Novels · Writing

Banal Evils Are the Kind That Win

Photo by Paul Bence on, used under Creative Commons license Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0. 

The piece I’m writing right now, it’s, well. It’s something else. I can’t decide if it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever written or absolutely brilliant, and I love it.

It started, as all of my side-books do, as a short story. An accident. A total mistake of fate, where I went to jot down an idea that popped into my head and, before I knew it, was slapping down five thousand words at a go. My main novels have been deliberate efforts, but the side ones? They’re indulgences.

I mean, it’s still work, but it’s silly work, the sort of work where you stare down at what you’re doing and go “why is anyone paying me for this?”

Of course, no one is so far; I’m just writing it on speculation that at some point someone will pay me for it later, but it’s the same principle. Like when I was teaching English in Japan and I would have to color a print before taking it into class all so I could ask questions like “What color is the dog?” and not get the answer “white” twelve times in a row. I’d think to myself this was the best thing possible. One day, as I colored, I even said it aloud: “I can’t believe I found a job where I get paid to color!”

Pro tip: don’t say that aloud. My boss did not care for it, possibly because it made her wonder why I was coloring and she was doing something else (the answer was: I was the one using the print in my next class, and she colored things weirdly).

Back on the subject of writing, I keep sitting down at my current MS and thinking, “Why am I doing this?” shortly before typing two chapters. It’s not a bad thing to wonder. Twenty-thousand words in, the book clearly has a destination, but where that may be I couldn’t tell you. It has plot events, well-rounded characters, and my goodness is my alpha reader enjoying it, but. What is the point?

I guess the point is to get me out of the rut I’ve been in. In that, it’s doing its job remarkably well; well done it. Since I’ve begun, I’ve woken every morning to my mind spinning with possibilities for book 4 of the main series.

Yep, you read that right: 4.

But I thought there were only supposed to be three books in the main Saint Flaherty series?

Join the club, but apparently I was wrong, because tick tick tick, I can feel the book and I know where it needs to go. It’s building in the back of my mind, maturing like cheese until the moment comes to make souffle. Or, ya know, fucking nightmares, knowing me.

Between the inklings of book four and my current progress on book…Oh, that’s right, I haven’t told you about it yet. That’s because its literal document name is “WhyAmIWritingThis.docx.” This fits it in nicely with “UselessStory.docx” (book 1.5’s original name) and “StupidStory.docx” (1.6).  As for what number this is, I guess it’s somewhere around 1.7?

Except it sort of isn’t. 1.5 more than earns its keep in setting up 3’s twists, 2.5 is a brutal exploration of the direct aftermath of 2.

Unlike those other two, this MS is not full of necessary information, or new things you didn’t know, or anything we couldn’t have guessed. Like I said, it’s an indulgence. It really, truly is a companion story, an unnecessary viewpoint meant to be enjoyed for what it is rather than what it brings to the continuing story. And in that, it earns its nickname far more than the others. It’s fluff.

Well. Fluff if fluff could be made of barbed wire. Hawthorn tumbleweeds. Multi-flora rosebushes. A Lego-strewn room that must be navigated barefoot in the dark, told by the sort of narrator who isn’t so much evil as doesn’t give a toss for anyone but himself. The low-grade kind of bad that thinks of itself as ordinary, and isn’t wrong.

The lessons he’s teaching, you should already know, but he doesn’t. The answers he’s learning, you can already guess–he can’t. The reveals are revelations only to him, and yet maybe it’s important to remember that villains don’t see themselves as villains at all, only people doing what everyone else is doing, because everyone does it, don’t they?

Really, are you all good all the time? Of course you aren’t! Well, neither are villains–they’re just like you!

I read a lot of weird studies and surveys, and a few months ago I found one that absolutely fascinated me.

It’s a common complaint against women who speak out against rape that they think all men are rapists. Of course, most women don’t. Even those who are convinced all strange men are still make exceptions for those they know. But want to know who does believe all men are rapists?

You guessed it: rapists. They just think that other men are better at hiding it.

(The survey didn’t state what female rapists think; their numbers in institutions are too small to make for an accurate survey.)

It makes a twisted kind of sense. They don’t see what they’re doing as terrible, just perhaps a bit selfish, and aren’t we all selfish, aren’t we all lazy, don’t we just look out for number one first? Some of us just take it a little too far.

Too far according to us, not those violating the norms. They will argue: show me the line. And they will win that argument, because there isn’t one.

There are no hard lines between good and evil. There is no one leap from heaven to hell. Only small steps and casual slides, back and forth, back and forth, until a point is reached where all can agree that a monster has been born.

Nine times out of ten, it was born long before even one person would agree it existed. It just wasn’t free to roam yet.

So, book “Why Am I Writing This,” I think I know why I’m writing you. I want readers to try to find the line, and when my main character crosses it. I want them to pin point to the part where the trap was sprung. I want them to read it and realize…and realize…

Well. You’ll see.

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to typing.

Do you prefer your villains melodramatic or the ordinary evil type? Or do you like people to be their own worst enemies? What’s a villain do you find most chilling whom you’ve seen others pass over as “not that bad”? Tell us in the comments below!

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Thanks for reading! And in light of today’s topic, happy dreams.

4 thoughts on “Banal Evils Are the Kind That Win

    1. You probably have–it’s just, in your story, that person is the hero. In someone else’s story, they’re the villain. I think there are very few stories out there where someone cannot be portrayed as one or the other, given the right storytelling.

      I hope you read it too! It’s a weird piece. Good, but weird. (Super fun to write.)

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I agree that the best villains are the ones that don’t see themselves as villains. Those are my favorite to write and read about. And, let’s face it, anti-heroes are quite popular these days, which seems to suggest that many readers don’t want their heroes squeaky clean anyway.

    I’d also agree that most people find ways to justify their misdeeds. A thief feels entitled to what he steals because the previous owner was too gullible to hold onto it. A murderer kills because it’s the only way she knows how to solve the problem…or because the victim “deserved” it. Might makes right, and all that…

    I’ve been enjoying writing a villain who is driven to desperation, allying herself with unsavory characters because, in her mind, the ends justify the means. She realizes she could be damning her soul, but because a greater good will be the result, she keeps making more compromises.

    In other words, villains who struggle with morality are my favorites.

    Liked by 1 person

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