Can the good guy be bad?
I saw a post from a very talented thriller writer, Jason McIntyre, author of Thalo Blue, on twitter asking if his character could commit cold blooded murder. I had to put in my 2 cents and say, yes.
I'm struggling with a similar circumstance with my hero, Nick Dempsey, from my mystery/thriller Nature of the Beast. I think some of the reason I'm putting off finishing my sequel, Ties that Bind, is because I have taken him down a darker path than most characters/heroes venture down. Okay, at least darker than the human heroes! I, for one, am enjoying the trip. Nick, maybe not so much.lol
It won't be a permanent personality change or maybe it will be, but people change and are changed by their circumstances. We read about it and see it all the time. It leaves me wondering how fans will react to Nick's transgressions and rightfully so. No one wants to create an unlikeable hero or ruin a favorite. I've been feeding bits and pieces to selected readers to see what kind of reaction I get.
I think I have and always will create "real" characters who are flawed and human because that is what I want to read myself, and, after all, I'm flawed and human, too.
The definition of antihero,
A protagonist of a drama or narrative who is notably lacking in heroic qualities. This type of character has appeared in literature since the time of the Greek dramatists and can be found in the literary works of all nations. Examples include the title characters of Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote(1605 and 1615) and Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones (1749).
We see they have been around for centuries, so we should have no fear to give it a try!? Maybe we won't create a true antihero but we'll let them wander down that path for a ways. I think the key is to give an underlying quality or circumstance that the readers can relate to. My character's meltdown is inspired by an attack on his wife and few other things I won't divulge at the moment.
Creating a great hero will let the character do just about anything and still retain the fans' loyalty. Our readers are investing their time and money. Is there a "You had me at hello" type of deep connection or maybe he or she is just a hottie...you decide.
How far is too far?
Rape, murder, incest, animal abuse, adultery, lie, cheat, steal, do drugs? These are all things we expect to see from our villains, but what about our good guys, the heroes? How evil can we make them and still call them a hero? Are readers even looking for heroes today or just the thrill of a good, exciting story?
My favorite character is Joe Pike, written by Robert Crais. When Joe's friend Elvis Cole is wondering what to do with some bad guys Joe can be often heard saying "shoot them." Shooting them would not be out of character for Joe but harming an innocent woman or child would be. Now that I think about it, the bad guys these two face never seem to make it to prison. That's what I have come to expect from these two characters.
My Nick's, transgressions are small in the grand scheme of things but they could still alienate some readers. A revenge killing and adultery are not the worst things I could have him do, but they were integral to moving the plot forward and shaping the future psyche of the character.
The thing I love about self-publishing is that it lets me think and act outside the box of traditional publishing. It gives me the opportunity to write my real character without a 'no, no' slap on the hand.
I was watching parts of Grand Torino with Clint Eastwood, he was not a likeable character but we got a glimpse into the past that created him and into the pain he endured and I think into the promise of a different future. I think we see more of the flawed hero on the big screen and I'm okay with that type of character. It makes the character more interesting and there is usually some redeeming quality we can cling to.
When all is said and done, as writers we need to write our characters, the good, the bad and the ugly and let the chips fall where they may.
Next time you see a bad, good guy, realize that we put a lot of thought into what you are reading and that are we trying to give the most enjoyable and realistic reading experience possible.