Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Good and Bad Guys In Your Story

by Stephanie Morrill

Many of us have heard the concept that you don't want your main character to be perfect. They should have flaws, issues, and lies they believe.

Recently I read a book where the main character clearly wasn't perfect ... yet I felt as though I was being pushed into believing she was. This seemed like a strange sensation to experience, and I started hunting for what I felt was amiss. I could name a few flaws. I could name the lie she believed. What was going on?

It didn't click with me right away but eventually I figured out that it wasn't an issue with the development of the main character - it was an issue with the other characters in the cast.

In the book, every character who was "good" loved and supported the main character. They had honorable intentions toward her and did things to promote her best interest. While every character who was "bad" didn't like the main character and worked against her.

Which left me asking myself several questions about my manuscript:

  • Who in my story does my main character consider good, and how could they do something to frustrate her plans?
  • How could one of my antagonists help my main character? What would have to happen to motivate them to do that?

What about you? Have you developed the other characters in your story well or do you tend to focus too much on your main character?

If you haven't voted for your favorite pitches yet, you have until Thursday at noon to do so. You can do that by clicking here. I forgot to mention that we had 140 pitches submitted to that contest and there were a bunch that we liked but not on the finalists list. You guys have such creative stories!

19 comments:

  1. Hmmm. Interesting. I could see how that would seem like forced perfection. I'll have to keep an eye out for that...

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  2. I never came across it, but I can definately see how that is frustrating. Will definately keep it in my mind while writing

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  3. Hmm...I don't *think* I focus to much on my MC. Most of the time she ends up angry at another good guy because he tried to tell her she wasn't doing things right or they wanted to do something another way.

    We just learned something about this at school. My teacher talked about how the most interesting stories are when it's not quite clear who the antagonist is and who the protagonist is. After he said that, I started looking for ways to make my antagonist have good qualities. It's actually really fun to think up pitiful stories to explain why he's like that. :)

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  4. My antagonists are pretty obvious (most of the time) but I have a character who is meant to be MC's friend and is constantly cruel to her -- the question is, why has e suddenly changed???

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  5. Yikes, I really need to work on developing the characters of my supporting cast. But before I do that I've got to cut a bunch of characters . . . the amount I have almost rivals Dickens!

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  7. Haven't thought of this yet - so you just gave me something to think about :) I don't think I've ever really had a "bad" guy in any of my stories. Although they seem "bad" at first glance, I like to nuance the character in a way that although you don't agree with what their doing you can somewhat sympathize with them.

    Tell the World

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  8. This is an interesting thing to think about!

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  9. This is interesting, and something I need to think about in my own story.
    I've never seen a story with the same problem as the one you mention, but I do notice that stories with 'grey' characters who are not clearly on the good or bad side are often good. Clear-cut definitions of good and bad tend to seem unrealistic.

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    1. I love that descriptor of "grey" characters. I agree that it's nice when some murkiness is in the picture.

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  10. I think most of the characters in my novel are more "gray" than black and white, but I need to make my villain more believable. I was having fun with the total evil-dictator thing for a while ... (dystopias are so much fun to write). Oh well, I guess that'll be later-draft stuff anyway. Thanks for the post!

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  11. I think that when I have good and bad characters, they're pretty clear. But I also have neutral (grey) characters, or you just don't find out if they were good or bad until the end. Like in Harry Potter, Snape is a good guy but all through the story you're questioning it because he just seems terrible. Umbridge is also technically good, since she isn't on Voldemort's side, but she also isn't on Harry's side. I think there are different levels of good and bad.

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  12. I have seen stories like that, Stephanie. I find them kind of annoying...
    In my story, the main character IS the bad guy so that makes a little more of a challenge but it also makes her more fun to write about!

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    1. Ooh, I've always wanted to write one of those!

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  13. Hmm,I need to think about this. My "antagonist" used to be really nice to my MC, so she definitely is in the grey area, but I don't actually have any real reason for her becoming meaner. One friend fight isn't enough... so I'm going to have to think about this.

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  14. I love my secondary characters! Sometimes...they get more fleshing out then my MCs. ;) But yes, definitely a good point! I like really varied secondary characters in books I'm reading...

    Woah! 140 pitches! Pretty cool!

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  15. And sometimes it can be difficult to pick out just what it is that makes the character seem that way! After reading this blog so long, I constantly find myself "annotating" or whatever the words is, the characters and such. :P But interesting and I'm going to makes sure to have something like that with my other characters...

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  16. One thing I hit on with this WIP is the use of foils, or those characters who are what the main character "could" be further down the road if they don't veer off the path they're on...It's been really fun crafting a character for both my main characters, one of whom is evil with good motives and the other who is saintly with bad motives, and seeing how they impact the story. :)

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  17. Ok, I know this is late.

    I really like it when you both hate and pity the bad guy. Like in this one TV series i watched, the bad guy had been poisoned and it warped his mind. He never wanted to be bad, and he loved the good guys (his brother, his wife, and his son) and yet he was trying his best to kill them.

    This was actually a kid's series called Ninjago; Masters of Spinjitsu. It was made by the Lego company. And, yes, the characters look like Lego minifigures. But I still love it!

    ~Katelyn~

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