the dos and don’ts of writing bad guys

DON’T:

  • tell me that the bad guy is “different.”
  • alienate the bad guy so that they are the only flawed, unrelatable character
  • tell me that the reason for their crimes is because of something they believe, or where they’re from, or because of a certain way they identify.
  •  perpetuate stereotypes for the sake of making the bad guy seem awful/scary.

DO:

  • tell me that the line between good and evil is very thin.
  • tell me that the choices a bad guy makes has led them to where they are now.
  • tell me that the bad guy could be anyone. It could be me. It could be you. It could be the people we trust most.

And why should you do this? What benefits does it have?

What this does is that it makes it difficult for readers to blame evil on some aspect of the person that they don’t share. It makes them more aware that their choices make them good or bad, not who they are. And so if they ever fall down that path of evil, their brain doesn’t tell them “oh, you’re not the bad guy because you’re not from a certain religion” or “oh, you’re not a bad guy because your skin color isn’t the same as other bad guys.” Instead, it says, “maybe you’re making the wrong choice. Think about your actions. Are you becoming the bad guy?”

I’m saying this in the context of writing, but really it’s about any type of media. Books. Movies. The news. And this is something I know would make a difference for people in the real world. For me, and everyone else.

So DO tell me that the bad guy is just as human as the rest of us–not as a way of excusing their crimes, but in a way that it serves as a warning.

-THE END-

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14 thoughts on “the dos and don’ts of writing bad guys

  1. Ooh, I really like this! I’m trying to apply this in my novel/series. It doesn’t exactly come up in the first book necessarily, but I’m planning for it to express my thoughts about, like you said, the line between good and evil being thin. And that sometimes, good things can come from evil, or, at least, that things people may think are totally evil are actually doing some good. Eh, I’m not expressing my thoughts very well, but I’m hoping I can do this since I think it’s really interesting and important. I do need to develop my villain(s) though… Thank you for posting!

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  2. (I lost your comment somewhere in my feed and there’s no respond button anymore so I’ll just make a new comment.)

    But they’re spoilersss…they’re supposed to be secret. I worked on developing my villain though and ahhh he’s amazing in a part-hero, part-villain sort of way.

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  3. Cait @ Paper Fury says:

    Ooh I like your lists! I hate stereotyped and obviously cliche villains…especially when they have no reason to be evil! It’s just not good storytelling, tbh. I like it when the bad guys are shown as people who are just striving to do what THEY think is most beneficial/right to them. I mean, anyone can be an antagonist really, right?! I always like when things are in the grey areas too. Keeps it exciting. XD
    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

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    • Thank you! And yes, exactly! People think villains have no morals when most of the time they just have morals completely opposite to the heroes’. So when that’s actually portrayed correctly, it makes books a whole lot better. :D

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