lives and be more careful, more wary, because they may not believe in the extreme reality of evil, but they will put it in a perspective that means something to them.

    And that is the good guy in the white hat riding off into the sunset after banishing the ordinary evil that plagues an oblivious society.

    You had a job to do as a civil servant; and you still have an equally important job to do as an elightened author. Give your readers what they want, what they need, to be more aware of their own safety.


  4. I think you've neatly encapsulated the difference between life and art. Because art can illuminate life by heightening some aspects of it, is no reason to eschew art. So by all means keeping going with the "compelling and memorable"!

  5. Tom Clancy said: "The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense."

    I think it's much the same with this. People expect evil to be exciting, so if we give them the realistic evil, they won't like it.

  6. I can't add much to what others have said, except to say that I find there is plenty of real evil as a background to a lot of fiction. I've read many novels with a background of the holocaust, for example, and that part at least is real. But we write to entertain, and that's what you do.

    On another note, you sound rather low at the moment. I hope that's not so?

  7. Nevets, I feel strongly that if you want to portray evil as real and you want to do it justice and show it in all its harsh, ugly, boring reality, you shouldn't be writing fiction. Fiction is fiction, I say. Although, knowing you, you could pull off showing evil as boring and it would totally work, but we'll leave that to another discussion. Most writers couldn't do that. :)

  8. @Scott - To take real life and make it bigger so that everyone can see that they all have this common experience. That's a really interesting way of putting it. It makes me think of a parade balloon, big enough that it can be seen overhead by a lot of different people at once. You can't scale without caricature.

    @Jennifer - Definitely don't want to read boring books, but I'm still trying to get my mind around the idea of being an entertainer. I don't mind the idea of escapist fiction either, but I'm not sure it's ever crossed my mind that that's what I'm writing. Really, that's what genre fiction and commercial thrillers are. I get that. I don't have a problem with that. But it's a surprisingly new idea to me.

  9. @Donna - Do you want to read about the boring, or the excitement of success? How much boring do you want to wade through before you get to the minimal excitement?

    Fantastic challenge to think about there. I think I would go in a different direction. I certainly don't want to read boring. But I don't read for excitement either. I might best say I read for stimulation. I read for interesting mental and emotional engagement. I want to feel and then be left thinking. To me, that's not the same as exciting.

    I know that you understand, Donna, more than a lot of others. And I agree with you really. I don't want to read about the boring and miserable necessarily. I also don't feel as if I have some sort of obligation to represent anyone. I'm an author, not an advocate. That said, if I believe my writing has an impact on my readers, I do feel an obligation to the readers to not impact them negatively.

  10. @Tim - This is a great admonition to not eschew art. Thank you for the frank call to action!

    @Jake - I think you are right; it would take some work for readers to accept the reality.

    @France - Yes, true. I need to be careful about painting with too broad a brush. There are plenty of works that do have a basis in reality, not to mention that some real evil is exciting. I just worry about skewing the perception.

    As for whether I'm low or not, you are always perceptive, Frances. I appreciate that more than you know. Yes, I'm definitely in a bit of a low arc, and often that's when the ghosts of the past haunt me most strikingly.

  11. @Michelle - First, I totally agree with you. Fiction is fiction. If you want to do journalism, you should do it; not call it a novel. I get very bothered by authors who make too much of a pretense of portraying reality as it really is.

    Second, I take what you said about my perhaps being able to pull that as a huuuuuge compliment. Thank you very much. Might give me the courage to tackle a couple of those stories that are floating out there in my head that seem untenable.


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