Protagonist/Hero is also the bad guy??

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Protagonist/Hero is also the bad guy??

Postby SteevO » 25 Feb 2012, 08:32

Hello everyone. I've been reading a lot of how-to books and things on the net, about making our "hero" go through ups and downs and learning/becoming better/overcoming their past issues etc. However, in my story, my main charachter,my hero......is not a good person. He does some bad things, and spirals out of control, yet at the same time growing, and overcoming a lot of past issues.
I guess my question is-is it ok to make my "hero" a bad guy? Is it ok to make the antagonist a police officer/detective? To want to root for the bad guy, although he does some really bad things? It just seems to go against what I keep hearing about a hero being.
Thanks everyone
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Re: Protagonist/Hero is also the bad guy??

Postby Quill » 25 Feb 2012, 08:49

Perhaps your protagonist is an antihero.
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Re: Protagonist/Hero is also the bad guy??

Postby dios4vida » 25 Feb 2012, 08:54

Anything's possible in the world of books. That's what makes it so fun.

From your brief description, it sounds like you're going with an antihero archetype - a hero who acts outside of the normal "hero" behavior. This is totally acceptable. Just look at movies like Ocean's Eleven and The Italian Job. The heros are thieves, and we root for them instead of police or other (worse) guys.

The trick with an antihero is to make sure that the aren't beyond the redemption point. Check out this great post by Nathan for the concept of redeemability: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/02/sympathetic-vs-unsympathetic-characters.html.

People usually recommend that when you have an antihero you do something to show that there is a kernal of goodness inside them - they call it "pet the puppy" moments or other such nomenclatures - so that there's at least something for the reader to relate to.

Remember that readers don't have to necessarily like a character, but they do have to empathize with them. My favorite example of this: "We may not like a character that gets drunk on a camping trip. But, even though he's acting stupid, we can certainly empathize when a hungry bear targets him as his next meal."

Heros don't have to be shiny examples of humanity. That's why they endure in peoples' hearts. Go with what you believe is right for the story. :)
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Re: Protagonist/Hero is also the bad guy??

Postby SteevO » 25 Feb 2012, 09:01

Thanks guys...and for the link. I think my guy is going to be more like the "Tragic Hero". :D I'm reading "Story Engineering" right now, by Larry Brooks. Very good stuff!
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Re: Protagonist/Hero is also the bad guy??

Postby mudpuppy » 25 Feb 2012, 09:04

Yes, antiheros are really cool. On one note make sure that your character has a "tragic flaw" or otherwise he might not fit the "tragic hero" archtype.
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Re: Protagonist/Hero is also the bad guy??

Postby polymath » 25 Feb 2012, 09:52

Seems to me a protagonist/hero/antihero who is also "the bad guy" is ripe for bildungsroman, a narrative portraying personal, moral, psychological growth, like young adult coming of age narratives are maturation sagas. Change or transformation is an underlying force in a plot. There must be an appreciable change over the course of a dramatic action in order to satisfy readers, ideally ongoing change from beginning to ending, and emotional payoff.

Clearly defining who is who in what dramatic roles is pivotal when a "bad" guy is also a protagonist: A protagonist is a central character who is most changed by a dramatic action. A hero in the dramatic sense is a character who self-sacrificingly serves a greater good than the self, though to a degree also serves the self. Bad guys can be nemeses, though not necessarily evil in anyone's else's sensibilities except for a protagonist's. A nemesis is a competitor for a goal that only one can win. There can be only one winner in a nemesis-protagonist clash. Villains are bad guys, often temporally evil in terms of self-serving at the expense of others' well-being, though they don't of necessity oppose a protagonist. And adversary, to a degree like a nemesis, like a villain, but not necessarily competing for a shared goal nor necesasrily be evil.

For example, an adversary might be entirely indifferent to an indivdual's struggle. Dystopias are classic examples of indifferently adversarial dramatic situations. An internally complicated person might not be evil in the general senses of moral or spiritual depravity, but in the temporal sense be bad from "wrong" behaviors that harm or offend society, rudeness for example, and wanting adjustment for societal inclusion, though society be largely indifferent and consequently indifferently shun yet tolerate the person.

A protagonist, hero, antihero, villain, nemesis, adversary would be a mite challenging to write but make for a delightfully complicated drama.
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Re: Protagonist/Hero is also the bad guy??

Postby jnduncan » 25 Feb 2012, 19:19

I think the anithero would be fun hero to write. And really, you don't necessary have to have them win out in the end either. Their tragic flaw or flaws can be their undoing in the end, though they should be trying to do the good thing. I can't think of any literary examples off the top of my head, but a couple of movies that come to mind are Bad Lieutenant and Romeo is Bleeding. I believe a lot of the fun in these is seeing the anithero get their come-uppance from doing the bad things. They try to be greedy or selfish or whatever and get their asses kicked. The point is that by the end, they learn their lesson, even if it is with tragic results. Harvey Keitel in Bad Lieutenant is really disturbingly bad (and awesome), but has some redemption by the end. Even if bittersweet, there has to be redemption of some kind in the end or the reader will likely feel cheated. And, regardless of how bad they are, they have to be likeable in some way, however minor, so that readers can identify with them in some way. You don't need a lot, but you need something. Anyway, if you want a good example of the bad guy hero, check out those two films. Romeo is just over the top fun and highly recommended. Bad Lieutenant takes a stronger stomach. It's DARK. Really, but very well done. Happy reading/writing everyone!
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Re: Protagonist/Hero is also the bad guy??

Postby SteevO » 26 Feb 2012, 11:31

Thanks a lot guys.... I put those movies on hold @ the library. I've never heard of Bad Lieutenant, but just checked out the trailer, and damn it looks good.
I'm looking forward to writing a tragic hero, and working on making him bad, but at the same time having people feel empathy for him too.
Cheers
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Re: Protagonist/Hero is also the bad guy??

Postby JohnDurvin » 01 Mar 2012, 12:08

And then there's "A Clockwork Orange", "The Screwtape Letters", "Blackadder"...you're not the first and you won't be the last. To see at a glance how a few others have worked with this, I recommend http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/VillainProtagonist.
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Re: Protagonist/Hero is also the bad guy??

Postby isabellearcher » 13 Mar 2012, 04:55

Protagonist- Good Guy (He is a PRO at being good)
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Re: Protagonist/Hero is also the bad guy??

Postby MattLarkin » 13 Mar 2012, 05:27

isabellearcher wrote:Protagonist- Good Guy (He is a PRO at being good)

According to dictionary.com:

Origin:
1665–75; < Greek prōtagōnistḗs actor who plays the first part, literally, first combatant, equivalent to prôt ( os ) first + agōnistḗs one who contends for a prize, combatant, actor. See proto-, antagonist
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Re: Protagonist/Hero is also the bad guy??

Postby Falls Apart » 18 Mar 2012, 19:23

Personally, this is... about 90% of the protagonists I write. A protagonist is simply the character the story focuses on, and the antagonist is the character who stands in opposition to his/her goals. For a classic example of the protagonist-as-bad-guy, antagonist-as-good-guy, check out the manga Death Note, if you're into that kind of thing, or the anime or movies if you'd prefer. Yagami Light is an absolutely monstrous person who essentially goes on a supernatural killing spree to "rid the world of all evil" and declare himself a god of the new, purified Earth. He's unambiguously a bad person, albeit one with sympathetic motives. And yet the story is told almost completely through his eyes. L, on the other hand, stands in direct opposition to Light and is trying throughout the story to bring him down, and the plot is essentially a mental competition between the two, and, even though his motives are partially selfish, it's completely clear that when/if he defeats Light, good will have won.

IMO, the story is significantly enhanced by this. Light isn't the protagonist because he's doing something good; he's the protagonist because he's driving most of the action. If the story were told from L's POV, it would be completely different. It wouldn't be asking the same questions about good and evil. You wouldn't see why Light does what he does. The story's suspense wouldn't lie in what would happen next; it would lie in figuring out what was actually going on.

Of course, this ranges in extremity. You'll find anti-heroes who are anti-heroes because they don't drive the plot and are instead just along for the ride, such as Arthur Dent from Hitchiker's Guide. You'll find others who are really quite heroic, but maybe don't act/look entirely the part, like Disney's Aladdin. Others are good people forced by circumstances to act in a decidedly un-heroic manner, like Mal from Firefly. Some will be people with genuinely sympathetic motivations who take methods to such extremes to the point that they are only heroes because of their motivations, like Arya Stark in ASOIAF. And others will be the very extreme anti-heroes, to the point that they're really just villains in the slots of protagonists, like Humbert Humbert from Lolita.

Long story short, while bad guy protagonists are rare, and get even more uncommon the darker you get, it can be a brilliant way to tell a story if you do it right.
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Re: Protagonist/Hero is also the bad guy??

Postby MattLarkin » 28 Mar 2012, 12:01

Arthur Dent is an anti-hero in the traditional sense of the term. He lacks heroic qualities. He's a bum, but not a bad guy.

Modern anti-heroes, like say some of the characters in Watchmen (caveat, only saw the movie), are anti-heroic. That is, they are heroes, but the buck heroic convention--they're dark heroes.

Dark protagonists are naturally compelling on screen, and (I'd guess in comics), because of their visual appeal. In books, it's more difficult. The writer is asking us to get inside the head of the protagonist. Most people, despite enjoying seeing a grim hero, don't necessarily want to live in that hero's head for an entire novel. The dark protagonist almost has to be searching for redemption. Exceptions exist, of course. But, in general, if the reader doesn't want to spend time with the character, in the character's head, you're in trouble.
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