Monday, September 19, 2011

Tragic Monsters

My favorite kind of monster is a tragic one. 

We already know about the villain who doesn't see himself as evil. This character feels justified in his actions, whether from a skewed sense of right and wrong or because he's been wronged by others. There are many wonderful examples, including Valentine, President Snow, and Lord Voldemort. "There is no good and evil. There is only power and those too weak to seek it." - Voldemort

But one of my favorite characters is the almost villain. The one who believes he is evil and fights his nature, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. Typically, this is a paranormal being (vampire, werewolf, etc.) Often the character manifests as a "bad boy", but these traits certainly aren't necessary. 

But why? Why am I such a sucker for the monster? Because if it's well written, I will root for the underdog. I will see his inner struggle and feel that much more horror when he gives in to it and that much more relief when he doesn't. 

So who are some of these characters? Patch from Hush Hush might have been one of the best as I really didn't know until the very end whether he was "good" or "bad". But I can tell you that I was invested and hoping the good would win out. Other good examples? Cole from Linger, Ridley from Beautiful Creatures, and (yeah you knew I'd bring him in here somewhere) Damon

Have you ever tried writing one of these sympathetic monsters? Was it difficult or easier than others? Who is your favorite? I'd love to know your thoughts. 
photo credit


  1. It seems there are more sympathetic monsters than we realize. Many of these bad guys, aren't bad just for the sake of being bad, but rather there is a reason, a motivation that springs them into this role. And often times as we sympathize with their situation we see them as merely Tragic Monsters.

    I prefer a Tragic Monster to a "bad guy' any day. He offers a gray area that otherwise I wouldn't see.

  2. I'll love any villain that is well rounded where we catch a glimpse into their minds! Hannibal fits, right?

  3. I haven't. I'm with Laura. Give me a well rounded villain any day.

    My favorites are the ones who feel justified to do what they're doing, and don't consider themselves evil. They are doing what they feel is the right thing to do, even it if isn't.

  4. Hm. On the surface, I like the tragic monster, as well, but I didn't like Patch. Though I think that mostly because he seemed abusive to me.

    So I think tragic monsters are difficult to pull off, and they'll always off-put someone.

    I notice that your list of "tragic monsters" is all male. Which is making me wonder about the females…

  5. Shain - That gray area is so important, I agree!

    Laura - Yes, I think Hannibal fits. :D

    Stina - Justified. That does make a compelling villain.

    Carradee - actually I did include a female!! Ridley from Beautiful Creatures is the perfect example IMHO. :D

  6. This topic is actually why Batman is my all-time favorite super "hero" and Catwoman is my favorite "villain". Both characters fall into the gray category.

    There are some versions of Batman where he's more "pure" than he was, in my opinion, meant to be. And, there are some versions of Catwoman where she's badder than she was meant to be. But, in a general sense, they both ride the good/evil fence, sometimes falling on one side, sometimes the other.

    He's dark and complicated, motivated by less altruistic means than most super heroes, and what he does is illegal (even if it is typically appreciated). She's mysterious and selfish, but certainly not "evil" - she's really just being playful.

    I know this post isn't about superheroes, it's about more literary characters, but I find these characters to be the most interesting because they encompass the kind of traits you've described.

    That said, the characters who are doing all the wrong things, because they believe them to be all the right things, can also be extremely interesting and complicated. In the end, in my opinion, it all boils down to how the character is written. Good guy, bad guy - the reader should be able to find something they can either relate to or sympathize with in the character.

  7. One of my favorite books was Wideacre by Phillipa Gregory. In that book the mc was crazy, I mean certifiably nutty, and she did some horrible, HORRIBLE thing. But from the beginning of the story, the author made it clear what the goal was. Knowing the WHY made me root for this crazy character even while she did those horrible things. Now THAT writer was brilliant.

  8. Awomyn - Batman and Catwoman are AWESOME examples of this type of character! Nice.

    Julie - Sounds like a great book. I've only read one of hers but I did enjoy it.

  9. I don't know if I've ever written a tragic monster, but now I want to. I do love reading stories about them, though. :)

  10. Any good inner struggle is going to get me going, especially if it's primal like that! I've toyed with one, but not written a good-evil conflict (but different kinds of conflicts). I do have a story idea lingering out there with a MC like this. I'm not sure if it plays better as a secondary character though... Hmm....

  11. I love the sympathetic bad guys, they pull me right in! Damon is a prime example, and the first one I thought of as I started reading your post. *sigh* For me sympathetic monsters are easy to write because I connect with them the best.

  12. Those characters are certainly interesting because you know there's the potential for them to go over to the dark side. My favorite example of this was Angel from Buffy. Even though he was mostly good, he could turn bad at any moment. The fact that he was good-looking didn't hurt, either. :-)

  13. I love tragic monsters too, the thing I love most of all is when the antagonist has a change of heart and switches sides. Star Wars wasn't truly epic until Darth Vader ditched the Emperor to save Luke. :)

  14. Bethany - Ooh you should try it!

    Susan -Primal is such a good word. I like that.

    Heather - He he you connect with them the best. *snickers* Kidding! I know what you mean. I agree.

    Anna - Angel is a great example. And it never hurts when they're hot. LOL

    Margo - What an awesome point about Star Wars! Well said.

  15. I did a great exercise on antagonists (and finding all their sides/reasons) a while ago. It was so enlightening!

  16. Oh my yessssssssssssssssssssssssssssss. Love this character type! I am such a sucker for the ones that believe they are monsters but their fight shows they are not. Great post!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  17. I haven't read much fiction of this sort, but I relate to this as one who's drawn to it in real life. "He's so moody! But underneath, there's so much beautiful complexity and goodness! It's my mission to find it!"


    I'm going to have to read the fiction you've touched on here and get my fix that way. :p

  18. This post makes me think of Dan Wells' "I Am Not a Serial Killer." The MC is 15 years old, from a dysfunctional family, smart, with some sociopathic tendencies, and he's convinced he'll become a serial killer if he's not careful. So he's got all these rules to live by, in order to protect other people from himself. I was surprised about how that kind of struggle made me feel for the MC, especially since he's so young.

  19. I love these villains too. Haven't tried writing one yet, but an idea I have for my next wip may include this type of antagonist.

  20. Tara -I love finding new exercises like that. They can be very enlightening.

    Angela - Love your ssssssssssssssssss

    Deb - It's a much safer way to get your fix!

    Chipper - That sounds REALLY INTERESTING. Thank you for sharing that!

    CherylAnne - Fun to write. At least for me! :D

  21. Aha! The tragic villain.... my fav! I'm like you, Lisa. I tend to root for the underdog because I'm hoping, with all my heart, that in the end, good with prevail...and the "bad boy" qualities will kinda remain. Haha!

    Writing these characters are tricky because there's a fine line between getting the reader invested in the character and rooting them also, and painting them incorrectly with one wrong stroke to where the reader will absolutely hate the character and throw the book across the room.
    You know my favorite is Damon as well, but a new character has crept his way up there: Jim Heron from J.R. Ward's Fallen Angels series. He's the perfect mix of good and evil and both sides come out, but you really want him to stay on the right side of the tracks and keep plugging along to win the war.

    Great post! :)

  22. I'm in. Give them a glimmer of redemption and I'm all over that. That being said, a helping of bad boy never hurts.

  23. Flat out, true evil is kind of boring for me. I definitely prefer a well-rounded monster that has some sympathetic qualities or backstory. These characters make me think and want to peel back the layers to understand them. Monsters that are somewhat human in some way are more scary, too, I think. Patch was a great example.