Friday, July 16, 2010

The Dark Side to Your Novel's Hero

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The Dark Side of Your Novel's Hero

by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

We all know our HERO require a weakness. But did you also know he needs a dark side, a shadow if you will, and this part of him needs to come out? I didn't until I read my EDITOR's suggestions for my current manuscript. In one of her four hundred thirty-two suggestions, she recommended I needed to play up my hero's dark side a bit more.

The fact she mentioned this proved I didn't know enough about the concept, so I did some reading on the subject. I now feel I have a better handled on the idea and thought I'd pass along what I've come to know. After all, it is all about the sharing, isn't it?

To start, if your hero must have a dark side, what good is it if it doesn't come out of hiding? That was the editor's point. As I reevaluated my manuscript and the character in question, I realized my hero had a shadow, I'd simply not used it to effect.

So, what is this shadow and what might cause the good guy to turn to his dark side?

His dark side is the villain. Surprised? So was I until I thought it through.

The villain personifies those qualities opposite of your hero, right? He therefore possesses those characteristics your hero despises or those that may even frighten him. And why does the protagonist hate those qualities? It's because these aspects of his personality are his own shadow, a deeply subdued part of himself.

Whoa… Flashback to Psych 101.

In any case, how might the hero's dark side come to the fore? Most often it is the villain who draws it from him. It is he who pushes the hero's buttons and forces the good guy over the edge. In effect, he provokes your hero to his breaking point.

Consider "The Lord of the Rings." The master ring pulls from its owner their worst, does it not? How about "The Wizard of OZ?" Dorothy kills the witch who, in turn, wants to kill Dorothy for killing the witches' sister, all of which is contrary to Dorothy's basic personality. This all makes sense when we realize a villain must force the hero into some sort of obsession if the good guy is to complete his quest.

Think of it like this. Take your hero's finest characteristic and use it against him. Does he think himself a brave soldier? Them maybe he should run away when he first faces combat like in "The Red Badge of Courage." Does he believe marriage is sacred? Then have the villain force him into a divorce. Is he a happy-go-lucky guy? Then turn this characteristic into irresponsibility. The secret to this, is to ensure the motivation for this transformation is valid. Did Dorothy have a reason to kill the Wicked Witch? Yup.

What keeps the hero from becoming a bad guy himself? It's choice. He chooses not be become like his nemesis, thus again subduing his own dark appetites.

The good part of this whole shadow concept? It allows for character growth. It fills in his personality and gives you a more three-dimensional character. It overcomes the imbalance that kept your hero from his goal.

You can develop this dichotomy in your hero by way of a three-pronged technique. You first develop his high qualities. Then find the opposite of these. Finally, you assign a physical behavior to this contradictory characteristic.

For example, if your hero loves children, the opposite is to hate children. The activity that might brings this out is he causes a child's death.

So, a major aspect of a fully developed hero, is to give him a dark side, a shadow, then bring it out of him by way of a button-pushing villain who posses those same traits.

I don't know about you, but I found this interesting. Regardless, I've got work to do on "Born to be Brothers."

Have you brought out the dark side to your hero? How did you do it?

Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the BACK-from-the-editors novel, "Born to be Brothers"


  1. I am just loving your blog! You have some great insights on here. I'm going to test this in my WIP. Good food for thought. The example that rang in my head was HP.

  2. C. Patrick SchulzeJuly 23, 2010 at 6:18 PM

    I'm so glad you've found it of use to you, Lisa.

    Is there anything specific you'd like to see in an article?


  3. Another great post! I am revising my WIP and trying to give more depth to one of my characters. I knew he had a dark side, but this gave me some great ideas on how to use this to make him a better character. Thanks!

  4. C. Patrick SchulzeJuly 27, 2010 at 5:39 AM

    Thanks, Jess.

    I'm revising mine, too. The more I write these articles, the better I get at writing novels.

    Thanks for your comment.