Nothing in life is simply black and white. Some people might see it that way but for most of us nothing is ever that straightforward. Including people themselves.
For most of us the rules of cause and effect apply. An action leads to consequences, however minor. That’s what makes the world go round. If you’re writing about fictional characters they need to reflect that.
Gone are the days when western films used the simple principal of making the good guys wear white hats, while the baddies wore black. If you were watching it in monochrome no doubt it helped identify who was on which side. But for audiences these days such tactics are much too simplistic.
In fairy stories there is always a big distinction between good and evil. You know immediately who’s there to be cheered on. And who to boo and hiss at. It makes it all very easy to understand. But of course these days’ readers want more than a fairy princess or pantomime villain.
It’s all a lot more sophisticated now. The psychology of characters is almost as important as the things they do. It’s no longer enough for something simply to happen. We want to know why.
Why should we sympathise with someone and want to see them get a happy ever after? What makes a seemingly normal family man turn into that terrifying serial killer? What happened in their pasts to make them the people they become?
As a writer to you have to provide readers with the answers. To keep them turning the page they have to care about what they’re reading. Or who they’re reading about. They’re looking for depth of character, not simply a visual description.
No one can really empathise with someone who’s flawless inside and out. Besides being unrealistic it would also be incredibly boring. If someone wakes up one day and decides to commit a crime there’ll be a back story somewhere.
But that doesn’t mean they have to arouse sympathy in your readers. Just understanding of how they got to that point. Hatred has to have a reason for being there as much as anything else.
It’s all a question of rounding characters out. Not leaving them as no more than cardboard cut-outs. Who’d want to read about them?