There is one really, really stupid thing you can do as a writer. Monumentally, head-thumpingly stupid.
And that’s to put the Devil in your book.
Where do you start? Whatever name you give him, whatever face, Old Nick comes with some pretty hefty baggage. Trickster, manipulator, tyrant, victim, former angel or demon… he’s still the Devil. You can race with him; you can be caught between him and the deep blue sea. You can have sympathy for him (or not) and he’s even been known to wear Prada.
All this, and we’ve barely even scratched the surface… So why would anyone be crazy or arrogant enough to go ahead and write one of the most (in)famous characters in all of literature into their own book?
The answer’s simple. It’s because he’s fun. And he’s fun because he’s a challenge. Everybody’s Devil is different. The scariest one I’ve ever seen on film is Viggo Mortensen in The Prophecy. He’s scary because he talks, and it’s not just his voice but his words which are seductive; they ebb and flow as he sits there, fiddling with a rose… and then you realise what he’s saying, and suddenly he’s a thing worth fearing…
He should be seductive, in his own way – it’s what he does best, isn’t it? It’s why those pitchfork-wielding dragon-types they were so fond of in medieval art always look so strange to us. The idea of devil-as-serpent we can understand – there’s something compelling about the way a snake moves, isn’t there? – but none of us could imagine being taken in by a gargoyle.
The Devil stands for evil, after all (just look at those two words… Coincidence? Nah.) and how many of us could ever see ourselves as being deliberately evil? Not many. We use words like “seduced” and “corrupted” when we talk about people going to the dark side. To believe that anyone could simply wake up one day and decide to be truly bad, to become any of our modern definitions of evil is unthinkable – not to mention very frightening indeed – and this is where the “Father of Lies” comes in.
And that’s precisely where a writer’s headache starts.
Every writer’s Devil differs. Of course they do: just like every writer differs, and everything they’re scared of differs. There’s a good chance you’ll find an overlap (how can you not with a character like this?), but there will always be something fresh – even if it’s just the pieces of a jigsaw arranged in a new pattern; the whole being re-lit to cast unfamiliar shadows.
I imprisoned my Lucifer in a block of ice at the heart of hell… but then if you do that, doesn’t it rather take him out of the game? It depends how smart you think he is – and I wouldn’t bet against his being able to think his way around that one. If he were stupid, he wouldn’t be nearly so much trouble, would he?
Going back to medieval paintings of devils and demons, it’s not unusual to see them being pulled out of peoples’ mouths, because this was a time when possession was not only feared, it was absolutely believed in. And what could be more frightening than speaking to someone you know and realising that they aren’t themselves? What could be more seductive than hearing half-truths – carefully phrased and selected to do the maximum damage possible – from the lips of someone you think you know…?
What if his mind could wander at will? What if he could hop into your head, your mother’s, your wife’s, your brother’s, your child’s? What if he could settle down like a toad in a mind that isn’t his, spitting out words that didn’t come from there and planting thoughts that don’t belong?
What’s his deal, anyway? What’s his agenda? Is he angry? Vengeful? Spiteful? Petty? Sadistic? Is he flat-out monstrous or just misunderstood? Just the same as any character, he needs his motivations and his pressure-points; it’s just that his tend to be bigger, scarier and more nerve-wracking than others.
And after all that: the knowing he’s smarter than you and more vicious than you (which is why he’s locked up, after all: he’s officially A Bad Dude) with nothing to lose and everything to gain, you’re left with one very alarming question.
What will he do to get what he wants?
Answer that, and you’ve got a Devil of your own.
Lou Morgan lives in the south west of England with her family. She studied medieval literature at university and loves cathedrals and pizza (but probably not together). Her short stories have appeared in anthologies from Solaris Books, PS Publishing and Jurassic. Her first novel, Blood and Feathers has been shortlisted for the 2013 British Fantasy Awards in both the best newcomer and best fantasy novel categories. She spends far too much time on Twitter.
This post should really be read while listening to this song…
I love this post because the devil is in the second book in my YA trilogy. I stayed away from showing him as the cliché image of a pitchfork carrying, horned red demon with a tail in favor of showing him as a misunderstood angel. Satan, Lucifer, the Devil, whatever you call him, is indeed a fascinating character who I've enjoyed exploring.ReplyDelete