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What happens when the bad guys are the good guys?

Published: Sunday, Nov. 3 2013 4:00 a.m. MST

“The Greek gods were very flawed people and that's what made them interesting,” Samson said. “By simplifying [characters] too much and making heroes all cuddly and perfect, you kind of take the humanity out of them.”

Good characters breaking bad?

Screenwriter Sam Zalutsky encourages his students not to think in terms of hero and villain, but as protagonist and antagonist. He lives in New York and teaches a writing class twice a year at Spalding University in Kentucky.

Zalutsky urges his students to consider the needs of their fictional characters: “What is it that they want? What is it that they can't live without? What are their hopes and fears?” Once emerging writers consider these questions, their stories will flow as their protagonists pursue their dreams.

He defines an antihero based upon such a character’s capacity for action and change. Fitting the bill would be characters like Carrie Matheson on “Homeland,” who works for the CIA and tracks down terrorists but battles her own inner demons; or Walter White of “Breaking Bad,” who went from downtrodden chemistry teacher to powerful drug lord in a quest for money and security after he is diagnosed with cancer.

Although by no means perfect people, they are “larger than life in a certain way,” he said. “They have all of these sorts of faults and foibles; and that, we can identify with.”

These screenwriters say that a major motivation for a storyteller to get into the backstory of a villain or create a main character with villainous tendencies is to see if they can get back on their feet, or in the good graces of the audience.

And seeing a character’s journey despite their flaws is cathartic, added Samson. That, in turn, can help mature and maturing viewers work through some of their own real-life trials.

Email: ataylor@deseretnews.com

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