I think I’ve said this before, but my favorite character to write is the one everyone loves to hate. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I have more freedom with these characters. I try to make them so they’re irritating, appalling, nasty and all that, but also impossible to fully despise. This isn’t easy either. There are many elements involved in creating a character the reader hates, but secretly roots for.
For those that aren’t sure what I mean, I’ll give you some examples from film and books you all might know: Crowley from SUPERNATURAL, Lestat from INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE, Eric and Pam, from the Sookie Stackhouse novels, or Hannibal… yes, seriously. Love that character.
Perhaps Jackson Murphy is the best example from my work, because he’s the one I’ve introduced to everyone, but I have more. Aedon and Corbyn in ANCIENT BLOOD, Dionysus in LUCKY (and also the second book in the series, CUNNING), Thomas from DIRTY TRUTHS, Eris in the almost written NEFARIOUS, and there are many more.
So how do I do it? What’s the secret to creating a character that should be unlikeable, yet the reader loves him anyway?
Two things: Redneck and crazy.
If you’ve read/watched these characters, you’d be all, “Um…they aren’t rednecks, Renee. And some of them seem perfectly sane to me.”
You’d be right. They aren’t redneck, nor are they crazy. But they have elements of each in their personality.
Rednecks aren’t bad folks. I’m more than a little redneck, and I don’t think I’m bad… right? Doesn’t matter. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary described redneck as:
“a white person who lives in a small town or in the country especially in the southern U.S., who typically has a working-class job, and who is seen by others as being uneducated and having opinions and attitudes that are offensive; sometimes disparaging: a white member of the Southern rural laboring class; often disparaging: a person whose behavior and opinions are similar to those attributed to rednecks”
My definition of redneck is only one small part in that definition: having opinions and attitudes that are offensive. This is usually a trait that gets a person labeled as redneck. It doesn’t mean they’re wrong or bad, they just have opinions or an attitude other folks can’t handle and lack the filter that tells them to shut their damn mouths. Your list of rednecks just got longer, didn’t it?
Now, crazy… what defines crazy? Let’s see what Merriam-Webster says
“1 a: full of cracks or flaws : unsound; b: crooked, askew
2 a: mad, insane; b (1) : impractical (2) : erratic; c : being out of the ordinary : unusual
3 a : distracted with desire or excitement b : absurdly fond : infatuated; c : passionately preoccupied : obsessed: to an extreme degree
Crazy doesn’t mean the character is bonkers to the point of losing touch with reality. It might mean he’s become obsessed with something, like himself, or he’s a little eccentric, or maybe he chucked his neighbor in a hole he dug in the garden, but is otherwise a decent sort. So? Did your crazy list get longer? At least one element from these two things are always in my “bad” guys, and then I temper them with something the reader can’t resist, like a killer sense of humor or a soft heart. I don’t have to add much, because many of the redneck crazy traits are kind of hard to hate, considering we ALL have at least a couple of them ourselves.