Sympathizing with a 'Bad' character

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Sympathizing with a 'Bad' character

#1 Post by SilentMonkey » Sun Sep 01, 2019 10:38 pm

A situation I have been thinking on for nearly a week now. What is everyone's thoughts on character(s) getting in the way or being responsible for the main character(s) misfortune. If the 'bad guy/girl' has a good reason for doing what he does and you even come to like them beforehand; Have you ever found yourself rooting for them instead of the protagonist? What are some good or bad examples you have experienced with this issue? Have you ever seen or played anything where the antagonist won and you were okay with it?

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Re: Sympathizing with a 'Bad' character

#2 Post by Elsa Kisiel » Mon Sep 02, 2019 10:53 am

Oh, there's a lot of games/movies/novels in which I've been rooting for the antagonist. (But, more than a good reason to do evil things, I think it's more about having charisma? An interesting personality and design are as important than a good motive in fiction.) It can also bring interesting introspection for the protagonist, as he begin questioning if the antagonist isn't right.

I don't think it's a problem if there's an ending where's the antagonist win, especially for Visual Novels, where there's multiple endings. (And even for kinectic novel: as long as your reader where aware they shouldn't expect too much of a happy ending, I don't really see the problem...? -just make sure the tone of your story match the tone of your ending.)

Now, if it's a game with a lot of game-play, and there's only ending(s) were's the protagonist is defeated, it might be frustrating for the player, as it means theirs efforts were useless, and they couldn't save the day. It can work, but it require a good writing.
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Re: Sympathizing with a 'Bad' character

#3 Post by Sleepy » Fri Sep 06, 2019 3:42 am

I love villains you can feel for. A lot of my favorite antagonists are generally people who Could've Been The Protagonists if the right circumstances had happened, but I think characters like Thanos in MCU work in the sense that he really does believe he's the hero, has beats of a hero journey, has the movie end with 'his' victory and happy ending, but at the end of the day he's still objectively doesn't monstrous things from a screwed up sense of morality. It's still a solid ending, though.

For games, agree that it's harder to do an ending where the antagonist wins if it's the only ending. Witch's House has a variant of that where why it works is because the villain is actually the player character and the truth of the characters completely changes the game, and would probably make most players wish the antagonist-enemy character win.

I also found the villains in Collar x Malice fairly well done, since it's less that you want them to "win" as much as you want most of them to be saved. Most have sympathetic backstories and them having a bonus chapter where you get to see them all when they chose to go down the path they did is the icing on top.



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Re: Sympathizing with a 'Bad' character

#4 Post by Impulse » Fri Sep 06, 2019 12:49 pm

I think the most important thing you need if you want your antagonist to be likeable is to make them understandable and relateable. An antagonist that is evil just for the sake of being evil is really hard to relate to and so they become boring and unlikeable. Instead, you need to develop your antagonist the same way you would develop your protagonist. Give them a clear goal, a misunderstanding of the world, fears and a backstory that shaped them into the person they are today. Once you've got all that, give them a reason to dislike/hate the protagonist. Is the protagonst the one person standing in the way of them achieving their goal? Do they represent an idea that clashes with their own idea of the world, or are the protagonist the personification of the antagonists' fears?

In a romance novel, the antagonist could be in love with the same person the protagonist is. Most people would automatically root for the protagonist regardless of their reasoning, but if you make the antagonist relateable as well, it might be more difficult for people to pick a side. Maybe the antagonist and the love interest are childhood friends. The antagonist might have a deep fear of being alone and longs for a sense of community because they never had that growing up. They have a misunderstanding that if the person they love dates someone else, they will be left behind. Suddenly the reader/player can understand why the antagonist tries to sabotage the protagonists chances of love. They become relateable.

An evil villain can also have a fear of loneliness, and that fear might make them control people (because if they can't form true bonds, they'll force those bonds). They don't kill people because they like it, they kill people because they want to scare people into submission. If the protagonist refuses to be controlled, then the antagonist has a good reason to dislike them. This example needs to be built up a lot in order to make it work, but hopefully you understand what I'm going for.

One thing I want to say though, is don't try to justify evil deeds with a sad backstory or reason! As a writer you have a responsibility not to endorse bad actions. Killing people are never justified, regardless of how lonely, hurt or relateable the killer is. The fact of the matter is that they did something horrible and that can't be taken back. So make your antagonists likeable, make your reader understand and relate to them, but don't make your readers think that it's okay to kill innocent people as long as you have a good reason for it. There's a clear difference in having their actions be understandable and having them be justified. If you want your villain/antagonist to have a redemption arc that's fine, as long as you don't downplay the bad parts and act like they never happened.
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