Now, when I say ‘characters you hate’, I don’t mean villains.
In fact, some of my favorite characters in pieces I’ve written and read have been villains.
What I mean when I say ‘characters you hate’, is the characters who are reprehensible pieces of crap who also (unfortunately) serve a significant purpose to the storyline.
It’s not easy to write them. That’s established.
Writing them is tedious and boring, especially when you have characters you love to write and love to make scenes for, but if you don’t also spare time for the bad ones, then your story has a significant hole that needs to be filled.
It’s hard to craft a well-rounded story when you’ve got say, 10 characters that you love to write, because you put the most effort into making those characters perfect.
But you need to do that with the characters you don’t like as well.
In writing, even the jerks deserve and need to have some polish, even if you find that distasteful. Because if you have one-dimensional characters, your story loses credibility within its conflicts.
Sure, you might run into characters where you don’t necessarily see their positive sides in every scene, and you don’t have to show that in every scene, but you see the depth in them when you put effort into making them as distasteful as possible.
There’s a character in the first installment of the #WhoIsTalyaNightingale universe (well, probably more than one, but this one specifically comes to mind), and I do not like them. I created them with a specific purpose, and as I wrote, their purpose expanded. Now they have a much bigger role—but within that core, that role is that of a person that I would probably punch in the face in real life.
And they all deserve to have as much depth and consideration as your protagonist, antagonist, and any other character that falls under the umbrella of ‘your favorite’.
1. Go All In on Your Disdain
This is my favorite way to write characters that I don’t like.
And what I do, is I take all the hate I have for certain people I’ve encountered over the course of my real life, and go all in on it. It shouldn’t come to much of a surprise that it’s very easy to translate those feelings to paper.
It’s like taking the old saying of ‘write what you know’ and adding in a heaping helping of the middle finger emoji on the side.
Did someone piss you off, throw you under the bus one too many times, belittle you because of your race/age/gender/sexual orientation/perceived lack of experience, intentionally interfere in your personal relationships?
Then take those feelings you have about those moments and infuse them into the character you’re struggling with.
I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again, and I won’t feel bad about it.
But to note, if you’re like me, maybe don’t be TOO obvious about your disdain in the case that the person or persons who have wronged you in the past decide to read your story and recognize the scenes/traits that I’m talking about.
In some of my early works, I’ve done that, but they’re never going to see the light of day as they currently stand so it’s not a problem. And if they ever do see the light of day, then I’ll probably take some of the specifics to some stories out.
I’ll try to be a little more subtle.
But if you give absolutely no effs about them seeing it, then you can feel free to do whatever the heck you want.
As Paul Bettany’s Geoffrey Chaucer says in A Knight’s Tale, “I will eviscerate you in fiction. Every pimple, every character flaw. I was naked for a day; you will be naked for eternity.”
I really love that quote. And that movie.
2. Make Them As Bad As Humanly Possible
Sounds similar to Number 1, right? But it’s not.
In this case, you’re taking a character that doesn’t serve much purpose outside of being a nuisance and elevating them to something along the lines of a secondary antagonist.
Because you can never antagonize your protagonist too much.
Sounds a little mean, but that’s what makes for a good story. Just wait until I eventually get to the fourth book in the #WhoIsTalyaNightingale universe. Or the fifth book. Or that thing that happens in the third. And the other thing that happens in the sixth.
I have a lot of roadblocks planned.
And they’ll all be written….eventually. Gotta get that first book published first.
But back to my point, let’s take a look into Battlestar Galactica.
And let’s be real, who liked Tom Zarek? (RIP Richard Hatch.)
While the Cylons served as the primary antagonists to the series, Zarek was evil and manipulative (in a way that Gaius Baltar wasn’t, and don’t get me started on the year we spent in Baltar’s hair). Zarek was great at manipulating other characters and getting in the way of the plot.
I could go on, but I don’t have it in me today to write two thousand words on my feelings about the Zarek/Gaeta coup attempt in season four.
But for all that he was terrible, Zarek BEING terrible was what made him a great character. Trust me, it wasn’t just that he was a really exciting Easter Egg to the original series’ Apollo.
Same with Helena Cain and basically everyone on the Pegasus (ugh, the Pegasus, don’t get me started on that either), or D’Anna Biers at any time AFTER the towel episode, Kat during Scar, or Mrs. Tigh in episodes where she wasn’t drinking.
So the moral of my rambling story is to make them as bad as humanly possible, and that will give depth to your story and also give your readers some frustration as they get through the plot.
When done right, it gets them to turn the page, makes them want to see what happens next.
And that’s the whole point of all of what we’re doing.
3. Do The Opposite And Find A Way To Relate To The Character Instead
Did I just say to do the complete opposite of Points 1 and 2?
You bet I did!
Because there’s nothing better than offering advice and following it up with the wonderful caveat of, “But also, you can just not do that.”
See also: how I roll.
Be like me.
Or don’t. (Whoops, I did it again.)
But to the point, if you’re somehow NOT the type of person who develops vendettas against every single person who has ever wronged you, A) leave a comment and tell me how that works, and B) you’re probably a fundamentally better person that I am.
So if you CAN find the better in people who have crossed you, then do that with your characters too.
Because they can be problematic and reprehensible, but that doesn’t have to stop you from giving them an aspect to their character that will make you relate to them, and therefore make it easier for you to write them.
That’s what this is all about—making it easier for you to write the tough characters.
Give them layers.
Like an onion.
That aspect doesn’t even have to be reflected in the plot, but as long as you, the author, knows that hidden piece of their personality, then you’ll have a much easier time at writing them.
In fact, that’s how I ended up taking one character from #WhoIsTalyaNightingale that was really an irrelevant throw-away who was only going to me mentioned once or twice throughout the earlier parts of the series, and is now a really important part of the entire universe.
That happens sometimes.
But as that happened, I also took a character that wasn’t going to be a pain in the backside and turned them into one.
You never know what’s going to happen when you write, but nothing is going to happen if you don’t do that thing.
A life-long college sports fan and forever bitter about the country’s east coast biases, Kathryn, The Fake Redhead, graduated from the University of Arizona with a BA in Creative Writing, emphasis in poetry because she felt the fiction studies emphasis was too pretentious. She is currently helping other writers hone their craft while she pursues her dreams of becoming a published novelist.