Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sadists and Pedophiles

by Tory Butterworth

This is the last segment in my, "Why People Do Bad Things," series, and I've saved most disgusting for last. At first, it may not be obvious why I grouped together sadists and pedophiles. However, I believe that they share a similar motivation, in that they are basically disorders of sexuality, or what turns someone on.

What arouses both sadists and pedophiles are things that your average person finds horrifying. Pedophiles are turned on by young children. Sadists are turned on by the look of fear or pain in their victim's eyes, or the act of dismembering a body (living or dead.)

Sadists and Pediophiles both have an active fantasy life, day-dreaming about their crimes before and after they happen, trying to work up the same arounsal they got when they performed the act. Writers, too, have active fantasy lives. But most writers are satisfied with the writing process and don't actually perform the deed. What makes the difference between someone who can stop at the fantasy level and someone who acts it out? That's something I wish I knew.

Villains with these types of sexual deviancies are gross and creepy, the kind of bad guy readers love to hate. It can be oddly reassuring, at those moments when we question ourselves, to have absolute confirmation there's someone out there who is sicker than we are. And their very creepiness gives readers a chill, that ripple up the back of our spine that is why some people read crime fiction.

The difficulty writing about such villains is that they can be so repellant that readers disconnect from them emotionally. Sadists and pedophile characters, in my opinion, need to be given qualities to which your average person can relate or they fall flat.

It's hard to imagine a better sadist than Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs. One of the reasons he was so effective as a villain is his relationship with Clarice Starling, the young FBI cadet played in the movie by Jodie Foster. I believe it was his desire for contact with her, as sick and twisted as it was, that helped the audience relate to him. Ironically, his very humanness made him even scarier and more distorted.

As a side note, the movie database I used to check names and spellings gave the following tagline for the film. "Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Brilliant. Cunning. Psychotic." I don't believe he was psychotic in the psychiatric sense. (See my April 25th blog.) He knew exactly what he was doing. However, his inner compulsions led him to perform inhuman acts.

Do you think it's necessary to "humanize" a villain in order for them to be effective? How have you seen that done?


Joyce Tremel said...

Very interesting, Tory!

I do think it's necessary to humanize the villains in our stories. In real life, the pedophile usually turns out to be the nice guy next door, or a teacher, or a coach. Parents have entrusted their children to them. It should be the same in fiction.

The same goes for sadists. We probably wouldn't suspect them either--at least until we're chained up in their basement.

Annette said...

I feel we definitely must humanize our villains. Making them human makes them more scary. Everyone knows to stay clear of the red-eyed, drooling monster, but the nice guy next door? To think that we might be drawn in to trusting or liking someone who turns out to be evil is much more frightening. We like to think we're safe from horror because we're smart enough to see it coming and avoid it. It's the wolf in sheep's clothing that blindsides us that creates a deeper level of horror in our writing.

At least that's what I think.

Anonymous said...

I agree that we like our fictional villains to have human qualities, but I think that's because we want clues to recognize these dangerous people in real life. The hard part is coming up with motivation. The whole easy answer bit -- mama locked me in a closet with a doll so now I kill babies -- has been way overdone.

Myself, I find it hard to understand why any sane person would eat a dead chicken or salmon or cow, so figuring out why anyone would want to be up to his/her armpits in human blood and guts is a stretch. Still, I try. Josh, the sadist in my still unsold manuscript, Four Weekends (alternate title, Job's Children), eats steak at one point, but I suspect that will just make him seem more normal to most readers . . .

Anonymous said...

In one novel I wrote, the villain was the boy-next-door type. I wrote it as therapy for myself because I dated the boy-next-door type of guy, who turned out not to be that at all.

I feel better, anyway.