|Marie Wells Coutu|
Welcome, Marie! - Angie
Don’t we love our “bad boys” (or bad girls)?
From Bonnie Parker (of Bonnie and Clyde) to Captain Jack Sparrow to Tony Soprano, villains and antiheroes make headlines and box-office hits.
We may not want to make a villainous character the protagonist of our story, unless he or she is redeemed in the end. But as struggling writers, one of our challenges is to create believable protagonists and antagonists. By understanding why a viewer or reader roots for Bonnie, Jack, and Tony to get away with their crimes, we can then apply those principles to our own writing.
(Disclaimer: Some of the movies/programs cited here contain brutal violence, sexual scenes, and/or vulgar language. They are mentioned not as recommended viewing but only as examples of well-developed characters whom the audience tends to “cheer for” in spite of their bad deeds.)
So what elements make such personalities likable and believable? Can we incorporate them into our “bad” characters, even if we don’t make them the protagonist (or antihero) of the story? Here are five characteristics that I believe can aid in creating a three-dimensional antagonist:
Cares for others: You’ve probably heard of the need for a “pet the dog” or “save the cat” scene. In the middle of the action, the character stops to show affection for someone or something other than himself. In my novel For Such a Moment, my antagonist visits his mother in a nursing home. These scenes with his mother, who has dementia, help to show his motivation for gaining wealth and power. Another example of this technique is seen in the movie The Fugitive. Before the viewer is fully convinced of Dr. Kimball’s innocence, he takes time in the middle of his escape to diagnose and get treatment for a little boy in the hospital, putting himself at greater risk of being caught.
Humorous: Captain Jack Sparrow is a prime example of the effectiveness of giving a villain a sense of humor and fun. Johnny Depp’s portrayal of the flamboyant pirate is engaging and fun to watch, making us almost forget that he is a scoundrel. Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me If You Can turns every situation into a joke on the authorities.
Conflicted: When a character demonstrates virtuous qualities, we tend to like him in spite of his evil deeds. In Road to Perdition, Tom Hanks plays Michael Sullivan, a good father, loving husband, loyal employee and all-around good guy. In spite of the fact that his occupation is that of mob hitman, we want him to succeed in his quest and escape doom. That conflict between the desire to be a good family man and his chosen career contributes to Tony Soprano’s appeal, as well.
Loyal: In the British series Peaky Blinders, the protagonist Thomas Shelby’s outstanding characteristic is loyalty to his family. As the head of a brutal gang in 1919 England, he uses ruthless tactics to take over gambling and other illegal operations and to defend his family. Even though he is a conman and murderer, the viewer admires his loyalty and hopes that he survives attempts to ruin him.
Charismatic: This characteristic is hard to define, and even harder to capture on the page. In a movie, the actor contributes much of the personality. George Clooney and Julia Roberts and the rest of the team in Ocean’s Eleven and its sequels are prime examples. They’re criminals, yet enjoyable to watch because of their charm, banter, and genuine friendship. Creating that kind of rapport between characters in your novel will engage your reader.
Which of these elements can you use in your fiction to make your characters—whether protagonist, antagonist, or supporting roles—more believable and likable? What examples of “likable” bud guys and girls can you think of?
|About the Author|
|Thirsting for More|
by Marie Wells Coutu
Thirsting for More
Northern transplant Victoria Russo moves to the charming southern city of Charleston, South Carolina, from cold Connecticut, hoping to renovate her career, her life, and an old house. Instead, she faces animosity, betrayal, and calamity. Will she repeat the pitfalls of her past mistakes, or find the freedom and restoration she seeks?