Updated: Sep 12, 2022
The Outlaw archetype has to be on the list of most fun things to write. Who doesn't like the rogue, the criminal, the person on the run trying to get away from the law? Even when they're the villain in your story or the one the readers are not supposed to like, they can still end up being a multidimensional character that people can empathize with or relate to.
When done right, they're impossible not to love (or at least respect). They're charming, intriguing, and can steal your wallet without you ever noticing. Whether you're writing an Outlaw with a heart of gold who just so happens to break the law or a stone-cold criminal with a heart as black as coal, it's important you make them multi-layered so your reader feels at least a little bit guilty for liking them.
One of the most popular/famous outlaws is one of the most loveable and the main character of the story which we don't always see: Robin Hood. He may be considered a criminal and an outlaw for stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, but for (most) readers, they're on his side. He's an outlaw, but also the hero.
Whether it's the classic Robin Hood from the books or the Robin Hood of Men in Tights, Robin Hood is an outlaw everyone loves.
Another loveable outlaw is Flynn Rider from Tangled. He may break the law all over the kingdom, but it's clear from his interactions with Rapunzel that he certainly has a heart of gold or he's at least not as "all for himself" as he wants people to believe. Flynn the outlaw is really a way to hide Eugene Fitzherbert. It's a facade so the harsh world doesn't hurt him as much as it could.
A character that's a little less loveable and a little more out for himself is the very famous outlaw, Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. He is much more of the bad, criminal outlaw than the other two, but he still has his moments where you see his good side. He helps Will and Elizabeth multiple times throughout the series and is very loyal to his crew, but he definitely has his selfish, greedy moments as well...especially when it comes to gold, his ship, and rum.
But what these three Outlaws aren't is the true evil Outlaw. For that, I go to the Netflix show, Heartstrings. It's an anthology series based on Dolly Parton's songs. There is one episode called JJ Sneed , the name of one of Dolly Parton's songs and a character in the show. He is a true evil (asshole) outlaw. He charms and draws people in with his banter and good looks and then pulls out the rug and robs them blind. He also has no issue killing someone if it serves his purposes. (And yes, he is played by Colin O'Donoughue who is famous for playing another Outlaw, Hook from Once Upon a Time, but if I start talking about him... this post might never end)
Whatever kind of Outlaw you're putting in your story, make sure they're more than just one thing. If they have no morals, maybe try to hide that behind charm or anxiety or something unexpected. We might think we always love an Outlaw character, but if they are one-note, your reader (and let's be honest, you) will get bored really quickly.
Whether it's giving them a weird hobby, an interesting personality trait, or making them the MC's best friend who is actually working against them the whole time(gasp), Outlaws need to be just as layered as any other character.
Alright, let's discuss! Who's your favorite Outlaw character? Or have you written an Outlaw into a story? How did it go? Let us know in the comments below!
About the author: Sarah Perchikoff is a freelance writer, beta reader, and REALLY trying to finish her WIP. She enjoys french fries, reading, and losing herself in internet searches. She currently lives in Michigan, with her miniature dachshund, Gracie. You can find her on Twitter @sperchikoff or at her book blog: Bookish Rantings.