We all love a good hero. From Luke Skywalker to Captain Kirk and from John Wayne to Clint Eastwood, we love to root for the good guy. The hero.
But what if the hero is a bad guy--you could almost say Dirty Harry is a bad guy, for he's a cop who breaks the law, but for now I'm going to concentrate on two others.
On Netflix, I'm currently on season four of Dexter and several months back I finished watching Breaking Bad. I'm counting the days to February 24th when the final season of BB is on Netflix. Both Dexter's Dexter Morgan and Breaking Bad's Walter White--the main protagonists--are anti-heros.
Dexter is a serial killer.
Walter White is a meth cook.
Yet we root for them. We want them to win.
We're fascinated by Darth Vader, but only because we're fascinated by those evil creatures that do harm. We're not rooting for Darth Vader to win. He's a bad guy.
If I had to pin both Walter and Dexter together, I'd say Walter White has the better story. Why is Walter White making meth--really good meth, the best anyone's ever seen--when he could be doing something . . . legal? Because, as we see in season 1, he's dying. His insurance sucks. And he has no money set aside for the future. He has a handicapped son. Oh, and did I add that his brother-in-law is a DEA agent and is actually tracking down the dealers whom Walter White is working with? That, in and of, itself makes for a great story.
Dexter's story is good too, for he's a serial killer who's killing . . . well, other killers. He's a blood splatter expert for the Miami Police Department, which gives him access to all sorts of information.
In the end, your protagonist may be a bad guy. And if he or she is, make them interesting enough for us to follow. You don't have to get all Walter White crazy, but there are elements of both Walter's and Dexter's characters that put them close to getting caught. The tension is unnerving. Once again, that makes for a great story.