How do you get rid of a bad guy?

I have been wrestling with this dilemma. I have a particularly powerful antagonist in Empty Luck. He is fully capable of killing my other characters and if he doesn’t do so right away, you can be sure he would relentlessly track them down eventually. So somehow he has to be neutralized.

I can think of five ways to eliminate the threat of such a man.

  1. Kill him off
  2. Send him to jail
  3. Pay him off
  4. Hold something over him
  5. Fool him

And each of the above has multiple variations. Killing him off doesn’t necessarily mean murdering him. He could die in an accident or by disease or even by his own hand. If he is dead, he can’t hurt the others. His death is absolutely final. Of course there is always the possibility of a close comrade of his seeking revenge, but by and large, for the purposes of this novel, if he dies, the threat is gone.

A little less final is having him go to jail for a long time. This is certainly a believable outcome, but tricky to achieve because the “good” characters in the book are also involved in his crimes. And again, there is the chance the antagonist might have the resources and cohorts to exact revenge.

Then there is paying him off. This is an even less reliable solution, certainly. In my book, the bad guy would logically expect money, a lot of it, but who’s to say he wouldn’t come back looking for more. And having crossed him once, he would be a dangerous enemy, not likely to forgive and forget, whatever the payoff.

A somewhat more dependable resolution would be to have some sort of significant leverage over him, something critical that would come to light if my “good” characters are murdered or harmed in some way. Though still not as absolute as death, this approach might make his threat negligible. I think I like this solution best, but it is also the hardest to construct.

Lastly, there is fooling him, the classic grifter outcome of making the victim feel he has won, has been successful, when in fact he was taken for a ride. Charming though this option is, It is very difficult for me to imagine how it could plausibly take place. Still, it would be wonderful if the bad guy could be conned in some way that leaves him smiling.

I’ll be working on this problem for a while, I think.

5 thoughts on “How do you get rid of a bad guy?”

  1. Hi Paul,

    This is a tough one! I would evaluate whether his contribution to the book is over and having him hang around has become a drag or liability. It sounds like this is the case.

    I think I agree with your preferred method, significant leverage. (Like losing an election.) Though it is hard to contruct an ironclad situation that would silence/disempower him, there would be some sense of satisfaction to the reader with this option. But really evil people tend to find ways around things . .

    Death is quite permanent, so if you decide in the future that there’s benefit to bringing him back, then the time spent developing his death would go into the circular file.

    Prison is an interesting option – – – could he escape, fool everything that he has reformed himself and get early release, or get killed while in jail, at some future point?

  2. Kim – I hadn’t actually thought of it. The bad guy could become a good guy! I like it. You never know. People can surprise you. It seems like an unlikely change for this character as he is currently written, but it is worth considering.

  3. I think most real people are neither “good” or “bad” but complex. Even people who are generally bad do good things sometimes. And vice versa. People are layered and do unpredictable things. So, maybe your bad guy doesn’t become a good guy. Maybe he is still a bad guy that makes some good choices. Or maybe he starts a new direction, but isn’t fully all in. Just some thoughts.

    1. I agree and that’s what I try to do with my characters – give the hero human frailties, like addiction or insecurity, and give my bad guys some human traits, like compassion or conscience.  Even when they display no good traits, if I have the chance, I like to show how they got to be the way they are, their traumatic childhoods, disease, abandonment, experiences like that. Of course, there is the theory that some people are just born bad and nothing explains or redeems them. But I don’t want to use that.
      Really, I love when my characters evolve, when the good girl goes bad and the bad girl turns out to have a heart. 
      So, in the case of this particular bad guy in Empty Luck, what can I do with him? To have him suddenly become nice and forgiving, even temporarily, doesn’t really fit with how he is depicted so far, How about if I have him make a stupid decision that sets my heroes free. That’s not exactly changing him so that he sees the light, but it is a different trait for him, something we don’t expect.

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