Warped Characters?

In the very first draft of my very first novel, I struggled with character a lot–I didn’t have any bad ones.  Nope, all my characters were well-meaning, with great heart and minor, excusable flaws.  Even the person who burned down the church had a perfectly good reason for doing it–not a justification, exactly, but certainly enough rationale to make him a sympathetic character.

Readers commented that my characters were all just too unbelievably well-behaved and pleasant.  So, in my next novel attempt, I did try to make some more believable bad guys. Really. There were some guys in a lab, there were some military guys, there were some guys who just wanted to protect their own ill-gotten power. But then it turned out they all had interests in the situations, and that in some circumstances they were wonderful supporters of all that was good and right, and only in certain other circumstances did they release their inner villain.  Of course, this time, the person who burned down the church had absolutely iron-clad reasons for why he had to do it, and he was a hero, not a villain.

In my third novel, I think I finally managed to make some bad guys–actually some people with anti-social interests sitting in a room plotting to wreak havoc on the lives of those around them by taking away their health insurance and jobs, or something like that.  Truly bad guys, the sort that wanted to return rampant inequality and hierarchical authority to the world.  And then, people got to yell at them for a long time about how much they wanted to hurt them.  At least I got through that book without any new arsonists!

Writing heroes and heroines is relatively easy for me.  I can invent past lives, ambitions, dreams, quirks, and speech patterns.  I can describe days in the lives of, their homes, their companions.  But writing characters who intentionally do evil things is a struggle.  At those times, I tend to go to stock characters and stereotypes.  I need to work on building characters who are human, who do bad things, who might feel bad about doing those bad things but still are not totally redeemed at the end of the day.  Like Alec in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, who is totally a villain and totally understandable and mostly redeemed and still experiences poetic justice.  Writing a villain like Alec would be the  crowning achievement of my writing career!

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