Readers love reading complex characters just as much as writers work their butts off, creating them. One of the most commonly liked complex characters arc is grey characters. Grey characters can fit in just any role in a story which makes them appealing to write and read.
Another character arc that is just as fun to write is evil characters. And readers love to hate on these characters. But things get messy when there’s no define dissimilarity that makes your grey character different from the evil character.
So what is the difference between grey characters and evil characters?
What Are Grey Characters?
- Morally grey characters are the intermediate that is neither completely good nor bad.
- They don’t fall on any side on the spectrum of hero or villain.
- They have subtly twisted boundaries.
What Are Evil Characters?
- Morally evil characters are… well-evil.
- They fall on the villain side of the spectrum (evil characters can be the main characters too.)
- They have twisted beliefs.
While writing your characters, you need to make it obvious to the readers which type of character they are looking at without directly hinting at it. You can do that by shaping your character’s dimensions according to your character arcs. Now let’s look at some factors that help you write perfect grey and evil characters without mixing them up:
The most important factors while writing character with different moral values is by blurring the lines between their bordering morals.
You can write a compelling grey character by blurring the line between good and bad. And you can write a “ready to sink” grey character just as easily by blurring the line between bad and evil. Seriously, if your grey character is a runner-up for the villain spot in your story, readers wouldn’t give a sh*t if they actually end up being one.
Same goes for evil characters. If your evil character is a blur between bad and evil, then you have created just the right counterpart for all the good characters in your story. But if you mistakenly blur the line between evil and good, you bet your readers are rooting for them to be the last person standing at the end of the story.
If these are the intent, then go for it. All I’m saying is you should be aware which line you want to blur and stick with it till the end cause any line can be romanticised if you change it mid story without a character development.
Make it clear why your characters do what they do. The reasons behind their deeds set their morals against other characters. The reasons should fit with their backstory/plot/personality.
Grey character’s reasons should be suitable enough to convince readers to forgive them for their deeds and provide them with the hope to see these characters go in the right direction. The reason can be anything from having the goal that’s worth it, being convinced they’ll hurt someone if they don’t, wanting to protect someone or they can’t see any other path.
Evil character’s reason can be a plain evil that makes little sense to readers however this might make your plan of complex character arc go to drain. Your evil character’s reason should be manipulative enough to look like that they really believe that they are in the right. They should be convinced that other ways won’t work to get what they want.
What do your characters think of their action? Are they aware of their deeds?
Grey characters that are aware of their actions being less than moral, feel remorse, or who wish they can change are generally the one that gets reader’s loyalty throughout the story. They give readers hope they can change.
Evil characters’ awareness doesn’t make them ‘the’ character anymore. Characters with twisted awareness and doing everything for “justice” sound more interesting. The thing is when you describe someone as evil, they lost their species remark for readers. Now you have to build a pattern in that character to make them feel like they are from our species too.
Show the sides of your characters that don’t come out naturally. Ask questions regarding their behavior with some emotions. How do they react when they are furious or vulnerable? When proven wrong or when forced to protect someone they love?
What do they do when they thought they won, but they didn’t? When they receive something (for example, affection) they never thought they’ll get.
Which situation turns them into a person beneath their arc? These questions not only give depth to the character but it also gives readers the exploration they really need to see in a character.
Highlight the attributes that contrast the character’s arc. Show the negative traits of being a grey character, for example, less trusted people in life. Show the traits of the evil character and how it impacts their life. Does it make them eviler? You can show the positive traits of the arc too.
Balance Their Actions
While their actions might be the judge of their character, but it isn’t the whole person. Let them have a balance between their action and personality. It can be a soft corner for a thing, a ritual, a person, or their childhood, maybe.
A field or area in their life either physical or emotional that balance their not so moral deeds to less remorse (grey) or balance their immoral thinking and belief with actions that are less evil for their character.
With each conflict they go through or put in someone’s way, it shapes them more in the character at hand. If a person is doing evil things, that doesn’t mean they won’t get comfortable doing more damage in the future. Evil isn’t just plain evil, like any other arc and emotions, it has its layers too.
Whether your story plot moves with a plot where the characters have grey arc or evil. The line between grey and evil shouldn’t be blurred to manipulate readers that the evil arc of the character is justiciable because of them being the main character. Leave a brief space for readers to breathe their own justification while reading it. Let the readers decide and recognize a character as grey or evil, bad or just not great because the readers will align their morals with their own.
If you have some tricks up your sleeves on writing grey and evil character, share it with fellow writers by commenting below.