What makes us root for the good bad guy? By Jacqui Rose
After a two week break, I’m back with the book tour for Jacqui Rose’s new book called ‘Toxic’. Today, Jacqui talks about why we root for the good, bad guy.
Having just re-read ‘Wuthering Heights’ recently, I was struck by how much I was rooting – as always – for Heathcliff, albeit he is downright mean and abusive at times. But no matter, each time I read the book I re-fall in love with him!
So, it got me thinking what is it exactly that makes a good bad guy? I call them, good bad guys because I like to put the villains in two different categories. There’s the bad bad guy where he has no redeeming qualities and the reader is relieved to see him caught in the end, and then there’s the good bad guy, where even though he may live his life outside the law and at times be harsh and cruel, we still want him to escape capture or even sweep us off our feet!
My books are full of good bad guys and even though they do terrible things and treat people badly at times, most of my readers are rooting for them, myself included which is a strange phenomenon when we think of what they have done. In an extreme example you only have to look at Dr. Hannibal Lecter in ‘Silence of the Lambs’, a monstrous person who’d committed horrific crimes, yet the whole way through the book, we’re still rooting for him!
I think to root for a good bad guy certainly isn’t about what they look like, though it doesn’t hurt for them to be chiselled and taut! but like all characters it’s about the emotional depth of them, and especially the emotional torment they’re suffering or have suffered.
To create a great bad guy, it’s important from the beginning the readers are behind them. He must have a level of emotional depth above and behind the hero in the story because it’s vital that readers can connect to the reason why he’s acting so badly and what it is which is driving them to such extreme behaviour.
I think this is an essential ingredient so even though the reader might be conflicted by the fact that they’re cheering on the villain of the piece, what will over-ride this moral dilemma will be the emotional connection and the sympathy through the understanding of the character as well as the sense that the bad guy is only in this position for reasons beyond their control rather than by choice.
By me making the good bad guy complex, where on the surface it just seems like they have a desire to be bad, but at the same time creating a under the surface narrative where the nature of the behaviour is driven by love, passion or desperation – all emotions that readers can relate to – rather than the readers seeing my good bad guy as completely evil, readers will see him as merely flawed with a possibility of redemption, hopefully they will continue to root for him throughout.
In my latest book ‘Toxic’, the character of Alfie Jennings returns and he very much fits into the good bad guy category. Alfie often seems and behaves like he’s just a tough guy; ruthless and at times out and out uncaring with a driving ambition just to get and stay on top no matter who he hurts. But right at the heart of Alfie there’s a vulnerability, a softness, a man who was damaged by his upbringing, a man when he does love, loves with passion and intensity and as such, Alfie is one of my readers favourite characters which is just great, because it’s always so much more fun to write the good bad guys rather than the hero. We all love a villain!
You can buy Toxic from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.