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When Good People Do Bad Things – Writing Believable Characters

March 22, 2012

Writing a believable character is easier than most people might imagine.  The problem comes when characters are stereotyped as good or bad.  This has no direct relationship to reality.  Good people do bad things, and if you look hard enough, you will find that the reverse is true.  A true hero is flawed and prone to the mistakes that litter all of humanity, even if your character is a little green man from Alpha Centauri.

The things that make a character feel real are, many times, the very things that we don’t want to see in our heroes.  Batman is a good example of a complete character because he has the rational side of his personality that is at odds with the cape and cowl.  Bruce wants a perfect world devoid of the criminal element, but he sees his alter ego as the very thing he’s trying to eliminate.  That’s the conflict.  The Joker and other villains force him into a place where he has to deal with his own split personality.  The bad guys are simply catalysts for the internal conflict between millionaire and vigilante.

How does this translate to our own characters?  Be willing to explore the darker side of the people that we create.  One of the first things that I do when envisioning a new character is to define a major flaw.  Is my samurai-savior-hero a drug addict?  Does the female protagonist have issues from a prior relationship?  Is your Dragon Rider afraid of heights?  Mine is.  Write a character that is a complete person, not a good guy who never falters.

The same holds true for the villainous character, and I love it when the bad guy does something good.  I don’t see that as an inconsistency.  It doesn’t take long to realize that good and bad exists in every person, and that circumstances sometimes derail what the reader believes about Mr. Hero or Evil Overlord, III.  To me, that’s good writing.

My primary goal is to write believable characters even if they exist in unbelievable worlds.  I’ll address this in more detail in a future World-Building 101 post.  Leave your comments and ideas.  I know you have them!

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From → Art and Craft

One Comment
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