I’m finding lately that evil protagonists are great fun. The eviler the better. The challenge there is obvious. If they’re too evil, then the reader won’t invest much into the character. They won’t be engaged. But, if you do it just right, the reader climbs on board and is walking hand-in-hand with your hero well before they realize that’s not strawberry jam on his chin.
This isn’t a new idea, of course. I know and love a lot of short stories in which the protagonist isn’t exactly a “good guy.” A great one that comes to mind is “Underbridge” by Peter S. Beagle. Here, our main character finds a sinister ally in a not-so-fake cement troll. But, in “Underbridge,” like in a lot stories of this kind, we see the protagonist follow an obvious downward moral trajectory (often because of or accompanied by a parallel descent into madness).
That’s great fun. But, what I’m really enjoying these days is setting up a cuddly main character who is never condemned by the narrative voice for his/her/its objective evil. Think Dexter without all those pesky moral compass types running around and his gloomy introspection. The worse the monster, the harder the challenge and the bigger the payoff.
This is the monster who never has the moment of doubt or self-reflection, is extremely likable, and doesn’t seem terribly monstrous save for the objective facts/action of the story. I want the reader to think, “Hey, I’d like to hang out with this fella, he seems… wait… what did you say he’s doing with that chainsaw?”
This is one of the many rich and useful things about genre expectations; when you violate them in really interesting and innovative ways, you gain another grain source of narrative tension.
Getting the reader to empathize briefly with a killer is swell. Getting the reader to truly fall in love with something that can be described as chitinous is priceless.
Love your monsters.