Story Concepts & Development for Novels, Comics, Games, Film and TV

What is Evil?

I was on the phone recently with a producer making final touches to a thriller film treatment.

It is a solid and compelling project. This producer has ties to China, where there is a lot of film funding available. The requirement for funding is simple: include a certain amount of Chinese elements in the film, and don’t show the Chinese culture in a derogatory light. This producer came up with an interesting story hook, but she is more accustomed to dramas and rom-coms, so she contacted me to “thriller it up”.

I enjoy these sorts of story challenges, and didn’t find the requirements to be hampering to the project. The boundaries often push me in story directions I might not otherwise take, and it’s always exciting to see how it unfolds.

Our differing sensibilities also prompted a fascinating conversation over the levels of “evil” within a story.

In the case of this particular story, there is a “master villain” who drives the plot and who eventually tries to murder the main character. His willingness to kill, motivated by nothing more than his selfish greed, makes this character “evil” by my definition.

The producer took issue with a lesser villain in the story who didn’t move to kill the main character after she threatened to expose their secret.

My question was “Why would he?”

The conversation prompted me to question the nature of evil.

A complex topic at best.

Bottom line? Every person is capable of greed, selfishness, jealousy, anger, fear… but not every person (or character) is capable of murder, no matter how far they’re pushed.

The lesser villain in the film treatment is ambitious and deceitful, but he isn’t evil.

And from a professional writer’s perspective, taking every character to such an extreme all the time creates shallow caricatures instead of deep and believable characters.

In the end, I convinced the producer to see the character through my eyes, and I appreciate the opportunity to examine the topic for myself.

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