Rooting for the Bad Guy?

Man with mysterious eyes

Last week I blogged about amoral protagonists. But what about protagonists who are unquestionably immoral?

Some general market books make their readers root for the bad guy. Think about accounts of bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde, written from their points of view. Or a book written primarily from the point of view of a courtesan, such as Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement. These books set the reader in a life where there is no Christ, yet the reader can’t help but feel sympathy for the protagonists by coming to an understanding of how circumstances combined by the moral failings of others set characters in one unhappy situation after another. 

Not everyone we meet will be a fellow Christian, and without God, people are more helpless in unfavorable circumstances. Rooting for the bad guy isn’t uplifting. Some may even feel it is wrong. But in helping us understand some of our fellow human beings who aren’t as blessed as we are by God’s presence in our lives, perhaps we can reach out with more compassion in the future.

Your turn:

Who is your favorite antihero? Why?

11 Responses to Rooting for the Bad Guy?

  1. Jackie Layton February 13, 2014 at 6:32 am #

    This may not be what you were hoping for, but this is the first person to come to mind…

    I’m going way back to the Batman TV show. As a little girl, I always felt sorry for Catwoman. She seemed needy and wanted to get Batman’s attention. Maybe she wasn’t loved as a child.

    I enjoyed the last movie where she helped Batman and they ended up together. I’m not going to say how many years I waited for Catwoman to turn good.

    Have a great day.

  2. Jeanne Takenaka February 13, 2014 at 8:42 am #

    What an interesting question, and perspective, Tamela. I have thought about people walking through trials, even some of the trials I’ve walked through and doing it without Jesus. I don’t know how they get through without incurring some mighty big scars along the way. I’ll take your challenge to be more proactive in reaching out with compassion.

    I tend not to like the anti-heroes in books and movies because I have a strong sense of justice. :) But, one anti-hero that stands out to me is Wizard (Robin Williams’ character) in August Rush. He takes care of street kids. Kind of. He’s misguided and needy, which in him, is a dangerous combination. But he’s quite the anti-hero in that movie because he isn’t so very different from the kids he cares for. He’s just more controlling and devious in getting his needs met.

    You made me think today. That’s always a good thing. :)

  3. Jaime Wright February 13, 2014 at 9:34 am #

    Totally NOT what you were looking for but I just had to pin that picture to my “hero” board…nothing like a grumpy mysterious hero pic to pull me in. But a vulnerable villain? It brings humanity into the story and creates that love/hate conundrum.

  4. Ron Estrada February 13, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    I’m listening to an audio book right now called Once a Spy by Keith Thomson. The protagonist is a young man who has ruined his life through gambling. He shuns his aging father and has no relationships outside of his buddies at the track. As it turns out, his father, now suffering from alzheimer’s, is a former spy. Because of the secrets he holds and his now unstable mental capacities, his former colleagues decide he needs to be eliminated. The son gets mixed up in the ensuing chase, of course. Despite the constant near-death experiences and action, I find myself rooting for this father and son to forgive each other and be the family they never were. The son is learning a lot about his father’s past and a bit of spycraft, but more importantly, he’s learning about his father’s love for him, one that he could never properly express when he was younger. I love stories where the real stakes aren’t the immediate threat. There’s something much deeper.

  5. Rachel Smith February 13, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    Tyrion Lannister, from A Song of Ice And Fire series, more commonly known as Game of Thrones. He’s on the wrong side of the war, defending his queen regent sister who’s guilty of incest and the most power-hungry character in the whole series. He knows what all she’s done and how much she hates his very existence, and still he does what he can to keep her from getting herself killed, because she’s his sister and he does love her. Most of the time.

    Honorable bastard sounds like the best oxymoron ever, but it describes Tyrion perfectly. You can’t help but root for him and want him to be redeemed.

    Done well, the anti-hero is a good character to learn from. Done badly, as in the vampire romance trend, it makes you want to stake the anti-hero.

  6. J.D. Maloy February 13, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    Rachel, “Done well, the anti-hero is a good character to learn from.”

    I agree. It’s a challenge to show that though opposed to just hating their guts because their, let’s say a serial killer. Donald Maass talks about the importance of a good antagonist and why the reader needs to not like them just because their actions are just so *evil*. Like Ron said, going deeper with the antagonists motives to their crimes makes for a more intriguing story. One where the reader can learn something.

    • Rachel Smith February 14, 2014 at 3:59 pm #

      I’m writing my first villain POV in my current WIP, and I’m having a blast. He’s so twisted and his motives make no sense to the hero and heroine. But they make perfect sense to him and I’m trying to convey that whenever he comes up for a scene. I want readers to sympathize with him, but still hate him and want to see him lose.

      In the previous two WIP’s I ended up with an anti-hero as a secondary POV and he was great fun. In the end he was redeemed and decided to forgive instead of kill, but everyone around him knows he’s still capable of murder with little, if any, remorse. He’s bodyguard to a king in danger so his questionable moral compass suits his job requirements.

  7. Heather Day Gilbert February 14, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    I always look at it (when writing anti-heroes) from the perspective that in their minds, for some reason, villains and anti-heroes believe they are RIGHT and their behavior is somehow justified. I think if you can paint that vibe effectively, you’ll have an unforgettable character. For instance, Scarlett O’Hara is rather shockingly bad when you read Gone w/the Wind, and yet, I was rooting for her. Another book where I was going right along, sympathizing w/the main character (thinking he was just a bit introverted and quirky) was The Talented Mr. Ripley. Those kind of books are quite electrifying when you realize the person you’ve sympathized with is SO VERY EVIL. And yet, we all are sinners, if not to that degree. I love books w/conflicted villains/anti-heroes. I’d also think of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. He does some stuff that would’ve really ticked me off. But we do sympathize w/him and root for Jane E. as she draws him out.

    • Heather Day Gilbert February 14, 2014 at 11:08 am #

      (just realized I should say we all sin, if not in those ways…we’re all sinners in the same degree–guilty)

    • Heather Day Gilbert February 14, 2014 at 11:09 am #

      And I should also say CATHERINE as she draws him out…oh mercy, mixing up my classics here…

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