There was an interesting question posed today on WeBooks about how bad could your characters be before crossing the line to being too bad. After all, no one is perfect and your fictional characters shouldn’t be either.
Many many years ago I went out with a man that was super nice. He was sooooo nice and pleasant, a fine gentleman if ever indeed. And boring. I don’t mean just boring. I mean yawn-inducing, can’t keep my eyes open, will you please just SHUT UP boring. He drove me nuts! I went out with him a couple times until I finally just couldn’t take it anymore.
Was I secretly yearning for a Brando’ish “The Wild One”? No. Maybe just a happy medium.
So how bad is too bad? How bad can you make your character before your reader raises an eyebrow? You can make ’em bad as can be – but – they must have clear motivation, and show some sign of vulnerability.
* Motivation: What makes your character act the way he/she does? Why did he rob that bank? Was it to feed his five hungry kids at home? Or was it to take his trashy girlfriend to Disney World? Or maybe it was because he thrived on the excitement. Once you convey to your readers why your character acts the way he/she does, they too, can understand why a character acts in a certain way. They may even end up liking the bad guy a little more.
* Vulnerability: Even Dracula had his vulnerabilities. Find your character’s weak spot and exploit it. Bring him to his knees. In other words, make him human. Even cold blooded killers have a weak spot. It’s up to you, the writer, to bring it to your readers’ attention.