I hear readers complain time and time again that they cannot get into a story because the character is a “bad person.”Now I can understand not wanting to read something because the character is unbelievable or underdeveloped, but a bad person?
I say “bad people” make some of the best characters. Why? Three reasons:
1. They’re more like us than we want to admit.
As much as many of us would like to think that our thoughts are squeaky clean and we would never wish death on the person that cut us off in traffic, that’s very rarely the case. What makes unlikeable characters great is that they give a voice to the inner demons that exist inside all of us.
I get a lot of wish-fulfillment out of watching these characters go about their lives. It’s liberating to see someone who isn’t afraid to let their hair down and screw around with society’s expectations.
2.They’re more complex (and therefore more interesting).
The writer can’t rely on their MC spewing political correctness in order for the audience to feel sympathy for them. To pen a good character who is also unlikeable, an author has to bestow upon his progeny traits that make up for their lack of niceness. If anything, a writer has to work even harder to write a compelling nasty character than they do a nice vanilla one.
That’s why behind every unlikeable protagonist is a damn good backstory. I have a great deal of respect for people that chose these types of people to push their story along. You may think it’s difficult to write a good “good” character, but it’s even more difficult to write a good “bad” character.
If a character is a good one, it’s unavoidable they will screw up and do something morally ambiguous at some point. However, it’s pretty obvious they won’t fall too far, otherwise they won’t be a good guy anymore. This is one of the reasons why whenever a benevolent character is faced with a moral dilemma, I find myself looking at my watch. I already know they’re going to not kill that person, or pick the “easy” choice that might result in harming others.
But when it comes to an unlikeable character, all bets are off. You have no idea what these people are capable of. You think you know them, then, all of the sudden, WHAM!!
They keep you on the edge of your seat every step of the way.
Which is great if you’re a seasoned reader who has become jaded towards formulaic writing.
Don’t worry. Liking bad characters does not make you a bad person.
It just means you’re more in touch with your devious side.