We can’t live without our bad guys. Without them, our stories would be as bland as an Oreo without the cream filling. So what makes a good bad guy? Yes, he or she needs a certain amount of lowdown-nasty-awful-evil creepiness. But I believe the worst bad guys are the ones who believe they’re doing it for the greater good.
A good bad guy doesn’t know he’s bad.
I just finished The Hunger Games. Did President Snow think of himself as evil? I don’t think so. He believed he was maintaining order. Saving civilization by handcuffing it. Did Voldemort think of the dark arts as evil…or as powerful and a wizard’s right? Yes, he wants to kill Harry, but he’s got to or die himself. That’s basic self-defense. Ask the bad guy if they’re bad, and I’m guessing most would say no.
I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. In an earlier version of OyMG, I had “the bad guy” acting out of hate. It wasn’t very compelling. Fortunately, I had an editor challenge me to rethink the character. And I did. Now, she still does the same basic thing, but she truly means well. And it makes it all much more believable. And painful. And sad. And true.
Think about your bad guys. In fact, ask them point blank. ”Why are you doing what you’re doing?” Do they have a good reason? Even if they’re justifying themselves, does it feel convincing? If not, do your bad guy/girl a favor: Give them a personal belief in their own goodness.
And that’s my tip of the day. Hope it’s a great writing week for everyone! And if you have tips to share with me, I’m always listening.