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  1. Marty
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    Marty New Member

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    Evil, but likeable

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Marty, Mar 12, 2010.

    I've had a thought. It seems that in most - if not all - books, the main character is a good guy. I want to write a story that has my main protagonist as the villain. However, I'm not sure I'd be able to get him/her to commit attrocitites and remain likeable. Any tips?
     
  2. PJ.Paradox
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    I am writing a trilogy with this exact concept in at least the first book and a half. In the first book you have the protagonists, and a very obvious antagonist, in the second book you have the Protagonist, a new antagonist, and the person who was the antagonist in the first book but you don't really know where she stands in terms of helping or harming the obvious heroes, and in the last book the antagonist from the first book has become a very obvious and devoted part of the group of the original protagonists.

    The key to accomplishing this is EMPATHY. You need to make your antagonist someone that the characters feel sorry for because of the things that they have experienced. You need to reveal parts of the antagonists' history that pull heart strings and have the readers actually rooting for them when you reveal it. In many novels, the Antagonist is NOT a main character, it is a boogie man that we don't know a whole lot about. You are going to have to break from that mold to do what you want to. The antagonist can NOT be mysterious, they need to be someone that the reader can empathize with on some level, but then have the person's reaction to their life events be that which no normal person would ever consider. The end result you are looking for is "I don't like what they did, but I understand it." or "Wow... that person's life sucked... " because most readers don't think about the villain in emotional terms, or even try to see the world from the villains shoes.



    If you want to be sneaky and muck with your reader's perceptions, you might actually BEGIN the book telling the story from the perspective of the vilan, NOT at a time when they are committing whatever atrocity that makes them the bad guy, but at a time when the reader might think that the character is bound to become a tortured hero. Let the attachment come, and once you have it, make your bad guy commit an act that shows they are quite simply beyond redemption.


    Because I don't know the specifics of the story I can't say how much interaction the heros and the bad guy have but you are going to need to balance your focus at the beginning of the book in such a way that the reader believes that either all or any of them might be the ones to save the day.


    Another possible technique would be to write your story as if it were bouncing back and fourth between three perspectives. #1 ) The real heros, #2) The Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad guy, #3) The tortured soul that is the bad guy.


    Don't tell the reader right off that #2 and #3 are one in the same, but start dropping hints about 1/3 of the way through, and let them know without a doubt that they are the same somewhere later... half way.. 2/3 of the way.. maybe later... I dunno... AT that point there will no longer be a #2 or #3 voice, just #2.5 ... or perhaps you choose to silence them both all together and stick to #1 by allowing them to deal with the bad guy in a traditional manner, but with now with the character realizing that whatever happens to the bad guy is happening to someone that they actually felt some sympathy for earlier on.
     
  3. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    Make him or her very interesting and entertaining, basically. Bonus points if he or she is also somewhat tragic. And attractive. Don't forget attractive. Some people can forgive almost any kind of character flaw if the character in question is just interesting, amusing or pretty enough.

    This isn't as difficult as you'd think: There's lots of villains that have their own cult followings. I once encountered a person who seriously argued that the Stardust movie should have ended with Septimus killing everyone and becoming an immortal despot.

    Other then that, try to find other works that has villain protagonists and study them. There's actually a bunch of them out there.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Drop the notion of good or evil, hero or villain. When you think of your character as a person who makes very unpopular decisions for reasons that the reader can identify with, you're on the right track. The reader can abhor the decisions amd their consequences, but if the reader can understand and respect the emotions and logic behind the decision, your character will be appreciated.
     
  5. Forkfoot
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    Forkfoot Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've been watching the series Dexter on Netflix. The MC is a serial killer, and he's freakin' awesome.
     
  6. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Read American Psycho. The main character is pure evil, and totally likeable, and you hate yourself for falling for him.

    Also, its one of the best novels ever written. So you should read it anyway.
     
  7. Centurion
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    Try giving him a duty. If you give him a duty and explain why he must commit atrocities because it is his duty he should become more likable. But it would need to be a suitable duty or else it will backfire and just make the character less likable. You could also try giving him a sense of humor and honor etc, and just try to make him more human and amusing.
     
  8. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Lolita. Read Lolita. The protagonist, Humbert Humbert, is a bad, bad person, and the story challenges you to keep from sympathising with him. Most people fail.
     
  9. PJ.Paradox
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    lol I was thinking about that when I read this post.
     
  10. IamIan
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    Give Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog a watch, a good example of this imo.
     
  11. B-Gas
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    What scale of villainy are we talking about, here? It's easy to make an evil man a likeable villain, but it's hard to reconcile mass murder with likeability, and someone who is an evil overlord-type is incredibly difficult to write in a sympathetic way.
     
  12. Anders Backlund
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    I don't think we should use the words "likable" and "sympathetic" interchangebly. At least to me, sympathy implies feeling sorry for and/or understanding the feelings of the person in question. Likable just means it's a fun or stimulating character to read about.

    As a matter of fact, I find I have an easier time to make evil-overlord type supervillains likable, partly because they tend to have more interesting personalities on average but also because they usually work on a larger scale then lesser villains.

    Thing is, we humans really aren't very good at connecting emotionally to things we don't actually see happen, and we have a hard time judging the severity of an atrocity on scale alone.

    If you have an evil overlord with a quirky personality and a flair for drama, who casually orders ethnic cleansings that are carried out off-screen, then the readers are going to know that he is a horrible person in the back of their heads, but what they have right in front of them is a quirky guy with a flair for drama and on an emotional level, that's what they are going to react to first hand.

    Heck, even if he blows up entire cities personally with the death ray mounted on his giant robot spider or whatever, the death and suffering he's causing is only going to affect the readers to the degree you are willing to show it, because the larger the crime, the more depersonalized it gets.

    For example, what's worse: The Comedian gunning down a pregnant woman in Watchmen, or Governor Tarkin blowing up a whole planet in Star Wars?

    Objectively speaking, Tarkin is roughly two billion times worse. I mean, we're talking a whole populated planet - that's a lot of pregnant women. But we don't actually see those people die up close, and besides, most people can't comprehend things on that kind of scale anyway. We know that what he did was "really terrible" but we can't emidiately grasp the magnitude.

    On the other hand, when the Comedian murders a pregnant woman, that actually happens right before our eyes. That's close enough for us to take it personal - it's painful and horrible and we wish we could have stopped him.

    Or, for another Watchmen example: The main villain in that story killed a whooping three million people, but the guy I really hated was that random dude who killed a single little girl and fed her to his dogs.
     
  13. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Alan Moore's mastery at work. The Comedian commits the most shocking act of the entire novel and yet in the end I still considered him to be the most sympathetic character of the lot. He was at the least aware of his own hypocricy.
     
  14. Tiki
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    Think about reader sympathy for the character and the perspective of the character. Does he think he's doing whats right? Hitler thought he was doing the best thing for the world, but... yeah not so much.
     
  15. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Who says he has to be likeable? Or sympathetic? Make him a right bastard if that's what you're going for.
     
  16. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    Are we talking John Dillinger sort of villain? Or something really sinister? John Dillinger was likable just as a person. He was said to be very charismatic. He even handed out wads of cash to people in the banks he stole from. He drank with his hostages too. The public liked him while he was the bane of the polices' existence.

    I'm in agreement with Cogito. If his decisions make sense to him and the reader then if he is also a likable person you can get the reader to like him or even sympathize with him. Plus if you call the character evil or bad it will predispose the reader to thinking of him in that vein.
     
  17. JTheGreat
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    A more YA example, Artemis Fowl, although seemingly more on the dark morality side (in the first book, anyway) is the protagonist and many readers can sympathize with his behavior.

    It always nice with your protagonist, because the readers will have more insight into their lives, and why do what they do.

    Let's say Bob is a villain. He steals from Carol. But, since he's the protagonist, we later find out it was so he could buy a gift for his girlfriend Alice, and he'd grown up in such a sucky neighborhood his basic philosophy is to do anything to get what you want. Later chapters reveal that Carol's the stereotypical rich snob, and made fun of him as a kid because of his lifestyle. BUT THEN, we find out that Carol actually had a crush on him, but because of her growing up in the upper-classlands, she's learned from her father to discriminate, and while she protested at home that Bob wasn't so bad, her dad hit her. Meanwhile, Alice and Carol were best friends when they were kids, Alice always envious of Carol's wealth and good looks. Sometimes Alice would be mean to Carol, which led to Carol being resentful of Bob's relationship with Alice.

    At this point, either of the three characters could be a likable protagonist, because each of them make bad actions, but are matched with a means to do so and good traits as well. All round characters actually have this, but the "villain" usually has more bad actions and bad traits. Or, more meaningful bad actions which are disproportionate to the means.
     
  18. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    It's not about what he does, it's what he is. If he's a mass murderer, he could still have aspects of his character that make him likable. But if he is truly your definition of evil, someone who conflicts with everything you value and admire, you will hate him as a character, and that will show, and he will not be likable. It's all about how you view the character. Many anti-heros that people admire have qualities that they respect or admire, and so do many villains.

    Look at Darth Vader. He is monstrous, but people admire him anyway because of his power, his confidence, and his cunning. Despite his abominable acts, people are fascinated by him. He is not necessarily likable, but the people are drawn to him nonetheless. That's because the people who made the film evidently wanted him to seem powerful and respectable in a way.

    Then take someone like Ellsworth Toohey from Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. Toohey reflects everything that Rand considers evil, embodies it, and embraces it. He is evil in a way that makes him repulsive to the reader, even if the reader agrees with his views on some level. Ayn Rand hates Toohey, and this shows in the writing; she does not like him, so he is not likable. He is very persuasive and charismatic, and many villains who are persuasive and charismatic are admired in some way by the reader. But Rand does not respect any quality Toohey has, and therefore the reader finds it hard to do so too.
     
  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think the question for the OP to consider is whether he wants to make the character likable because he feels he has to since it is a viewpoint character, or whether that's truly how he envisions the character for the story. Does this character really need to be likable and/or sympathetic? And if it is proving to be difficult to do so, perhaps that's because the character is telling you something...

    I mention this because I've had this discussion before elsewhere, and the author felt as though he were compelled to make the character likable to some degree.
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You DO realize this thread is resurrected from four months ago, and the originator hasn't been back since he posted it, right?
     
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