Thursday, December 20, 2012

The evil we devise and the good we desire

By Gayle Carline

"Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating."
I actually discovered this quote on Facebook last week, from one of those pages like “I Heart Libraries” or “I’m Too Literate for You” or something. At first, I was intrigued by the notion, but not keen on the adjectives used for real evil. Monotonous, barren, or boring is not how I would consider evil. It’s more like, well, evil. Horrible, devastating and definitely not romantic.
Then Newtown, Connecticut made the news and I understood. Everyday evil is the same. No one steals the moon or covers the earth in melted cheese or points a laser beam at Los Angeles to demand One-BILLION-Dollars. They kill. They kill one person or twenty-six, but it is all death, just death. Monotonous in real life. Barren of ideas. Boring in its sameness as we try to take in the tragedy and fight the numbness that comes with sensory overload.
But when we write about evil, it must be romantic and devious in the most horribly delicious way. Our villains are fun to write. The character studies of their brutish actions and evil schemes are often more fascinating than our heroes. We feel the thrill of getting into their skin and learning what makes them tick.
By contrast, our heroes cannot be Goody-Goodies. (Jesus need not apply.) They must have a weakness, a fatal flaw. They must be damaged and must rise above their situation to vanquish the evil we have invented. Those early good guys — the ones in the white hats — are laughable these days. Clayton Moore and Armie Hammer may have both played the Lone Ranger, but only one of them would even try to walk on water.
In real life, we don’t want our heroes broken. We want Clayton Moore. In real life, we don’t want to know that the pilot who saved everyone’s life by landing the plane safely was too drunk to know his own name at the time. We want Mr. Rogers, who is eternally good and true. He will lead us safely home.
Of course, if we were writing this story, our damaged hero would have fought his demons long enough to thwart the madman before an elementary school was attacked. The children would live. All would be well. It’s one of our basic instincts in storytelling, from the campfire to the paperback, to vanquish evil, to chase away the darkness. We defeat the boogeyman and let in the light, because mankind must survive.
Unless we’re writing horror, which is what December 14th turned out to be.
I cannot rewrite this story to make it end correctly. I can only try to give words of peace and songs of healing, which is why I’m going to end on this song. Yes, Marvin Gaye was the original and the master. However, I love this guy’s voice and I love the fact that every time he opens his mouth, I am happily surprised. Be honest, he looks like he should be following the Grateful Dead around.

And we could all use a happy surprise right about now.


  1. Nice post, Gayle. The real evil is horrendous and often beyond our understanding. Fortunately, it brings out the real good in a lot of people.

  2. Great insight! In fact, it's the reason I don't write about people who are evil for the sake of evil: I can't make them romantic or delicious. My antagonists sometimes do horrible things, but it's because they're misguided or fatally flawed or pushed to the brink. If things had gone better for them, they might never have committed a crime.

    Psychopaths kill regardless of circumstances.

    Mentally ill people who commit murder don't quite fit either category. Some would argue that the right medication could prevent those evil acts; others say that only incarceration/medication could stop them. As a society, we need to figure it out. Because it's not romantic and there is no justice for it.

  3. Thanks, Gayle. Sobering thoughts. I like editing thrillers and other crime fiction because of the suspense, intrigue, and exciting pace, and also because good ultimately triumphs over evil. I couldn't edit a book in which children were killed or raped tortured. I'd just turn that one down and in my heart wish it had never been written. Sometimes I think maybe I should switch or expand to editing other genres...

  4. Exactly, Jodie - "good triumphs over evil." I'm pretty sure it's in our DNA to end a story happily ever after. Not that horror doesn't have its place, but what kind of psyches would we have if every story ended badly?

  5. I sometimes wish I didn't find evil so romantic and fascinating.These are tastes not everyone shares as I've learned to my dismay at times in being too honest. Of course, I don't want it to come any closer nonetheless.

  6. Thank you, Gayle. Sometimes people ask why I read so much crime fiction, but won't watch the news, and that's why: "good triumphs over evil".

  7. I realized with the theater shooting this summer that although I can write this stuff, the reality is something entirely different. And when reality hits, I freeze in my tracks with the bad stuff. Instead, I write poetry. But I hadn't taken the next step to put all of the pieces together.

    Thanks, Gayle. Bill me, okay?


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