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  • Writer's pictureTracey Lee

Making Monsters

In stories villains are either characters that cannot be redeemed because of their departure from all things that make us human; or they are redeemable because we understand what has made them a monster.

In the original sense of the word a monster was defined as an imaginary, frightening, ugly creature. In real life our monsters are not multi-headed gorgons, or badly put together beasts they are in fact somewhat more terrifying; they are indistinguishable by look from any of us. It is only in the rendering of their evil intent can they be discerned. But is it enough to simply call them a monster and be done with the character development?

I tend to have something of a ‘Pollyanna’ view that sees a possibility of good in all the ‘bad guys’. If we can find the hurt then we can in part eradicate the cruelty, the evil and the violence in our villains. The possibility of rehabilitation is ever present. This might be the teacher in me; always hoping that the child engaging in ugly behaviour can be led away from his her or path of destruction, self-loathing and outward acts of anti-social mayhem. So the writer in me wonders if I can possibly create a villain who remains defined by his or her worst traits and is forever shackled to their unforgivable crimes. Or am I bound to create characters that ultimately will be seen sympathetically by readers. Even when we don’t want to!

In my current manuscript (the second Lily O’Hara novel) I introduce some characters who are immoral, depraved, and iniquitous. As a writer I’m not sure I can fully deplete even these villains of their humanity despite the vileness of their actions. If they just act heinously without any capacity for redemption how can we, either the writer or the reader, find any hope in the story? I can offer a villain who is defeated by force of law or by violence but the tendency to demonise this individual leads us to a rather bleak conclusion. That is, the evil-doers are powerful; that in some way they are beasts that cannot be controlled by means other than death. But human-beings, even the terrible ones, are still human. Still vulnerable to pain, made better by love, and possibly can be forgiven. These are much harder characters to create and much harder people to understand. But are certainly worth the effort.

So as I continue to contemplate the balance between good and evil I will ensure that protagonists like Lily O’Hara and her investigative friends are mindful of Nietzsche’s words, “Beware that when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster.”  I will make decisions, as the novel unfolds, whether Lily gives in to her anger at the things she uncovers, or true to her nature (or is that my nature?) finds the strength to let the sins of the past remain unpunished.

We shall see.

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