Writing Likeable Murderers?

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Writing Likeable Murderers?

#1 Post by Katy133 » Fri May 01, 2015 8:33 pm

How do you write a main character who commits a murder (murders a non-villain character) and still make them likeable? Thoughts?

My current thoughts:

- Motive: If the audience understands why the character committed the murder, and it's a motive we have empathy for, we'll be more willing to continue following and liking the character.

- Character: Give them an endearing trait shown early in the story. Give them a sympathetic trait. Or make them charismatic in some way.

- The Victim: Making the murder victim unlikeable (without making them outright evil).

- Give the character a worse enemy: Or a common enemy (doesn't have to be a person). This seems to be especially common with films that have villain protagonists (examples: Despicable Me, Megamind, and Maleficent)

- Have them regret the murder.


- Examples in fiction: (Bit of a spoiler for season 1 of Fargo below.)

Dexter from his titular series
Why we still like him:


- His motives: He specifically only targets other killers; people who have gotten away with murder. This gives us an emotional connection with Dexter because we understand his motives: He is motivated by his sense of justice.

- His sense of humor/character: Dexter has a very dark and dry deadpan sense of humor in his dialogue. His inner narration throughout the series is also very snarky, and I can only describe it as reminding me of MacGyver's inner monologue in his titular series. In other words, Dexter has a charismatic streak. He's also polite to his co-workers and tries to be a good boyfriend to both his sister and his love interest in the series.


Lester Nygaard from Fargo (series)
Why we still like him:


- His character: Being a meek character, Lester is shown to be very put-upon, ignored, and abused by the other characters around him. The only character who gives him any respect before the murder is Lorne (who arguably helped to drive Lester to commit the murder).

- He has a friend/enemy who is even worse than him: Lorne (who is implied early-on to possibly be a supernatural being) is not only more-experienced with killing people, but also finds enjoyment in toying with people's lives and driving people to do awful things using only his words.

- The victim was unlikeable: Pearl had been verbally abusing and belittling Lester, possibly for years.


Sock Sowachowski from Welcome to Hell [You can watch it here]
Why we still like him:


- His motives: He murdered both his parents in his sleep, and honestly didn't know what he was doing until he woke up. Sock has also been struggling with an over-whelming desire to kills thing for most of his life, and has been repressing those feelings for some time.

- He regretted his actions immediately afterwards: After Sock discovers what he's done, he goes to a graveyard to give his parents a burial. He then digs a grave for himself next to theirs, and proceeds to stab himself to death with his own murder weapon.

- His character: Sock is a cheerful and friendly person. Although we don't know a lot about his life when he was alive, he was possibly ostracised by his peers for being different (as seen by Jojo's reaction of disgust when he shows her a dead squirrel). He just wants to be liked. Even as a demon, he is seen to be genuinely hurt when Jonathan tells him that he's terrible at his job, giving the audience a sense of empathy. Sock is also socially-awkward: When he first introduces himself to Jonathan as a demon, he stumbles with how to word it properly.

- His character design: Being an animated character, the designer can really use their imagination. He has a very cute-looking design; his body is mainly made up of round shapes, he wears a hat with wide ear-flaps, yellow goggles, and a purple skirt (with his overall colour scheme being a rainbow). He looks younger than he probably is (although his age is not explicitly stated).


Any thoughts (or other character examples) would be greatly-appreciated.
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Re: Writing Likeable Murderers?

#2 Post by RotGtIE » Fri May 01, 2015 9:25 pm

I think this is one of those regrettable situations in writing whereby achieving the stated objective actually is very easy to do and has a very low bar of entry, but to execute it especially well without using cheap shortcuts takes an incredible degree of finesse.

You've provided examples of some of the cheap tricks used to make an audience sympathize with or even like a murderer, the most obvious of course being that his victim is an acceptable target. This is something which I call a cheap tactic because it doesn't really achieve the intended effect, even though it creates the illusion of doing so. If you think about it, someone who kills criminals, like murderers who got away with their crimes, is not so much a murderer as he is a vigilante. It's a sort of goalpost moving tactic to get the audience to like a character for this while still calling the character in question a "murderer," which hardly anyone would really consider him to be.

Another lazy shortcut involves giving the murderous character a tragic or sympathetic backstory, thus excusing their crimes by making them understandable or at least pitiable. I call this a shortcut because when a character is given a sufficiently traumatic backstory to justify their murderous acts, it takes away the dilemma of committing such an act from their moral character, negating the significance of even making the choice in the first place. Yuno Gasai is an obvious example of this - it's hard to blame someone of her upbringing for having a warped sense of morality, once you've seen her past. Doing this to a character fundamentally robs them of their personal agency, which makes it difficult if not impossible to judge them for making a poor decision.

I think problems like these stem from the enormous difficulty of making a character morally responsible for committing a true act of murder and still retaining likability. It's a very lofty goal, and I don't think it's necessarily a fair one to aim for when one can instead try to bring the audience to an understanding about the character without attempting to persuade the audience to actually like that character. It can be enough to foster understanding without attempting to persuade sympathy out of your audience, and I think that stories are made much deeper and more interesting when the authors are not tied down to a desire to impose a political or moral narrative upon their audience. Saya and Fuminori are fundamentally morally defunct characters, yet just by seeing the events of their brief relationship through their perspectives, we can come to terms with what made them decide to take the actions that they did, and in a strange way, we find ourselves without a character to root for in the entire cast of Saya no Uta - rather, we see the narrative equivalent of a cluster of celestial bodies all careening toward each other at a vicious velocity, and we're just along for the ride to see the resultant fireworks. The story would have suffered tremendously by the introduction of any plot elements which would have morally justified Saya and Fuminori's actions, because they would tell us a lot less about those characters and the lengths to which they were willing to go in order to pursue their own happiness.

Personally, I would worry less about justifying murderous characters or trying to make them likeable, and rather focus on making those characters believable and their exploits a worthy tale to tell.

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Re: Writing Likeable Murderers?

#3 Post by Valduran » Fri May 01, 2015 11:38 pm

Woah RotGtIE, that post was good enough that I feel compelled to stop lurking and join the discussion. :)

There are definitely others of us out there who agree that slapping on a sympathetic motive or traumatic past to make it okay is often just abusing the label of "murderer" for edginess without actually addressing the real issue of how heavy it is to take away a human life and what sorts of decisions a character has to make in order to get to the point where they are willing to go through with it (or taking advantage of the interesting possibilities for moral conflict it provides).
I'm pretty amoral when it comes to sympathizing with characters in stories; I don't particularly care what sorts of bad stuff they do--but if I see the writer giving us excuses for why they do the bad stuff rather than having the character come to terms with it the way real people have to then I typically have trouble believing in the character. So as far as I'm concerned "sympathetic killers" should be sympathetic for the same reason any other well-written character is sympathetic: Because they are interesting as human beings. Not because their killing is somehow made more palatable or excusable to the reader.
I actually think it's somewhat irresponsible the way many writers resort to softening the impact so that reader can stay in their comfort zone and not have to be disturbed by a character performing an action that is inherently disturbing in reality. (Dexter was often an example of that imo)

Having said that, I might as well share one of the reasons for why this topic is of particular interest to me and one of the ways I personally approach writing this sort of character.

In this example, a central character is stuck in the position of being both fully human capable of rational thought and warm emotion, but also being a supernatural predator who survives and gains power from killing humans (Not a vampire! :P). She pretty much has three choices: Kill people and find a way to live with herself, don't kill people and risk behaving like a beast if her hunger goes out of control, or kill herself to prevent either from happening.
To start with, I leverage the necessity to kill for survival only so far as to make the consequences for NOT killing just as heavy as the consequences are for the act of murder itself. I continually avoid venturing into the territory of "It's just her nature so we'll forgive it and she never has to face the reality of her actions".
In her mind, she has to balance a full human awareness of the moral implications of her actions and the pain that they cause with the simple but ever-present fact that she herself does not want to die.

Yes, I make it a bit easier on the reader by allowing them to feel like they want her to survive as much as they want her to stop killing people, but that's as far as I go in giving her any sort of "handicap to sympathy". The rest I let hinge on her personality and the internal value system that allows her to navigate human society as both a full-human and a full-monster at the same time without losing her sanity or falling to the overwhelming weight of remorse. In other words, the core factor is that while it feels like she is stuck between "three terrible options", the choice is still hers and she has to decide for herself which choice to make and how to live (or die) with that choice.
The central theme and question is similar to "survival game" scenarios where characters are forced to kill or be killed, where the core point is in the fact that almost all of us place our own lives at a higher value than the lives of the people around us, but that doesn't necessarily mean that our lives do actually have a higher value or that we somehow deserve to live more than the next person.

This is an example of the most 'likable' murderer in my story. The other characters who are willing to kill in cold-blood could just as easily make the choice NOT to kill in most situations, and typically lack any sort of need-based excuse to get away with it. When it comes to those characters I don't worry too much about whether or not the reader will forgive their actions, rather I prefer to make the reader ask themselves if they are really "OK" with such a character, and then urge them to answer both yes and no to that question by making the character as engaging as I possibly can through their personalities and defining decisions while refusing to let the reader feel comfortable with them.

In the end, the point I would emphasize the most is that a truly sympathetic character--regardless of what they are--isn't about how justified or excusable their actions are, it's simply a matter of how much we are able to place ourselves in their shoes when our imagination connects with their circumstances.


P.S. I would recommend against making a murder victim unlikable for the sake of making the reader like the murderer more. In fact, it's much more fun when things are the opposite; When you wish the murderer had not killed the victim, but are still interested in them regardless. Creating internal conflict for the reader is a much higher quality and more memorable story experience than letting them feel good about bad things.

I would probably point to Yagami Light from Death Note as one of the more successful likable murderers, and he shows a clear willingness to kill anybody who gets in his way while having little or no redeeming qualities. Some people may disagree, but I found him to be even more interesting AFTER he killed his 'good' counterpart because it gave him a sense of legitimacy that had been lacking when he was only offing people you didn't really care about.

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Re: Writing Likeable Murderers?

#4 Post by Kinjo » Sat May 02, 2015 4:09 am

Katy133 wrote:How do you write a main character who commits a murder (murders a non-villain character) and still make them likeable? Thoughts?

My current thoughts:

- Motive: If the audience understands why the character committed the murder, and it's a motive we have empathy for, we'll be more willing to continue following and liking the character.

- Character: Give them an endearing trait shown early in the story. Give them a sympathetic trait. Or make them charismatic in some way.

- The Victim: Making the murder victim unlikeable (without making them outright evil).

- Give the character a worse enemy: Or a common enemy (doesn't have to be a person). This seems to be especially common with films that have villain protagonists (examples: Despicable Me, Megamind, and Maleficent)

- Have them regret the murder.

Any thoughts (or other character examples) would be greatly-appreciated.
Oh boy, this is an interesting topic. You listed some really good stuff right there already. That's what would come to my mind first as well.

I'm not really a fan of the sympathetic backstory, either, for reasons already mentioned. Often in real life, the culprits aren't very sympathetic at all. Trying to lighten it with "lots of bad things happened to me, so I did something bad to someone else" doesn't excuse the crime. It merely explains why it happened.

I still have a lot to learn about writing "likeable" murderers, myself. And that's a good question -- what do you mean by "likeable"? They're morally redeeming of their crime? They're so evil, they're interesting? Or they're so complex, they're addicting to think about? Do you even want them to be likeable? Would they be more interesting if they were disliked?

I'll give some more character examples.

Walter White from Breaking Bad
Even outside the mystery genre, you can make a "likeable" murderer. Walter starts off extremely relatable to the average viewer. He's in a horrible position, down on his luck, and knows he deserves better. That hits a lot of human qualities already. Then he comes up with, not a motive, but a justification for his murders -- self defense. Everything he does, he does for his family, and only kills "bad guys". Of course, the line starts to blur when Walter himself becomes the bad guy -- yet at the end, we're still kind of rooting for him to somehow get out of everything without any consequences. We got attached to him at the start and could never let go. In summary, Walter White makes use of ALL of those components you listed, and that is why he is such a strong character.
The Culprit from Detective Butler
I tried to give the culprit some character traits to make her likeable, too, in addition to the victim being not-so-perfect and her coworkers being similarly antagonistic toward her. But I didn't do this for the sake of making her likeable, but to get a reaction out of the player. The idea was, I make her likeable at the start, and then when it turns out she's the murderer, you think "No way! I don't want to think it was her!" Just the act of thinking "such a nice person is really so evil" is difficult to wrap your mind around sometimes. It's hard to imagine that a "good" person is capable of "bad" things, and vice versa. People like consistency. Even then, in the final chapter I have her tell her story to Gilligan, and he starts to actually sympathize with her. Why? Because she starts to say "I didn't mean to do it". And you think, maybe this nice person really DIDN'T mean to do it after all. It was just a tragic, unfortunate accident, wasn't it? So he lets her go. Only for her to turn around and pull a gun on him, saying "Nah, I DID mean to do that." So that makes her real thoughts and feelings very ambiguous. How sorry is she? Does that excuse what she did? These are things I want people to think about, and to address more generally in upcoming episodes.
Beatrice from Umineko
This one is interesting. She has two sides, her witch side, and her human side, and they portray very different people. Like Walter White and the culprit from my own game, I suppose that's what makes a "likeable" murderer. They aren't JUST a murderer. They're the friendly chemistry teacher. They're the coworker you always had lunch with. They're the servant who always went above and beyond what was expected. And they're also the tea-loving, chess-playing, troll of a witch. Sure, she has the sympathetic backstory in EP7, she has the redeeming character traits, she even feels bad about what she does most of the time (another example: "it's not my fault, it's fate/because of someone who hurt me" (a culprit behind the culprit)). But I think the thing to learn is that all of these characters hide their true selves. Constantly hiding themselves, playing different parts in front of different people. You get attached to "the nice witch" so that when "the bad witch" comes around, you still like them no matter what they do. And that's a really, really bizarre contradiction.

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Re: Writing Likeable Murderers?

#5 Post by papillon » Sat May 02, 2015 10:56 am

No matter what you do, many people will find it pretty gross if you attempt to make a likable murderer. Particularly because the word 'murderer' is loaded. In modern discourse, people generally start with trying to state that murder is unforgivable, but certain kinds of killing people might be forgivable under some circumstances and are therefore not murder. Of course, who draws those boundaries and decides what's an acceptable killing and what's an unacceptable murder varies.

Some people will be okay with it if the character doesn't try to insist that he's actually good. Others will be creeped out if the work of fiction still appears to be holding a murderer up as a hero, even if the 'hero' still feels guilty and punishes himself for it. Many people will be actively upset and interpret you, the author, as "trying to justify murder".

Dexter in particular is a show that, while I haven't watched it, I know about it precisely because of the number of people who are horrified and outraged by its premise and go on long rants about how this shows the moral decline in America and the push to justify murder and torture and so on. Again, I haven't seen the show, I don't know if they're RIGHT, I just know that a lot of people are very upset. I've seen some similar upset statements about other shows recently as well, Daredevil being one. It's a politically sensitive issue.

It's easier to have a side character who lashes out because of her tragic backstory than to have a protagonist who does it, because the side character isn't being put up as the hero and doesn't carry the same suggestions of telling the reader that this is an okay way to behave. We can forgive the side character and still like her without wanting to be her or put ourselves in her shoes.

Another grey area that can be played with is the death which is accidental but not innocent. A character who took a wrong or clearly dangerous action but absolutely didn't intend to kill someone - and did - is neither a deliberate murderer nor an innocent. They can still bear guilt (for good reason) while remaining sympathetic much more easily.

Murder by inaction is, apparently, seen as more forgivable by many people than murder by direct action.

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Allison sees her friend/rival (it's complicated) Aynsley get her scarf caught in the garbage disposal. Allison is standing by the cutoff switch. She could turn it off and save her. But... she's angry at Aynsley. She thinks Aynsley is working for an evil corporation and spying on her. And she realises that if she does nothing, she can get away with it, no one will ever know she was there. So she stands there and watches her neighbor die.

She feels guilty about it later (especially once it turns out Aynsley was innocent!) but not enough to actually confess or turn herself in, just enough to sleep badly. She does at least eventually start to phrase it as having killed her, though. Still, the show seems to be framing it as about as bad as an accidental murder. It wasn't. I seem to be more annoyed about this than others are, judging by her TVTropes entry describing her as "a good person deep down"...

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Re: Writing Likeable Murderers?

#6 Post by Kailoto » Sat May 02, 2015 11:44 am

Kinjo wrote:And that's a good question -- what do you mean by "likeable"? They're morally redeeming of their crime? They're so evil, they're interesting? Or they're so complex, they're addicting to think about? Do you even want them to be likeable? Would they be more interesting if they were disliked?
I think this pretty much hits the nail on the head - I've never met a murderer I've felt sympathetic to, but I have encountered ones who entrance me and are fun to follow. I don't root for characters like Light from Death Note (not a spoiler), but I do get a sense of fascination from watching them go about their usual villainous business. Or, for example The Culprit from Persona 4 - they're not really likeable per se, but they have an interesting enough character to make me all the more invested in their inevitable demise.
papillon wrote:Some people will be okay with it if the character doesn't try to insist that he's actually good. Others will be creeped out if the work of fiction still appears to be holding a murderer up as a hero, even if the 'hero' still feels guilty and punishes himself for it. Many people will be actively upset and interpret you, the author, as "trying to justify murder".
Which is why, unless it's absolutely necessary for that character to commit murder, it's usually better to find a way around it. If you're making a statement or using it to set up a change in that character's personality, then go for it; just don't do it half-assed. If a murder takes place in a realistic modern-day setting, it's either treat it with the gravity it deserves, or leave it out - otherwise it'll feel like childish posturing, like how modern films try to be "dark" and "edgy."
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Re: Writing Likeable Murderers?

#7 Post by ColaCat » Sat May 02, 2015 2:40 pm

*quickly enters*

Well one character who came to mind immediately was Khan. In Star Trek into Darkness he was meant to be the bad guy, but you could totally understand why he was doing it. In my opinion, that made him seem more likable, because if you were in that position you might do the same yourself.
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Re: Writing Likeable Murderers?

#8 Post by ameliori » Sat May 02, 2015 10:48 pm

I am going to equate "likable" with "interesting" here. Because we all like interesting characters, whether or not we agree with their motives and actions. That's the clincher actually, you can "like" a character" without agreeing with them or sympathizing with them or woobiefying them.

So the question should be, "what makes a character interesting?" in oppose to "how do I make this murderous character look good?" because that, by itself, is a bit shallow in terms of creating a character. I mean, if a character's biggest point is his "murderousness" then that is a little meh.

So what does makes a character interesting? Layers, complexity and honesty.
Layers - they have to be three dimensional. People don't like cliches.
Complexity - they must have contradictions, their own morals, their own sense of justice (although warped if they were villains).
Honesty - They have to act as dictated by their personality until the end, especially if they are villains. Villains don't change. That is their downfall. We all hate OOC parts where the writer tries to shove a sympathetic back story down our throats, in a vain attempt to tug on heartstrings. *cough*Bleach*cough*

I don't mind tragic pasts. I actually love them. If done well, they can give a lot of dimension. Everyone's doing it now though, so we get a lot of watered down crap. Although I understand the hate towards it, consider that EVERY human has a tragic past. Every human has gone through pain and loss. All of them can be counted as "tragic". It just depends on the skill and presentation of the writer.

Some notable likable villains:
Hannibal Lecter. Intelligent, aristocratic rich dude. Tragic past: Ate his sister.
Sojiro from Samurai X. Tragic past: Abused orphan. There are a LOT of abused orphans in fiction, but Sojiro had a different outlook in life which made him very likable and interesting. He is also an assassin and kills people with no remorse. Service done with a smile.
Annie Wilkes from Misery. Tragic Past: Traumatized fan girl lol. I love Annie Wilkes because she is so gorgeously characterized. She was cruel but also sympathetic.. And you always hold out the hope that she may be a good person inside, just disturbed... aaaand then you get disappointed.

You know what though... If this is all too hard... You can just make the killer well-dressed and attractive and increase your chances... *shrug* :|
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Re: Writing Likeable Murderers?

#9 Post by TuttyTheFruity » Sun May 03, 2015 9:58 pm

The premise of producing a likeable character who commits unspeakable acts, I would say, doesn't really have a silver bullet attached to it to execute well. There are enough tropes attached to it, but the act of murder itself is usually a critical plotpoint that deserves sufficient investigation. For a VN that focuses primarily on introspectives, there can be a stark transformation presented prior and following the event, and scripting that transition between night and day is very important.

In the drafting stages of a given character, you can likely consider any given writing trope as a starting point. As writing proceeds, plot will overrule, change and develop them as they go and should be a primary concern.
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Re: Writing Likeable Murderers?

#10 Post by Enigma » Sun May 03, 2015 11:23 pm

Have you seen Afro Samurai? If not I think it'd be a good watch. Afro is amoral, even though he's trying to avenge his father he's never presented as being in the right. His opponents except for possibly the Empty Seven Clan are never really presented as evil, or at least they aren't presented as being worse than he is. In fact his decisions come back to bite him at every turn and he ends up depressed and alone by the opening of the 2nd movie. Seeing a character confront and deal with the problems caused by their actions can make them seem interesting.

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Re: Writing Likeable Murderers?

#11 Post by Kia » Mon May 04, 2015 2:39 am

somebody should mention batman's Joker I guess he is likable because he "acts" crazy all the time and does his things awesomely crazy.
There is something called "passion crime" or something like that you can use too.

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Re: Writing Likeable Murderers?

#12 Post by The Library Cat » Mon May 04, 2015 11:52 am

Well, except for people who know how mental illness works (or are mentally ill themselves) - those find the Batman villains, including the Joker, to generally be rather cliche and infuriating instead of sympathetic. Or am I the only one who feels that way? In either case, I find the way he is usually portrayed to be incredibly insulting and boring. Mentally ill people are more likely to be the victims of violence instead of the perpetrators, so if you don't feel like doing a lot of research and getting second and third opinions, I'd advise against creating a mentally ill character, much less making them a murderer, since this combination only feeds the stigma that mental illness = violence, and our society has enough of that already. Not to mention that as a trope itself, it's also very worn out.
(Apologies for derailing a bit here, but this needed to be said.)
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Re: Writing Likeable Murderers?

#13 Post by Enigma » Mon May 04, 2015 3:56 pm

The Library Cat wrote:Well, except for people who know how mental illness works (or are mentally ill themselves) - those find the Batman villains, including the Joker, to generally be rather cliche and infuriating instead of sympathetic. Or am I the only one who feels that way? In either case, I find the way he is usually portrayed to be incredibly insulting and boring. Mentally ill people are more likely to be the victims of violence instead of the perpetrators, so if you don't feel like doing a lot of research and getting second and third opinions, I'd advise against creating a mentally ill character, much less making them a murderer, since this combination only feeds the stigma that mental illness = violence, and our society has enough of that already. Not to mention that as a trope itself, it's also very worn out.
(Apologies for derailing a bit here, but this needed to be said.)
But Joker isn't really mentally ill...well depending on which origin you believe. He was already a criminal mastermind before his face was disfigured and he decided that he'd change his image from the Red Hood to the Joker once he saw how scary his face was.

The other popular origin is that he was a struggling comedian who was pressured into becoming the Red Hood and when he fell into the chemicals he became the Joker, but again he was already a criminal, though in this case he was reluctant and not really a mastermind. This origin has pretty much been retconned out as of the new 52

There's another origin where he was one of many Red Hoods that Batman beat up in his first year of being Batman, and again, he was already a criminal mastermind (though this time he enjoyed it)

He has a new origin of sorts as of Batman Endgame, in which he's some form of immortal.

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LateWhiteRabbit
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Re: Writing Likeable Murderers?

#14 Post by LateWhiteRabbit » Mon May 04, 2015 11:41 pm

papillon wrote: Dexter in particular is a show that, while I haven't watched it, I know about it precisely because of the number of people who are horrified and outraged by its premise and go on long rants about how this shows the moral decline in America and the push to justify murder and torture and so on. Again, I haven't seen the show, I don't know if they're RIGHT, I just know that a lot of people are very upset.
Dexter was brilliant because, at least to me, it fostered a dual attitude towards the character very effectively. The audience is made to sympathize and like Dexter, and that makes it MORE horrifying when he kills people. It makes you care about someone who is very clearly NOT a good person. He tries to be, but he fundamentally isn't.

Even though he might qualify as a vigilante (i.e. only killing 'bad' guys), just when the audience might be getting comfortable with the idea, he might kill an innocent simply so he isn't caught, or because he has a dark urge. For most of the show, the writers do a very good job of making you simultaneous root FOR and AGAINST Dexter at the same time, torn between wanting him caught and stopped and hoping he gets away.

There is a lot of emotional investment when you are experiencing a rollercoster of emotion between simultaneously yelling at the screen for him to get out of there, and also urging the police to move a little faster and catch him. I've never seen another show that made me feel the same way. The show is very much a tragedy where the inevitable doom of the character becomes more and more apparent. It feels like watching a family member you love destroying themselves.

But a character who is a murder and the main character still needs to use the same Sympathy traits I brought up in another thread. Dexter does this. He is Brave (he confronts killers and bad guys alone quite often), he has an Unfair Injury (his pathological need to kill is brilliantly used for this), he is Skilled (an expert blood spatter analyst with the police department), he is Funny (the audience is privy to his internal thoughts and quips), presented as Just Plain Nice (he is kind to everyone and helpful, and brings donuts for his co-workers - and even though this is a cover - it works on the audience), he is In Danger (he is a serial killer working in a police department, under constant threat of being discovered), he is Loved by Friends and Family (he has a loving adoptive sister and his co-workers all think he is great), he is Hard Working (he goes above expectations on crime scene analysis, and still goes out at night to kill, which involves a lot of hard work not to get caught), and finally he is Obsessed (with understanding his urge to kill and satisfying it). He ticks off all nine sympathy traits. And the audience is too invested with his character before they realize they shouldn't be.
papillon wrote: Murder by inaction is, apparently, seen as more forgivable by many people than murder by direct action.
This annoys me too. Choosing to let someone die by not doing anything IS murder, because you are making a conscious decision for them to die instead of live. It bugs me when media treats this as a somehow lesser or more forgivable crime.

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Re: Writing Likeable Murderers?

#15 Post by Mad Harlequin » Tue May 05, 2015 2:23 am

LateWhiteRabbit wrote:This annoys me too. Choosing to let someone die by not doing anything IS murder, because you are making a conscious decision for them to die instead of live. It bugs me when media treats this as a somehow lesser or more forgivable crime.
Whether a crime of this nature is more or less forgivable than any other type of murder is up for debate, but legally speaking, there are different classifications of murder and other crimes. Manslaughter is considered less culpable than murder, for example, and is a separate crime.
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