Can a character do bad things and still be likable?
I write this post as I’m in the middle of reading The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. One of my absolutely favorite characters is The Darkling. I won’t go into much detail, but what I’ll tell you is that The Darkling is evil, twisted, wicked, dangerous, and terrifying. However, I love him. I proclaim myself darkling trash™ on Twitter all the time, and he’s basically one of my all-time favorite villains in books.
Now, me loving him doesn’t mean I condone his actions. Not at all. The Darkling does so many things that are absolutely evil, and I know that.
IS LOVING A CHARACTER WITH A CLOUDY MORALITY BAD?
I don’t think so. In fact, I love characters that are morally gray, characters that have cloudy pasts and regrettable actions. I even love characters that are unapologetic about them. I love characters true to themselves no matter how their morality is.
THE PROBLEM WITH BLACK OR WHITE MORALITY
I’ve read my fair share of books where the main characters lead a hard life. Where they’ve made bad decisions and have had equally bad repercussions.
In the majority of these books, the characters are a victim of the cruel cruel world they live in. They’re never responsible for their outcomes, but rather the whole world is. The author’s effort to make these characters “likable” just makes them seem whiny and ignorant. Instead of making the characters own up to their mistakes (or at least acknowledge them), they make their characters out to be holy saints; characters who never do wrong.
Building up characters like this is hard; characters who can only choose “right” because choosing otherwise would cloud their judgement. I want multidimensional characters, characters I can love to hate, and hate to love.
LET’S STOP ONLY LOOKING UP TO GOOD HEROES
Let’s stop vilifying characters who do “bad” actions. Let’s stop saying that a character’s “likability” depends on their morality. We can love villainous characters and still know they’re absolutely vile. We can hate characters who are holy and pure and still know they’re making the “right” decisions. We don’t need to only love “the good guys”.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
What do you think of villainous characters? Do you hate them immediately, or do you see the appeal of them?
Some recommendations of books with morally twisted characters (click the covers to be directed to Goodreads):
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