I have a new release coming out this month. It’s a brand new contemporary romance series, starting with LET IT BE ME. I took a risk on this one in that I tried something I’ve admired from afar for a very long time. That being, taking a character that people do not like and redeeming them. It’s one thing to have a character who is flawed and makes mistakes, but I’m in awe of people’s ability to write a character that is actively disliked and then turn the readers or audiences on their heads by changing their opinions.
This is not easy to do. And the risk comes from people feeling so strongly against the character, that they can’t wrap their head, or their hearts, around the redemption. I, for one, have been quite certain it was impossible to change my mind (and heart) on some key characters in shows I’ve watched and books I’ve read.
My favorite book example of this is Something Blue by Emily Giffin. This is the next book after Something Borrowed. In the first book, Darcy is not a nice person. She’s manipulative, conniving, and a false friend. And yes, I know that’s it’s actually her that gets cheated on, but Giffen writes the book so well, my empathy is definitely anywhere but with Darcy. When I found out that there was a second book, from Darcy’s perspective, I was certain I didn’t want to read it. Even when I started the book, Darcy still annoyed me. She wasn’t just flawed– she was selfish. But in life, some people are and Giffen does an excellent job of proving that this doesn’t mean people can’t change and grow. In the end, I was rooting for Darcy and it wasn’t until I finished the book that I realized how impacted I was. I was in awe. I wondered, how did she do that? How did she make me like her?
A very similar thing happened on one of my favorite shows. My husband and I are Chicago Fire fans. We watched the show from inception and when Hank Voight came on as a villain against the main character, I loathed him. (Yes, I realize I get a little too caught up in things that aren’t real). He did a multi-episode arc on Chicago Fire and then advertisements about Chicago PD started to air. My husband was on board immediately. I told him I’d watch because I wanted to see how fast the show ended…you couldn’t possibly built a show around a main character that is HATED. Of the three Chicago shows we watch, Chicago PD is now my favorite. Somehow, the writers of that show managed to stay true to Hank’s character (he really isn’t a good guy in many ways) and invoke empathy and understanding toward him from the audience. HOW? THIS IS GENIUS! That’s powerful writing guys.
We see it again and again in print and on television and if the writing is excellent, you don’t even know you’ve altered your stance. The Proposal with Sandra Bullock? She’s terrible in the beginning. Yet, by the end, there was no way not to root for her. For them. Two Weeks Notice? Hugh Grant was arrogant and shallow. Until he realized there was a reason not to be.
So is there always a cause? An inciting incident that pushes the bad guy to do good? Or is it just our ability to recognize traits that exist in everyone in the ultimately flawed hero? I’m not sure. But I know that writing Adam as a self-absorbed person who was certain he knew what was right was not an easy thing to do. I know that he won’t be well liked by everyone and he’ll be disliked by many. But I think this is the true power of losing ourselves in fiction: falling into a world where anything can happen. With romance, I think it’s even more powerful because we know that there’s one person who can pull the good out of that person and make it shine.
Tell me, what is your favorite baddie but goody on television or in print?