February 26, 2020, 12:05:59 AM

Author Topic: Unrepentant Characters  (Read 1097 times)

Offline Aldarion

Re: Unrepentant Characters
« Reply #15 on: January 07, 2020, 10:59:52 AM »
In my current WIP, I'm writing about a group of the Firefly/Dark Matter/space cowboy type. One of the things I've always found about these rogues is that they're always portrayed as lovable. The main character of my WIP is actually a thoroughly unpleasant man. He manipulates others, is motivated purely by a thirst for power, and is perfectly willing to hurt innocent people in his quest.

What I'm wondering is how you can get people to root for a character who has no wish for redemption. Even Jorg Ancrath, the typical example of an unlikable rogue, has some redeeming qualities and even occasionally helps others. My character has more in common with the Master from Dr Who (particularly Derek Jacobi's War Master). The closes I can think of as a real comparison is Uhtred from the Last Kingdom, specifically the TV version, in that he is wholly self-motivated. Maybe Malus Darkblade from Warhammer too, though even he is good compared to the enemies he faces.

I had a look here:
http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/fantasy-book-discussion/do-main-characters-have-to-be-likeable-straightaway-in-this-day-and-age/
and found similar discussions.

My real question: How do you get people to support an nonredeemable character? Or even, how do you write someone like that without them just being the villain?

This would take him a bit away from what you imagined, but you may give him a motivation for his thirst for power? If he wants power for its own sake, he is just a straight-up villain; but if it is a consequence of his experiences or part of a larger goal - e.g. will to protect someone/something - then he automatically becomes more likeable. You can portray a person who had been broken by his past experiences and is now simply lashing out at the world out of pain, or sense of abandonment/betrayal/etc. Other than that, you can keep the basic characterization as originally envisioned, but give him some redeeming qualities: love for family and so on.

Offline Lu Kudzoza

Re: Unrepentant Characters
« Reply #16 on: January 07, 2020, 04:44:38 PM »
Andross Guile popped in my mind as I'm currently reading Lightbringer. Though, he is not pure evil. He has humane feelings.

If you want to turn someone despised into someone good, then I believe the best way would be to show that he has human feelings. Pity, love, self-sacrifice against worse evil are some examples. Otherwise, he will be alien to me throughout the novel.

Andross Guile was a character that almost got there for me, but not quite. Probably because it took so long for his true motivation to be revealed. The early part of the series focused too much on him just wanting power.

Online Peat

Re: Unrepentant Characters
« Reply #17 on: January 07, 2020, 06:14:52 PM »
Actually, thinking about it, I'm going to question how much you can't get people to just straight up like total pieces of work if they think the character is funny/clever/brave etc.etc.

To expand on this -

One of my favourite movies is Heat. The protagonist is a bank robber who uses lethal force. He has no compunctions about doing so. He has no compunctions about lying to his girlfriend, although he doesn't mistreat her. But I like him. I admire his smarts and guts. I like the way he looks after his crew. I like how he's basically as honest as he can be without landing himself in jail. I'm not sure whether I'd like him in real life, but as a character I like him. And maybe I would in real life.

There's so much media about violent criminals. So many people identify with the Dark Side in Star Wars, so many people who love the Joker. A lot of comedy shows, their protagonists are wrong 'uns. And on and on. One of my favourite characters is Malcolm Tucker. He's a foul mouthed bully with no respect for the truth or the people he works with - but oh well.

People like utter bastards. Plenty of people got big writing about utter bastards. I think people fixate on the "How do I make the unsympathetic sympathetic side of it" and forget that. I know I did.
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Offline Christopher C. Fuchs

Re: Unrepentant Characters
« Reply #18 on: January 08, 2020, 04:39:25 AM »
My real question: How do you get people to support an nonredeemable character? Or even, how do you write someone like that without them just being the villain?

I have an MC like this and heard from some reviewers that he was actually their favorite character despite his being who he was (but still not lovable, if that makes sense). I found the key to be 2 things. The first was letting that character be right about something, to have a legitimate gripe, even if how they handled it was wrong, excessive, whatever. Later I found writing advice that said as much (can't recall where). In my case, the character had repeatedly been wronged, had no real protector/benefactor to lean on, and basically began taking things into his own hands (murderously) in the very first chapter where he is introduced. The second thing I did was invite the reader to get into his head. He's a compulsive journal writer, so readers can see his inner monologue peppered in some of his chapters, and therefore understand (not necessarily condone) how he thinks.

Shameless plug, but if you want to see my example: for this character's gripe and violent reaction, scroll to Chap 2 "Fetzer" at Amazon's preview: https://www.amazon.com/Lords-Deception-Four-Kingdoms-Book-ebook/dp/B07Z1HP8R9. For more of his monologue, see Chap 7 or 11. Best of luck with the WIP!
Epic fantasy/adventure debut praised as "A top 5 novel of the year" by Liviu Suciul, former co-editor of Fantasy Book Critic (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3016003847).

Offline Alex Hormann

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Re: Unrepentant Characters
« Reply #19 on: January 09, 2020, 04:19:14 PM »
Actually, thinking about it, I'm going to question how much you can't get people to just straight up like total pieces of work if they think the character is funny/clever/brave etc.etc.

To expand on this -

One of my favourite movies is Heat. The protagonist is a bank robber who uses lethal force. He has no compunctions about doing so. He has no compunctions about lying to his girlfriend, although he doesn't mistreat her. But I like him. I admire his smarts and guts. I like the way he looks after his crew. I like how he's basically as honest as he can be without landing himself in jail. I'm not sure whether I'd like him in real life, but as a character I like him. And maybe I would in real life.

There's so much media about violent criminals. So many people identify with the Dark Side in Star Wars, so many people who love the Joker. A lot of comedy shows, their protagonists are wrong 'uns. And on and on. One of my favourite characters is Malcolm Tucker. He's a foul mouthed bully with no respect for the truth or the people he works with - but oh well.

People like utter bastards. Plenty of people got big writing about utter bastards. I think people fixate on the "How do I make the unsympathetic sympathetic side of it" and forget that. I know I did.

This is a really good point. Thinking of people like the Master or Raymond Reddington, part of the reason I like reading/watching/listening about them is that they aren't trying to be likable. They're horrible pieces of work and having a great time being one.

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Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: Unrepentant Characters
« Reply #20 on: February 16, 2020, 09:23:14 AM »
I think Skip has pretty much hit the nail on the head with making the character multi-dimensional and human, but here are a couple other ideas:

1) Humor. Doesn't matter how much of a dick a character is, if they're funny, most readers will like them. That doesn't necessarily mean they have to have a one-liner for everything. Their situation or circumstance can be funny too.

2) Get the reader invested in the character's plot or backstory. Think this one's self explanatory. A good story can keep some people reading, even if the character is unlikable. Think this one's harder to pull off with some readers, especially those who have trouble caring about the plot if they don't care about the characters.

3) Mystique and Fascination. Adding to Peat's point, if you've ever read Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, it's probably the biggest shithead book of shitheads, but it's fascinating because the characters are so evil you can't look away. Add in the fact the primary villain is mysterious, possibly omnipotent, and possibly satan himself, and it keeps you reading.

I think the last one can be strong, if you can hit the right tone and the right audience. There's a reason some people love true crime and serial killer lore.

As another thought:

I've used the bad vs. bigger bad myself, and it does work, but I think it needs more than just a conflict existing between two characters. To me it's a framework that lends itself to the elements which really make a character shine; it's a catalyst for emotion and action. The big-bad is really just pressure put on the character to act and emote, no different than any other call-to-action, but the value in it is that it necessarily is a joint relationship between two characters, and personally, I think it's the interaction between characters where you really see who a character is and start to empathize with them.

One thing I particularly like about it, is that it sets up contrast: Why isn't my protagonist like my antagonist? What makes the two different? What in my character's backstory makes him stand up to the big bad, rather than try to join him? Again, it's a mutual relationship that provides a framework to build both characters; each the other's foil.

I think these are all great, and Justan is actually great at writing fascinating characters just because they're so batshit and you are like "what are they going to do next???"

What springs to mind immediately is the Netflix series You about a stalker and Hannibal.  I don't have any insights of my own but I bet @Nora does, as a Hannibal fan.

Offline Nora

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Re: Unrepentant Characters
« Reply #21 on: February 18, 2020, 10:24:00 PM »
I have nothing to add to this topic at all. I think it has all been said. End of the day it boils down to homework. You want to write an anti-hero character, study good anti-hero characters and take notes. The one key thing with Hannibal though, is that he's not the main character. The main character is a poor dysfunctional lad.. End of the day the fanbase is rooting for him, and not for Hannibal. Hanni is impossible to empathise with, he can't help himself being a total menace. No one is actually team Hannibal, for all that we're watching him with a lot of interest. It's like watching a train wreck in slow motion, and the train does fantastic train wreck jokes as it goes too.

Hannibal does a lot of jokes only you and him get, it's part of his charm and the horror of the watcher. You know, he knows, and you can't tell any of them. It makes you more invested in the other characters.



But I don't think this show is a good example, since the gorgeous cinematography and sound design are a big part of what makes it good, besides the stellar cast. In a book, you can't have your characters charismatically played by Mads Mikkelsen.
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