So I’ve started sort of working on the second book in the ‘Dare’ super hero series and I have been debating his personality the last few days.
Romulus – Dare – the central character and super hero is a complicated person, and as much as it took a long time to get to know him, now I do, he’s pretty interesting and fun to write.
The thing was he went through a HEAP in the first book. Lots of very serious subjects where he was really pushed to the edge of himself. He experienced the deaths of at least two people who were very close to him, as well as having to do something he’d never figured he’d do.
It was because of this that in the second book (the middle of the series) I wasn’t about to introduce this perfect, shining, super hero.
After much deliberation, I made a decision that Romulus needed to be a bit of a jerk.
‘A Jerk!?’ I hear you gasp, ‘Why on earth would you turn your main character AND narrator into a total jerk!?’
Because he needs to be. Because if he wasn’t, it wouldn’t be realistic.
The thing is that sometimes, it is okay to turn your characters into jerks, in saying this, it’s probably best to do this for only a little while.
I needed Romulus to be in a kind of limbo.
As a result of losing people he loved, and having to kill a villain, as well as feeling he let everyone down, Romulus in my mind at least was running from himself. He could not face himself, or his actions, and threw himself into these two personalities, Dare, the flash-bang-super hero and a version of his true identity who throws himself into intense emotions in order to numb the pain. A version which looks a lot like his father figure did before he passed away. In my mind at least, Romulus becomes this person to be more like the father figure he lost.
You may find yourself in a similar situation. When a character just cannot be perfect, because it would be completely unbelievable. The thing is that you have to let them being Jerky without being completely unlikeable.
Here are some tips to writing a character who is a jerk but NOT unlikable.
1) The Majority of their Jerk-ness must be funny, with the occasional drive home point being actually awful. If they were to go through the story being really, really nasty, readers would hate the character. Make the manifestation of their jerk-ness amusing or funny most times, and then drive it home with a serious ‘OWCH’ when it matters.
2) Give them someone to confine in. This may be another character, it may be the actual reader (if the character is telling the story) Whatever it is, they need to tell their true reasons to someone so that the reader is on their side no matter how awful they are.
3) Ensure the Jerk-ness has a resolution. Don’t make them stupid for no reason, they need to have a purpose to their jerk-ness. By this I mean if you want readers to still like your jerk character, they need to see them come back again, humbled.
4) Make sure there are legitimate reasons for them to be a jerk. Explain these and their feelings to the reader so the reader is empathetic.
5) Allow the character to have rare moments of sweetness. As in, they have these brief moments where they aren’t meant and are not jerks. That way they still retain the personality that the readers liked about them.
Usually, I find these points helpful.
Now, here’s Romulus, being a total jerk:
I had come to the conclusion that I absolutely had to be two very separate people.
It was because of this that I sort of justified leading some girl I couldn’t remember the name of out the back of some huge house in downtown Lionsbrink.
‘Oh my goodness, Roe.’ She giggled, her hand in mine as we rounded the back of the garden, ‘I can’t believe you.’
In all honesty, often I couldn’t believe myself.
The thing was, I had become a bit of a jerk.
It was New Year’s Eve which meant it was exactly a year since I’d become a legal entity and fully registered super hero of the city of Lionsbrink.
Of course I didn’t let myself think about that because the fact was that I was too busy trying not to. Instead I found easy distraction in whatever her name was who I proceeded to put my arms around and kiss pressed against the retaining wall of the back garden.
There were people everywhere, and the music was loud and if I were being entirely truthful I hated these parties but they made it easier to forget things.
‘Roe,’ the girl laughed again. I tried not to roll my eyes. I hated it when they wanted to talk. I didn’t honestly want to talk. It was because of this that I kissed her, as intensely as I could on the lips so she’d shut up.
Sometimes, a though said, sneaking into my mind, sometimes I barely recognized myself.
Suddenly, as if stirring from a dream I felt myself jerk back, away from whatever her name was, initially confused as to what it was which caught my attention.
Then I heard it. The shrill of my phone, tucked away into my pocket.
I offered no explanation at all to the nameless girl as I pressed the phone to my ear.
‘Dare.’ The voice at the other end quipped, ‘wonderful evening.’
I stole a look back to the girl, ‘uh huh.’ I responded noncommittally.
The man on the other end of the line was Captain John of the Lionsbrink Police Force. He was a pretty nice guy and I liked him.
‘Sorry to ruin your night, Dare, but we have a situation.’
‘Regency Hotel, corner of fifth and third.’ John explained, ‘A hold up.’
‘Great.’ I agreed, in all honestly, I preferred whatever awaited me at the Regency Hotel than to spend any more time with this girl. It was an excellent excuse – not that I needed one. I never needed one.
‘See you soon?’
‘Of course.’ I replied,
‘You’re a good kid, Dare.’
I wasn’t sure I was, but I didn’t tell Captain John that.
Instead, I hung up the phone and shot a look back to whoever the girl was, ‘Sorry,’ I offered, ‘I’ve got to go.’
‘Now? It’s only a half past eleven…’ she replied, ‘I was hoping you were going to kiss me at midnight.’
I winced, shaking my head, I very much doubted I was ever going to. ‘Sorry.’ I added again, before turning on my feet and stalking away, directly back the way I’d come.
‘What is up with Romulus Gray?’ I heard voices whisper as I headed out away from the girl, ‘he’s all over the place.’
‘It’s to be expected.’ I caught someone conclude, ‘after all, it’s only been a year since Betty died.’
It was then, hearing her name, I broke into a sprint.
I changed in the shadows on my way to the Regency.
It was always easy, seeing as I wore the bright red ‘Dare’ costume beneath my clothes at all time. My all red suit with the orange and yellow ‘D’ across the chest. I liked it because it felt familiar. I left what I had been wearing down some side street, before pressing my black mask over the bridge of my nose.
I felt better when I was Dare. He seemed to be the one absolution in my life that never changed.
Effortlessly, I scaled the side of a condensed apartment block, before leaping up, out onto the roof, and jumping the skyline towards the impressive site of the Regency.
In a second or so I threw myself across to the roof of the Hotel, landing with a tumble onto my knees, before dashing towards the central glass dome at the very middle of the hotel.
The ballroom. I knew this to be the case because I’d been to a function here a few weeks earlier – as Romulus, not Dare, obviously.
Once at the edge of the glass, I peered inside.
Instantly, I could see the situation at hand.
There were five of them, all dressed in black with their faces in the most part obstructed by balaclavas. They had guns too, pointed at all kinds of fancy people in impressive clothing.
I pressed my lips together, taking a deep breath, before fumbling at my utility belt.
These guys barely stood a chance.
I moved quickly, reaching for my gun. It wasn’t a real gun, Hojac wouldn’t let me have one of those, which was ridiculous because it wasn’t as if I wasn’t in any real danger.
Or as if I hadn’t killed someone before, because last year I’d killed Callum Court. The thought of that even now made me feel ill.
I grasped my stun gun in my left hand, taking aim. It wasn’t your typical stun gun, instead it was an electromagnetic powered weapon which upon firing would shatter whatever object with a pulse of energy.
In this case, the window.
With a reverberating SNAP! The glass shattered and rained directly downwards scattering upon screaming guests. The balaclava wearing men gawped about, confused, thankfully without firing.
I made quick work of them. Reaching for my grapple gun with my other hand, I shot directly across towards the metal framework and swung into action. There were shouts, people pointed, and I levelled feet first into the first of the masked bad guys.
He tumbled back over and landed with an ‘UMPH!’ sliding half way across the marble floor.
Already I was moving for the next two, taking aim with my stun gun and shooting twice, each shot finding its target. They stumbled backwards, frozen stiff, muscles contracted by the electrostatic pulse.
Two more, I considered. People were already running and screaming, all of which made it difficult to spot the masked villains.
I surveyed the scene, careful, my eyes everywhere.
Then a CRACK! And I felt something stab far too close to my shoulder. Ducking down, I twisted on the balls of my feet and glared backwards, spotting the fourth of the armed criminals. He had his gun lifted, pointing directly at me.
There was another ear splitting BANG! As I lurched to one side, already coming around on the fourth of the bad guys. Like most times, at the prospect of my movements headed directly for them, the masked man stumbled backwards, terrified.
I couldn’t help but grin.
I ran for them now, with one darting movement, I grabbed for them, grasped a hold of their arms and twisted them round. Whoever they were they cried out as I forced them to their knees. There was a crunch as something in their wrist snapped. They wailed, but I really did not care.
I was barely thinking now anyway. It was all instinct.
I pushed hard at the fourth of the men, shoving them hard against the floor, when I heard another loud shot, beside me the marble floor snapped, suggesting they’d only just missed.
I gritted my teeth together, shoulders arching and brimming with fury. Liam had always said that it was better to keep yourself completely under control when functioning as a super hero. In the year he’d been dead I’d sort of established otherwise.
You had to feel it. Feel everything, and allow that feeling to feed into instinct.
For the very last time I reached for my utility belt, to two small right angled devices, almost like a boomerang. Thoughtlessly, I shook them twice in each hand before throwing both with sudden speed directly at the final of the masked gunmen.
As I’d designed them, the little metal devices spun through the air, and curled around the fifth man’s body, exploding just as they curved around with a sudden and shattering blue spark of electricity.
Instantly, with a small yelp, the fifth man tumbled face first onto the marble floor.
Having now subdued all five men, I took over very deep breath, then made my way across the floor as the space flooded with police men and people stared around in a kind of astonishment.
There was the flash of the occasional camera too, only I didn’t pay much attention to that.
Now closer to the fifth of the five men, I bent low, and reached for his pistol, inspecting it carefully before I wandered to the masked man’s side.
‘Right.’ I began, ‘let’s go through this, shall we?’
‘Mmmgh…’ the man groaned, too sore to speak in coherent sentences, the pulse too had immobilized him.
‘So it’s New Years Eve.’ I began, running my finger along the nose of the gun, ‘and you and your buddies here think what…? That there would be no better way to spend the evening than to terrify a bunch of rich people in some fancy hotel and then ultimately get your asses kicked by a super hero?’ I peered down at him, ‘is that it?’
‘Look.’ I announced, bending low and grasping the back of the man’s mask, hoisting his face up so he could look me sideways in the eye, ‘this was never a good idea. Here’s the thing though, when these nice police men take you away and lock you up for what I feel will be a long while in some tiny cell with an exposed toilet so you are never able to relieve yourself in private again… you can consider how bad an idea this was. Got it?’
‘Ghprump…’ they wailed, higher pitched and far more despairing.
‘I’m glad we understand one another.’ I concluded, releasing his mask and his face hitting the marble with another painful SMACK!
With very little sympathy at all, I rose upright, dusting off my costume, surveying the scene.
Rich people everywhere, watching me, gossiping, pointing, probably all the more delighted their party had featured the excitement of needing to be saved by Lionsbrink’s super hero.
I didn’t so much matter though, whatever her name was back at that party had meant nothing, I’d have ditched her anyway. There were reporters here too, snapping photos and no doubt wanting some kind of comment from me to print in their papers or play on their news reports.
‘Excellent job, Dare,’ said a familiar voice, as a hand heavily clasped my shoulder, ‘great job.’
‘Thanks,’ I replied quietly to Captain John, a white haired man in his late fifties, who stood grinning in full uniform.
Captain John was one of a handful of people who knew me properly, and I think that’s what made me feel so nervous around him. A year ago, when everything had happened, I’d revealed my true identity to him. He knew both of the people I was. Romulus and Dare.
I felt smaller, and younger next to him. Captain John was a nice man, he’d always supported me, always thought the best of me, but this felt awkward seeing as I knew these days I was such a complete jerk.
‘Did we disturb you from anything important?’ John furthered as the five masked gunmen were taken away.
I shook my head, ‘Not really.’
‘Not alone, were you?’ John enquired, genuinely concerned. He sort of had a point because despite everything I did have a tenancy to be a bit of a loner. Gary must have told him that. My butler Gary and John were friends these days, seeing as they were a part of the exclusive club of people who knew exactly who I was.
I gave him a sideways smirk, ‘if you say so.’
‘Oh,’ John noted, reaching for his pocket, he drew out a small wrapped gift in blue paper with a thin gold bow, ‘and happy anniversary.’
He pressed the small parcel into my hand, and I sort of froze, speechless.
‘I know I didn’t have to get you anything, but I thought it would be nice. We all appreciate you here, Dare. You’re doing a great job.’
‘Thank you.’ I managed to say, I meant it too. However John’s kindness sort of made my stomach turn.
See it was easier to be the showman.
To be either the masked super hero swooping in with great displays of strength and cleverness, or the young billionaire treating everyone as if he were better than them.
I supposed that’s why I was so determined to be these versions of myself as frequently as I could, I suppose outrunning myself, and how I supposed I’d think or feel if I stopped. If I actually stopped and everything that had happened and everything I’d done caught up with me.
The thing was that Captain John didn’t buy those acts.
Not at all.
Thankfully, though as much as he knew how I behaved he never said anything, despite the fact that both Romulus and Dare’s behavior often ended up in the papers or gossip columns.
‘Just a small token, of course.’ John told me, slapping my shoulder again, ‘from the city.’
I nodded, peering down at the small wrapped parcel, then up again, at the medley of people about us.
It was at that moment my eyes met those of a woman who stood directly across the hall, her arms folded across her chest. She had brilliant red hair, pinned back, and wore a sleek black dress. I winced, sort of shrinking as she glowered at me.
As if on cue, somewhere a clock tower began to chime marking exactly midnight. Everyone about me sort of offered awkward congratulations and ‘Happy New Year’s.
Mayor Shirley, however, remained unmoving where she stood , watching me.
Mayor Shirley was yet another member of the small club of people who knew exactly who I really was. I felt myself blush at her gaze, embarrassed.
She’d had never liked Dare or Romulus, not ever, and had merely put up with me when Liam – or the Wolf – died. I didn’t blame her for her distain for me now, though.
As a matter of fact, sometimes I think I hated myself as much as she did. And I supposed it was for exactly the same reason.
Because it was my fault her daughter died.
I felt myself breathless, a familiar anxiety winding around in my chest, and it was as a result of this I offered once last thank you to Captain John before stalking directly across the ball room and out into the open air.
I didn’t say a word to Shirley. Of course I didn’t. We hadn’t spoken since the night Betty died.
Not stopping as I raced from the Regency. Usually, when out as Dare I’d have driven the Silver Shadow, seeing as I’d come directly from the party I navigated my way into the night, up onto the rooftops again and away from sight.