Lovable rouges are not villains, they are fascinating antiheroes. These characters are everywhere, in books, movies and on TV. They are young, old, male and female. And they have wowed us as protagonists, love interests and sidekicks for a long time.
A few notable rouges are:
Tom Sawyer from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean
Fred and George Weasley from Harry Potter
Logan Echolls from Veronica Mars
Zaphod Beeblebrox from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
It’s not surprising they’re popular, because these bad characters are so darn amazing. Traditionally they’re easy on the eyes, combining poise under pressure, with a sense of humor and killer fight moves. They walk the fringes of society with conviction, clear-cut goals and style. Their wild side calls to us. We want to break the rules and run wild with them.
Rogues share five common attributes, by using these traits any writer can turn this naughty character into something very nice.
Darn this character is smart; they can think fast on their feet and plan circles around the other characters. They’re not just street smart, they’re often book smart. Rogues have a smattering of knowledge in almost every area and off the charts skills in at least one or two key areas. They are the ultimate chess players and the world is their board. To catch up with a rogue’s mental processing, you need to think twenty steps ahead of everyone else. Crafty schemes with long-term objectives, make these characters ideal for dishing out twisty story surprises.
Rogues make eye contact. While lesser criminals hide, these characters never shy away from the spotlight, as long as it serves their needs. Sharp dressed or in rags, these characters feel at home in their own skin. Even when a rogue is unsure of the right path, they have faith they can and will find a path around any obstacle. They grab hold of life with both hands, and that passion makes other character what to get close. They are shining stars, burning bright in their own universe. Rogues have the wherewithal to be loners, or self-assurance to be leaders of the pack.
Smooth con men with a wicked grin, rogues know how to get what they want. Sometimes they take it; other times they sweet talk their victims with a wink and smile. What rogues might lack in manners, they make up for in charisma. Some of this polish is natural, a byproduct of good looks and a surplus of sex appeal. Some of it is being a skilled observer. Rogues are wise interpreters of human behavior. These characters excel when it comes to adaptability and make some of the best fictional chameleons.
Rogues know they don’t play by society’s rules and they’re not particularly conflicted about it. They often show up as gentleman thieves, stealing as much of the glory as the gold. Some rogues have a Robin Hood complex, they fight to balance the odds. While others are just so good at being bad they see their skills as a gift. Rogues find the beauty in being a great assassin, a liar or a forger; it’s an art form. They’re even able to walk the moral high ground in their own minds. If society didn’t want them to be the bad guys, they shouldn’t make it so darn easy to cheat.
A hint of mystery in any character is enticing, but in a rogue it’s necessary. They keep everyone in the story off balance. Even when they offer us a suggestion of their hidden depths, they wiggle out of it. There is always a suspicion of a backstory worthy of a few tears, but getting a rogue character to come clean is going to take some leverage. Rogues know information is power, they don’t grant just anyone a free pass into their personal pain. What (or who) they care about is a closely guarded secret, for telling anyone that bit of information could be orchestrating their own downfall. Most rogues have been on the outside looking in for a long time. Trust is not given lightly, and even if they grant it, they will remain ever vigilant for signs of treachery. This need for secrecy turns up the story drama, and makes for spectacular misunderstandings and explosive betrayals.
Lovable rogues don’t enjoy hurting innocent people. They have a line they do not want to cross, but if someone pushes them too far, they can release the most ruthless part of their character.
Then people get hurt.
Rogues love to push the envelope and test themselves. It’s common for them to get swept up into monumental troubles. It’s all part of what makes them exciting characters.
Most important of all, we must root for the rogue to win. If we can, then it’s a flawed character we can learn to love.