It’s no secret by now that bad boys get all the love. From Tony Stark running away with every Avengers trailer to the irresistible charisma of the man himself in BBC’s Sherlock, there’s something alluring about a character who just won’t make nice.
Jaida and I experienced this phenomenon firsthand with Rook, easily our most popular character and probably the worst person we’ve ever written about. He has few (if any) redeeming qualities, and even then they’re buried beneath layers of basically unforgiveable personality traits. He doesn’t have friends. He doesn’t do friends. Even his fellow airmen respect him more than they actually like him, and with good reason. He’s that family member you moved across the country to avoid—you’ll stick your neck out for him because he’s family, but you never want to be in the same room for long.
Writing some of his lines or reading back over his scenes, it wasn’t rare for either of us to find ourselves yelling at our laptops. During the final edits on Havemercy (and later Dragon Soul) we could always tell who was working on Rook by who was cursing the most. It’s easier to love someone else’s creation when you don’t have to feel responsible for the terrible things they do.
Adding insult to injury, Rook couldn’t care less what we think of him.
Maybe that’s the key.
I certainly wish I could pretend like it was confidence that drew me to these characters…but that isn’t always the case. More often than not, if a character’s first instinct is to get into a verbal slap-fight (or a real fistfight) I sit up and take notice. What’s wrong with them? I ask myself, and just like that, I’m invested. I get hooked because I want to know the motives behind the meanness. I have to learn everything I can about that character and through them, the world that shaped them into who they are.
Of course, there isn’t always an easy reason. Real people aren’t that obvious or that easily reduced to flowcharts of events > behavior, and the best characters always feel like people.
Sometimes a person’s just rude, and that’s that. But if I’ve already invested the time in figuring them out, it’s too late. I’ve already formed the attachment. These are the traits that cause me to favor Eric Northman over Vampire Beel, and Jason Todd over pretty much every other character in the Batman franchise.
At times it can be lonely. Watching Downton Abbey I found myself squarely on Team Thomas (which I’m pretty sure wasn’t even a thing until I watched the show, judging by the reactions I get when I tell people I love him.) Whenever Downton comes up in conversation, I steel myself for the inevitable defense—yes, he’s basically irredeemable, but he has his reasons!
And in the end, isn’t that what we’re all looking for? Someone you love enough to defend, a character who feels familiar because of the work you put into knowing them?
Everyone wants to be understood, but even more than that, everyone wants to understand. If you can figure out a difficult person’s motivations on the page or onscreen, then your worldview gets bigger to make room for them. We’re all expanding through fiction, and for me, figuring out people has always been twice as fun as figuring out a plot.
Maybe that explains a lot about our books, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.