Designing from Bones – Daemons, Demons & Dramatic Struggle

Welcome to Designing from Bones, where we use archaeology, mythology and the artifacts of human history to find and design stories.

The misty portal awaits, not to transport us, but to bring something to us. Come, step within the silvery circle, the magic runes drawn from my own grimoire will protect us from the dangers that visit today.

One of many circles of protection used throughout the ages.

Daemons & Demons

The concept of evil spirits first arose in antiquity with Greece, Mesopotamia, Pre-Islamic Arabia, India and many other cultures attempting to define the reasons for evil human actions. “The devil made me do it,” is an ageless phrase.

To the ancient Greeks, daemons, were beneficial spirits, one assigned to each person at the time of their birth. Those who lived a virtuous life expected to become daemons themselves, assisting future generations to greatness. However, not all humans are virtuous and over time the concept of beneficial spirits gave way to a dualism and the creation of malevolent spirits or demons.

The Hellene Greeks broke the various spirits into four categories: noble, good/useful, bad/evil and malevolent. A hero, his ally, a minion of evil, a villain. Each bearing an inner daemon or demon that fueled their drives and ambitions and rewarded their actions, granting the desires of their heart.

The advent of Christianity placed demons as fallen angels, no longer a guardian from birth, but a force that waited to tempt ones soul to damnation. Demons could possess the mind and body or lurk in the shadows to tear and devour flesh. Elaborate systems were designed to keep the devout from falling under the influence of these vile forces and rescue (even through the release of death) those that fell to devilry.

Inner Demons

The Temptation of St. Anthony by Martin Schongauer. 1480's Engraving from the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The art of the late-Middle Ages and Renaissance is full of visual representations of mankind’s eternal struggle with the demons of his world. Take a look at the picture of St. Anthony, how the demons pull in all directions, seeking to tear the revered one to pieces. Others hold clubs of wood and bone, raised and ready to beat the victim senseless so that he can be taken.

A great host gathers around each of us. Internal and external forces vying for control, generating conflict, struggle and drama. As writers we need to place our characters in the position of St. Anthony. Consider what powers are gathered both around and within them. What battles to tear them apart? What yearns to drag them in one direction or another? Are a few armed and ready to beat them into submission? Which ones are trapped within the character, striving for control of his/her actions?

Dramatic Struggles

Conflict. Struggle. Drama. These are the three primary forces of powerful fiction.

Each character in a drama must struggle with their own inner demons. This is an essential aspect of character arc and it is what readers will identify with the most. The Primal. The Visceral. This is not animal instinct but a spirit that infests the character.

A failed love that keeps them from finding future love. Depression over a loss that keeps one from seeing the joy and good in their world. Self-torture for mistakes long past that introduce self-doubt when a “good thing” comes along. We all struggle. Show readers how your character struggles and they will walk with him to the end.

And not to be forgotten, the external daemons, the forces that would tear and test and manipulate the hero. A good man or woman offered a bribe alongside a picture of his/her children playing in the schoolyard earlier in the day. A loyal but bored wife or husband offered a chance for a brief affair by a friend or colleague. External demons create drama, fuel conflict and empower the throughline of the story.

Consider well the demons and daemons that inhabit your characters worlds, not just the heroes but all the major players and you’ll create a cast that readers will long to see more of.

Have you read any stories that featured characters with both powerful external and internal demons to battle? Do you empower villains with the same struggles as heroes? What do you see when you consider the picture of St. Anthony and the demons? I’d love to hear from you.

Be sure to check out my previous Designing from Bones posts for more great history and tips.

Peaceful Journeys!

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About Gene Lempp

Gene Lempp is a writer blending elements of alternate history, the paranormal, fantasy, science fiction and horror for dark and delicious fun. He unearths stories by digging into history, archeology, myth and fable in his Designing from Bones blog series. β€œOnly the moment is eternal and in a moment, everything will change,” sums the heart of his philosophy. You can find Gene at his Blog, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, WANATribe, Google+, Pinterest and StumbleUpon.
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17 Responses to Designing from Bones – Daemons, Demons & Dramatic Struggle

  1. Great post & insight into the way demon-mythology can reflect into the realities of the human condition. Certainly got me thinking!

    Matthew Wright
    http://mjwrightnz.wordpress.com
    http://www.matthewwright.net

  2. Great post! Especially how you used the portrait of St. Anthony to explain how we need to put our characters in the same position – being torn and pulled into all directions. So true!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Jennifer

  3. As usual, the highlight of my Wednesday. Great post Gene.

  4. Awesome post.. and the idiot whistling in hell while he has a bang up time toiling away.. I taped that cartoon to the inside of the bathroom stall here at work!! (true story)
    The picture of St. Anthony: I see a man being pulled in a dozen different directions by free will.
    Great post.

  5. carolrwood says:

    Your posts are great, Gene. I enjoy reading — and thinking — about all you present.

  6. Catie Rhodes says:

    I loved the picture of St. Anthony. All the demons had such different appearances. Just like real life.

    Your post reminded me of Kim Harrison’s heroine Rachel Morgan. She is a witch who has a lot of demons (both real and figurative) pulling at her. The villains in this series are equally well drawn. Few of them are pure evil. They all have a story, and once you get to know it, it’s hard to really hate the villain. I’ve noticed this same technique is used on The Vampire Diaries’ villains. They all have such complex histories, and they are both good and bad.

    • Gene Lempp says:

      Matthew: Indeed. The struggle we all face within is a great place to connect to our readers. Glad you enjoyed the post πŸ™‚

      Jennifer: That visceral struggle is the compelling part of dramatic conflict, its what makes us root for heroes and understand the villains.

      Prudence: Thanks πŸ™‚

      Darlene: Love the cartoon. I used to have a Larsen calendar on my desk, so many great character insights hidden in the simplicity of of his one shot scenes. Dilbert is another great source πŸ™‚

      Carol: Thanks πŸ™‚

      Catie: Well said. No two demons are alike in size, shape, power or need. Just as in the real world. Sure, people may have similar demons but the reasons behind why they carry it and the way it impacts them are directly related and unique to the individual. Thanks for the comment πŸ™‚

  7. Eden says:

    I’d say that we have drifted away from “divine” and No-so divine” in our desires for entertainment, but really, I think we’re just coming back to the realization divine isn’t always “good”. (The ancient Greeks, Romans, etc. all had gods who were nearly as human as they were, but with super powers. But somewhere along the lines we started blurring that ideal into all our “super heroes” being infallible, either all good or all evil. One only needs to spend a little much time watching old George Reeve Superman episodes to see that mentality. But it’s changing back as we start “growing up” again. It’s not mainstream yet (we still throw a hissy fit if someone has sex outside of marriage or that x film star used drugs), but read any comic book… Read any good lasting book… We want to see human villains who do saintly things, and we was heroes who sometimes fall short of their ideals… because then we can feel closer to both.

    At least that’s my opinion… And I’m sticking to it. πŸ˜‰

  8. Lynn Kelley says:

    Another great post, Gene. Those demons attacking St. Anthony are pretty freaky looking. It’s so true that we all have many demons pulling at us at once and so must our characters. You offered some good examples. And that cartoon is a riot! LOL!

  9. Jess Witkins says:

    Weeeeeellll, you’re talking to a Catholic school girl. Eh hem, where to start? One time, I was forced, along with my entire class, to confront inner demons and kneel before the Church altar until a guilty classmate confessed to drawing a nasty picture of another girl. Granted it wasn’t gravel, but it sucked. And we were never allowed to wear blue jeans which is probably why I live in them now, I’m making up lost time. The denim demon got me!

    I like this post, Gene!

  10. J Holmes says:

    Hi Gene. “Show readers how your character struggles and they will walk with him to the end.” I will keep that in mind.

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  12. Marcia says:

    I’ve just been dying to get here all week…finally, I’m here. Love the pic of St Anthony and the demons. Like Jess, we Catholic girls know all about demons, especially inner demons. The nuns would accuse us of being led by Satan himself is we flirted with a boy or *gasp* wore make-up! Our inner demons had us sometimes wish nasty things on those nuns. The demons made us more wild and daring in spite of our conservative Catholic upbringing. Those are some of the demons I use in my stories.
    Fabulous look at the dark side, as always!

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