Monday, February 6, 2017

Love 'Em or Love to Hate 'Em — How Do You Feel About Your Characters?

When writing my first book, A Brother Betrayed, I included several lovable characters. They were imperfect as we all are but good of heart and motive—like friends and family. Then I came face to face with the antagonist, a truly despicable man who failed to display a single redeeming quality. A beta reader reminded me that no one is all bad. Really? An image of Adolph Hitler came immediately to mind—and memories of the millions in concentration camps who'd died at his command. I've never read or heard a single good thing about that man. Still, my reader had a point, and I tried to find something positive about my antagonist. It didn't happen.

Now, twenty years later, I have revisited the story and rethought my antagonist. He's still despicable. I still love to hate him. But in the updated version, the reader will get a few glimpses into what happened to the little boy that created the abusive man he grew up to be. Are they enough to make him lovable? Not in my book (pun intended).

Three antagonists populate my multi-layered second book, Tormented Tango, The first appears early in the story but isn't identified as an antagonist until near the end. Surprisingly, I never hated her, but rather sympathized with the torment that drove her to become a threat to those she loved, as well as to
others.

The second antagonist I disliked from the first moment she appeared in the story, even though at that time she wasn't openly antagonistic. Interestingly, I couldn't put my finger on why she infuriated me; but as the story progressed, my dislike grew into full-fledged loathing. By the end of the book, I loved hating her.

My third antagonist in Tango is a secondary character, an unscrupulous lawyer who's climbing the judicial ladder to bigger and better paying positions and greater notoriety. He's so enamored with himself that he doesn't need anybody else to love him. Good thing!

How do you feel about your characters? Do you love them? Love to hate them? Are they real enough to you to evoke an emotional response as they tell you their stories?

Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. She also helps new and not-so-new writers improve their skills through posts on Blood Red Pencil and offers private tutoring as well as online seminars. You can contact her through her writing website, LSLaneBooks.com. Also, you can visit her editing team at DenverEditor.com to find experienced editors in a variety of genres to help you polish your book into a marketable work.

Related posts:

Reinventing the Hero
Showing Some Love
Villains Are People Too
When's the Last Time You Took Your Antagonist on a Date?

7 comments :

  1. History indeed offers up a few people whose evil is so monstrous it overwhelms whatever crumbs of good might have lain buried somewhere deep within. Hitler is the go-to example that so readily comes to mind. Most evil-doers in the real world, however, are more nuanced and complicated. That complexity is what I strive toward in my fiction. I don't necessarily love these characters, but I do understand them. Jef Vries in my first novel, Bashert, becomes a terrorist and carries out a bloody decades-long vendetta, but he is driven by the belief that he was betrayed by a friend responsible for the death of his beloved. Is he a nice guy? Hardly, but we know where he is coming from.

    It comes down to motivation and whether the character of the character makes sense to the reader in human terms. Otherwise, the bad guys are cardboard cutouts.

    --Larry Constantine (pen name, Lior Samson)

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    1. I agree, Larry. The layers that make us (and our characters) who we are also make us interesting and three-dimensional. This is one of the primary reasons I revisited my first novel and updated it to show what created my "monster." He's more understandable now -- just not more likable.

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  2. It is important to have an equally motivated antagonist. There's a saying that every villain is the hero of his own story. I have found that whether I am writing hero, villain, friends, or foes, it adds a unique perspective to go back and read each scene from each character's viewpoint. Mainly, we focus on the POV character. But a friend suggested I try this and it really made a difference in the characters becoming more alive on the page.

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    1. What a great idea! An antagonist without a valid (in his or her view at least) motive is a convenience character added for the sole purpose of creating conflict, not a realistic player.

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  3. Interesting post, Linda, and I agree with Larry about the motivation of the characters - good and bad. I had a writing instructor once tell the class that all villains must have one redeeming characteristic. There was probably one nice thing about Hitler that was never publicized because of the horror of his actions when he took power. After all that, how could anyone really want to know.

    Anyway, I am a firm believer in the advice that writing instructor gave, and I try to give my antagonists one soft spot. And I can't say that I love them as much as I love my protagonists, but I don't hate them either.

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  4. It was indeed good advice. Motivation, too, must be clear; otherwise, the reader is left wondering why the bad guy was bad.

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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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