Complex Character – Even the Bad Guys

Complex Character

The writing world is interesting in its view of creating a complex character in a novel.

Protagonists

If I were to pen a book about a hero with few to no obvious visible flaws, it would be rejected out of hand. Boring would be the message.

A major protagonist must have something wrong with them that they overcome. Alcoholism. Poor self esteem. A weakness of some sort. Any major flaw will be accepted.

Those agents and publishers are not wrong. Readers want to be able to identify with the hero in a way that makes them believable.

Complex Character Antagonists

Yet on social media platforms I’ve read comments where people do not believe the same about the antagonists in the stories. The bad guys must be two dimensional. They must always be bad. Their motives must be steeped in evil.

That makes no sense to me. Even bad guys need to have flaws in their bad behaviour. In other words, I believe that the bad guys must have enough three-dimensional creation that they might be sympathized with in some way.

…the bad guys must have enough three-dimensional creation that they might be sympathized with in some way…

Bill Leesman

How, you might ask.
The bad politician must be totally hated with no redeemable characteristics. The evil oligarch must be so bad that the reader cannot relate in any way.

No.

I’m not disagreeing that the antagonist must be so disliked that you don’t want them to exist.
People are complex. Even bad people. When you read news articles about criminals, bad politicians, bullies, etc., there always seems to be someone in their sphere of influence who is shocked. There will almost always be good people who like the bad guy. There are sometimes past circumstances that helped create the person who has gone sideways.

All characters in a story should have a complex personality. A full complex character history. Even the bad guys. #canadianauthor

Enzo is that guy in The Judas Legacy.
You’ll catch yourself empathizing with him as you root against him!