Example. I'm working on a book on monsters right now—it's MG, a kid's book, and the main character is part-human, part-monster; his dad is a monsterologist. The last few books I've written, there has been this tipping point right about 15,000 words. I kind of monkey around and go slow, then I hit that point and I get into a groove and the book goes quick from there. Same thing here—it's been rolling out pretty well lately.
I was brainstorming recently, thinking about Sam's dad, the monsterologist. This time around, I've been writing all the characters in first person to get a sense of their voice and who they are, and I ran into an awkward question in my brainstorming.
What to do about Evil? When it comes to monsters, I think you can make a pretty good case that, say, zombies aren't really Evil. They're just zombies, doing what zombies do. When you reanimate a piece of dead flesh and give it a hunger for brains, it might not be pretty and it might even be life-threatening, but it's not necessarily Evil. I think the same thing applies to most "monsters." Dragons, werewolves, trolls, ogres, even most ghosts. Big Foot. The Lochness monster. These things aren't really capital-E evil as much as they are dangerous by nature.
It might be just me, but I think true Evil has to have a purpose. It has to have Evil agency. True Evil isn't a hungry animal or a weather pattern. True Evil is a deliberate choice made in the face of alternatives. Calling zombies Evil would be like saying the AIDS virus is Evil, or mosquitoes or Evil, or in a way, Glenn Beck is Evil (I'm kidding about that last one—he really is Evil).
But then in the world of monsters there are clearly some pretty Evil bastards out there. You can make a case for vampires, of course (although, again, they're parasites so it's back to mosquitoes once more). Demons are clearly evil. And unfortunately, people are frequently Evil.
So I'm sitting there with my notebook, pen poised over the page, and thinking, "Oh shit. Now what?" I have no interest in getting all wrapped up in a philosophical tar pit about the nature of evil and how it affects my little story. I just want to crack a few jokes. But then, the story is looking me in the face and nagging me: "Please, you HAVE to know this, or I'll lack any sort of authentic emotional depth. You've got to figure this out."
Grrr. When was the last time a purely philosophical question hung up your book? What'd you do?