Tuesday, 23 August 2011

How do your characters sleep at night?

A few nights ago I was planning to rob a bank with a bunch of thugs (none of them George Clooney unfortunately). I won't disclose the details in case I ever decide to take up that career, but when I woke up I felt as if it had all been real. For a whole day, I had this burden on my shoulders that only lifted when I remembered that it had only been a dream. I kept reminding myself that I didn't have to feel bad about going into a bank and shouting at the bank manager -although that could happen even if I wasn't robbing the bank. I didn't have to feel anxious in case I got caught, because there would be no grand escape or car persecution. It was only a dream.

However, my conscience had something to say about my dream's scenario. It was telling me it was wrong. So I keep wondering how swindlers, robbers, murderers and any other offenders can sleep at night. Don't they feel bad about it? Isn't there a little voice telling them that that's wrong?

I've been reading Nicola Morgan's fantastic Write to be Published and it has a whole section on characters. One of the things she mentions is villains and how they should have some redeemable feature (she says it much better than I do, of course, but I've paraphrased her). And the truth is, that hopefully the baddies in our stories have a conscience too, the little voice reminding them that they're behaving badly. We will have a rounder character if they hesitate before acting and have doubts eating them up. If there is a believable reason behind their behaviour.

So, I'm going to dig into my baddy's behaviour, make him think about it (maybe he should sit on the thinking step) and I hope he will feel bad about it.


  1. I try to think of the character as a child - who love him/her, and why. Then it becomes possible to find the vulnerable/redeemable corner of a character, the needy bit that he/she tries to meet in such antisocial ways. It helps me to see people as 'whole' and not entirely good or bad. (Similarly, my goodies need a naughty streak, or they are no fun!)

  2. Aw, you should have robbed the bank! :)

    My baddies are generally quite bad, but I usually try to work in a bit about why they do behave so scandalously. I really love baddies.

  3. Yes, I read once that a hero should have some bad in him, and a villain some good, for the story to be enticing.

    The other day I was in my local bank and a customer was shouting at the bank manager. She wasn't robbing, though. Just angry about some fee she thought was unfair.

  4. That's a really good point. I don't know if all villains need to have some kind of redeeming quality though. Maybe it depends on the genre or the story itself? The villains in Harry Potter and books by Roald Dahl come to mind and they have no redeeming qualities that I can think of. And they're some of the best villains!

    I can think of other villains without redeeming qualities (Blue Duck from Lonesome Dove, for instance). So I guess it really just depends a lot on the story you're telling.

  5. Have fun delving into the mind of your baddies. The bad guys are often so much more attractive than the good guys.

    Liz X


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