Write a story without bad guys

There’s my advice for today.  Write a story without bad guys.

Oh, I don’t mean leave out the antagonist.  01-snidely-whiplashMake that antagonist put all sorts of obstacles in your protagonist’s way.

But don’t make “bad guys” in the way we see much too often (especially in the movies).

Writers can get lazy when it comes to their antagonists.  It’s so easy to just say “He’s the evil bad guy” and never have to explain why he acts that way.  “Well, he’s evil, so that’s why” is false and readers know it. It doesn’t make your story full.

A good exercise is to take a scene and rewrite it from your antagonist’s point of view. Why is he or she acting this way? What is the ultimate goal? Surely the antagonist wants something more than being evil and standing in the hero’s way.

Remember: the antagonist is the hero of his own story.

My favorite bad guys have what they believe to be good motives. It’s why I think Dolores Umbridge is a better “bad guy” than Voldemort. She’s not evil — she is trying to bring order, consistency, and a respect for the law to the wild children at Hogwarts. We believe that she could exist because we know people like her. And we love to hate her for it.

My next novel BLOODSUCKERS (due out in May; film rights available) has a few important antagonists. The main one is Norman Mark, the vampire who is running for President. He lives a very long time, and he has a long term goal which is very good. He believes that his power to control others will enable him to pass laws through Congress that will help all Americans, discover and remove corruption, and move the world into a new renaissance of peace and prosperity. And if a few innocent people have to die along the way, so what? He’s doing this for the good of all humanity.

There are other antagonists who are vampires wanting to keep the secret of vampires from the population. They are not evil either (in their minds) and are afraid that if people realize vampires exist, they will begin hunting them. People will suspect each other of being vampires, wars will break out and economies will fall. These vampires are trying to stop Norman Mark for their own reasons, but they are not the protagonists.

The protagonist is Steven Edwards, a reporter who has been framed for the attempted assassination of Mark and has gone into hiding. In order to prove his innocence, he has to prove that vampires exist. He was a Mark supporter and is conflicted with the problem — he knows Mark will be a better President than his opponent, but dammit, he’s a vampire!

Anyway, you can see what I’ve tried to do here. None of my bad guys think they’re bad guys. They don’t just randomly perform evil acts simply because they can. They only do them when necessary, and even then for a future goal that is good in their minds.

Remember: not counting the insane, no one in the real world thinks of themselves as bad guys.

So take some time and write a little short story from the point of view of your “bad guy”. You may discover parts of his or her personality that were hidden before. And if you’re good, you will make your antagonist a full, complete, and believable character.

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2 Responses

  1. Sometimes writing about the bad guy is fun!
    Arran

  2. Great post Micheal. There is good and bad in all of us, and rounding out characters makes them easier for readers to relate to. Describing the rational/emotional motives of the ‘bad guys’ gives them vulnerability and depth. One question: once I blur the line between good and evil in my writing, what am I supposed to do with these black hats?

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