Thursday, July 7, 2016

Do You Feel Sorry for the Bad Guy?

Yes, it's fun to root for the good guy, but even more intriguing if the bad guy isn't all that bad.

How often do you read a book or watch a movie, and feel sorry for the bad guy? The answer could be more often than not.

Evil happens for a reason. Sometimes the why is apparent, sometimes you need to dig for a motive. One reason might be how a person is brought up by parents or lack of parents. An early in life tragedy, a recent one, or a combination of factors might play a part in changing a person's character. Even ultra-sensitivity to a perceived slight might be all it takes.

Whatever the case, a writer needs to weave the motive(s) into the story line, so the reader will understand why a crime is committed.

In Two Wrongs, my perma-free book for kindle and other ereaders, being accused and sentenced for a murder he didn't commit is powerful enough motive for my antagonist, Kevin, to cross over to the dark side once he's freed from prison.

If I wove the story correctly, readers at first will feel sorry for Kevin's plight. Later, they'll be horrified by how he exacts revenge.

For the purposes of illustration, I've loosely used the words, good guy and bad guy, but the same can also apply to female characters. The movie, The Bad Seed, based on a book of that same name by William March, is one of my favorite classics. It's obvious that the child Rhoda is lacking a moral compass. Her evil actions are dictated by such consuming emotions as envy, greed, and fear, such as when she drowns a classmate because she thought she should have won a penmanship medal, instead of him. Although she's easy to hate, still, the reasoning behind her actions is apparent, and we can tell it all makes sense to her. It's not her fault something is missing in her makeup.

Can you think of any other books or movies where you might feel sorry for the bad guy or gal?


Experience Morgan Mandel's diversity and versatility. Check Out Her Standalone Romantic Comedy,  Girl of My Dreams, the romantic comedy series, Her Handyman, and A Perfect Angel. For Mystery/Suspense, try Killer Career or Two Wrongs. For the small town of Deerview series: Hailey's Chance: Will Baby Make 3? and Christmas   Carol.Websites:Morgan Mandel.Com Morgan Does Chick Lit.ComTwitter:@MorganMandel


15 comments :

  1. The strongest antagonists have really good reasons (in their mind at least) for doing what they do. Motivation matters for all characters.

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    1. Very true. It's more enjoyable to get into the minds of both the good guys and bad guys.

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  2. You're right, Morgan. We need to know characters' backstories to make informed judgments. I have a couple of books where I play with the way two different characters turn out, both with horrible upbringings. One, though totally messed up, is a caring human being. The other is evil personified, but one reviewer wrote that she felt sorry for him. It is within the writer's power to make their antagonists work as compelling characters, not black and white cardboard personifications of evil.

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    1. In my freebie, Two Wrongs, the twins are raised differently. One turns out nice, the other bad. Still, I made sure to offer motivation for the evil guy.

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  3. I liked The Bad Seed, too. I thought Rhoda was a well-crafted character, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for her. And you are so right about making sure there is enough motivation set up to make the antagonist believable.

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  4. Yes, we need to make our characters believable in their make-believe world.

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  5. You make an excellent point, Morgan, when you say the reader needs to understand the reason(s) why the antagonist is the bad guy -- it's not enough for just the writer to know (and the writer had better know!). What made him who he is needs to be spelled out as an integral part of the story, whether it's lack of that moral compass, mental illness, a horrific childhood, a terrifying experience, mistreatment by the judicial system or society, or whatever. I find it more challenging to create three dimensional antagonists than protagonists, but in some cases it's also a good release for pent-up emotional pain.

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    1. It's a challenge to come up with good reasons for bad behavior.

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  6. Gee, Morgan, I wish you had been my editor for my first book, Northern Cross ... the first draft was trashed for giving the reader too much reasoning for the antagonist's actions. I don't know ... maybe I related to him too much?? Anyway, congrats on your new tome ... may it find a plethora of readers!

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    1. I'm actually not an editor. That would be too nerve wracking, but I have done critiques.

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  7. Funny you should mention it, Morgan. Although I love the idea of complicated antagonists who are not all bad, and have created one for my novel-in-progress, I had a hard time remembering another antagonist I ever felt sorry for. The only one who springs to mind is from the movie Blade Runner: Roy/Rutger Hauer, leader of the renegade replicants.

    Roy was manufactured only to serve and die, and he spent the film fighting for the right to be free and live - though he is a killer - so it seems to me that in another version of the story he'd be a hero. Because of that, I prefer to think of Eldon Tyrell, creator of the replicants, as the movie's true antagonist, and Roy as the foil instead. The protagonist (Decker/Harrison Ford) is unfairly pitted against the foil (Roy) as a false enemy, and that creates the opportunity to reveal a more complicated protagonist as well.

    I'm not going to change my complicated antagonist because I like a little ambivalence in a story, but you can bet I'm going to be pondering this idea more deeply now. Thanks for giving me something to think about.

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    1. As a writer and also a reader, I like to discover the turning point when a character goes from good to bad.

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    2. Exactly, Morgan! Me too. 😊

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  8. Not a book, but I recently watched the theater version of Oklahoma and was struck by how twisted it is - the protagonist is sort of a bully and I felt a lot of compassion for the antagonist.

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    1. Strange how sometimes the protagonist is far from perfect, yet for some reason I'll like that person, flaws and all.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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