Liking the Bad Guy

I’ve said it before, I love morally questionable characters. You know, the antihero. I enjoy writing them. How do you make these little monsters sympathetic without filing down their claws?

My characters kill with no remorse. They’re prone to violence and can be more than a little heartless. They treat humans like slightly useful ants. There’s no deep reason they act this way. They were simply born violent and mean. To make it even more challenging, they’re extraordinarily powerful.

First of all, there’s no way to make sure all your readers aren’t thoroughly disgusted by your antihero. The reviews of some of my favorite books are proof of that. Make peace with it and move on.

Actually, it would be entertaining reading a review of my book where someone abhorred my characters because of their despicable actions. Weird, I know.

Anyway, back to the initial question. How do you make readers care about these characters? You could go the whole “they have this darkness inside them but they’re trying desperately to fight it.” I never go that route. My characters know they’re dark and they don’t shy away from it.

Soft Spot
I don’t mean give your characters something that turns them into cooing little ninnies. Well, okay, you can have them melt over a puppy or give them a secret rose garden. It would be kind of cute but slightly cliche. For my protagonists’, their soft spot is a person and they never melt. They’d do almost anything for this person and will level an entire town without thought if even one resident hurts them.

Give them a noble cause. Channel all that aggression into a force for good. My characters use their powers to help humans- not for entirely selfless reasons but still, the end result is good. Both sides benefit. Or, you can give them some gorgeous dream they don’t want to admit having.

What if your character’s soft spot isn’t that obvious? What if their motives are selfish and despicable? I’m thinking of a movie- The Dark Knight and a character- Joker. The man has no redeeming qualities yet, I really liked him. Then, there’s Loki from Avengers. In this book I’m reading, King of Thorns, the main protagonist, Jorg, has a soft spot somewhere but I can’t find it and his motives aren’t that noble but, I love him anyway.

The word that comes to mind is “coolness.” Don’t think people use it. Anyway, Joker, Loki and Jorg may be despicable but, they’re super cool. It’s fun to watch and read about them.

The purely awesome character is harder to write on purpose, at least I think it is. Of all the books I’ve read with morally questionable characters, this type hasn’t been featured a lot. Authors rely on the soft spot or the motive to make them likable. If you set out to create a “cool” badass, you run the risk of creating an extraordinarily lame character. You know, like that person trying so hard to be cool they come off as sad and pathetic.

Find books or movies with this type of character and examine why you like them. In Jorg’s case, I love the way he talks. He goes way beyond blunt but forms his words beautifully enough that they don’t sound as rude and vulgar as they really are. Doing this will give you ideas for your own antihero.

The best way to learn how to write the antihero is to read and study stories featuring them. Fortunately, Dark Fantasy is full of protagonists with skewed morals.

5 thoughts on “Liking the Bad Guy

  1. I love to hate characters. Having said that, I think evil characters need a reason for being evil. Even if it's an evil reason like being jealous. There has to be a motive for their behavior.

  2. I believe that, unless you are one of the "Orcs" from the Lords of the Ring, created for destruction only, every creature is born with innocence but can learns to beome evil. My suggestion is to create an event and a time when the character was converted to pure violence. While your readers will wish for a hero to get rid of this antihero, they do have an idea why the antihero behaves in this manner.

  3. I would challenge that destruction isn't necessarily evil. An Orc is simply a neutral tool if created for destruction only. It is the creator's motive which determines if they are on the side of good or evil. 🙂

    I love antiheroes when they are written appropriately. For instance, the powerfully destructive mogul who seduces a woman, yet displays an enormous passion during intimacy. To me, that's a very likable character, no matter his actions elsewhere, I'll remember his passion above everything else. I know, I'm a sucker. lol

  4. I write in the thriller genre, so my characters have to feel true to themselves. My villains in the first book started out very sympathetic, and it's the losses they suffer that turn them down into a very bad path.

    I've also introduced a villain for down the line that I like tremendously, an Irish terrorist who's driven by the beliefs he's grown up with, the conflict that he's part of, and by the murder of his father by rival factions. He's cruel and hard, but has that odd charm about him at the same time.

  5. I enjoy romance novels especially with a guy who seems to have no redeeming qualities. He's tough, selfish, lives by his own rules and doesn't care what others think. However, when he loves friends, family, wife, children he becomes just as vicious, selfish and protective if anyone tries to hurt any of them. Also, his word is his bond. I guess this might be badness with commitment and honor? Could work in dark fantasy too.

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