I’ve been doing some work in the way of villain-creating lately(only in the fictional sense). And I finally realized the truth of Nietzsche’s hint “when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”
When you begin looking at real-life examples of evil, it kind of makes your fictional idea very, very pale. Yet most of our ideas of bad people are based on the people we have run across who treated others as less than human. From the social media bully to the self-righteous relative who refuses to help another, there are people who push others over the edge of the cliff in small ways. It doesn’t have to be torture–or even close–to be cruel.
However, going after the real villains in history makes one tired. I think this is part of the abyss gazing back at you. I know that the week after I began studying up on some of the historical figures I thought would make good models for the villain in my story, I was exhausted with trying to comprehend evil’s effect on the mind. I would think about these things at work, and sort of fall into a trance of wondering “why did they do it–how did they do it–how could they live thinking about what they had done?”
I wonder if the answer is that they had lost the ability to feel guilt, or that they simply viewed other people as non-human?
In looking for stories such as this, I remembered the tale of Dr. Norman Baker (read it here), a cancer-curing charlatan of the 1930s. He was triumphant in that “no one ever proved anything” against him. Again, why and how were my questions. These people were not patients to him. Instead, they were so many walking wallets, so many testimonials to boost his own agenda! How does someone become a Dr. Baker?
I’m afraid that the answer is: little by little, one becomes a villain. Sure, there are a few who wake up actually thinking how to be evil every day, but I think that the majority start small and keep giving in to temptations of power. The call of the abyss is strong, and soon their personality is wholly swallowed, themselves wholly possessed by darkness.
It’s something I had to take a break from for a few days. Can’t look too long.
But I’m back to writing once again.
I know my villain will not be as frightening as the historical models I’m looking at, but I think he will be consumed by the reality of evil, just as they were.