The Makings of a Complex Character: Mr. Robot and Orphan Black

This month we’re introducing characters from our books. As the person kicking off the month’s topic, I should be a very good girl and introduce you to the dark and mysterious Raine Mason from my debut novel, Making the First MoveOr the tantalizingly sexy, funny and incredibly sweet Miles Copeland from Love Me NotHowever, it’s been a while since I wrote those stories and you’ve already met those characters.

The characters I’m working on in my coming indie series Playing with Bad Boys…well, they aren’t quite ready to come out and play. Or maybe I’m just not ready to reveal too much about them. I think I caught some of that writing superstition from Jeffe Kennedy. :-)

So instead, I’ll taking about the makings of a complex character. I’ve talked about some of the complicated television characters I love and why. Here are two more complicated characters I can’t get enough of:

Rami Malek of Mr. Robot

Rami Malek, Mr. Robot. Courtesy of USA Network.

Rami Malek, Mr. Robot. Courtesy of USA Network.

First: If you’re a sunshine and rainbows only kind of person, don’t go anywhere near USA Network’s Mr. Robot. (Seriously, you’ve been warned. You’ll be drinking vodka at midday and pondering joining an underground vigilante society.) I turned a friend on to the show and she sent me a text last night to say she was on episode three and that essentially the world was a dark and scary place. Yet, it’s compelling enough that she can’t stop watching the remaining episodes.


This show is incredibly dark. The main character is Elliot who works as a computer programmer by day, but by night he is a vigilante hacker taking down one bad guy at a time. He is schizophrenic, in mandated therapy due to a drug addiction and a recent psychotic break. And he’s an active morphine addict. More importantly, Elliot is our very unreliable narrator. We’re his invisible friend, and we see everything through his eyes, which always leads to the question of whether what we’re seeing is real.

Elliot does some incredibly bad things. He hacks his therapist, his best friend’s boyfriend, his boss. But in his dark and twisted world, it’s his way of showing his affection and deep concern for the people in his life that he doesn’t know how to love. We see glimpses of his childhood. His mother is cruel and abusive. His father died when he was young. We feel his pain from the past and his inability to make a true connection with the people in his lives. And when he does try building a connection, well things don’t always seem to work out so well.

Tatiana Maslany as Sarah, Alison, Cosima, Rachel, Helena and more on Orphan Black


Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black. Courtesy of BBC America.

Orphan Black is a sci-fi show on BBC America about clones, all played by Tatiana Maslany. Like Mr. Robot, the show is completely mind-blowing. It’s not nearly as dark and it’s far sexier. Nearly every episode leaves you with far more WTF moments than the typical human brain is meant to handle. You’re never quite sure who to trust.

This show is brilliant because until recently most of the clones were unaware that they were clones and of the existence of the others. Each character is completely distinct. Her background, upbringing and unique belief system has made her who she is: a foster kid who has often courted trouble; a social-climbing soccer mom with a mean streak and a penchant for alcohol; a crazed psychopath raised in a creepy orphanage; a brilliant, hippie-like scientist; the cold, calculating clone who has always been self-aware and will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

Rami Malek and Tatiana Maslany give us flawed, incredibly complex characters whose unique backgrounds inform their perspectives. We sympathize with and cheer them on. And they are surrounded by characters just as complex.

A character as dark as Elliot is more than most romance readers could handle. Yet, the layered complexity behind a character like that can be give us all kinds of unique characters for a romance. Sure, there is the bad boy who has been hurt in the past and the heroine who doesn’t believe she’s worthy of love. But those archetypes can serve as the foundation on which we build far more complex and relatable characters.

Who are some of your favorite layered characters in books, television or movies? Why do you love them so much?

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