Bad Guys You Love to Hate

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Write your bad guys good enough to read with these handy tips.


dvitola on 10:15PM Wed, 30 July 2003

Tutorial: Bad Guys You Love to Hate


He's ugly; he's mean; he's ruthless; he's a killer. He's your novel's bad guy, the orneriest critter who ever graced a written page.

His heart is as dark as his dirty underwear; his ideas are as warped as a piece of wood washed up on the beach. He's thoroughly despicable and that's the problem. You've spent a great deal of time making your story's antagonist so rotten that he seems stereotypical and one dimensional.

What happened?

Characters, like real people, need to be well-rounded. Maintain a balance by endowing them with good and bad personality traits. Just as a hero with no faults is boring, so is the villain with no redeeming qualities. Your best bad guys are those who leave you guessing as to their reasons why they chose the dark side to express themselves. It may take all your talent and skill to pull this juggling act off, but with the following tips, you might find the challenge a little easier to handle.

MAKE A LIST

Before you ever put word one to page, flesh out your characters.

Create two lists for each--one list should be for 'good' qualities and one for 'bad' qualities.

List five traits under each heading.

Study the lists and give ten reasons why this character has these particular qualities.

Not only will you discover that your character has a past, present, and future, but you will also realize that he is motivated, just as any person would be, by events and that affect his emotions and thoughts.

CONFLICT IS THE SPICE OF A CHARACTER'S LIFE

Conflict, both internal and external, affects the way a character develops. There must be a reason for his actions, something for the character to play off of. If you have no conflict, he will appear flat and lifeless. He will lack the proper kick he needs to be the ultimate bad guy.

How do you determine the conflict that is necessary to round out your antagonist? Use your list. Figure out which reason in your list could cause significant conflict. For instance, if one of his bad qualities is abusing women, then you could take it further by suggesting it's caused by continued emotional turmoil, stemming from his mother's abandonment of her family when he was a teenager. Not only is this a logical reason for your character's antisocial behavior, but it creates sympathy in the reader.

That's right. You have to let the reader sympathize with the bad guy. You have to allow him the option to hope that the antagonist will transform, or at the very least, have an experience where the villain learns a truth about himself.

MORE ABOUT THE BALANCING ACT

When drawing up your antagonist, don't make him hideously ugly, or give him too many traits that suggest a monster. He's probably a human, so impart a little beauty.

Balance creates a believable character. Balance creates a situation where the reader can rightfully expect redemption. So learn to love your bad guy. You just might find out that he's the reason you're writing the story.

Tutorial Comments


Boofy  12:41AM Sun, 18 December 2005

Thanks. I was reminded that in a 'how to write' book that even Hitler liked animals and children. This facet of his character made him 'human'. I suppose our villans have to be the same or they would not be interesting. It is also an idea to give the good guy a 'bad' habit or secret!

JNagyJr  7:42AM Mon, 15 September 2003

Sweet. This will help greatly as I am rewriting a 78 page (8 1/2" x 11" paper, .5" margins, 12pt Times New Roman) sci-fi novel that I wrote several years back.

dvitola  9:42PM Sun, 14 September 2003

JNagyJr--Yes, you can make the lists for an entire race or species. You have to take into consideration the impact that the environment plays on the people. How did they evolve in this manner? How do they cope? What kind of unique qualities do they have that can apply across-the-board, etc. This is called world building and works quite well for broad character applications.

JNagyJr  8:53PM Sun, 14 September 2003

Will making the lists work for an entire race (say if you're writing an entire novel) as well as to individuals (but of course in a more general way, such as near genocide, slavery of the race, etc)?

terra-man  9:13AM Tue, 09 September 2003

Hey, thanks for the info, there's some usefull stuff around here. I've added some notes ot myselfe that I definately will implement!