How to write characters which are really awful — Or, wait! Should I even write them?
Let’s take that second question first.
I imagine someone coming to this article who isn’t from a Christian background would respond, “Why is that even a question? They’re the best characters!” So a little context for the discussion:
A Christian may feel that representing evil will cause others to commit evil. Should I write a character like Bane in The Dark Knight Rises that inspired the 2012 Aurora shooting? Or like Frank Underwood from House of Cards who twists a viewer’s way of thinking about relational power-plays? A Christian may ask, is it true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable? And if not, don’t even think about it (Philippians 4).
So the argument goes, we shouldn’t cause our friends to stumble, so don’t represent evil.
But if that’s the case, put away all fiction. Oh and history books. And actually, perhaps you should think about cutting out some of the Bible’s best bits.
Cut out Adam and Eve’s first act of rebellion - or recast it as an honest mistake. Cut out Cain’s brutal murder of his own brother. Remove Lamech. Delilah. Ahab. Don’t even think about the people who hammered nails through the wrists of the son of God. Best not have that thief on the cross as well, we don’t want people thinking about stealing.
Am I allowed to write them? Am I allowed to represent evil or fallen humankind at its absolute worst?
Instinct says yes, of course! But I may be self-deceiving, so let’s check that out. Here’s four questions to ask to encourage you to go for it with your characters and also to make a start towards answering that first question: ‘how do I write an awful character?''