The Unrepentant Character

Hello, SeERs! You’re with Mae today for a discussion on the unrepentant character.

The difficult one. The problem child. The-how-the-heck-did-he/she-turn-out-that-way individual.

conceptual sketch of two faces in profile with the words "We should talk" above

We’ve all encountered them. It’s that individual you’ve already pre-determined is going to act a certain way, but who ends up doing the opposite. I like creating flawed characters, and that blurs the line. My heroes aren’t always heroic. Sometimes they’re selfish, unreasonable, or need-a-kick-in-the-butt annoying. My clever heroines have been known to get in over their heads and do something stupid. They grow as I grow.

Check.  I can live with that.

But what about villains? They’re the ones that surprise me. For the most part, I know what makes the bad guy tick and I stick to the plan but, occasionally, one of them puts his or her foot down and decides to do something unexpected. Something… decent.

I recall a specific character in my novel Myth and Magic who I had pre-determined to be irredeemable. Halfway through, I realized he wasn’t all that bad. His unique way of looking at things steadily grew on me. He maintained the less-than-perfect qualities I dumped on him at the start, but he developed depth I hadn’t expected. For all his irritating characteristics, I was shocked to realize I liked him.

Was I disappointed? Hardly. Was it the first time it’s happened? Pff! It still catches me by surprise, but I’m more than happy to concede to my characters when they’re focused.

What about you?  Do you like it when a character you’ve created forces you to change your opinion of them, or do you try to keep them pigeonholed as long as possible?  Tell me about one of your characters in the comments below. I’d love to hear how they did a 180 on you. I’m sure we all have at least one character like this, if not several!

Ready, set, go!

Bio box for author, Mae Clair

47 thoughts on “The Unrepentant Character

  1. I think I wear my heart on my sleeve where this issue is concerned. My heroes are rarely clearly defined because life contains no clear definitions. Few villains believe in their villainy, but rather seek justification, either by conditioning or through misfortune. We are all the products of a parent’s heavy hand here, a chance remark there, an injustice or a slight that lives within our conscious memory or forces us into courses of action we would not otherwise contemplate. On balance, I would think, it is best to allow the reader to make a judgment because the character that lives in their minds as they read is of the greatest importance.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well said. I admit to sometimes steering my readers in the direction I want them to go when it comes to opinions regarding my characters. But the best characters, as you said–indeed, the most memorable–are those that cross lines without clear definition. I like all those nuances, the gnarled and rough edges that are hidden but have never been fully polished away. Psychological fiction (my favorite genre to read) uses this type of characters routinely. I’ve yet to attempt my hand at writing it, but maybe one of these days.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think my lines between good and evil are clearly demarcated in my book, Mae. None of the dark characters can be redeemed in any why, they are just to horrible.I have more of this conundrum in A man and his gold. I think my characters there may receive a lot of sympathy despite their bad qualities.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sometimes evil characters are just downright evil. I’ve written a few that are too wretched to be redeemed.
      It will be interesting to see the difference from Through the Nethergate to A Man and His Gold, Robbie. You have me curious about what they do to garner that sympathy!

      Like

  3. Pingback: Friday Finds – Staci Troilo

  4. I do a lot of plotting before I start a book, but my characters don’t always pay attention to that. They usually end up where I meant for them to go, but they don’t always follow the route I planned for them. It’s always fun to see what they come up with. Caleb, in the Fallen Angels series, was my biggest surprise. He was meant to be the main antagonist/villain of the books, and he IS an antagonist, but somehow, I still really liked him and he never was a true villain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s so cool he surprised you, Judi. You must have given him multiple layers for him to develop that way. I love when a character shows a side of themselves I didn’t expect when I envisioned them. I guess even with plotting, there is room for them to throw a wrench into the structure, LOL.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. As I was writing Dog Bone Soup, I realized there was a reason behind Dad’s drinking and approached it from the POV of his brother using dialog between Shawn and his uncle about the after affects of war. Lots of food for thought in the post, Mae… Sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing, Bette!
      I like when an author establishes reasons for a character’s bad behavior rather than leaving it unaddressed. It adds more dimension to the character and the book.
      Dog Bone Soup was so “authentic” in voice and character. I loved that book!

      Like

  6. Great post, Mae. I’ve lost count of the number of times my characters have taken me hostage. In the first draft of my next book, the character of Charles Edgerton died badly midway through the book, but the character kept nagging at me to give him a reason to stay. He begged me to give him an understanding nod from my readers. I grew to love this character in all his imperfection. I tend to cringe a little when I read a book where the Hero/Heroin (Human Variety) is oh so perfect. I keep waiting for the facade to crack. I guess it depends on the genre of the book and the author’s targeted audience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think most characters have room for flaws despite the genre, but I guess you do have to consider the targeted audience. I’m not fond of perfection in my characters either as a reader or writer.

      I am so GLAD you didn’t kill Charles off and listened to him. He clearly knew what he was talking about when he insisted you give him another chance. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is one of my favorite parts of writing when a character surprises me. I start off going in one direction and suddenly take a sharp right turn. Never know what treasures you are going to find that bumpy dirt road.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Absolutely! It’s fun when they have their mind set on how everything should play out. I’ve had characters force name changes on me, behavior changes, and totally rewrite their scenes. They really are determined, LOL!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I can’t think of any villains I had who turned out good or any heroes who went dark. (Maybe because I outline so much.) But I did have a character who was supposed to be an unimportant secondary character who insisted on becoming the hero of his own story. That spinoff was a nice surprise, especially because it meant I didn’t have to say goodbye to my other characters.

    Great post, Mae.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love when that happens, too. And it’s so nice when you don’t have to say goodbye to “old friends.” I have a few characters who have been waiting in in the wings to shine in spin-off novellas.They want their turn int he spotlight 🙂

      I’,m glad you enjoyed the post, Staci!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. My characters surprise me all the time, but I don’t know about the villains. So many of mine are demons or devils it’s harder to redeem them. Clovis doesn’t count, because he’s actually an anti-hero. I have a moderate redemption planned for one in Lanternfish, but it’s going to take a while.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My characters go off script all the time. With villains, I think only one has remained as pure evil with no positive traits. Even the Lich (an undead wizard) in my big series revealed a human side. I decided to make it part of the overall plot when it turned up too. Might as well roll with the surprises.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think villains should have some redeemable attributes. It makes them way more interesting. All my characters seem to develop a life outside of what I have planned for them. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I find I like villains more when they have a side to them that isn’t entirely despicable. Not that I actually LIKE the character, but I get glimpses under the mask that makes them more interesting.

      Isn’t it intriguing how our characters seem to know better than we do what’s best for them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My current villain is a demon masquerading as a human. So, it’s kind of funny, I struggle with if I give him redeemable qualities can I justify it. Because he naturally wants to go there but then I remember he is really a demon, so can he go there. It’s fun in a confusing kind of way – reading this back, I’d say it’s even confusing to explain 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • LOL! Believe it or not, I understood where you were headed.
        I wonder how much he is going to dictate on the way his character develops. He sounds like a challenge! 😉

        Like

  12. It’s happened to me twice (so far). First with Brian in Unseen Motives (and because of him a single title turned into a series). In the third book, my character Jason took an unexpected turn. He’s getting his own book! I love it when characters do that. It takes a little finagling the story to fit, but I like allowing my characters to speak to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I love the interaction that grows between me and my characters. I never expected that they would become real friends when I first started writing. I envisaged always being in control, changing everything at a moments notice if it didn’t suit my original idea. I never noticed when this idea began, but I’m so glad it did.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. It has happened with me, too. In Wytchfae Runes, Hyge was supposed to be unredeemable. However, the things he did were to survive in the harsh bleakness of his world, and he ended up helping the heroine and encouraging the same from his cohorts. With the evil witch Skada also, in a later book Demoness Dreams, after meeting her daughter she ended up not as bad as before. I’m not sure if we’ve seen the last of Skada.

    Liked by 3 people

    • What great changes! With villains, when we give them reasons for their actions and layer in shades other than black and white, they really take on a life of their own.I love the depth they develop. It sounds like you’re well familiar with those changes in your Wytchfae series!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I always love my villains (far too much actually). They do such awful things but there’s usually something in them that makes me not want to give up on them. I recently killed a heinous villain and I was actually upset – despite the god awful things he’d done! I guess they’re all our children, even the problem children.

    Liked by 2 people

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