Too Good?

Jane Friedman said,

“Well-rounded characters are distinctly individual; you come to understand their motivations, flaws, emotional traits, and other distinctive qualities. These can be related through a character’s actions, his reactions to situations and other characters, dialogue, and also through narrative. A flat character, in contrast, usually carries only one distinguishing trait or might act predictably or according to stereotype.”

Sometimes, as writers, we have such a desire to convey that the good character is good or the bad character is bad that we make them unbelievable. 

Let’s use an example – The Phantom of the Opera. 

He’s a bad guy – I mean kindof creepy.  When Christine finds him, he comes out from behind a mirror in her dressing room.  Sure, his music has her in a trance or whatever, but CREEPY!  And then he kidnaps her.  And kills people who walk around on stage a sing.  And threatens all sorts of people all the way through. 

But how many of you ladies can listen all the way through Music of the Night and not swoon in your head? 

Seriously.  He has way more charm and appeal conveyed in one single song than any werewolf or vampire I’ve ever seen.

But the extremes go both ways.  If a good character is too good, they make us want to hate them for being too good. 

Classic example – little orphan Annie. 

She sticks up for the weaker orphans, dreams of a world she hasn’t ever known and works her little heart out. 

But then she gives Miss Hannigan the slip, wanders the streets, lies to numerous people, runs away from the cops, sneaks a really dirty dog into the orphanage and manipulates Grace Farrell to take her. 

The point?  The good characters have to have bad.  The bad characters have to have even a little good.  I’m sure if you think about your favorite antagonist and protagonist, you will find there is a little of each in them.  There has to be or they are flat characters. 

How do you add a little deviousness to your good guys?  How do you create love for the baddies?  And what about all those in between? 

6 thoughts on “Too Good?

  1. I don't know if you watch Castle, but last night's episode had a great insight into this kind of thing. The plot dealt with a sniper, and this caused Beckett to go into semi-crisis mode, reliving her own experience with a sniper. But one of her colleagues reminded her that the sniper, like all bad-guys, was wounded goods: something in his/her background influenced the choices he made.

    It's easier for me to give the good guys a dose of humility, but I have to remember that even bad guys have weaknesses–something they love, a difficult childhood (look at Voldemort!).

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  2. I guess I should clarify–I don't know if they're “good” qualities per se, but Voldemort is one of the most chilling recent villains to come out, but even he has a backstory of neglect that makes him (a teeny bit) sympathetic–and he loves Nagini, if he's capable of loving anything.

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  3. Those are great examples. Life is way too complex for 2D characters in the real world. I like characters like Doc Oc who accidentally end up as villains because they get caught up in their circumstances.

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