Writing a villain that is truly hateable is an enormous challenge that almost every writer will tackle at some point in their career. But writing an evil protagonist is on a whole different level. Not only do you have to tackle all the issues that come along with writing the badies, such as believability and motive, but you also have to make them strong and interesting enough to lead your story without your reader throwing it down in disgust.
A good way to ease yourself into this theme is to write a protagonist who does bad things, but with a good or misguided motive. They might even find redemption at the end of the plot when they realise the consequences of their actions. This type of character is not unusual in crime fiction, where a protagonist accidentally commits a small crime and is drawn further and further into their misdeeds in an attempt to cover it up or make amends.
But the true challenge lies in writing a protagonist who is completely evil, through and through. This type of character will have world views and opinions that are deplorable and which will drive them to do objectively terrible things. If you can manage to write a story featuring a protagonist like this – and you manage to do it well – you will end up with a fascinating piece of work. So, how can you make sure that your readers continue to engage with a character they probably hate.
How the Monster was Made
Motive is critical to any character, particularly villains, as this gives an angle of believability to their actions and views. When writing a hateable protagonist, this type of reasoning is going to be even more crucial. It’s one thing for your character to think and do awful things, but if the reader doesn’t know what drove them to it in the first place, they will not accept the character enough to follow them through the plot.
For example, if all we know is that the protagonist bullies and demeans his co-workers, we could easily write him off as an idiot who isn’t worth our time. But if you can explain to us, in a way that is truly compelling, that he himself was bullied horribly at school and was led to believe that cruelty to others is the only path to success, we can start to understand and even sympathise with him, even if we hate his actions.
A Ray of Light
If you’re striving to have your readers beside themselves with rage at your character, it’s easy to think that you shouldn’t give them even the slightest redeeming feature. This is a trap! Even the most hateable person you can think of is not flawed in every aspect of their personality, and your character won’t be either. Giving your protagonist some positive features will add to their believability and it will also give readers something to latch on to when they’re just about ready to give up hope and put the book down. It doesn’t even necessarily have to relate to the central theme of the book, or the traits that make the character so evil in the first place. In fact, sometimes it can be quite useful to keep their redeeming features separate.
As another example, you might mention that our bullying protagonist also has a big soft spot for dogs, and that he has adopted three disabled puppies who he spends his every spare moment caring for. This has nothing to do with the way he treats his co-workers, so it won’t take away from our negative feelings about that, but it will make him seem more like a real human rather than a concentrated ball of evil.
If anyone reading has had the chance to give evil protagonists a go, drop a comment and let me know how it went for you! If you enjoyed this article, click like and follow, and join me again next week when I will be talking about features that kill an engaging character.