Making the Bad Guy


Today brought another round of development work on Spirit Hackers. Now that I have pictures of what I think my characters look like, I wanted to focus more on my main bad guy. My antagonist is someone who needs a good backstory. I will admit that I have never put so much development work into a story before. My Robert book was just organic and a lot of it written from a personal perspective. All other writing I’ve done was sci-fi or short stories that was just skill alone. As I’ve been saying for a few weeks, Spirit Hackers needs a plan.

My bad guy is of course an integral part of my book and much of the plot would not exist without him. An obvious thing that my wife pointed out last week was that all well-developed bad guys believe they are really doing good. I knew this in the back of my head but I hadn’t remembered it until now. I thought about many movies and books I’ve read and realized that I have to come up with a backstory to my bad guy that not only is his motivation but is also something that, if looked at from the correct perspective, could be seen as something good.

Whew, this isn’t easy!

I spent a few hours this morning working on what his motivation and backstory entails. I put some messed up searches into google to help find examples and seeds of ideas on where to go with this guy. Eventually I found a news story that entailed a tragic accident. This played a key role in my character’s story and I have a big chunk of this guy figured out. I also wrote up a time-line of the backstory for the novel as a whole. By doing this, I was able to further develop the motivation and ‘doing good-ness’ perspective of the antagonist. I also show the morphing of compromises and decisions this person makes that ultimately makes him a bad guy in the story. He’s not a bad person. He’s a torn person. He’s someone who doesn’t know what to do and is so overcome with guilt and anger that he cannot cope. I dare say no more, as I don’t want to give anything else away!

So that was today’s building up of Spirit Hackers. It’s coming along and I think that I’m still on track to start writing this baby again within a few weeks. No story is complete without good characters and I think that all this story development will eventually pay off when I begin writing. In a way, the book is writing itself with all this development. We’ll see how easy I think it is when I actually write this thing! 🙂

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  1. Some bad guys, like the Joker, though, are just bad because they enjoy it. I don’t think the Joker ever thought he was doing good.

    I’m glad you’ve found some of your character’s motivations. It’ll really move things along, I know!

    • Aaron
    • August 20th, 2008

    Thanks for the info about the research. I’m hopeful that it helps a lot too.

    I agree with the joker comment. I really just think the joker is awesome and it was a good picture. It wasn’t really that related to this post. LOL.

    • ac
    • August 20th, 2008

    I agree with Colby. “Bad” characters don’t always believe they are doing good.

    In fact, think about the times that you (I’m talking about the general you) have done something “bad.” Chances are that you knew it was inappropriate behavior and decided to move forward with the deed anyway because it served your best interest.

    • Aaron
    • August 20th, 2008

    I totally agree with you Auria! I think I want to show the transition from thinking you are doing good to the conscious decision to do the wrong thing for personal gain.

    We’ll see how well that turns out.

  2. Aaron, thanks for this post. A lot of people talk about character development, but they don’t go into how they specifically DO it. Reading about your searches, the timeline, etc, helps put it all in perspective for me. Thanks.

    I’ve read some good articles about the bad guy thinking he’s doing good. Clearly they don’t all think that way, but it sounds like it is in your case. Good luck!

  3. I think I know what Aaron’s trying to say. If you have a bad guy who’s just plain evil for the sake of being evil, he’s chilling, but sort of flat. Not always but it tends to lean that way. A bad guy who thinks he’s being good has a motive, a driving force, and also a lot more conflict – on the inside he wants to do good, he’s striving for it. So being bad is hard for him in a way. This is a really great struggle for a bad guy because it lets us sympathize with him.

    I think another side of this is the inner conflict: it doesn’t matter how evil a badguy is; as long as he has both inner and outer conflict, he’ll have our sympathy and interest, right?

    If you ever want a character study of a bad guy, just watch the TV show Smallville…Lionel is the most complex, depthy, conflicted, thinking-he’s-good but still throughly evil badguy I have ever seen.

    Keep up the progress Aaron 🙂

    -A

    • Aaron
    • August 21st, 2008

    Melanie I am glad this post can help you out. I want to share more of how I’m developing this character but I’m also trying to not give anything away about the story, in fear that it can taint the story or be ‘borrowed’ by someone who happens across this blog. I hope my post helps with your writing.

    If there is something specific that you are trying to work on in regards to character development, let me know and I’ll try to post more to help you out.

    • ac
    • August 21st, 2008

    – A,

    There are too many generalities in your comment. As in Aaron’s post.

    It call comes down to preference: some like to read books where the character is bad for the sake of being bad and others enjoy complicated characters where the character is somehow “misunderstood” and isn’t bad to the core.

    For the record, I don’t enjoy books where there is a bad guy who has no soul. For me it is also flat.

    But to say that all bad characters believe they are doing good is not accurate. Or to say that bad guys who are just plain evil are flat is also not accurate. It’s a matter of choice and taste. And that is what I was responding to.

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