Posted On April 25, 2016 by Print This Post

Writing a Negative Protagonist: Balancing Shades of Grey in Your Character by Summerita Rhayne

Welcome back to Summerita Rhayne. Today Summerita is going to walk us through the 50 shades of grey – in your character. =)

Writing a negative protagonist: Balancing shades of grey in your characterAll the memorable characters in fiction are complex and sometimes even obscure. We like to read characters whose actions make us think. Whose motivations make us go into a mental debate. We love the draw of our own inferences as much as what light the author lets fall on the character.
This is even truer when the grey shades in the protagonist are pronounced. What makes Gone with the Wind unforgettable? Why do we keep on talking about Heathcliff? We romance readers love complex heroes. I might add, especially those of us who are Harlequin Presents fans, get fascinated by that damaged, embittered Alpha hero, disillusioned by love and bordering on ruthless and domineering, whom the heroine loves to hate for a good part of the book.

What makes these characters so enchantingly intriguing?

That’s for the authors to know. But I am here touching on how to make your character’s negative shades look better. In my humble opinion.

Balance it out:

It is often advocated that the character should have some flaws to make them real. The reverse is also true. If you are writing a character with predominant shades of grey, it is important to show the good in them too. So, first and foremost, if you want the character to retain the reader’s sympathies, you may give them negative shades, but offset them with a few whites. There is even the option of making their good qualities take over their negative traits in a developing character arc. E.g. your heroine is a klutz. But she babysits for free at a childcare center. Or your hero isn’t ready to shoulder responsibility of the heroine’s unexpected pregnancy (a favorite trope in romance) but he shows up at work before time and does more than anyone else. You can see that these people will be able to take on the extended role even if they are not doing that right now. The klutziness of your heroine will diminish as she becomes careful and handles the babies. The hero grows into assuming the role of a father. So, shades of white can mature into making your character look brighter.


Does your character have a come around during the course of the story? If the character sees the error of their ways, it can build empathy for them. We all make mistakes and we all know owning up is hard, so we love nothing better than a character who has the courage to acknowledge their blunders and makes an effort to redress them.


Recently, I discussed negativity in characters in FWBA, my writers’ group and most seemed to hold the opinion that the motivation should make sense. It might not be anything we can relate to but it should be in context with the protagonist’s past and present. For example, in my book More Than Just Desire the heroine wants to break free from her marriage even though the hero has given her no cause for it. It’s her driving need for success that motivates her to cast away the relationship. She risks coming across as self-centered and ambitious to the exclusion of every softer feeling. But her motivation comes from her scarred past. I can’t go into more depth than this without giving away the whole story, but suffice to say I made some attempt to relate her actions to some sort of conditioning that life has given her.

Motivation is a powerful tool and quite the best way to explain your character’s negative behavior. Did she just yell at her child? Do you hate her? But then, consider this, she is a single mother with a deadline to meet which places her job on the line and the kid just pressed the delete key to catch her attention. Her behavior seems more understandable now.

Can you add to make it even more forgivable? Go on, rack your brains. In fact, let’s make it a fun exercise for you. Go deep into this mother’s situation and the factors around the child’s upbringing to make her appear (nearly) blameless for yelling at the kid. Leave your answers in the comments. One lucky commentator will get an ecopy of More Than Just Desire, a romance set against high drama of Indian cinema. One reviewer recently called it ‘a scintillating romance.’

What is your view of a negative character? Do you think they should be relegated to playing the villains? Do you think the main characters should be given ‘tolerable’ flaws? When it comes to pushing the envelope for shades of grey, which of the above three pointers do you think would work the best to make them the hero and not the anti-hero?


Join us on Wednesday for social media guru Frances Caballo!


Bio: Summerita Rhayne writes contemporary and historical romance with lots of emotional conflict. She first got published in 2013 and has won contests with prestigious publishers such as Harlequin and Harper Collins India. She firmly believes if the inspiration is strong enough, the story characters will find a way to make the writer pen them down, even when writing time is in short supply. When cerebrally confronted with the sizzling interaction of two Alpha characters, the only way to get peace is write their book!

At heart, she’s a family person and even though she loves her medical teaching profession, she happily becomes a homemaker when not at work. She loves winding down with music, romcoms, cricket (strictly watching only) and social networking.

Connect with her at:



The Bollywood diva who ran away
Piya walked out of an explosive situation three years ago. She married Arfaaz for security but left him facing chaos she created. Now she’s back in Bollywood and searching for the crown she gave up when she ran away. In the competitive world of starry glamour, the only way she can begin her career anew is to trash the past and get a divorce.
The man who wants her atonement
Arfaaz is determined to get his revenge on Piya for making a farce of their marriage and leaving him to face the mudslinging. He forces her to keep up the appearances and stay with him so she can play the loving wife and repent on her sins. But Piya drives him crazy with her antics. On the top of that, the attraction between them sizzles and threatens to make him forget reason.
A passionate conflict
Piya knows she has lessons to learn but she cannot let this man enter her heart. There is too much to risk and she cannot afford to forget the real reason she has come back. Success is her mantra and her worship. She can be faithful to only her goal…


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The limo slid through wrought iron gates and came to a stop in front of the entrance of the huge house designed like an ultra modern Italian villa.

‘I’m not getting out here. I’ve booked a room and I want to go to my hotel.’ She averted her gaze and stared straight ahead as Arfaaz held the door open.

For answer, he paused. An inhalation expanded his chest, drawing her unwilling gaze. He’d discarded the ridiculous narrow jacket and the white dress shirt drew taut against his pectorals, sending something threatening and alien coiling through her.

The next moment he’d swooped down and picked her up, taking advantage of her inattention.

His hands went under her as he gathered her in his arms as easily as he would a bird in his hand. She had to duck her head to escape the side of the car and then he was slamming the door shut with a foot kick.

‘How dare you!’ She flailed at him furiously, pent-up frustration escaping. ‘Let me go. Now!’

He was warm, too much so. She found her throat clogging for some unknown reason. Before she could react anymore, he let her slide down, but she was struggling and squirming so much, she lost her balance and fell, smack against his body.

He stepped back as though she burned him and mortification swept over her skin at the implied rejection.

‘You can’t force me to do what you want!’ she bit out, breathless from effort.

‘I’ll get what I need to know out of you anyway I can.’

‘What do you want to know? Why am I here? Okay, I’ll tell you. It’s to lay down this ghost between us. This meaningless tie…’ She made a gesture to denote contempt and tipped up her chin at him. ‘I want a divorce, Arfaaz. And I want it as quickly as possible.’

‘Very well.’ The soft agreement dropped in the silence with thunderous force, like a rock thudding down from the mountain. ‘Don’t doubt it, Piya. You’ll get it.’

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12 Responses to “Writing a Negative Protagonist: Balancing Shades of Grey in Your Character by Summerita Rhayne”

  1. Hi Carrie,
    Thank you for having me at Romance University. It’s a pleasure guest-blogging here. This topic is especially close to my heart because of the similar theme in my book. Enjoy your day!

    Posted by Summerita | April 25, 2016, 6:47 am
  2. Great to have you back Summerita! I do love an Alpha hero, and one who has been damaged is just icing on the cake1 =)


    Posted by Carrie Peters | April 25, 2016, 8:31 am
  3. My current WiP’s protagonist has a serious flaw that she will not rectify any time during the story. Still, I think her tale is worth showing to the world. The motivation (reason) behind the flaw is what I believe make it possible for the flaw to play such a major part.

    Posted by Glynis Jolly | April 25, 2016, 12:30 pm
    • Hi Glynis, it sounds like you have quite an intriguing theme. If the flaws are proving the point of your story, then of course you need not redeem the character. It shows that the path they are taking will lead to their downfall and in a way completes the character arc. Thanks for your comments.

      Posted by Summerita | May 5, 2016, 11:46 am
  4. Hi Summerita,

    The more complex the character the better. H/She doesn’t even have to be likable as long as they’re interesting. A character can also have too much baggage and working out their GMC turns into a marathon. I try to stick with no more than three flaws.
    Great to have you back!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | April 25, 2016, 10:20 pm
    • Thanks, Jennifer, great to see you here. No more than three flaws…sounds pretty sensible. I have also heard the advice that one singular incident in the protagonist’s past should be really important in shaping them into the person they are today. Thanks for sharing your views 🙂

      Posted by Summerita | May 5, 2016, 11:43 am
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