Character Development: Bad Boy, Beauty or Benevolent Goodie

Single Rose Isolated on White Background.

Credits to Plato who coined the phrase that “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” While true that what I find pleasing may differ from others’ opinions, there seems to be a school of thought that every book should have at least one villain. In other words, a beauty is insufficient without a literary beast.

 A “baddie” does not necessarily have to be a person. As Randy Ingermanson shares on his website, www.advancedfictionwriting.com, “It’s perfectly OK to have society be the cause of all your lead character’s ills. It’s perfectly OK to have the environment be the ‘villain.’ It’s OK to have your protagonist be his own worst enemy.” However, he suggests (and gives examples) that “evil becomes more Evil when it’s personalized” in the form of “a person who symbolizes all that’s wrong with your society.” Author and blogger Hunter Emkay likens the villain to a person who is “equally matched with the hero, somebody as smart, resourceful, determined and as multi-dimensional as the hero.”

From my perch, I am creating a set of characters who hopefully resemble the human condition in the sense that none of us are perfect. Everyone has a flaw or too or more. That said, one of my goals is to inspire with my writing. I don’t think an author can realize that goal if bad trumps good in the long-run. It’s not surprising that lots of readers root for a beleaguered hero to overcome obstacles, persevere and triumph.

Pennsylvania State University professor Mary Beth Oliver, co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory, theorizes that the physiological response associated with being afraid intensifies the relief one experiences when a scary movie ends on a happy note. She offers a second benefit as the ability for a viewer to share in the heroine’s “astounding escape.”

The search for an entertaining armchair adrenaline rush seems to account for the continued popularity of the thriller book as well as film. Editor and creator of www.thestorygrid.com, Shawn Coyne avers that “The thriller is the Story form of our time because it concerns the individual coping with omnipresent and often difficult to even comprehend antagonism.” The essence of this emotional zeitgeist is that “WE’RE NOT SAFE.” We want someone to slay the dragons, grapple with uncertainty and make it to the next day.

With roughly 450 million thriller books sold (and that’s just for ten authors), the numbers speak for themselves. In a Daily Mail article, the point was made that crime thrillers are entertaining. Readers want the satisfaction of knowing that the hero gets to wave a flag of honor at the end of the story.