Friday, January 22, 2010

Heros and Villains

Every plot, no matter its genre, will have a good guy and a bad guy. Our hero/heroine is wanting to achieve something and our villain is trying to achieve the opposite. Good versus evil. Clear sides. Excellent.


No one is real life is all good or all bad. I've encountered characters in books that were so pleasant, so handsome, so good, it made me want to hit them with a shovel. I understand the heroine perceives the object of her affection as wondrous and desirable; but when everyone in the story seems to have the same opinion, I start to feel just a tad nauseous.

No detective (remember I write mysteries) is going to pick up every clue every time. Not every decision they make, every path of investigation they choose to follow, is going to be the right one. People have their own agendas. People can rub people the wrong way. A perfect detective is a bland detective.

No villain is out and out evil. Think about Blofeld, the Bond villain who had plans for world domination. (But then again, he was a Bond villain, those had to be his plans) I don't recommend inviting this guy over for a dinner party, but he wasn't all bad. He was very fond of that white cat.

Every writer has a myriad of things to worry about. The plot. The pace. The setting. The actual vocabulary. The grammar. It's not surprising that sometimes character complexities get lost in the shuffle. It's so much easier to write a character that's all good or all bad.

Resist the temptation.

I believe the more realistic the characters, the more enjoyable the book. Write characters who make mistakes, who occasionally over-indulge, who get jealous or who suffer from a bit of an inflated ego. Give your hero a chance to be bad and your villain a chance to be good.

After all, they're only human.


  1. So easy to say.
    So hard to do.
    These are the kinds of things I'll be looking for in the next draft.

  2. Exactly, what a great post. I agree, we sometimes want our characters to be perfectly great in one way but, they're not.


  3. Hear, hear!!!! I get the most from books, and have the most fun when I write, if the murderer isn't an evil person and the hero isn't an angel. Well, well-said!

  4. Carol; Aye, there's the rub.

    Ann Elle; We're not perfect. Why should our characters be? Thanks for the kind words.

    Margot; It IS fun, isn't it? I love when my characters show me their dark side. It makes me love them a little bit more. As for the murderers, bless them anyway. I'd have no plot without them!

  5. In the creative writing classes they call this making the characters rounded and it is so key. I had to work on that in my memoir as well, as I had a tendency to make my ex all bad, which he wasn't. Great post, Elspeth.

  6. I love good characters. They do carry story, at least for me as a reader. So, your point speaks to preplanning and fleshing out a character before you begin to write. Sounds good to me.

    Best Wishes Galen.
    Imagineering Fiction Blog

  7. I like human characters too. I love the shovel idea - just might work!

  8. Great point! My protagonists tend to be a little TOO bad sometimes...but goody-goodies aren't any fun to read about.


  9. Karen; It is hard to remember, sometimes, that people aren't all bad. No, I take that back. Some are! (just not in fiction)!!

    Galen; I think some of it is pre-planning; some of it is remembering it when you're re-reading and editing.

    Jemi; Shovels are great.

    Elizabeth; I think extremes can be useful, if it's used for humour. Other than that, not so much. (for me, that is)

  10. I agree 2D characters are boring.
    I try to write: hero/heroines that also do questionable things; villains who have "good" aspects to their personality (or who are even quite likeable); and some characters who it would be hard to classify at all.

  11. Govern your thoughts when alone, and your tongue when in company. ....................................................

  12. I agree, Elspeth! One of the reasons I adored Wolf Hall is that it puts a person who was generally painted pretty evil by historians as a complex and compelling man. What a gift!
    One of my problems is that as a therapist I'm always thinking that I could get people out of their jams with just a little compassion and some reasoning but I shouldn't do that in my books! Because then there won't be a story will there?

  13. I've got Brian Wilson's song in my mind ((sings chorus: "Heroes and Villians..."))

    I worried that Devin was too shallow in FI and David too saintly in OW. Solved the problem in the latter by giving him a bit of a jealous streak.

  14. You make a great point. All good and all bad characters ARE boring. There needs to be a middle ground. Thanks for posting.
    I've given you the Happy Award over at my blog! Swing by to pick it up. Congrats!
    Courtney Reese's Blog

  15. Great points Elspeth. I find villians vastly more sinister and dangerous when they have some admirable qualities that could draw the unsuspecting into their evil web..

  16. I do love characters that are interesting and do things for a purpose. A hero who does heroic things without question is really kind of dull, but one who complains while doing it, or one who stuffs things up and makes them worse, can be far more interesting. Thanks for the great post.

  17. Wouldn't be great if it were really so easy. Not just in writing, but in life in general, I keep reminding myself that everyone is just shades of grey, but sometimes one tends to forget.

  18. I agree. It's always the characters that carry me through the story.

    Straight From Hel


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