I have a tendency to lean towards being a big cheerleader for the villain in a story. Always have. When I was younger, my favorite character in The Lion King was Scar, not Simba. Simba can go suck it. Scar had a way better sense of humor. Nightmare Before Christmas? Easy. Oogie Boogie. He had the best music. When I was 13 years old, I read The Vampire Diaries (yes, kids, they were books loooooooong before the TV series) and I instantly fell in love with Damon. Not the severely dumbed down version of Damon you see on the TV series, but the cold, ruthless, walking nightmare that was Damon in the books. We’ll get into that later in this post.
This has been an ongoing trend for me in all venues of fiction, from books to television to the big screen. But it’s not just any villains, and it’s not exclusively “villains” per se. I realized when I was writing The Devil You Know that my affinity is for characters who walk the sometimes very blurry line between being a good bad guy and a bad good guy.
And more than anything, I love it when it’s difficult to tell which side a particular character falls on. I think not being able to figure it out is a sign of genuinely good writing.
In this post, we are going to take a look at a small handful of my favorite fictional baddies and see where they fall.
Let’s start by looking at the terms I presented. A Good Bad Guy and a Bad Good Guy. Regardless of what side of the fence the character falls on, the biggest point to remember is that fence is most likely very grey. A Bad Good Guy is a good guy who is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his or her goal. Usually, the goal is in the name of the greater good, but the road to meeting that goal may be very well be soaked in the blood of innocents and baddies alike.
In all honesty, I don’t think I see this one a lot. Usually, the good guy has a moral compass that almost always points north. Sure, they may have a hiccup or two, but for the most part, the good guy can be counted on to lay their own life on the line for innocent lives.
However, when you DO run into one, OH……MY…….GOD…….. They’re amazing.
The other guys is a Good Bad Guy. The GBG is a villain you cant help but fall in love with a little bit. They’re charming, they’re clever, and once in a while, they slip up and reveal they still have a heart. This is the bad guy with a conscience. A quiet conscience most of the time, but a conscience nonetheless. Every now and then, when they think no one is looking, the jump the fence and try on a white hat. However, don’t count them off the black hat roster just yet because they will almost always hop right back over if the situation suits them.
Here are a few examples of characters who fall into these categories.
Damon Salvatore of The Vampire Diaires (the books!!!)
Oh, Damon. Who here has actually read the four original TVD books???? Can we agree that the character on the TV show, although still a raging bad ass, has got NOTHING on the Damon of the books??? I thought so. See, they all agree with me! That’s why you’re the best readers this little writer could ask for. You’re smart and I like that shit.
Damon in the books was a creature to be feared. He was evil-genius smart and hell bent on revenge. He spent the better part of the first book tormenting Stefan….AND I LOVED IT!!! It’s probably been a good 15 years since I read those books, and his psychotic behavior still stands clear in my brain. As I mentioned above, homie was a walking nightmare.
Dont get me wrong here! I love TV Damon. When I started watching the TV series, I was impressed with how dead nuts Ian Somerhalder nailed Damon’s personality. He’s perfect. I just wish he was a little more……..you know…….grr. The TV series version of Damon is still a force to be reckoned with, and I ADORE Somerhalder in that role (no one could possibly play Damon as well as he does), but it’s just not the same as Damon on the page. I mean, it’s a little hard to have a healthy fear of a character when I am busy throwing my bra at the TV screen.
And Damon of the books? Yeah, it took him a LONG time to show anything even remotely considered “good”, and even then, he still has ulterior motives (he wants to do the no-pants dance with Elena reeeeeeally badly). He was and is one of my favorite characters to read.
In the beginning of the books, I would say Damon was a straight-up baddie. Then he kind of shifts to a Good Bad Guy, then a Bad Good Guy, and then back to a Bad Good Guy. This is getting confusing. Moving on.
Raymond ‘Red’ Reddington from the TV series The Blacklist
Red is probably my absolute favorite character EVER. I was one season late getting started on this show, but I binge-watched a week before season two kicked off, and I was HOOKED. If you haven’t seen the show, let me try to break this down as best as I possibly can.
Red is layers upon layers upon layers of carefully crafted complexity. Every single time you think you have shit figured out, you find out some new bit of information about Red and get your mind absolutely blown. He’s insanely smart and knows how to do just about anything one could need. If he doesn’t know, you can bet he knows someone who does. All he has to do is place a phone call and he can move mountains. He’s the Concierge of Crime.
He’s connected to a scary degree and he always has a plan. Even when it seems the odds are stacked irreversibly against him, he’ll open his trench coat, pull out a Kalashnikov and level the room is a glorious spray of perfectly timed gun fire. He just OWNS every situation he gets thrown into and has no time for fucking around.
He’s older, but still undeniably sexy. He can usually be found wearing only the finest duds, usually a nice suit with a vest and fedora. And he rocks the shit out of that shit.
Each episode, he has at least one of what I’ve dubbed a Red Story. Red Stories are when Red starts rambling on and on about something seemingly unrelated until he reaches the end of his tale and you see how his point comes around full-circle. These stories are delivered in a monologue of sorts, and they usually end with me standing on my bed yelling “BOOM! Take that, fucker!” Have I mentioned that I am a rabid fan???
The reason Red makes this list is simple: Red is the embodiment of the character you love, but deep down, you aren’t 100% sure he wouldn’t put a bullet in your head while sipping his morning coffee.
To those he holds dear, he is FIERCLY loyal. However, dick him over and he will end you without blinking an eye. I think that’s why I love him so hard.
Should you trust Reddington?
He could be described as a good guy willing to do the bad things for the greater good, or he could be described as a bad guy who happens to have a bit of conscience left that keeps him from embracing his obvious natural path to serial killer status. As the audience, you never can fully tell which side he falls on and I fucking LOVE that.
“Because after tracking me for years you’ve come up with one undeniable truth. I only do what’s good for me, and that is a person you can trust on.“ – Red Reddington
Best character ever aside, The Blacklist is also an INCREDIBLE television series. Very well-written with not one single plot hole showing, and we are two full seasons in! THAT’S VIRTUALLY UNHEARD OF!!!! Even the best shows on TV have plot holes most writers can point out from a mile away. Not The Blacklist. For my writer peeps out there, I highly recommend getting in on this shit. The writing is simply immaculate. You’re going to be so frikkin jealous. Lol
On a side note, I don’t even care that James Spader is old enough to be my dad and a little bit OCD in real life, if he were to show up at my door in full Red Reddington garb, I am pretty sure my clothes would just disintegrate all on their own. Just sayin’…..
Jericho Barrons from Karen Marie Moning’s Fever Series
Jericho Muthafuckin Barrons. The alpha of alphas. He’s……just…….oh gawd, I LOVE HIM!!!! He’s another one. Just like Red Reddington, you have no clue which side of that very grey fence he’s standing on. He does nice things, but he also does some relatively horrific things. He’s got a thing for Mac, but you never really know if he loves her or if he just loves fucking her. Honestly, it could go either way. Regardless of where he lands, I’d totally still do him……
He’s walking ego, yet never gives you a straight answer when asked anything about himself. For example, when Mac asks him (again) how old he is, his response is ridonk and PRICELESS:
“God Said: Let there be light! I said: Say please.”
Fiona, Jericho’s shop hand – slash – pelvic partner when the series first opens is madly in love with the delusion of the man he could be. This is the speech he feeds her:
Barrons laughed again. “And there, my dear Fio, you make one of Womankind’s greatest mistakes: Falling in love with a man’s potential. We so rarely share the same view of it, and even more rarely care to achieve it. Stop pining for the man you think I could be — and take a good, long, hard look at the one I am.”
He makes no excuses for what he is. He never begs forgiveness for his actions. Mac actually describes his personality quite well at one point stating that Jericho is a beast with one foot still in the swamp and he leaves it there because he likes it. ßI’m paraphrasing.
If you have not read this series, you are really missing out. The Fever series is urban fantasy on an epic scale. I love it and Jericho is about 75% of the reason why.
Those are a few of my Good Bad Guys and Bad Good Guys. Who are some of yours??????