It’s so easy to make someone seem worse than they are. It’s so much harder to make them better.
Like that quote? I just made it up. I’ll probably work on paring it down and making it more concise, but for now, the message stands. If you’re a writer, I assume you’ve written both good and bad characters. Which is easier? I’d much rather write a scene with a completely evil bad guy, instead of the good MC. It’s so hard to make a likeable MC, someone that pretty much every reader will identify with, and so much easier to create an evil villain.
I came up with the idea for this post this morning when my mom was giving me a slight talking-to. If I was writing that scene in a story it would be so easy to make my mom into a villain. I’d just need to use a couple well chosen words and my mom would seem like some monster who’s constantly nagging me to clean up my room and who’s paranoid that there’ll be drinking at a party this Friday and who doesn’t trust my driving. How many teen books have you read with parents like that?
The thing is, my mom isn’t at all like that. She’s not a nag. She’s not paranoid (at least, not more than any good mother should be) and she trusts my driving. She’s the best mom ever and I love her so much… but with words I could make her out to be something terrible without even exaggerating events (much).
That’s just a little scary, isn’t it? It’s so easy to give the wrong impression. And it’s so easy to be negative. When you write a story, how many evil/annoying characters do you have? Are the parents portrayed as paranoid and restricting? Are the ‘Mean Girls’ just another cliché clique? Is the bad guy a faceless evil?
The impression we get of your characters completely depends on the events that you decide to show. If I only told you about the times when my mom was annoyed with me then she’d come across as a nasty person, but I’d be skipping the 90% of the time when she puts up with me being annoying to her. To give a fair portrayal of my mom, I’d need to show her as loving and sympathetic most of the time, and whenever I showed her in a ‘worse’ light I’d have to explain that really, she’s probably justified in ‘nagging’ me to clean up my room.
If you have a Mean Girl in your story, why not try giving her one short scene where she does something nice for a change? Maybe your villain actually has a weak spot, or the evil stepmother turns out to love birds…
It’s your choice. Just remember that characters are more interesting when they’re not completely bad.