Some writerly musings this Monday…
One of my favorite parts of writing is creating characters.
As a lover of character-driven stories, it’s one of the things I consider crucial to spinning a well-told tale. You can keep your high-speed action sequences, your paragraphs flowing over with florid prose, your careful world-building — give me character over that, any day.
(I do realize that you need those other things as well; I’m just letting you know what my favorite part is.)
I love creating characters whom I love with my whole heart. I love giving them flaws, I love watching them struggle, I love listening to them speak, I love seeing them make the wrong decisions and the right ones, I love watching them fall in love. Creating a protagonist, or love interest, or supporting character whom I absolutely adore comes relatively easily for me.
One thing that doesn’t come easy?
Creating an antagonist.
Because I’m not a fan of one-dimensional characters, because I have trouble believing anyone is PURE EVIL (and anyone who is isn’t interesting, to begin with), because I have empathy for nearly everyone (didn’t YOU feel for tiny Voldemort alone in that orphanage? No? Just me?), I have some trouble coming up with good villains.
My favorite stories are ones in which everyone, from the protagonists to the antagonists, have so many shades of gray it’s hard to tell who’s “good” and who’s “bad.” (See: A Song of Ice and Fire series, everything Tana French writes; in TV, look no further than Lost, Buffy, Angel, and even the wildly-flawed The 100.) But there also come along stories where you want a clear-cut antagonist; a bad guy, a mean girl, someone so awful it’s easy to hate them.
I have trouble writing these people.
Someone once said that every character you write is you. I can’t remember who said this; maybe I’m conflating this with Freud? But in my case, it feels true. Even with the most minor of characters, I like to try and climb inside their skins and live there.
I find it quite a lot harder to climb into despicable people’s skins.
So as a result, my really bad bad guys come out somewhat one-dimensional; the kinds of people you don’t empathize with, because I can’t. Because I truly can’t imagine someone being that bad. So they cackle and they plot and they do bad things–but they don’t feel fully realized.
So here, I’m asking, not telling: How do you write characters you hate?
Image found here