Evil in Storytelling

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Now that we have defined evil for the purposes of this essay, we may look at why people choose it over good. Every would-be author on the planet has to have heard a version of the tired adage that the villains do not believe themselves to be evil. What this brief phrase fails to explain is why the antagonists do not see themselves as evil. They neglect to see their own evil because they have lied to themselves repeatedly, to the point that they truly believe their own fabrication or they truly believe they can make it a reality.

Article is The Problem of Evil, Part 1 – What It Is, and Whether It Is the Fault of Others or the Choice of the Villain.

About a quarter of all authors need to be beaten over the head with this until it sinks in. 🙂

About the only thing I’d add is a definition of a “white lie”– from context, I’d guess it’s a “this won’t hurt anything” misinformation, which always goes into the “it won’t really hurt them” and usually has “but I benefit so much from this, it’s worth the harm” type ‘white lies’.  I prefer the definition of “lie” as something like “deliberately with holding accurate information to which someone is entitled,” with a “white lie” being something where either they are not entitled to the information– say, the endless string of “didn’t you want a boy, you already have a girl?” when our second daughter was born– or where you are saying something untrue, but it is not to mislead the questioner– “she isn’t in” when there’s an inquiry at the door about seeing the lady of the house, even if she is in, but either isn’t seeing visitors or doesn’t want to see the questioner.

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7 Comments

  1. The progression of modern thought:
    “It won’t hurt anyone.” -> “It won’t hurt anyone very seriously” -> “It’s important enough to hurt someone over” -> “Those people deserve to be hurt anyway” -> “How was I supposed to know this would happen?” [repeat]

  2. The definition of sin is the love of evil. (Father Mitch Pacwa EWTN) Love is willing the good of the other. If one wills the good of the devil, one is already in hell

  3. “Every would-be author on the planet has to have heard a version of the tired adage that the villains do not believe themselves to be evil. What this brief phrase fails to explain is why the antagonists do not see themselves as evil. They neglect to see their own evil because they have lied to themselves repeatedly, to the point that they truly believe their own fabrication or they truly believe they can make it a reality.”

    Unless this is meant as a DEFINITION of what it means to be a villain, this will not always be true. For one thing, we are not born in primordial innocence which we lose only through our own choices: that is the error of Pelagius. For another, there is such a thing as an honest mistake due to insufficient or inaccurate information; for example, St. Vincent mistakenly backed Peter de Luna, a.k.a. antipope Benedict XIII. Finally, and perhaps most commonly, true dilemmas do occur in which both (or all) options available have serious flaws. Let me be quite blunt here: everyone reading this has sometimes chosen the “lesser evil” even while knowing it was only a “lesser” evil, not an actual good, because sometimes NO actually good choices can be found (including an attempt not to make a choice). Yes, this is frequently followed by lying to oneself in an attempt to justify that choice, but the dubious choice itself can make one the “villain” of a story.

    We should give the benefit of the doubt to our opponents but be brutally honest in the case where no legitimate doubt exists — ourselves — or else we are mere hypocrites.

  4. The definition of evil in the paragraph before might make it clearer; it’s in the context of choosing evil.

    Of course, part of why I shared that specific quote, and here, is because of exactly this kind of thought-chain getting sparked. ^>^

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