Characters are built out of contrasts

When developing characters, authors look for contrasts. The protagonist and antagonist must have opposing goals. And both need to be as ‘real’ as possible. That means your hero must have flaws, and I believe they must also have a dark side.

monochrome picture of ripples on a river

Noir fiction is a great example of heroes with dark sides.

The hero in noir fiction is broken. He is cynical and often a drunkard, and often corrupt. Even so, he’s the only good man in the world of the book. Far from making the hero likeable, the noir writer makes the hero understandable. We know why the hero is so hard. We know he has to dip into the sewer of humanity to do the right thing. A purely good man would never survive the world of the noir.

A more recent example

Lisbeth Salander from The Dragon Tattoo series contains both good and evil within her. She was capable of horrible violence, but only in extreme circumstances. She would investigate her cases to the bitter end to get justice or truth for the client. She is violated horribly by the system set to protect her, but she can still find a way to exist within this brutal world.

In graphic novels

Ironman is complicated. He’s arrogant and snarky and rich and greedy. He’s smart and dedicated to destroying evil.

The Hulk is less complex, but just as complicated. As Bruce Banner, he’s contained and quiet and intellectual. As The Hulk, he’s rage personified, but it’s rage directed. He doesn’t just rampage he fights evil.

Thor, however, is only half a person. He may be strong but he’s not bright, he needs Loki to make him a person.

 In my next book….

I’m working on the main character now. A woman who has closed off all her emotions because of a horrific event in her past – no spoilers. What makes her interesting, to me at least, is that she’s talented, she’s intelligent and she’s capable of kindness.

My challenge is to help the reader connect with her at the beginning of the story by making her complex. To show you the possibility of her learning to feel emotions without a promise that all will be well in the end. I’m not sure right now if all will be well in the end, after all.

To do this I look at other characters for tips. I want her to be a little like a noir hero, cynical and damaged, and a little like Lisbeth, determined and focused. And  a lot like herself.

Are there heroes you like who are complex? Who do you find interesting an a book or movie?