Bad characters are the best. Not evil characters -- bad ones.

You know, characters that you like even though they do bad things. They screw up. They shirk their responsibilities. They tell lies. They steal, cheat, smoke. They aren't very good listeners and can't stay on a diet.

They are good people with huge imperfections. And it's those very imperfections that make them real -- and so attractive.

I absolutely love reading novels with bad characters in them.

Bad characters are also great fun to write. I'm writing one now; he's the main character in my next book, a thriller. But a funny thing is happening -- I keep making him "better." I find myself assuring the reader that this guy is not really so bad -- that he loves his dad and his girlfriend and that it wasn't really his fault when he got kicked out of school and etc. etc. etc.

I'm discovering that it takes a big commitment to write a bad character. You have to trust that the reader will see him or her like you do, sympathetically. And then you just have to go for it -- showing that character at their worst. All his foibles, all her failings -- lay them all bare.

If you lose that commitment, you get something like the recent movie Disturbia. You know, the kind of story in which the main character supposedly has a lot of problems, but the author can't quite pull the trigger on them. Like the author is scared you won't like the main character if he doesn't shine a big light on the character's pure heart.

Even being the huge Robert Crais fan that I am, I have to say that "The Two Minute Rule" had just a touch of this effect.

What are your favorite bad characters? If you write about bad characters, do you struggle with "committing" to their badness, as I am now? Or do you just revel in it?

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I pick my spots on writing the dark side of the character, but it is consistently there. It's my favorite part. And to make them almost good, you put them up against someone worse or have them kill for all the wrong reasons but make the reader support & root for them. Manipulating the reader by scene selection and POV is one of the more fun things I do. But you can't cheat the reader by cleaning them up. Dark is the new black.
People with flaws--or outright bad people--are very compelling. Jason Starr's protagonists are my favorites. I agree that it's hard to pull the trigger on making your main character genuinely nasty. It's a bit easier with hard-boiled writing, because that's the name of the game. Even so, you write a character because you like him or her, and that gets in the way of having the character do vicious things. Got to do it, though.
I figure we're all bad to a degree, and "good" characters make us uncomfortable. What is there to associate with or to love? My CPs often tell me that I need to make my characters a bit more likable at the beginning. To me, this starting place in a hole makes the emotional arc more fulfilling. I always win my CPs over by the end. But sometimes my characters start out too dippy, bitter or damaged, and I have to tone it down some. After all, winning the reader over can only happen if they keep reading long enough. :-)
This really is no different from writing "round" characters. Realistic characters come with all levels of "goodness" or "badness" mixed together. And even villains need motivation and background to make them believable.


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