1. Mask
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    Mask Member

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    No Good Guys: Taking Sides when you Shouldn't

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Mask, Jan 29, 2013.

    Usually in stories, you write about the good guys--someone who is clearly in the right, who is easy to sympathize with (if not written like a brick). Sometimes, you write about someone's journey to the "dark side", either wit their last-minute redemption, or them succeeding in a quest to damn themselves tragicly. Sometimes everyone is a bad guy, like in the Grimdark world of Warhamer.

    Other times, less often, there is no good side or right character. Normally, these stories are done with two protagonists the narrative swaps between, often to show an interesting case of opposed ideologies. Something I see less is stories with a single protagonist where he and no one else can be considered "the right/good one"--and you can see why, since it is hard to write that in an interesting manner.


    I would like to bring up for discussion the latter two cases. A "no good guys" scenario of writing. These sorts of stories are of great interest to me, and currently I am writing one of that kind (just started, but nearly have 5 chapters). Does anyone else have interest in these sorts of stories, or have opinions on the subject? As the title hinted, this thread is about the ironic nature of designing a story where no group is in the right, yet then you take sides in the story (usually both sides) and make characters sympathetic and relatable so as to get your readers to take sides.


    Thank you for taking an interest in this discussion. I hope it is enjoyable and educational for all its readers.
     
  2. spartan928
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    spartan928 Member

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    I think it's very interesting. Take for example the character of Walter White on the series Breaking Bad. Here the protagonist is clearly supposed to be a family man embroiled in drug dealing for the sake of his family. Yet as he gets draw deeper and deeper into the world of drug dealing his motives change completely. For me, I don't think good-dude-vanquishes-evil type plots are necessarily the optimal approach. But what is really important is that I can understand, believe and relate to the characters in some way and get drawn into the change that is happening, good or evil. So that is key. That they evolve and change in significant ways and that the conflict is sharp and dramatic. At the same time, like anyone, I don't like to feel to hung out at the end. I like to understand that there was some point to be made, some conclusion for all the effort I put into jumping on the bandwagon for 10 hours or more.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There was a short-lived TV series this year, Last Resort. One of my favorite things about it was that most of the opposing factions had very legitimate reasons for their positions. The moral ambiguity of the main character's decisions were fascinating.

    I don't go much for political/military intrigue, but this was just excellent writing all around.

    Which, of course, doomed it for a prime-time television series.
     
  4. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I, for one, love a nuanced and complex story and characters. I believe that virtually everything in life has nuance, and there are very few cases of pure black & white/good versus evil. It's much more realistic and interesting to show different angles and viewpoints of any situation.

    Also, it can be much more interesting to read about someone who isn't necessarily a good guy. What do you think is a more intriguing opening --
    1) I was very upset that I killed him and I did everything I could to prevent his death. I didn't want his son to grow up an orphan. I wanted to vomit after seeing the mess, and as soon as I got home I went right to bed. OR
    2) I felt sorry for the bastard, and thought it is such a shame that his boy won't be seeing him anymore, right before I pulled the trigger and shot him through the left eye. At least I can get this cleaned up quickly, because Chiara's making my favorite chicken parmesan and I want to have some while the cheese is still that perfectly gooey texture, hot out of the oven. Not reheated. Damn him for making me kill him this close to dinnertime.
     
  5. Malkhalifa
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    Malkhalifa Member

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    I enjoy these kind of story lines as the throw you off the path you expect to happen. In George R.R. Martin's Song of Fire and Ice, I was cheering for Eddard Stark all the way to his death early in the story. Clearly the most noble of the large cast it was the natural person to root for. Then he died, and I, the reader left to continue the story in a world of bad guys, shift my sympathy from character to character over time. If Eddard was alive throughout, I wouldn't have been interested in the other characters as much. And it would have been typical.

    Then you have Robert Kirkman's the Walking Dead. Rick Grimes is clearly the protagonist - the one with a high moral standing. Yet with the progression of the story he loses morality over time as each new challenge chips away at him bit by bit. I think he's going to turn into a blood crazed maniac who was nothing to live for by the end, but you don't lose sympathy for him because of the difficulties you see him go through.
     
  6. Solitude
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    Solitude Member

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    It seems inevitable that the writer would favor a certain character or side over another as the story progresses, assuming that it's a longer story. The real challenge is hiding your own biases from the reader, which tends to be easier when using the third person limited point of view. The writer should humanize all of the characters and give them justifications for their actions, regardless of what type of story it is. If you don't, you wind up with a Cathy Ames-type character whose unrealistic behavior ruins the story's believability. On the few short stories I've finished, I've never found myself taking sides or preferring one character over the other while writing. When I read it later, I liked certain characters better and related to them more, but it wasn't a conscious choice to create a more sympathetic character.


    This can be fascinating if handled well. Sometimes it is more interesting to read about a character who is 'worse' than the rest, but the character has to have valid justifications for his actions and a plausible back story for his creation. In general, I try to stay away from the anti-hero and go with the more gray protagonist because I find that it requires a lot of skill to create an anti-hero that isn't cliched or unrealistic.
     
  7. CrimsonReaper
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    CrimsonReaper Active Member

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    Well I for one don't buy into the golden mean fallacy. Ie that the truth is usually somewhere between what two opposing viewpoints have to say. Sometimes, one side is just plain wrong. Sometimes the villains actually are villains no matter what "perspective" you want to see them through. That said there is nothing wrong with presenting opposing viewpoints and letting the watchers/readers decide who the heroes and villains are. Or at least who is the **** and who is the *******, to draw inspiration from Team America: World Police (one of the greatest films of our generation). Solitude nailed the crucial matter. That if one is going to take the path of not manning up and picking a side, then you must keep a detached description of the actions taken by the various sides. Or possibly have viewpoint characters from EACH SIDE so as not to make it appear you favor one over the other. As with any story, to make enduring characters you need to have them be understandable. Not excusable. People often confuse the two. I can understand the boy that is sexually abused growing up with rage that leads him to raping/killing prostitutes and possibly wearing their skin. Doesn't mean he gets a free pass and the cops shouldn't put him down in a hail of gunfire during sweeps week.
     
  8. Salamander
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    Salamander Member

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    I prefer this trope because it mirrors reality. You have some fairly good people with flaws, and then you have bastards. Sometimes you just have bastards.
     
  9. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    It's perfectly possible to have a cast completely devoid of "good guys" as long it's not composed entirely of "bad guys"

    When I say "bad guys", I mean people that we don't like, aren't engaging and generally act like jerks. The reason being, in a story where only bad guys are in play, we have no investment in the story: There's nothing to sell us on any one of them, we don't like any of them so we don't care what happens.

    On the other hand, it's possible for a story to be devoid of "good guys" as long as at least one character is engaging. The first example that comes to mind is Smokin' Aces. Depending on your personal dispositions, you'll be interested in some, none or all of the following characters:

    Buddy Israel - treacherous wannabe gang member seeking protection from the FBI
    Sir Ivy - Buddy's loyal bodyguard
    Richard Messenger - grieving FBI agent on an emotional razor's edge
    Donald Carruthers - Richard's partner and emotional support
    Sharice and Georgia - two aspiring and ambitious hitwomen trying to make a name for themselves. One of them has a crush on the other, but the feelings aren't mutual.
    Pasquale - a notorious mercenary with a penchant for torture
    Lazlo - mercenary adept at disguises and infiltration
    The Tremor Brothers - a trio of unhinged psychopaths that revel in chaos and death

    The first five are tragic in their own way, while the last three appeal to our darker sides. Not everyone would "like" all of them, but by the end of the movie you'll agree that none would be considered a "good guy" and you definitely don't get a "good guy" ending (spoilers =P). The only person who styles themselves as the good guy is the head of FBI and possibly the only unlikeable character in the whole story played by professional jerkface, Andy Garcia (and I mean that in the most complimentary of capacities). Whether the characters I listed are "good" or "bad" is up for debate, but as long as you have people on either side of the fence, that proves my point.

    Writing a story with no clear good guy is a very delicate balancing act - one which you are actually fated to fail, because of the above mentioned prejudices. Different people will sympathise with different character traits and even if you pull off the balance perfectly, people will choose based on their personal preferences. The real trick is finding an ending that would satisfy, irrespective of who likes who: You have to predict what a person who likes each character would expect of them by the end.

    Fans of the Tremor Brothers wouldn't mind that all three of them died, because that's part of their appeal. Fans of Lazlo and Pasquale, on the other hand would expect them to escape, even if they don't succeed: You don't become a globally notorious mercenary for getting caught.

    For other examples, try taking a look at the much more comedy based Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch - both are Guy Ritchie films and due to their nature have a very similar structure.

    practically everyone dies and the survivors have little to no idea wtf just happened
     
  10. Chirping Cricket
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    Chirping Cricket New Member

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    I adore the complexity of morally ambiguous characters. One of my favorite popcorn authors, David Weber, tends to write characters in black and white. The good characters are always X, the bad characters are always Y. He then proceeds to play to the stereotypes of X and Y for all they're worth. Then he pulls out Rob Pierre and Oscar St. Just from the Honor Harrington series. They're the bad guys, the first overthrew a lawful government and started a campaign of military expansion. The second runs an authoritarian police force modeled directly off the Nazi SS. For several books you never see the characters, just their machinations and how other characters feel about them.

    Then you actually meet the two characters, and Weber turns your viewpoint on its head. You learn why Pierre had to overthrow the government, and why St. Just feels that a repressive paramilitary police force is necessary to keep the new government safe. The two characters come alive and the reader starts to sympathize with them. They're still "evil", but they're also human beings with all the quirks, advantages, and flaws one would expect. It's quite an impressive bit of work.
     
  11. NellaFantasia
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    NellaFantasia Member

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    I love reading stories like these. I also love writing stories like these. There's something about characters who do questionable things for a plausible reason that make me sympathize with them much more than I would a character who does all good and is unrealistic, or a character who does all bad and is unbelievable. An antagonist doesn't have to be evil. In fact, it's pretty presumptuous to assume everyone in your world is going to like or agree with your character only because they're the protagonist, and if they don't then there must be something villainous about them. Sometimes there can be conflict in a story simply because of opposing opinions or opposing goals.
     
  12. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    My current WIP falls into this category. After completing the first draft a year and a half ago I sent the first five chapters to three people. One of the most interesting pieces of feedback I received was that one of the readers said she didn't consider the protagonist or the antagonist "likable" as people - but as characters she found them "fascinating" and wanted to read more.
     
  13. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    Actually, I'm trying to balance this sort of thing in my somewhat-work-in-progress right now. The characters in it aren't exactly good guys, but at the same time they're not exactly bad guys either. They're kind of in the middle, gray if you please. It's hard to balance them, I'll admit that, but I find it fascinating to work with as a writer. As a reader, I find it more interesting when the characters aren't labelled as good/evil but when we're left to figure out for ourselves who should be considered good and who should be considered evil. The idea just appeals to me more that way.
     

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