Writing Alignment: Lawful Evil
I adapted this blog series from a section of an online workshop I conducted for Writers & Books in March 2020.
Deciding a character’s alignment helps determine how’d they’d act during their adventures. I find it helpful to think about how each alignment would behave in the same circumstances because it highlights the differences between each alignment.
Here’s the scene:
A character is in a market and encounters a thief who has stolen from them in a previous incident. The thief doesn’t see the character yet, so they have time to react. How will they act?
A lawful evil character would call his connections throughout the city to ensure they bring the thief to justice with the most severe punishment possible. If the character is in a foreign place away from the root of his influence, he will still call upon the law hoping law enforcement will jail her. He will always try a variety of means to sway the system in his favor.
Defining Lawful Evil Characters
Lawful evil characters are often well-connected or wealthy individuals who exploit the system and use legal technicalities to their benefit. Lawful evil character subtypes include corrupt executives, dirty cops, and diabolical masterminds. He is quick, cruel, and hard to beat because the administration is on his side, or he is the administration, sometimes. Because of their insidious nature, many of the most heinous villains are lawful evil.
It’s important to note, he doesn’t always follow the law, unlike the other lawful types. He’s happy to toe the line or appear legitimate while doing just enough to avoid legal consequences. More powerful lawful evil characters can write the rules, bending the law in their favor. The law is his weapon and shield.
Lawful Evil Character Development
The government or organization must have complicit members for the lawful evil character to exploit and cajole, and these toadies will eventually work their way up, providing a clear path for development. However, there are other routes to prominence.
A young lawful evil character might be a lackey for a more powerful character, waiting in the wings to take over when his leader fails or dies. Lawful evil characters are often wealthy, enjoying generations of esteem and political influence or a sudden influx of money and the power that comes with it.
Lawful Evil Character Examples
Dolores Umbridge from The Harry Potter franchise insists that everyone follows the rules, which she enforces in cruel ways. A corrupt system installed her in a position of power, and she gained prominence by aligning with influential villains.
The Stephen King master of evil Randall Flagg, also known as “The Walking Man” from The Stand, is the malevolent lord subtype of lawful evil. He’s the guy in charge, he makes the rules, and everyone must follow them or face horrific consequences.
Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol is lawful evil before his transformation. He does nothing to break the law, technically, but according to Charles Dickens, he’s a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!”
"There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”