1. Crimson Dragon
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    Crimson Dragon Member

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    Villain Protagonists....just how bad can you make your main character?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Crimson Dragon, May 8, 2013.

    Lets face it, while we may all like our heroes something about villains just makes them have their own dark charisma that draws people to them. While most people root for the heroes, I often find that when I write I enjoy writing my antagonist characters more then any others and as a result I have been toying with villain protagonists for a while. Thankfully, I am not alone in this. While they are quite rare, stories about villain protagonists actually exist. Books like "A Clockwork Orange," anime/mangas/comics like deathnote and even videogames such as Fable all feature or can feature protagonists you would be hard pressed to call anything less then a villain. So it seems that there are people other then me who enjoy writing protagonists on the darker end of the morality spectrum. However, the question becomes not if such a thing can be done, but rather what level of evil is acceptable for the target audience. I am mainly interested in writing YA works, and sometimes younger, but one of my more recent projects features some rather controversial themes and happenings, one of which is the fact the protagonist happens to be an ambitions, manipulative ******* that ends up leading a bunch of his friends on a campaign of mayhem that grows from a rather violent crime spree to a total attempt to overthrow the government and replace it with a "dog eat dog" kind of anarchist society.

    The story has a lot of nuances, however, and while the protagonist and his friends are clearly a nasty bunch, much of the story focuses on how a failed state, failed school system and failed, degenerate society in which they have no future pushed the lot of them into this violent turn of events. They are made out to be sympathetic despite the wicked acts, yet at the same time the story doesn't condone or show their actions as just. They are portrayed as clearly being in the wrong, and despite being the protagonists their actions are shown to be clearly evil. They are NOT made out to be heroes in any way and much of the story is a tragedy about how society has made these kids into monsters. Despite this, however, I am worried that that many of the things that happen, mainly teens using superpowers to murder "upstanding"(who are not so upstanding in this story's setting) members of society such as politicians, policemen, teachers ect...may be too controversial for my target audience despite the fact that the story doesn't condone them and describes them in a way that is not overly graphic. My question is should the protagonists' evilness be toned down or is it ok to have a story that features main characters who act in controversial ways?
     
  2. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    While my protagonist is not evil, he is vary hatable. I wonder (and have asked here) how bad or disliked somebody can be. I would love to create a character so malevolent, so evil that people would feel bad about reading his story. That hate and evil exists in our world. However, that character will never make it into one of my stories. One of the reasons people read is to escape the real-life horrors, to tuck that little bit of evil away for a few chapters. I think you can get away with violence and atrocities as long as the reader can feel free to assume the guilty parties involved will get theirs in the end.
     
  3. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    To answer your question, it is okay even encouraged to have a controversial protagonist. It can really bring life into the story and a renewed interest. The thing to remember is that because they are the protagonists, you have to make them interesting. Their actions can be hateable, and even their personalities distasteful, but they themselves must be written in such a way that the reader gets the feeling "geez these teens really need to be stopped, but they really are fascinating to read about."

    To that end, this should work well:
    As for your audience, who is it? I'm assuming it is teenagers because the protagonists are teenagers. If that is the case, try to focus more on the internal struggle of growing up and figuring out life and give the book a teenage world view. If your audience is older, say adults in their 20s or so, super-powered teenagers may put them off a little. The powers could be the kick for some people, while others may not identify with the teens, but the combination of the two, could put off older readers. It all depends on how you handle the tone of the story.
     
  4. Crimson Dragon
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    Crimson Dragon Member

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    Yes, my audience was teens, obviously. I do thank you for your advice, and will remember it when I go to write this thing, The story, however, is very much about how the outside world effects the MCs. Inner struggles are there, but one of the major themes is how society can breed bad or, in this case, downright evil behavior. The story touches on a lot of issues that teens face in out society but in an exaggerated, fantastical way that includes superpowers. Broken/Dysfunctional families, the sorry state of public schools, sex and violence in the media, bullying and addiction/drug use are all touched upon in the story. Admittedly the "coming of age" theme is not played straight in this story but is very present...in a twisted sort of way. Instead of seeking maturity, the protagonist wants to live in childhood forever, so to speak, and as a result the struggle of growing up is highlighted by the MC's internal struggle of wanting to escape the realities of adulthood, responsibility and a future that, due to the nature of the setting he sees as terribly bleak.
     
  5. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    In my first novel, my main character, Adam, is very self-centred and spiteful, and when I think about it he still has this personality even at the closing of the book. The thing is that you have to balance the bad with the good; even evil characters, say, love their mother more than anything in the world. For my character it was a love interest that made him 'good', although he does encounter some problems along the way.

    So, in a nutshell, yes your character can be 'bad', but he has to have good qualities for your readers to sympathise and empathise with him, no matter how vague they may be. To quickly finish, think of the amazing TV series Dexter: a serial killer who works in the forensics department of a Miami police station. As we get to know him he becomes likeable and - would you believe it - nice. I suggest you watch the first couple of episodes (or read the original books) if you have not already done so.

    Hope I helped! :)
     
  6. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    That's what I mean friend. When I say internal struggle I mean the effect society has on them. I mean you have to show more than action and reaction; when it comes to teens, the way characters perceptions change and how they deal with society on a psychological or emotional level is important. You have all of these external stressors, what would make this story really great--in my opinion--is if you could really make their internal struggles with these issues important. That is to say bring emphasis not just to them becoming murderers because of these events, but how they changed a little with each one or how they felt with each trial or even how these events still effect them and the decisions they make. Teens will want to see the MCs dealing with things is what I mean ha ha.
     
  7. squishytheduck
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    squishytheduck Senior Member

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    Go all out. Even Batman is morally ambiguous(even more so in the original comics), and who doesn't love that guy?
     
  8. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    Joker for once.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You could make the Prince of Darkness himself your main character.

    You're limited only by your imagination and skill.
     
  10. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    And then you'd always have the excuse that the devil made you do it.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, nonono. You made the Devil do it.

    Much more wicked.
     
  12. Nee
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    Nee Contributing Member

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    That's interesting. Can anybody actually make the devil do anything...?
     
  13. TheSerpantofNar
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    TheSerpantofNar Active Member

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    One character I have been working on is turning out to be a little more sadistic then I thought he would be.
     
  14. squishytheduck
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    squishytheduck Senior Member

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    Baby Jesus on crystal meth... at least he'd think he could.
     
  15. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    Maybe he could make the green dragons do something, but for the devil he would need mushrooms too.
     
  16. squishytheduck
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    squishytheduck Senior Member

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    Touche.
     
  17. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you want to actually read someone doing just what Cogito said, read Paradise Lost. The author's central assertion - that humans are inherently flawed and thus religion is necessary as a guiding light - rests on the character of Satan being attractive to his early modern, hyper-religious readers. It's not that he's portrayed as likeable - in fact, he's not, at all - but he is relateable and has many traits that society regarded with respect. The book's well worth a read for anyone who wants their readers to get behind an evil main character, but those are the golden rules to doing it: make them relateable, and give them traits that are praised in wider society, especially if they're ones which wider society does not necessarily have: people are irresistibly drawn to those who have the traits they want.

    Another sneaky trick is to have the villain talk in the vernacular of your target audience. It need only be subtle, but similarities in vocabulary and syntax are one of the main ways we choose our friends in real life, even though it's mostly subconscious. The same pull works with characters in a book.
     

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