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View Full Version : Giving the Bad Guy Appeal?


katatonic
12-02-2008, 08:55 AM
Simply put how do you go about creating appeal for an asshole of a character?

The MC in my story is a psychotic bitch who only gets worse as the story progresses. She's vain, bitchy, addicted to drugs, sex and plastic surgery who has become an extremely cold, emotionless shell. She does have a rather disturbing sense of humor though.

She's the bad guy of the story, and I want people to want her succeed in her devious goals. It's proving to be pretty hard when she's rather stereotypical.

Here's a few examples of characters that come to mind.
* Patrick Bateman from American Psycho
* Light from Death Note
* Hannibal Lecter
* Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men
* Dexter

You get the picture.

Cheers

Monolith
12-02-2008, 09:14 AM
Just try looking at the story from their perspective. Think about what would motivate someone to be the way they are. What life experiences lead up to creating that person?

scarletpeaches
12-02-2008, 09:15 AM
Make him look like Colin Farrell.

katatonic
12-02-2008, 09:18 AM
Make him look like Colin Farrell.

haha, i can already picture my MC as a cross dressing Colin Farrell obsessed with beauty, shoes and hair.

Man, that character would have some depth.

mscelina
12-02-2008, 09:20 AM
You know, the one thing that keeps all of those should-be-cardboard villains distinct and interesting is charisma. That disturbing sense of humor, if portrayed correctly, can make your uber bitch into a charismatic character.

scarletpeaches
12-02-2008, 09:21 AM
haha, i can already picture my MC as a cross dressing Colin Farrell obsessed with beauty, shoes and hair.

Man, that character would have some depth.

Ah. I just read bad 'guy' as male...

kuwisdelu
12-02-2008, 09:21 AM
Just try looking at the story from their perspective. Think about what would motivate someone to be the way they are. What life experiences lead up to creating that person?

Aye.

Honestly, you usually can't help but relate to a character as long as they're three-dimensional enough, and their perspective is conveyed strongly and clearly enough that it's possible to empathize with them.

katatonic
12-02-2008, 09:23 AM
You know, the one thing that keeps all of those should-be-cardboard villains distinct and interesting is charisma. That disturbing sense of humor, if portrayed correctly, can make your uber bitch into a charismatic character.

Yea, you're right. The disturbing sense of humor is my building block, buts its not easy to pull off.

I guess it goes deeper also and goes into how to write black comedy?

Any insights on writing black comedy?

smoothseas
12-02-2008, 09:24 AM
Aye.

Honestly, you usually can't help but relate to a character as long as they're three-dimensional enough, and their perspective is conveyed strongly and clearly enough that it's possible to empathize with them.


well-said.

katatonic
12-02-2008, 09:29 AM
Ah. I just read bad 'guy' as male...

Ah, i see. I just used bad guy because every time i hear or think of bad girl/s, I can only picture the strip club.

RedScylla
12-02-2008, 09:30 AM
Nothing is sacred. Everything is funny, including pain, death, and especially suffering.


Any insights on writing black comedy?

mscelina
12-02-2008, 09:32 AM
Yea, you're right. The disturbing sense of humor is my building block, buts its not easy to pull off.

I guess it goes deeper also and goes into how to write black comedy?

Any insights on writing black comedy?

My whole life is black comedy. *sigh* Unfortunately, writing black comedy is a skill that is difficult to describe. I'll give it a whirl though.

Look--even the blackest character has to have a redeeming quality. Hannibal Lechter's redeeming quality was a sense of honor that actually reined in his instincts when dealing with Clarice Starling. Your character may be drug addicted and bitchy, but what redeems her in the eyes of the society around her? Maybe that disturbing sense of humor is self-deprecating; she can be a villain and still have enough honesty to know herself for what she is. She can use that sense of humor as a weapon, but she's also just as likely to direct it against herself. It could almost be a sense of fair play as far as that goes. Maybe she's genuinely funny. Maybe her most endearing moments occur when, instead of whining or being bitter, she turns that dark sense of humor on herself in a moment of honesty that is funny but simultaneously pathetic because of its intuitive display of a pain she thinks she keeps hidden within herself.

sunandshadow
12-02-2008, 09:34 AM
Light from Death Note has a somewhat noble philosophical motivation, is a polite, intelligent, and sensible guy who others admire. His calmness is contrasted positively with the sleazy lust and greed of minor characters, Misa's manic energy, stupidity, and petty motivations (love isn't petty but her reason for loving Light is), and L's alien lack of appropriate affect. He would be too perfect if not for the serial killer thing; with it he becomes something of a hero of rational socialism (just making up a term here, but the idea is that rather than L's cold alien logic Light is (more or less) on the side of good people trying to live happy little lives).

To me it sounds like your MC must have some deep, powerful fears, or maybe dreams that never came true, because those are the kind of things people become emotionless to protect themselves against, and become addicted to things in an effort to forget. Fear of mortality, denial that the fact that no one loves her would be enough to make her suicidally depressed if she actually contemplated it, maybe she's just trying to hang in there in a world that's crazy and unfair...?

katatonic
12-02-2008, 09:47 AM
Hmmm, lots of interesting responses which are giving some great insight.

sunandshadow got me thinking. At the moment my MC has succeeded in obtaining her dreams. She's on top and her only fear is falling from the top. She's been on top so long that she's become emotionless.

Although early on in her career after a tragic incident she falls into the lifestyle of drugs, sex and violence. But these things catapult her up to the top even faster.

sunna
12-02-2008, 10:08 AM
I recommend watching House, M.D. - fabulous antihero with no qualms about being an ass, just enough redeeming qualities to keep you expecting something else, and masterful snappy comebacks. As long as an antihero/heroine can make me laugh, even if it's half in horror or disgust, I'm usually hooked.

Look--even the blackest character has to have a redeeming quality.

Great post. I'll add that what keeps me hooked on the dark characters is not only that one redeeming quality, and/or hidden painful reasons for being the way s/he is, but the potential for change. It leaves so much room for the reader to fill in the blanks with their own hangups and plans: everybody can identify with the possibility of becoming better than they are.

The Lonely One
12-02-2008, 10:23 AM
I'm notoriously fond of the bad guy MC's.

Thinking from personal experience (is there another way to think?), I'd have to say that the 'redeeming quality' is a bit of a misnomer, though important.

It isn't that all of the character's other qualities need redeeming, but instead its that there is a central quality that makes him or her worth following.

As an example, an MC of mine watched his parents and little sister killed at a young age; one of the pirates who killed his family got his friend after he'd grown up. He makes no apologies for unloading a wrist-mounted spring-loaded punch dagger into his throat, something most of us can't get behind as a central quality or motivation (i.e., if it was blood lust that drove him).

His loyalty to his friend, his love for his family and his longing to belong to something despite feeling an outcast from God Herself are the qualities that make him worth following to me.

I think this formula could be useful for other bad-guy MC's.

Stunted
12-02-2008, 10:35 AM
Yeah, as others have said, if you get in their heads, it'll work.

Another good trick is that in the first scene where she appears, have her display 2 really different emotions right away.

RJK
12-02-2008, 06:43 PM
I have a scene where my bad guy is buying rubber gloves in a discount home center. The gloves are to be used when he cuts the throat of a potential witness. He discovers that the man waiting on him works on commission. He feels so sorry for the salesman that he buys a $150 rechargeable tool set that he really doesn't need, from him.
A few scenes later, he slits the throat of the woman he'd been sleeping with.

allenparker
12-02-2008, 07:20 PM
My two cents? Ok, but I warn you.

No one hates a character they don't love. If I am apathetic about a character, I will not keep reading. If I hate a character, I will devour the story to see what other things he will do. If I love a character, I will swallow the story in an attempt to see what he will do.

Love and hate are the same emotion with different reasons.

"Since you are neither cold not hot, I will spew you from my mouth." John, the Revelator.

Neither hot nor cold is simply bland and tasteless. Make him miserable with points of down right meanness.

tehuti88
12-02-2008, 07:50 PM
I must agree with those who recommended seeing the story from the bad guy's perspective, if you truly want to make them sympathetic (as opposed to just enjoyable to read--as allenparker pointed out, just because a character is loathsome doesn't mean people won't want to read about them).

I find even my most despicable bad guys understandable because I try to get into their heads and see things the way THEY see them. It seems loathsome and evil to want to kill a helpless person, but would things really seem so black and white anymore if you were to figure out WHY exactly the bad guy wants to do this? Maybe he/she has a reason that's pretty valid (to them). Most bad guys really don't see themselves as bad, and the few who do, well, they usually feel they have good reason--or they feel they don't NEED to have a reason--for various reasons. Finding those reasons helps make them sympathetic.

That's just a general example, it's obviously different in every case.

Jerry B. Flory
12-02-2008, 08:07 PM
Another good rant is Falling Down Where the guy just snaps one day and walks through town with a bagful of guns and lays waste to his every day pet peeves. You can go that way, except instead of petty things, attack those things that your character would perceive as true blights on society.
They're all sheep, therefore, we must attack the shepherds.

Noah Body
12-02-2008, 08:19 PM
My God, your character sounds exactly like dpaterso! ;)

Actually, making villains "accessible" as live people is a daunting task. If she has real goals, ones that normal folks could empathize with (even though we would hope no one would want to obtain them in the same way she does), then that's a large part of the battle. I might be inclined to think after that's been established, execution will take care of the rest.

gothicangel
12-02-2008, 08:24 PM
I think it's in the motivation behind the action. My 'villian's' need for revenge is driven by something everyone with empathise with - the death of his son. I think everyone would understand the desperation and anger, and that's why he's appealing.

josephwise
12-02-2008, 10:22 PM
Some of your examples had very human motivations. That's all it really takes.

-Patrick Bateman wanted to be identified. He wanted someone, anyone, to notice that he existed.

-Anton Chigurh insisted on order and honesty in a world that seemed to lack both.

-Hannibal Lecter longed for and lusted after the beautiful intricacies of a complex world.

After a long day of villainry, your villan has to come home, exhausted, and relax. What would she do? Think beyond the obvious or the stereotypical. Does she have a subscription to Dog Fancy magazine? Does she scrap-book? Does she microwave a frozen dinner, removing the brownie half-way through and stirring the mashed potatoes exactly as stated in the instructions? Does she sit at the counter and thumb through today's coupon mailer?

scarletpeaches
12-02-2008, 10:34 PM
...Does she scrap-book?...

No believable bad guy scrapbooks.

I'm looking at you, Edward Cullen.

James D. Macdonald
12-02-2008, 10:37 PM
The trick isn't in giving the bad guy appeal. The bad guy is generally active. The bad guy generally sets the plot in motion. The bad guy has built-in appeal.

The trick is in giving the good guy more appeal.

Mad Queen
12-02-2008, 10:55 PM
The trick isn't in giving the bad guy appeal. The bad guy is generally active. The bad guy generally sets the plot in motion. The bad guy has built-in appeal.
This is THE reason why I like bad guys and write about them. The good guys spend their days plowing fields and taking their dogs out for a walk and other boring stuff like that. *Yawn*