It’s a question that has been on my mind for the past couple of days.

And it’s been brewing in my subconscious for much longer. As I wrote yesterday, I finally caved in and allowed my brain and my subconscious to go all out and change one of my characters to be really evil.

Mr. Evil in the Opera House trailer. Will I be able
to pull it off and bring his face to the light and
show the human side of evil in my new book?

I’ve written about bad people in the past, my latest novel “The Opera House” includes a villain that is very similar to the one I’m writing about now. Difference is that while our assailant in “The Opera House” is very one-dimensional and only appears on page for a few lines, in Opus 4 he’s one of the main characters. He is on page constantly after being introduced, he is one of the main protagonists in making the story possible and helping Haakon move along from where we meet him at the beginning of the book to where we leave him in the prelude (which is 27 years after chapter 1)

So, how do you write a full-blooded character, with flaws, good sides and yet capable of unspeakable evil, and how do you write unspeakable? How do you put into words that which is so painful that it cannot be written?

How do I write it in a way that doesn’t reflect back on me, the author?
How do I write it in a way that keeps clear lines between that which is good, which is ethically correct and the character’s actions and deeds?
How do I retain his humanity, give him complexity, meat on the bones so to speak, without being accused of having sympathy with his dark side?

Can you write a character who’s likable despite his crimes?

Stalin and two of his children.

Would we read a book where Hitler is depicted as a nice guy off stage?
Would we believe that Stalin was a loving father? That Bashar Assad loves to smell flowers?

For many of us, to understand and comprehend evil, we dehumanize it, we have this need to strip the perp of all humanity, all positive traits which we commonly associate with ourselves. While that works psychologically, does it also work for me, as an author?

And how about my readers? Will they accept a villain that is human? Will they like a book, however dark, which depicts such gruesome horrors?

The butcher of Damaskus, Bashar al-Assad, in a picture no
news editor would ever choose to show us… Can I, as author,
break those rules?

And speaking of horrors. How do you write about crimes so heinous that it literally hurts when you type? How much detail do you give? These are all extremely difficult questions to answer and I’ve struggled all morning in going between the mundane descriptions of meetings at the breakfast table to  phantasies of sexual child abuse.

I don’t have the answers to all those questions. If I fail, and there is a risk I will, the outcome will never be published. And even if my editors and I think we’ve pulled it off, chances are the audience will hate it. Right now I’m in my ‘zone’, I write. Once I’m done, that is when the real work begins. I stopped at almost 60K words today. I’ve had a good flow these past two days, after finally accepting what I need to put on paper. Hopefully, I’ll be able to square the circle, to write a plausible, believable and engaging story about how innocence meets evil, how innocence dies, and how good emerges and prevails. It’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure.

In all of my writing, the stakes have never been higher, and that’s scary!

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