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Thread: Is it ok if the bad guy gets away?

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Question Is it ok if the bad guy gets away?

    I have heist story I like. I sold a similar story. As written the thief gets away clean. I'm having second thoughts. I'm thinking I should have him get caught or create justification, such as the victim had it coming.
    Thoughts?

  2. #2
    figuring it all out JustWriteMike's Avatar
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    I would say it all depends on the context. Does the reader begin to identify with the thief over time? Or does the reader end up feeling repelled by him? Mitigating circumstances and a likeable personality can make a big difference.

  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW Tazlima's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JustWriteMike View Post
    I would say it all depends on the context. Does the reader begin to identify with the thief over time? Or does the reader end up feeling repelled by him? Mitigating circumstances and a likeable personality can make a big difference.
    This. Lots of heist stories have likeable thieves and/or justifications for why the heist is "deserved," from Robin Hood to Ocean's Eleven.

    Even if the thief isn't likeable, well... not all stories have happy endings, and a good, solid villian character who gets away can always return in another story for another heist.
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  4. #4
    Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred Chris P's Avatar
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    I'd say let him get away with it, if that's what makes for the better story. Nothing like a good old fashioned baddie.
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  5. #5
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Paul Scott's Avatar
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    I think going against the conventional endings put you on a bigger level. If it betters the story then there's no reason to go against your initial decision.

  6. #6
    professional dilettante Lakey's Avatar
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    Four words: The Talented Mr Ripley.



    ETA: Okay, a few more words. If you manage to get your reader identifying with and sympathizing with your bad guy, then letting him get away with it can have a powerful and delicious sort of cognitive dissonance to it.
    Last edited by Lakey; 11-27-2018 at 06:13 PM.
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  7. #7
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Thanks. Your replies help. And I'm not just saying that. I needed input.

  8. #8
    Heckuva good sport frimble3's Avatar
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    If this is for short fiction, a reliable villain can be useful. Moriarty for Sherlock Holmes. Flambeau for Father Brown. They are a recurring adversary, someone the detective can match wits with. In general, you want to keep them from being too violent or vicious, so that the reader isn't rooting for their death.
    Like Raffles, the thief with his own stories, they're someone you can admire for their cleverness and skill, while knowing that what they're doing is illegal.

  9. #9
    A seadog looking for crewmates Elenitsa's Avatar
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    Even in a novel, I had a bad guy get away (while his sidekicks got their comeuppance), because he was a historical person who had done enough bad in his life of a ruthless, shrewd merchant and city mayor, doing abuses, but he died in his bed, of old age, as he was too powerful for anybody to actually mess with. He wasn't likeable. He was just as untouchable as the history had portrayed him.

  10. #10
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    I think it depends on what it does for your story. Does letting the bad guy get away reinforce a theme like it does with Chigurh in No Country For Old Men (I have only watched the movie so far, sorry)? Does it humble the hero in a way that he needs in order to grow? Does it set up a sequel in a satisfying way?

  11. #11
    figuring it all out
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    Funnily enough I was watching Die Hard With a Vengeance last night and with both that and the first, I somewhat hoped the villains would succeed with their plans. Don't get me wrong, John Mclane is great, but I'm a sucker for a smooth talking villain with a good plan. I think, as said above, that if you want it to be an 'optimistic' work then you'd need your reader to at least respect the thief by giving him a good plan or making him likeable and letting us know he's not about to spend that gold he's stolen on hiring people to burn down orphanages. If it's a 'pessimistic' work then I think there's opportunity where the person chasing them is capable but the thief is even more so and nothing can be done to stop their plan or if it plays in to the greater themes of bleakness or loss or something as also mentioned above.

    Best of luck with your tale!

  12. #12
    It's all symbolic. Night_Writer's Avatar
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    Lawrence Block has a whole series of books based on a character named Bernie Rhodenbarr, who was a career thief. He never got caught, and always got away with the money, jewels, etc. He stole things everywhere he went just because. But he was very charming. He had kind of a glam style about him.

    If you make the character likable or cool enough, they can get away with anything.

    Otherwise, no, the baddie should not get away, because the reader also likes to see justice done. The reader will only let a crook slide if they can identify with the character.
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  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW starrystorm's Avatar
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    I think if you make the main character accomplish something else (i.e stopping a disease) then it could be done. But I agree with those above who say to make the bad guy likable.

    I've read too many books where the bad guys get away and the MC didn't accomplish anything relevant.
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  14. #14
    practical experience, FTW Loverofwords's Avatar
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    Not sure if you're still accepting replies, but I'll toss in mine just in case. I'm really tired of hero stories. There are just so many of them. Really, I'm not even sure I like anti-heros anymore because in the end they always do the right thing after a second or two of being morally gray. It's not to say these stories are bad or I won't read them, not at all. Right now, I consider bad guys as main characters to be more exciting because they're usually a lot more thrilling and unpredictable sorta. Obviously, they have to have a redeeming quality to them and they can't be totally evil. I don't think they have to be likable, but they do have to be interesting.

  15. #15
    A seadog looking for crewmates Elenitsa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Night_Writer View Post
    If you make the character likable or cool enough, they can get away with anything. Otherwise, no, the baddie should not get away, because the reader also likes to see justice done. The reader will only let a crook slide if they can identify with the character.
    What about the baddies who really got away? (See my case below). I couldn't change history and claim that a historical character had very bad things befalling on them because he was a villain, when it didn't actually happen. Yes, the fictional sidekicks were punished, some chased away, some delivered to justice and hanged, but the ordering heads, no way... because they didn't. They were too powerful, and this reflects into my story too.

  16. #16
    It's all symbolic. Night_Writer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Elenitsa View Post
    What about the baddies who really got away? (See my case below). I couldn't change history and claim that a historical character had very bad things befalling on them because he was a villain, when it didn't actually happen. Yes, the fictional sidekicks were punished, some chased away, some delivered to justice and hanged, but the ordering heads, no way... because they didn't. They were too powerful, and this reflects into my story too.
    If it's a historical figure, that's different. The story isn't entirely fiction any more. If the character actually lived, then whatever happened, happened. You don't have to change history.

    In real life, people get away with horrible things all the time.
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  17. #17
    figuring it all out Charke's Avatar
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    I would try to turn your emotions off, sort of, and look at the story. Does it tell an interesting story if the bad guy wins or loses? Do what tells the more engaging story. I hate when a bad guy gets away but it certainly does happen. Can the hero have an ending when the bad guy gets away? If the answer is yes, then it's fine. You don't want the bad guy to get away just to try be different. It's been done plenty of times. You've got to start asking, who is the main character? Is it the bad guy? Is it his story? Is that why he is getting away?

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  18. #18
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin blackbatman's Avatar
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    I think now a days what makes a story stand above the rest is when you can truly make your audience understand emotion, and not just any simple emotion as in good guy is the white knight in shinning armor and bad guy is thief in black, color is always a strong representation of emotion and should be used wisely but alot of times I see it simply is used to show the audience the most basic form of emotion, the most basic form of good and bad, and that's quite frankly isn't reality.

    Which in turn brings in the disconnect from audience to story, a lot of the time the audience has seen this story before, there's a problem, the good guy who is always ''good'' always makes the ''right'' decision and or always has a supportive cast of minor characters that help the ''good guy'' into the ''right'' direction;the bad guy who is always ''bad'' always is motivated to do ''bad'' things and always makes ''bad'' decisions, eventually and always the good guy always beats the bad guy and the problem is always solved by the power of ''good''

    Life is never ever this simple, and this format may work for fairy tale stories and honestly the most basic story telling method, but it never makes a story stand above the rest, if you really want to make a story people won't forget, you should be brave and break that format that people are so used to and instead make the bad guy seem like the good guy, make the audience understand his or hers motives, make it interesting, make the good guy feel conflicted about their choices, make their choices hard and make their choices cause lasting and damning effects around them, make the good guy feel bad or leaning towards evil, infact make it so hard to tell the difference between the good guy and the bad guy in a story that the audience stops seeing it as that ''good'' and ''bad'' and just as characters they can relate with because that's what life is for people many shades of grey, it is never as simple as black and white.

    So yes, it's okay to let the ''bad'' guy get away, sometimes it's even better if the ''bad'' guy wins.
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  19. #19
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin The_Merovingian's Avatar
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    For me it depends on the purpose of your story.
    As you are taking a risk by letting the bad guy getting away, you need to counter balance this with and give a good/positive reason for the reader to let it go too.
    Does the good guy, if any, gains something positive from the story, from the bad bad guy itself or from his actions? If the gain is a positive emotion then it would work even better compare to something material. Does the good guy narrate the story or the bad guy?

    In the "silence of the lambs" on bad guy goes down because of Hannibal, but Hannibal is even worse, he get away and still stays likeable and the FBI agent gets the serial killer and grew mentally stronger from the whole story.
    If there is no good guy then the bad guy needs to be likeable somehow, a better reason than having the victim fault, it too common. I does work with Now you see me series though.

    If it is series, the bad guys can still be caught in the next book, it is a good reason to write book 2

    What do you think of Hercule Poirot killing the bad guy in the Curtain: Poirot's Last Case? Poirot is the murder! But we let it go, mostly because it was such an unsuspected plot twist and we trust him that he had no other choice.

    I have started a story, with 3 bad guys, among them one will repent hims and one will escape (for now) - but the good guys will still save the world. So lot of good reason for a follow up story.


    GL

  20. #20
    practical experience, FTW Updown's Avatar
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    Personally I love it when a story surprises me and the bad guy wins/gets away. I like the bittersweet feel of it. But it depends on what you're comfortable with. If the villain is absolutely awful, as in has done some horrifying things, then I think that's a different story. But if he's just a thief... I think it's okay.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Updown View Post
    Personally I love it when a story surprises me and the bad guy wins/gets away. I like the bittersweet feel of it. But it depends on what you're comfortable with. If the villain is absolutely awful, as in has done some horrifying things, then I think that's a different story. But if he's just a thief... I think it's okay.
    IMO, context and character development count for a lot here. A bad guy, who has panache and can draw a reader or viewer in, can definitely walk off. This is even if they've done horrible things. Think of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, who infamously ate someone's liver along with fava beans and washed it down with a good chianti, and who escaped from prison at the end of the movie.
    Last edited by SAWeiner; 02-22-2019 at 11:56 AM.
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  22. #22
    It's all symbolic. Night_Writer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SAWeiner View Post
    IMO, context and character development count for a lot here. A bad guy, who has panache and can draw a reader or viewer in, can definitely walk off. This is even if they've done horrible things. Think of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, who infamously ate someone's liver along with fava beans and washed it down with a good chianti, and who escaped from prison at the end of the movie.
    There was also a sequel to that movie. And that's what I expect when the bad guy gets away. I expect a sequel. Because the best reason to let a bad guy go free at the end is to give him opportunity to commit even more atrocities. It's to let his story continue.

    And you can keep writing sequels until he gets caught. Or until the books stop selling.
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  23. #23
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Prophecies's Avatar
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    Personally, I wouldn't feel the need for a moral justification for the thieves actions. If you'd like your ending to be more 'accepted' you could make the thief charming and likeable. My suggestion to you is that if you pick the ending of the thief getting away, you must go for a consistent, sort of bleak tone throughout your story. Good luck!
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  24. #24
    Learning to read more, post less RookieWriter's Avatar
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    Of the few stories I have read that had the bad guy getting away it felt kind of like an injustice that hurt the quality of the book. Not saying that would always be the case. Sometimes the protagonist can be seen as the bad guy to some readers. All depends on the POV. Just my two pennies.

  25. #25
    figuring it all out CJEvermore's Avatar
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    Absolutely. Some of my favourite short stories, and even novels, have rather bitter-sweet endings.
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