Friday, June 5, 2009

Writing The Bad Guy

As a suspense novelist, my favorite characters to write have been the antagonists. There's something intriguing about writing evil. And writing evil that has depth? Even more so.

But guess what occurred to me last night while I was working in the kitchen? (Other than that we were running low on the pasta I thought we'd be leaving to family members in our will.)

As a reader, in most books, I don't much like reading the chapters/scenes in the antagonist's POV.

I can think of several that have been flat and predictable. They're boring and other than the fact they they're doing something nefarious to the good guys, they don't add anything to the story.

Just as readers need to connect with my protagonists, they also need to find something—some kernel—of similarity or empathy or something in the bad guy they can relate to, as weird as that sounds. This is especially important if I'm going to give them a POV role.

Or I need to write the character so twisted that their story is as intriguing as the protagonist's story. (Think Silence of the Lambs.)

Of course, I'm trying to do both. Because there's a side of me that's pretty scary, and I've learned not to be afraid to go there.

CR: Black Water Rising by Attica Locke.

It's all better with friends.


  1. I know it says something about me--although I'm not sure what--that I love writing the bad guy scenes. I agree--we don't have to love or like the bad guy, but we need to have a sense of where he's (she's?) coming from. And once we as readers, or human beings, understand another person, it's impossible not to feel compelled by him.

  2. Good point. Interesting that you would think it while in the kitchen.

  3. I know several people who aren't fond of antagonist POVs for the same reason, me being one of them. But I love a good antagonist POV. Kind of like a criminal psychologist is fascinated by the criminal mind, as a writer of human experience, I find the motives and stuff fascinating.

    In my finished novel, the antagonist, though his actions are definitely wrong, is not really a bad person (at least not in his eyes). His motives come with noble, but twisted, intentions. I also take scenes to show that he is a family man and a tax-paying patriot of the US--both of which are important to him.

  4. I've been lurking and enjoying for a while, Peg. Hope you don't mind me jumping in here with a comment! I'm reading Coben's Hold Tight right now and almost vomitted at one scene. I realised that it was because the evil act depicted ... well, triggers a deep fear ... that IT COULD BE ME given the right (or wrong) circumstances, genetic predisposition, other stuff. We all fear (I believe) that we could have been Hitler. That's terrifying - and brilliant writing that touches that fear. I don't know if that counts as 'empathy' for 'the bad guy'.


  5. I would love to make a person vomit! Can you imagine that on a list of goals?

    It'll be our secret, okay?

    My husband learned a long time ago that if "murder" was in the title, I was either reading it or watching it. My research leaves him a bit, hmmm . . . well, uncomfortable.