Monday, January 28, 2013

Making a "bad" character sympathetic

In my current WiP, one of my characters is being finicky.  I have a character who is part of the mob, but still has to be liked by the MC.  How can I make the mobster a good person when he's kind of not? I guess I can't really do that; if you're in the mob, you're probably going to kill people.  He needs to be sympathetic.  How can I get the readers to still root for him?  It's a hard line to walk and make believable.

I've been thinking about the show Dexter.  He's a serial killer but we still root for him.  He has a "code" that he follows, making him somewhat redeemable.  He's also a great brother and a good(ish) dad.  There are parts of him that make him likable.

I think that's what I have to do with my mob character.  It still needs to be believable that he would kill people, but he has to have redeeming qualities, and enough of them to make the MC still want to help him.  Maybe we need to see his past so that we can find out why he ended up this way.  Or we need to see him doing something good that he doesn't benefit from.  Maybe he really likes art, or birthdays, or cares deeply for someone.  Something that redeems him as a person.

I just haven't figured out what that is yet.

How do you make a bad character sympathetic?

10 comments:

  1. I am not in the mob but I know from good authority that they are not that nasty with everybody. They need people to protect them from the authorities. A few drug lords help the community where they live and people protect them willingly. It's all an estrategy. They bring electricity, pavement roads, water or help the village in some other way. Since they have their men there, they also have in check all minor thieves and criminals in a way to "protect" their village. Not all of them do this and most rule by the law of fear and terror but it happens with some. They actually have their own saint to pray to, if they are the religious kind.

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    1. Very interesting! Thanks for the info! I'll def have to include that in the WiP.

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  2. Often we sympathize with characters if we understand them. Give them a reason to have turned bad (like a family issue) and they'll be in readers pockets. Have you ever watch White Collar? That's a criminal that everyone loves!

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    1. I love White Collar! I def will be thinking about that as I continue writing. Thanks!

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  3. Yes, that is definitely a tricky line, but one you can totally do. I think you've already got the right idea. As long as he has some good qualities as well - strong qualities that matter, then he'll be likable! Sounds like a very interesting book. :)

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    1. I think I'm on the right track, but def need to think about it more. Thanks!

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  4. It's really hard to do, but I have to say that when it's done right I LOVE bad characters and being made sympathetic towards them. There's something really exciting about having your opinion of a character changed so radically.

    In terms of how to do! I guess I think it's important to understand the character, maybe see their vulnerability or motivations. :)

    <3

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    1. I've realized this as I've been watching The Vampire Diaries and seeing how Damon goes from bad to good to bad to good. And each time, it's so believable! (Also his blue eyes don't hurt...)

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  5. As a writer this question haunts me. Everything I write, seemingly, attempts to answer it.

    Motivation and past experience is crucial. This is how you make him human and relatable, not just a monster who kills people. There's always a reason why.

    Charm / sophistication helps. Even a murderer is hard to resist if he's charming. Think Dracula. Think Hannibal Lecter, a fantastic example of a likable psychopath.

    Kindness in small doses. Make him love someone, just one person, a wife or nephew or best friend who died years ago. Make him smile at children and animals (a gimme). Make him perform some small kindness for the MC; the unexpectedness will win him points.

    Know that he can do horrible things--kill people, torment the MC, kick kittens--and a single scene of humanity / weakness / heart will make the reader question her view of him. Is he truly so evil? Is he hiding a splinter of good underneath all that bad?

    Make him ambiguous. Keep us questioning.

    I, no lie, have written a blog post about this, because I'm obsessed with this question. http://saraseay.blogspot.com/2012_09_01_archive.html

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    1. Thanks so much for the response! This is definitely very helpful! Will check out the blog post :)

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