Know No Evil, Write No Evil?

by Kassandra Lamb

statue of Julius Caesar

Caesar! Beware the Ides of March! (photo by Mharrsch CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The Ides of March approaches and this seemed a good time to write this post. It’s been percolating for a while, ever since another misterio press author asked this question: Do we have to know evil personally in order to write about evil?

You see, we’re all very nice ladies here at mister- io. Many of us are mothers; I’m a grandmother. And yet we all write about some pretty nasty people–bullies, power mongers, con artists, and even psychopaths.

So how do we know so much about evil when, fortunately, we haven’t encountered it all that much in our personal lives? Well, obviously we hear about evil things on the news and in movies and read about them in books. But it’s a rather giant leap from those exposures to being able to get inside the head of a bad guy in one of our own stories.

picture of Carl Jung

Carl Jung, 1912 (Wikimedia, public domain)

Certainly this could be partially credited to good imaginations, but psychologist Carl Jung would say that we are tapping into the “collective unconscious.” Jung, a cohort of Sigmund Freud, theorized that we not only have a personal unconscious mind, but that there is a collective unconscious that holds the knowledge and experience of the entire species.

Within this collective unconscious are the archetypes–those universal, mythical roles that reflect and define human existence. The twelve primary archetypes that Jung defined are the Hero, the Innocent, the Creator, the Magician, the Sage, the Explorer, the Caregiver, the Jester, the Lover, the Ruler, the Outlaw, and Everyman.

Everyman George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life (public domain)

Everyman, George Bailey, in It’s a Wonderful Life

The character of George Bailey in the 1946 classic movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, would be a good example of Everyman. And Darth Vader would represent the Outlaw (also known as the Rebel), one of the archetypes most susceptible to turning toward evil. Two other archetypes who can go in that direction all too easily would be the Ruler and the Magician, but even Everyman could go there.

For Jung believed that we all have our dark side.

Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people. ~ Carl Jung

Other parts of Jung’s theory refer to “the shadow” and to the anima/animus in each of us. The shadow is anything buried in our unconscious mind that our ego refuses to identify as part of us, i.e., that which is suppressed.

Darth Vader

For Darth Vader, his shadow might be his latent goodness! And perhaps his anima as well. (photo by Dirk Vorderstraße, CC-BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The shadow does not have to be negative, although it often is, since we are more likely to suppress things that we don’t like about ourselves and memories/issues that are psychologically uncomfortable.

The anima/animus are the parts of our personalities that reflect the gender opposite from our own (these also tend to be at least partially suppressed). So in males, the anima is their female side. In females, the animus is their male side.

Jung and Freud did not see eye to eye on the main motivations within our unconscious minds. Jung rejected Freud’s emphasis on sex (and Freud did not take rejection well, trust me). Instead, Jung felt that much of our unconscious motivation came from these shadow parts of ourselves, including our anima/animus. And also from our need to keep them suppressed!

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. ~ Carl Jung

So back to the original question: How are we mystery/thriller authors, who have not experienced extreme evil firsthand, able to write about it in such depth?

Jung would say that we understand evil because we have our own dark side, no matter how suppressed it may be, and that we can tap into the experience of evil through the collective unconscious. He might also speculate that female writers of murder mysteries, such as the misterio authors, are using our writing to express our animus.

That works for me! I’m about to release a new novella in the Kate on Vacation series that addresses the issue of bullying, both amongst children and adults (because some bullies never grow up). While writing this story, I felt somewhat more connected to my main character’s husband, Skip–who is the one struggling with the bullies–than I did to Kate. I realized as I was writing this post that he is definitely expressing my animus for me!

What do you think of Jung’s theories and the concept of the collective unconscious? Does any of this ring true for you or do you have a different theory about how nice people can still understand evil?

Ten-Gallon Tensions in Texas is now available for preorder on Amazon and will go live there and on other online retailers on 3/24. It’s just 99 cents while on preorder, but will go up to $1.99 shortly after release. (It will be available on other online book retailers on 3/24)

cover of Ten-Gallon Tensions in TexasTen-Gallon Tensions in Texas, A Kate on Vacation Mystery

Town secrets, an old nemesis, a corpse–what else will show up at Skip’s high school reunion in Texas?

When Kate and her husband arrive in his hometown for the event, they discover that new disputes have been heaped on top of old animosities. Tempers flare, fists fly, and before the evening is out, Skip stumbles upon a dead body.

Fortunately the town’s sheriff is an old buddy of his, but will that keep him from becoming a prime suspect? Trying to uncover the real murderer leads Kate and Skip to uncover long- buried secrets instead, and their names just might end up on the killer’s must-die list.

Also, the 1st book in the series, An Unsaintly Season in St. Augustine, is FREE on Amazon for the next 5 days. It and book 2 in the series, Cruel Capers on the Caribbean, will be 99 cents through the end of the March.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series and the Kate on Vacation mysteries.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

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12 thoughts on “Know No Evil, Write No Evil?

  1. K.B. Owen

    Cool topic, Kass! Thanks for breaking it down into meaningful bits for us. Really interesting stuff, and makes a lot of sense. I think it’s so funny that Freud didn’t take rejection well. 😉

    Reply
  2. shannon esposito

    I believe in a collective unconscious. The bad guys in my cozy mysteries are definitely the everyman. Characters who feel justified in their actions because of rage, fear, jealousy, etc… something I think we’re all capable of doing. People who don’t think they’re capable of lashing out are the ones who scare me, because that denial means they’re not in touch with themselves and the all-to-human emotions we all experience. Well, and psychopaths. They are scary, too. 🙂

    Really enjoyed visiting Skip’s hometown in this one!

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb

      Yes, the Everyman who feels he (or she) has been wronged makes a good antagonist, for sure. We can relate to them at the same time we are horrified by what they are doing.

      So glad you enjoyed Ten-Gallon Tensions in Texas! I loved writing about Skip’s hometown, and especially about his old buddy, Jose.

      Reply
  3. Jennifer Jensen (@jenjensen2)

    I don’t think I really believe in a collective unconscious, but I do believe that we absorb much more than we realize from our experiences and our exposure, and that stays in our subconscious. Add imagination to the mix and it’s not hard to take, for example, a bullying event from childhood, either personal or witnessed, mix it with situations and people in the news, and come up with really nasty character!

    Just pre-ordered the book, Kass – looking forward to it!

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      Thanks for the preorder, Jennifer! To be honest I’m not sure I totally buy all of Jung’s theory either. But there do seem to be some really universal themes to human existence that make me wonder how people so diverse from all over the world and throughout all time could have so much in common.

      Reply
  4. Joanna Aislinn

    Hey Kassandra,

    Very interesting post! When I first started writing and drafting my first novel, I put my hero through absolute hell–violent events that I never thought I’d describe. Never lived through any of it, so I often wonder where that stuff came from, lol.

    Thanks for shedding some light on this topic!

    Reply
    1. Kassandra Lamb Post author

      I think it’s all of the above, Joanna. What we’ve experienced, what we see on TV, in movies, etc., good imaginations, and that universal sense of what it means to be human (that’s my personal take on the collective unconscious). Glad you enjoyed the post!

      Reply
  5. Shan Jeniah Burton

    Some of the ways George Bailey treated others – the older children, Mary, ZuZu’s poor teacher, even Clarence the angel without wings – definitely fit my definition of bullying. I get that he’s a man of his times – but still….

    I do believe in a collective unconscious. All of my characters have their places of light and shadow; even my heroes are not always sweet (and a couple are seldom sweet; no one really accuses Vulcans of having that trait!).

    As for the anima/animus – it’s late, and I’m tired. I’ll have to ponder that one more…

    Although I don’t usually read mysteries, you are tempting me…. =)

    Reply
  6. Kassandra Lamb

    Never thought about it before, Shan, but when I re-watch It’s A Wonderful Life, it’s more for the other characters than for Bailey. I love Clarence!

    As for the anima/animus, that probably is not quite as relevant today as it was in Jung’s time (early 1900’s), since we have more permission to express our “opposite” side. But we’ve got a ways to go before old training is banished.

    I’m personally quite fond of my animus! 🙂

    Reply
  7. Karen McFarland

    I must not have a very dark side. lol. I would have a hard time writing very dark things. My story, according to Marcy, is more like A Wonderful Life. There’s problems, but not too dark. Although I doubt my writing measures up to A Wonderful Life. Once could only hope. But I highly doubt it.

    Meanwhile, I’m sorry for the sporadic, late-coming of my visits. I am in the middle of packing and moving. And you know hoe that goes. So if I go missing, you’ll know why.

    Hang in there with the painting! ((Hugs))

    Reply

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