This might seem like a rather straight forward topic. I mean if you have a guy kicking a puppy while talking about how the homeless should be shipped off to internment camps. That pretty much is an asshole, yeah? Ehhhh, not really, that’s more of a monster; an asshole is a delicate balance in regards toward a character because while it is easy to make a monster, it takes work to make a believable asshole.
I can’t keep saying asshole, as that might be misconstrued moving forward, so I will be referring to assholes under the name of gnats; because they are assholes.
Why is writing a good gnat so important? Why am I even talking about this topic? For two reasons really:
A. Everyone is a gnat at one point or another in their life
B. Most modern storytellers think that being a gnat means you are evil and without conscience
Complexity is missing a lot in almost any storytelling medium these days. You’ll find that when the gnat shows up in a story they are usually in defiance of the main character and make sure that everyone knows it. They eventually are proven to be either stupid or just running into plain bad luck and die due to their gnattiness. Sometimes they get a chance at redemption by, I dunno, dying for the sake of the protagonist and their love interest, but in the long run they are used as a punchline.
Most modern storytellers, or those getting a paycheck to play act as a storyteller, forget that everyone is a gnat at one point or another. Everyone. Here’s how you make a good gnat:
Make sure they are causing tension
An gnat is usually a person who is unwilling to bend their point of view, and due to this lack of yoga ability, creates tension. Tension is something that I touched on in my Jurassic World blog, but really that’s what an gnat is there to do for your story, to help build the tension. Tension between the characters and their actions adds weight to the story in general. It makes what they are doing seem a lot more risky and it draws your audience into the story even more.
Make sure they are relatable
Having a gnat who is such a big gnat that you cannot relate to them is a bad thing. Making someone or something evil alienates the audience from that character, and you don’t want that in a gnat. You want a portion of the people who are experiencing your story to relate to this gnat because it makes the gnat feel more real. Again, this is because we’ve all known or been the gnat at one point or another.
Make sure their goals actually are believable
Goals are usually tied to gnats like flies to dog shit. We all have goals, some of us want to be the President of the United States, some the prettiest trash truck driver in the county, and if that lip gloss will seal the deal for our beloved pretty trucker and the local Sephora has only one left in the entire state; you better believe they will murder everyone who gets in their way. Of course, this is ridiculous, but of course people have murdered other people because they thought black albinos are lucky human rabbits feet.
Really though, their goals should be believable, and while personal gains are always the most immediate choice, having a gnat do what they are doing for the betterment of others makes them feel more real. The reason for this is due to the fact we’ve all been a gnat and most of the time we’ve been one because we think we are helping someone we know.
This is probably the most important point in the creation of a gnat character, because if this isn’t believable then the previous two points won’t work.
Also, keep in mind that the gnat character can be the protagonist, and if that is the route you take with the gnat character, you have better make damn sure that they’re relatable side isn’t a Tiny Tim character. That is something that has been done to death and really needs to go away.
Making a good gnat is really hard, but if you nail it right, the payoff for your story will be huge.