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What Makes the Best of the Worst

Written by Timothy J. Petro


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People have there own little bouts of evil now and again, as well as make mistakes or hurt someone by accident. Anyone who claims otherwise is either hiding something or lying.

Sometimes people believe they can eradicate evil by having their good-guy protagonist attack the bad-guy antagonist with a "good-energy" weapon. They intend to counter all the "bad parts" in the antagonist, wiping away sour emotions like a stain on the rug.

No. I always say this to people who try: evil is defined only by intent. Thus, a person may do something because they think it is right, not because they do it to be "evil." A character may act selfishly in their own best interest, but to that person that action is probably not "evil." Just self centered. We are all that way now and again...even the best of the best good-guys.

As for what makes the best good guys; that is a little more difficult. One can only take evil so far, but good is another matter. If you take a person's "goodness" to its extreme, then you could end up with a goodie-goodie no one likes.

The best bad characters are the ones who are balanced between both good and evil. In other words, they do what they do because they want to, not because they are obligated by their natural "goodness." They have flaws, sometimes many flaws. Absolutely no one is perfect.

Actually, I find that people tend to like just the opposite. A somewhat sleazy, s
slightly immoral, grubby man tends to be more appealing to a reader than one that is a beam of radiant holiness. Han Solo was an excellent example of this in Star Wars. Everyone loved him because of his casual cavalier attitude. What gave him that attitude? His flaws, he was motivated by money and greed not only love. All of his desires were human; things that everyone could relate to. So, they liked him.

Matrim Cauthon in the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan is the same way. He does what he's told, but doesn't ever follow directions blindly. He curses, is greedy, and isn't the perfect lady's man. That's what makes his character so enjoyable to see.

You should strive for imperfection. Don't make them all Han Solos, or Mat Cauthons. Do your own thing.

Overall though, you must keep this point in mind: You cannot make anyone an excessively "good" person. No one likes that kind of arrogance. The only exception to this rule is if you intend that character to be evil, through his goodness.


No-one can tell you a specific formula for good or bad characters. The best thing a good writer can do is interact with a lot of people in day to day life. Try to describe their personalities in your writing and make them unique. Try to understand why it is that these people think the way they do, and why others may qualify them as being "bad" or "good." Right now, there are over four billion personalities in the world. There are ways to describe them all. You just have to put your mind to it.

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