'John Wick' Shows How to Write a Terrifying Protagonist

'John Wick'Credit: Lionsgate
What happens when people quiver at your character's name? 

I remember how joyous I was when I left the theater after seeing John Wick. It was a movie about a legend I had never heard of before. It took the audience into a realm of the unexpected. We really traveled into a world we had never seen. It was one below the surface of our consciousness, one where gold coins were legal tender and guns were the way to settle every dispute. 

I've caught the sequels on opening night, and they go to great lengths to match that level of worldbuilding and excitement. So how do they do it? How was a story built around a character that the world of the movie seemed to know, but the audience did not? 

Check out this video from Savage Books, and let's talk after the jump. 

John Wick Shows How to Write a Terrifying Protagonist

When writing a main character or a protagonist, you have to think about how the audience will engage with them in every scene. When you're attempting to write a character whom everyone is afraid of, you have to think about several other things. Let's dive into them.  

Worldbuilding That Comes from a Person 

The first thing you want to do when writing a terrifying central character like John Wick is let the world build out from them. When we enter the Wickaverse, it looks like our world. We know about a vet and a guy with a dog who lives in a mansion. That's a world we know. But when he is attacked and that dog is killed, we build outward. 

What makes Wick different is that the world builds from his legend. The first time we see someone react to the name John Wick, they call him the Baba Yaga, or boogeyman. We see a criminal underworld building from that legend outward. Then, as Wick takes us into the world, searching for the people who killed his dog, we begin to understand him as we learn where he came from. Man and world are tied together. 

Put Them in Scenes to Excel 

One of the ways to show us how scary someone is would be to put them in scenes where they can be scary! In Wick, we see him take on all the guys in his home, kicking ass and proving how elite he can be. In the rest of the first act, we continue to see Wick on a spree, taking people out and showing us why people are actually afraid of him. 

If you are trying to write one of these characters, you need to let them excel in similar scenarios. It's that old "show, don't tell" adage. Show us your character being a badass who people should fear. 

What Makes Them Different? 

Okay, aside from being terrifying, what makes your character different from the other people in this world?

For Wick, it's that he was able to get out. He left this whole life behind, and how he has been brought back in. He also found love, which makes him more human and thus more vulnerable, even if he is the most efficient killer of the bunch.

How can you show your character's inner depths? 

Summing Up Terrifying Characters 

Writing characters that are scary in their own world can be a lot of fun. It allows you to subvert tropes, reverse engineer your world, and ultimately gives you an exciting person who can help shake up the status quo and earn the respect of your audience when we tag along on a mission with them. 

There's nothing easy about writing them, but they are a ton of fun. 

These are just a few tips for writing these kinds of characters, Drop off your own knowledge in the comments.      

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