Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Problem Characters: The Good Guy

I'm continuing my series of writing posts about writing problem characters, and this time I have one that may seem odd: the good guy hero. This is more of a recent issue, in which writers seem more fascinated with the bad guys or the bad boy type protagonists, so the good guys come out bland, and that makes audiences not like them while they adore the bad boys, and it creates a downward spiral. They're even trying to make Superman darker and grittier these days because they think that's what's required to make him interesting.

But it is possible to write good guys that people like (at least, according to my reader mail about my good-guy characters). Here are some ways to go about it (and by "guys" I mean both male and female characters, and a "bad boy" can also be a "bad girl"):

You can give good guys a sad or difficult backstory. This seems to have become the trademark of the woobie bad boys/villains whose sad stories are the excuse for their villainy, but it wasn't always the case. We used to like rags-to-riches heroes or those who overcame something. In real life, the people who accomplish a lot of great things usually came from a place of adversity or even trauma. Put as much effort into figuring out the past of your good guys as you do your villains.

Don't try to make good guys perfect. Perfect characters are boring, and all people should be allowed to be human. People can lose their temper, have a bad day, get frustrated, make mistakes, and make bad choices and still be good guys. The difference between bad guys and good guys is that good guys can pull themselves together and get back on track. They recognize where they went wrong and try to do better. They take responsibility for their actions instead of blaming others. And they're usually not deliberately harming others with their mistakes or missteps.

Good guy heroes can also have character flaws and blind spots, like any person. This gives the characters room for growth. If they're already fully realized, mature human beings at the start of the story, they don't have anywhere to go. If they have a weakness at the start of the story, they can grow and change, and that painful process of growth helps us cheer for them.

Let the good guys have a sense of humor. You can be a nice person fighting for the greater good and still be sarcastic or tell jokes. A good guy can make quips and see the irony in things. If the bad guy gets to make witty, sarcastic quips while the hero has to remain stoic, of course the bad guy is going to be more interesting.

It's important to let the good guys' actions speak for themselves. If you keep telling readers how great the good guys are, readers are likely to resent them or start looking for flaws. Let them figure out for themselves how good the characters are. It's even more powerful if you show the characters being good while they're being looked down upon and misunderstood by other characters. Let the readers be the ones to decide who's an awesome person, but give them the evidence they need to come to that conclusion in the characters' actions.

You don't absolutely have to make your protagonist be of the good guy sort, but if you're tending to write bad boys and antiheroes just because you don't think good characters are interesting, maybe you need to adjust your thinking about how you create your characters.

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