Tuesday, December 13, 2011

9 Kelley York on Making Bad Characters Good

We have a guest post today from Kelley York, whose novel HUSHED is coming out from Entangled Publishing. Kelley was born and raised in central California, where she still resideswith her lovely wife, daughter, and an abundance of pets. (Although she does fantasize about moving across the globe to Ireland.) She has a fascination with bells, adores all things furry - be them squeaky, barky or meow-y - is a lover of video games, manga and anime, and likes to pretend she's a decent photographer. Her life goal is to find a real unicorn. Or maybe a mermaid.

Within young adult, she enjoys writing and reading a variety of genres from contemporary with a unique twist, psychological thrillers, paranormal/urban fantasy and horror. She loves stories where character development takes center stage.

Kelley's website: http://www.kelley-york.com/blog

Making 'Bad' Characters 'Good'

by Kelley York

Awhile back, a friend and fellow YAtopian, Chanelle, posted a question on her blog: What makes a character likable? I gave it a lot of thought before answering, because it was a question that pertained to me and HUSHED.

In theory, HUSHED’s protagonist, Archer, is a character you shouldn’t like. If you heard about him in the news or through a friend, you’d likely think he was a waste of space. Someone you could never sympathize with. He kills people, after all. And when I started writing HUSHED, I knew I was venturing into dangerous waters. I had a character that was not a hero, but very much an antihero and doing things that were hard to forgive. If I wanted people to like him—or at the very least, understand him—I had to be careful.

When a character does something bad, it dehumanizes them in our (the readers’) eyes. The worse the crime, the most distant we feel. This is why the truly evil villains we might enjoy as villains, but we don’t really feel something for them. We don’t mourn for them when they’re gone. But—a villain given substance, given some sort of very ‘human’ qualities that we can relate to? It makes the conquering of the villain very bittersweet. We’re happy for our heroes, but sad for what was lost.

Antiheros are no different, and neither was Archer.

One thing I’ve been proud of in seeing reviews of HUSHED is that people do like Archer, and people do understand him. And most of them are aware that they shouldn’t. But why?

I think motivation plays a big part in how we feel about any character. Someone trying to take over the world for power is looked down upon. But, someone who’s trying to take over the world in order to overthrow the evil higher power—well, that’s a little different, isn’t it?

So we have Archer. A murderer. But he isn’t doing it for kicks and giggles. He does it because he honestly, sincerely, believes it’s the right thing to do. Justice being served. He has no misconceptions that he’s a hero or a godsend and is, in fact, aware what he’s doing is wrong on some level. But he murders because he thinks it’s the only way to free his childhood sweetheart, righting the wrongs against her from when they were kids.

Archer’s loyalty is what makes him relatable. His unwavering faith, love, and devotion, however skewed and obsessive it may be, can make you feel for him. Not to mention he spends all this time trying to save Vivian when the events of their childhood have left him just as emotionally scarred. He’s damaged, and he doesn’t realize it.

I can think of very few acts a character could commit that readers would not be willing to overlook, if said character’s motivations were honest and pure and relatable.

What makes a ‘bad’ character likable is not necessarily their actions, but their reasons.

There are all sorts of ‘bad’ heroes, and ‘good’ villains. Can you think of any?

Hushed by Kelley York

He's saved her. He's loved her. He's killed for her.

Eighteen-year-old Archer couldn't protect his best friend, Vivian, from what happened when they were kids, so he's never stopped trying to protect her from everything else. It doesn't matter that Vivian only uses him when hopping from one toxic relationship to another - Archer is always there, waiting to be noticed.

Then along comes Evan, the only person who's ever cared about Archer without a single string attached. The harder he falls for Evan, the more Archer sees Vivian for the manipulative hot-mess she really is.

But Viv has her hooks in deep, and when she finds out about the murders Archer's committed and his relationship with Evan, she threatens to turn him in if she doesn't get what she wants...And what she wants is Evan's death, and for Archer to forfeit his last chance at redemption.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Hushed-Kelley-York/dp/1937044742

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hushed-kelley-york/1033904538


  1. Thanks for sharing your tips on making a hard character likeable. Awesome that so many people in the reviews found Archer likeable. Good luck with your book.

  2. You are totally right. Motivation plays a huge role in a reader's ability to like a character. One of my favorite bad heroes /good villians would would have to be Professor Shape in the Harry Potter series. I truly think that every hero needs a little bad and every villian little good. It's up to the writer how much good or bad there is but it all adds depth and believability. Great post!!

  3. Fascinating. You must've done a great job then, in your novel! The concept makes me think of the TV series Dexter--which I haven't watched because the premise makes me uncomfortable (and I don't pay for TV reception).

    But "murder" can often be a subjective thing, like during a war, fighting for freedom of loved ones...which is similar to this book perhaps? It sort of depends on how the killing is portrayed.

  4. That is HARD to pull off! I look forward to reading the book :)

  5. You can't beat well-written, sympathetic anti-hero. What an intetesting post! Thanks!

  6. I had to have a long talk with myself when I discovered how much I liked Dexter Morgan, serial killer of serial killers on DEXTER. He's damaged goods on a knight's errand. Now of course, I have to read Archer's story which sounds like its in the Dexterian vein.

  7. And this post is why I'm about to dive into Hushed. I adore dark fiction and protags that aren't cookie-cutter. I have no doubt I'm going to adore this book.

  8. I love Snape...reading all the way through HP makes me understand his character so well. Dexter is another great example. Jeff Lindsay's alliteration of Dexter's character is perfect. The idea of a serial killer killing 'bad guys' is just perfect! Definitely a paradox.

  9. When I first read the blurb for this book, I was dubious. How could I ever like a MC who commits murder? But the more I read about it, the more convinced I was that you totally pulled off a likable character who does a bad thing. I can't wait to read this!


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