As humans, we all have a dark side. Each of us is capable of experiencing anger, frustration and despair. As humans, we have (most of us anyway) learned to cope with this darker side and to not act upon our darker nature.
That darker side can come in handy for the writer.
I never thought I could be a fan of a serial killer. It goes against every moral fiber of my being. It wasn’t until I stumbled across the audiobooks of Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter series that I thought I would give them a try.
Dexter Morgan is actually a charming individual with his self-deprecating wit and his view of himself as a monster. Thanks to his foster father, Harry, Dexter found a way to satisfy his slaughterous tendencies by killing other serial killers, mainly those who commit murderous crimes against children.
Despite his claim that he has no conscience, Dexter has more of a conscious than most people I encounter on a daily basis. He is very much human, more so because he claims he is not than anything else. Even though, on occasion, Dexter allows his “Dark Passenger” to take control, his actions in between victims present him as just another ordinary guy. Sort of.
I wondered as I listened to those audiobooks (I’ve listened to several of them) how on earth Mr. Lindsay could create such a character?
That question lead to, how would I create such a character? Better still, how would I create a character who truly has no conscience?
It isn’t as easy as it seems to create a vile character who performs despicable acts. At least I don’t find it so easy. It’s a little frightening to imagine what I could do if I had no conscience.
As I pondered how I was going to create my character Desdemona in the Sword of Tilk Trilogy and make her someone people could really hate, some guy cut me off in traffic.
I am not prone to road rage though I understand the inclination. It’s difficult not to react when some idiot does something stupid in traffic that could result in fatalities. When it happened and after I finished letting loose a string of expletives that would do a sailor proud, a light bulb went off over my head. (This doesn’t happen often so when it does I tend to pay attention.)
All those emotions the incident conjured could be applied to an evil character.
Better yet, use that bottomless imagination of mine and what I would do if I could get away with it.
That is a big IF.
Remove the barriers of conscience, punishment and retribution and allow your imagination to take you where it will. Do keep in mind that these acts are not something you would actually do, even if you could get away with it.
Then project it onto your evil character(s).
The evil witch Desdemona must kill her own mother.
Harming a parent, a child or a pet are three of the most evil, vile and contemptible acts any human being can perform. I hope there is a special place in hell for those people who perform them.
In order to write the scene where Desdemona performs this act, I had to imagine a person I held beneath contempt.
Face it: there is someone in almost every person’s life that is held beneath contempt. It is virtually impossible to live in this world without feeling that way about somebody.
The guy in traffic isn’t one of them. Detesting someone that much requires personal involvement.
Be that as it may, I visualized Desdemona performing the murderous deed to this person.
Mr. Lindsay did an excellent job of portraying the Dexter Morgan character. But he actually made Dexter likeable.
A noble thing to be sure but if you want your characters to be evil – truly evil – then you have to put yourself in their shoes. Imaginatively, not literally, of course.
We each have a Dexter inside: That part of us which wishes to get even, get ahead no matter what it takes, or simply would like to see others who deserve it suffer. Deny it all you like, it’s there. It’s just a good thing the majority of us has a conscience to keep that dark side in check.
The dark side is not a place I wish to dwell. It wouldn’t be comfortable to live there round the clock.
But tapping into it when needed adds dimension to your characters.