Darkness is a pull. We try and pretend otherwise but we continue to be fascinated by the perverse, the bad, and the downright evil all the same.
The sheer proliferation of serial killer novels, true crime documentaries, killer biographies, and dramatized murder series testifies to our cultures current hunger for the depraved and dangerous.
This isn’t the same thing as saying that we’re all, us humans, intrinsically bad. More that, no matter how much we try and protest otherwise – good does not always appeal to our sensibilities.
Goodness is a virtue, but for entertainment value at least, frankly it bores us.
When it comes to creating a novel, I’ll let you into a secret – baddies can sometimes be more fun to write. This is not because I’m secretly sick, just that to get into the psyche of someone truly twisted, frees you up as a creative, to explore areas that would lie otherwise unexplored.
To cover shocking themes, grisly violence, abduction, sexual obsession, is fascinating, providing you get to do it in a way where you can still bask in the secure knowledge that you’re retaining the moral high ground. Because after all, you’re writing about a villain, a dastardly devil we’re all supposed to hate. It’s okay to make them do dark things because well, they’re supposed to be bad aren’t they?
Well yes and no actually.
In fact, I think people are a bit more complicated than that.
It’s for this reason I like to give the bad guys in my crime fiction at least one redeeming quality, and a backstory that explains at least in part how they got that way. To evoke even a smidgen of empathy for my villain, means I’ve achieved what I initially set out to do as a writer in my novels.
This does not in any way mean I want to condone their actions. But people, even serial killers, are three dimensional. They also present very different faces of themselves at different times, they are not always in monster mode.
I think it’s harder for us to accept the idea that someone who commits monstrous acts may have some redeeming features. It almost makes us feel as if they might be too close to what we are, if killers possess qualities that makes us empathise with them, albeit in some small way.
Complexity though is interesting. I don’t want my baddies to be 2D cardboard cut-out villains. I purposely create them to be flesh and blood, complex people, with hopes, desires and dreams. Twisted hopes, desires, and dreams, maybe but still.
I think these are the type of bad guys (or girls) we find so fascinating because they arouse a cacophony of conflicting emotions in us. Darkness is highly attractive to us, but only as long as it retains an elusive quality. As soon as it’s presented in a black and white way, just graphic gore, all bad, and nothing else, most of us lose interest.
Decadence too is an eternal curio to us. Possibly because for most of us, our daily lives are so banal, we revel in stories of excess, tales of sex, violence, greed, indulgence and lust.
What is decadence exactly?
Decadence can go hand in hand with darkness, the two make excellent bedfellows, but it is more than just the morbid. Decadence is darkness with an edge, with bite. It is indulgence too, finery, rich foods, naked flesh, forbidden sex, an orgy of excess.
Decadence can be expressed in art, in fashion or style, in poetry, literature, even in food choices. But nowhere is it better expressed than when it comes to sex.
Whenever we think of the word decadence, we typically think of sex. Even the word, decadent, is to us intrinsically bound up with the concept of lust, or the promise of some form of sexual satisfaction, some kind of illicit thrill.
The novels I write draw heavily on themes of decadence, death, sex, and excess simply because these themes bring so much inspiration for a writer like me to draw from. That’s why I picked my tagline to describe the kind of books I write – “Darkly decadent thrillers about deviant killers.”
Kind of says it all. I find inspiration in the darkness yes, but something more too. To me at least, the negative reveals the positive and makes it shine all the brighter. We do need darkness to find our way to the light.
Yet good people too are often quite flawed.
The detective in my novels, Jack Grayson, has a heart of gold and good intentions, yet he wrestles with his own demons too.
Perhaps we all do.
It’s sometimes difficult to define what makes someone a hero and another character a villain but the difference might just lie in how we each choose to handle the demons that plague us.
Some choose to be alcoholics or drug addicts, preferring to drown their pain and their darkness. Some choose to kill to escape their demons. Others still, choose to become workaholics, to help others find the light, like Jack Grayson does.
Often it’s the flawed heroes that carry out the most courageous acts. In my current work in progress THE BOTS, Jack Grayson finds himself in this very position. He hasn’t always made perfect choices, he’s not always politically correct, but he’s a hero all the same. In the end, and despite the glamour of the macabre, I think this kind of redemption of the flawed hero is the pay-off we all root for, both in fiction and in real life.
After all, isn’t the flawed hero really the reflection of how we see ourselves, or who we want to be?
There might be something to be said for virtue after all.
Leave a comment below if you agree with my thoughts on decadence and our obsession with darkness, or even better if you disagree and have some thoughts of your own. And if you'd like to stay updated on THE BOTS make sure you sign up to my mailing list here at http://www.elicarros.com/home/elicarrosmailinglist to get release news, promos, competitions, and exclusive content before anyone else.