good guy – bad guy, continued.

In my last post, I let on that the novel I am writing has no ‘true’ villain.


In my firs novel my work was in creating characters that were not cut-outs.

Good guys:  I had an overly round priest. A barren scientist. A spiteful son-in-law.  A reformed thug turned zealot. You get the idea.

Bad guys: An over ambitious male widow. His trusty sidekick.

Are any of these characters interesting on face value? Nah, they have been overkilled. Why did I choose them? I did not, they came together on their own. I had to MAKE them interesting.

The first thing I asked myself was which characters I did not like. My answer led me to the characters which were too one-dimensional. Nobody likes a person who is clear cut. We like complications, secrets, yes, even in our good guys. I worked with my good guys first, I found it easier. My barren scientist ended up with a hardship from early life. The spiteful son-in-law became a struggling son-in-law because his wife was too fragile to face the truth about her father and he had ensure she never found it out. My reformed thug, was well, not so reformed.

As for my bad guy, well I had to fall in love with him. How could I do that? He was causing all this misery and grief and went against everything I believed. So,  I made him human. I used his daughter to show his ‘good’ side. And, even though I hated all he stood for, I gave reason to his madness, one that I could empathize with.

Do you sympathize with your bad guys?

23 thoughts on “good guy – bad guy, continued.

  1. All of my characters do wicked things but there is one in particular who is knowingly wicked and who seemed at first to have no redeeming qualities at all. This one caused me a lot of problems when I first started writing about him — he was just so morally repugnant. Four things made him more sympathetic and quite a lot of fun to write about: 1) at the start, he gets his heart broken by a cynical woman and the memory of her haunts him throughout; 2) he is a genius with language; 3) he can’t bear to lose the respect of his children; and 4) he has a passionate belief in God and knows he is a contemptible sinner. By the end he is seeking redemption but his motivation is still very selfish. Redeeming quality no. 2, his being a genius with language, was a risky one for me to adopt and might have backfired. Haha! We’ll see, Maybe it needs a Shakespeare (Richard III, Iago, Macbeth etc), a Milton (Satan) or even an Emily Bronte (Heathcliff) to pull this off; but I’m sure there are lots of other examples where the wicked characters get all the best lines.

  2. Sometimes I do. One particular character of mine comes to mind. She was wretched and heartless and though the main focus of the story was to bring her to her death, along the way I discovered why she was so cruel. Terrible things happened to in her childhood that shaped her, and suddenly she became one of my most dynamic characters and a true love of my heart. I felt terrible for what happened to her. Since fleshing out her past, the story took a new shape and she became an anti-hero that to this day I’m still trying very hard to redeem.

    1. Oh, Andrew, I know how this feels! In the novel I am currently writing, I had to struggle with an ending that made me feel guilty, as one of the characters was getting the bad end of the deal. Somehow, now, he has turned a little nasty so that the ending is not so traumatic – funny how things work themselves out like that sometimes!

  3. I have many bad people in my book, but since they have smaller roles I didn’t give them oppurtunity for sympathy. My main character’s villian is internal. So, yes, I sympathize and I hope my readers do, too.

  4. I’m not sure that I’ve ever written a villain into a story now that I think about it. For sure I’ve written about characters who have done some pretty mean things but I’ve never considered them villains. I see people as flawed rather than bad and I don’t pass judgment on them the way I might in real life. I usually accept what they’ve done with understanding because there is always some underlying motive behind what they’ve done. I think these flaws only make them more interesting.Do I sympathize with the bad guys? I guess on some level, yes.

  5. I sympathize a little with my antagonist, because she wants so desperately to be loved and accepted for who she is. Unfortunately, she goes about getting attention in all the wrong ways . . . but hey, if she was that great, she’d be my protagonist, not my antagonist. 😉

    I think it’s good to have some sympathy for your antagonist, though. You need to see them as being as multi-dimensional as your “good guys”. Thanks for the post, Jennifer!


    1. If you are talking about the same antagonist that you have showing us your site, Teresa, then she certainly is going about it the wrong way!! lol. But that is the whole point, is it not?

  6. I use Snidely Whiplash as my model for villains. What? What?

    In my extremely limited experience, I most definitely sympathize with these guys. I feel like I have to walk a mile in their shoes in order to get a good feel for what they’re about. While villains might have a bunch of reprehensible traits, somewhere in their minds, they’ve convinced themselves that they are doing the right thing. In my current story, the guy I thought would be the main villain has turned out to be way more likable than I originally thought he would be. This is a great topic.

    1. It’s amazing, isn’t it, Jonathan, the way they sort have a life force of their own?

      (hey, if you go Rocky and Bullwinkle, I can go star wars – make my son proud! lol )

  7. I don’t sympathize so much with my bad guys and this might be a problem. I should probably try harder. I prefer the good guys who are making mistakes, or the secondary characters blundering their way through, making things worse. But since you’re right, I love bad guys in other people’s fiction that I can really identify with, I need to try to do that with my own.

      1. I’d like to say something clever like, “Grey is my favourite colour,” but really… it’s a tough shade to perfect. 🙂

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