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Writing a Character’s Dark Side

25 March 2013

From author Linda Gray on Write of Passage:

The dark side is not only for two-dimensional villains and vampires. It’s part of everyone in real life who has lived more than a couple of years. To express that in a character—whether villain or hero—to tap into the power that comes from showing truths about the character’s deepest self, and thereby creating a complex, conflicted character, is one of the biggest challenges writers face. Why? Well, there are probably lots of answers to that particular question, but I’m going to suggest that it’s because our “deepest self,” warts and all,  is something most people are uncomfortable examining, much less expressing for public consumption.

. . . .

The most riveting characters in literature are the deeply conflicted ones—the ones who are driven to behave in certain ways that go against the grain of what they know to be upright and good, for example. Anti-heroes are classic examples of that type of inner conflict. Think Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind and Rick of Rick’s Café Americain in Casablanca. 

At least Scarlett and Rick get a chance for redemption at the end of their stories. But then there’s the even more complex character, the dark tragic hero who honest-to-god believes himself to be someone who strives to do what’s noble (and makes sure the world sees him that way), but is, in fact, driven by lower orders of need and desire.

Link to the rest at Write of Passage

Fiction Fundamentals, Writing Advice

2 Comments to “Writing a Character’s Dark Side”

  1. I’m not sure I agree that both Scarlett and Rick get a chance to redeem themselves at the end of their respective stories. Rick sees a chance and takes it, and he’s a hero to the resistance an’ all. Cue clever last scene, FADE OUT.

    Scarlett’s chances to be a better person occur throughout Gone With the Wind, and she throws away every single one. By the end, as a result of always choosing self-interest over any degree of concern for others, she has lost everything, and is only able to keep total heartbreak at bay by refusing to think about her situation and her role in creating it. She is, if anything, as far from meaningful change–or farther–than she has ever been. In my decidedly un-humble opinion.

    • Agreed.

      In some ways, if you see Scarlet’s character as “riveting” it’s because she is not conflicted. She is a villain, true to her villainy. She has an inner strength that holds some fascination — she rejects redemption and holds fast against the consequences of her actions.

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