The Villain Inside the Protagonist

How do you feel about a story with yet another snarling, Villain-Protagonistdarker than evil villains? Or what about stories with villains showing a little good, just enough for us to feel sorry for them for about five seconds, going against protagonists whose flaws make us cringe for another five seconds before we go back to loving them?

The concept of the flawed main character shouldn’t come as news to us. We’ve seen plenty of them. But one character who broke bad—know him?—made me think about this topic a little more. Breaking Bad made me root for a guy I really hated to love. Doing so made me feel uncomfortable. No matter how the otherwise great writing made me want this terrible, at times murderous man to succeed, and no matter how his story provided a context that seemed to justify his downward spiral, this was not one guy I wanted to like. Yet I identified with him. In that monster pride that drove him to take control, and in that hubris that gave him the confidence to believe he could not fail, I saw more than a bit of myself. I suspect many viewers did as well.

In Walter White I had met the Villain-Protagonist. Oh, he faced other dark characters who fit the more classic villain mold. But he was special. We rooted for him to overcome the other guys. We also rooted for him to battle himself. We identified most with him when the two sides of him, caring father and husband vs. meth cook and pusher, battled for control of his actions.

In some of my stories I’ve met some of these characters. In varying degrees, all my protagonists in the Our Cyber World series fall into a Villain-Protagonist (or Protagonist-Villain) type. Of these, Roger Morris of Decisive Moment stands out the most. In a story full of darkness, he pushes through some crazy circumstances, but above all he battles himself. Like Walter White, that struggle sends him on a spiraling journey that might well destroy him.

Such characters are hard to get to know, much less write. They rub me the wrong way. They frustrate me. Yet, I can’t pull myself away from them. In their inner wrestling I see how I—and dare I say, many others—wage the eternal fight between good and evil, not on a clichéd epic scale, but at an intimate, personal level that though seemingly small, looms largest of all.

In a recent review for one of the Tracking Jane episodes, a reader wrote he wanted to punch the main character. Yeah, I get that. Imagine how I feel having to write her onto the page. Imagine what goes through my mind when I realize someone should punch me, too.

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