Remember the nasty, scary pirate in Stardust, Captain Shakespeare? His crew feared him, the hero and heroine were at his grim mercy, and his reputation was impeccably evil? And then after a bit, we find out he’s a cross-dressing soft-hearted romantic?
Those kinds of characters are interesting and fun. I like them much better than all terrible, or perfectly pure characters. Characters like Voldemort and Emperor Palpatine are pretty straight forward bad. Just plain, honest to goodness bad. And on the other side of the coin, some characters, like Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind, are just as sweet as southern tea.
I like my characters mixed up more—unpredictable, complicated, conflicted.
In a recent review for one of my books, the reader pointed out that she felt empathy with the antagonist, like this was a bad thing. But I thought, Yay—except for the part that maybe she didn’t like me anymore for doing it--Yay, what I wanted to do worked. I intentionally showed another side of him. Just as with my protagonists, I deliberately showed struggles and flaws so that it’s not an easy and boring straight shot to the epilogue.
The whole process of creating characters makes me think of real people. If we’re honest, no one is purely evil or purely good. People are not black and white, right or wrong, good or bad. We’re each a mixed bag of hurts, good intentions, laziness, mistakes, kindness, generosity, and probably a bit of crazy too. Next time someone really really ticks you off, and you just want to poke them in the eye, or a stranger treats you like you’re on his planet and you better find the exit, consider that complexity of what his or her life might be. Have a little more grace. Forgive and move on. And the next time you forget your turn signal, or do something that annoys or hurts someone else, maybe you can notice that you can’t be completely purely-intentioned all the time yourself. But who knows? Maybe, if we’re aware of it and try a little more, the cross-dressing soft-hearted romantic inside of each of us can win out over the he-who-must-not-be-named who’s in there too.
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