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.
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.
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?
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.