Author’s Advice pt. 14

Choosing to write characters that you hate into your story is a very bad idea.

In a previous posting I talked about how you have to step outside of your comfort zone and often write a character that has views contrary to your own. Indeed this is a very good way of creating relate-able characters and keeping a dynamic story line going. However, that doesn’t mean you have to write a character that you don’t like.

Think about it, most everyone out there has friends with viewpoints that differ from their own. You don’t dislike that person for their views, you simply disagree with them. Well it’s the same thing when creating a character, you can create a character with views that you don’t agree with, without despising that character.

A lot of my readers have commented on how they can’t stand it when people write characters that they hate or at the very least don’t care about and continuously put them through unspeakable horrors that no one would realistically make it through unscathed, if at all. Given the amount of comments I got on this, I felt that a post dealing with this topic was inevitable, so thank you!

I myself have been guilty of this in the past. One of my early stories featured a villain that was based on a guy I went to college with. He was someone who was a few years older than me, completely paranoid about anyone who spoke to his girlfriend, and had one too many character flaws that were just intolerable. I locked horns with this person too many times and really came to absolutely despise them. So, like many other writers, I thought the traits he possessed, his character flaws, and outright disdain was perfect for a villain.

I was wrong…

Every time I wrote, I pictured his face and it made my blood boil. The result was a dark and bitter story that not even the most manic-depressive teenager would enjoy. I read through it once and immediately tore it up. That’s not how I wanted to write, not at all. I knew I was better than that.

The worst part is that the people who write this way and don’t realize what they’re doing, don’t seem to understand that their readers pick up on this kind of thing. Readers are very good about detecting when someone is writing with disdain and it doesn’t leave a good impression. I’ve known people who stopped reading stories because of things like this.

The inherent problems with this method of writing are as follows…

1. The writer doesn’t care about this character and tends to not give them much of a back story, making the character stale and uninteresting.

2. The amount of pain and suffering that a writer puts that character through usually hints at a very misanthropic attitude, whether that’s accurate or not, that’s how it comes off.

3. The character is unrealistic. Though I hate to make this reference, go watch IT, and keep a very close eye on the character Henry Bowers.

I know in the book he’s probably given more explanation and that’s fine, but if you’ve read it, try to look at the movie objectively like you haven’t. There is no development of this character, he’s a one-dimensional villain who sees murder and terror as the only option… why? Is there someone like this that King himself had to deal with growing up? I don’t know….

Many believe that this is the best way to write a villain or a character who won’t survive long, and I can’t say that I agree at all. In fact, one of the best villains I ever wrote about, I based on another college friend of mine, though I would NEVER admit this to her. This person was the type of individual who cared more about the people around them, than their own well-being. They would have given you the shirt of their back for the asking. I thought about it and when the gears were turning, I thought to myself, ‘How awesome would it be to make this character one of the villains? No one would see it coming!’

So I went ahead with it. People like this character, it was someone who just kind of fell in with the group due to circumstances, but quickly became one of them. Even my wife gravitated towards this character. So you can imagine that absolute shock when I revealed that this character was not only not on their side, but had been responsible for most of their problems. They had their reasons, but it didn’t change the fact that they were not on the side of the moral right throughout the story.

THAT is how you write a great and dynamic character. If you write a character with loving care and are truly excited about the impact the character will have, your audience will pick up on it and love that character. It is pretty much the exact opposite of an unfortunately growing trend among writers, especially those who write young adult fiction.

Just keep that in mind the next time you sit down to create a new character.
Thanks friends, catch you on the flip side,

Jim

5 thoughts on “Author’s Advice pt. 14

  1. bad nog says:

    This is one of those temptations that follow getting started. And it’s a little harder to get rid of than the Mary-Sue/Gary-Stu self-insertion. Especially because such villains are often pivotal parts of OUR lives and development, we can view them as the best thing for our heroes to encounter. Everybody wants to relate to their hero, right? How better to do that than make them encounter someone straight from our own lives?

    I’m doing it, myself. But NOT as an antagonistic focus in the story, but rather as something of a side-note. A bully briefly encountered and subsequently left-behind by our hero, but not without giving them a framework for what an unsavory individual looks like. It can almost make our heroes and characters look wiser, if they equate an antagonist or hostile encounter with somebody they’ve already dealt with before.

    Righteous stuff, James! I’m gonna have to go back through your whole blog and check out the other Advice pieces you’ve done. Would you have any qualms with it, if I built my own list off it (with links, credit due where credit’s due for the inspiration) on my Bad Nog blog?

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  2. […] said, there should be a few guidelines. Firstly, refer to topic on Writing Characters You Hate and make sure you’re being edgy for the right reasons. Second look at your target audience. […]

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  3. […] said, there should be a few guidelines. Firstly, refer to topic on Writing Characters You Hate and make sure you’re being edgy for the right reasons. Second look at your target audience. […]

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