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If you're supposed to hate your character
Tim Gordon
Posted: Saturday, May 28, 2011 6:10 AM
Joined: 5/28/2011
Posts: 22

So I'm working on a story following two characters, and one of them is supposed to be a pretty big jerk at the beginning. When my wife read it, she said she wanted to hate him more, but he just wasn't hateable enough.

What are some subtle jerk things that people do that would make someone more hateable without making him an irredeemable person? Not giving up his seat on a bus to a pregnant woman? Not tipping?

Any thoughts? He's not supposed to be horrible, just full of himself.

Danielle Bowers
Posted: Saturday, May 28, 2011 2:21 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 279

I would make him tactless, have him just saying things without thinking of how it may be taken. If he's supposed to be full of himself that might work because he'll be thinking, "Why should I filter what I say, everyone should know I'm not a bad guy."

"Those shoes make your feet look really big."
"Are you sure you want to wear that color? It makes your skin look green."
Upon seeing a pregnant woman... "Are you having triplets? You're huge!"
Posted: Saturday, May 28, 2011 2:33 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 244

I definitely agree with the no filter thing. Someone asking him, "Do you ever think before the words come out of your mouth?" and his response being along the lines of "People ask me that a lot."

Or asking someone, "Do you want my opinion?" but giving it anyway even if they say no. (True story. Dude's totally not on my friend list after that.)
Stef Thompson
Posted: Saturday, June 4, 2011 12:46 AM
Joined: 4/29/2011
Posts: 7

I'd go further and instead of asking 'Do you want my opinion?' simply give it with the assumption it's not only wanted but perceived as necessary!

Depending on how you're writing, if you can give insight into the character's thought process that might help the audience hate him even more, recognising that his actions/words aren't just talk, but actually the very nature of who he is. When I read 'Beastly' by Alex Flinn I hated the main character right from the beginning, and not much at the end even though I think I was supposed to like him better then. Same with the male character in her novel 'A Kiss in Time' - she has a knack for writing selfish teen males well enough that they actually bug you. A lot of this has to do with detailing the character's thoughts and assumptions as they act and speak within the narrative. This way you can avoid him being perceived as horrible but really cement the idea that he's arrogant and selfish.
A Turcotte
Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2011 7:36 PM
Joined: 5/4/2011
Posts: 2

I'm not sure I agree with a character who blurts out whatever he is thinking being inherently dislikable, since a lot of the characters I like, I like for that reason. But if you have a character who is so full of himself he thinks that everything in the world is/does/SHOULD revolve around him, a good way to show it, is to have HIM be offended by the 'otherness' of other people. I don't mean just prejudice here. For instance, if your character is in a resturant and makes comments about what or how or how much other people eat, that's a good way to show that he is arrogant, and goes a step beyond just blurting out things that other might find rude. Projection is good too. If your character constantly sees OTHER people as arrogant and self-serving, and you can show that occurs even in situtations where it would be perfectly rational and reasonable for someone to have a different opinion, like with the way they dress, the music they listen to, or the way they treat/are treated by other people, then that might be a good way to show his own arrogance.
Posted: Monday, August 1, 2011 11:13 AM
Joined: 5/4/2011
Posts: 19

Selfish, inconsiderate, and greedy. Those are the traits I figure everyone hates. Just find a scenario and sprinkle them to excess. For example, take a road rager who not only cuts people off, but then yells at them for being lousy drivers.

Using your examples, not only could an asshole not give up a seat to a pregnant lady, but he could say he didn't know, since he figured she was fat or insult her for wanting special privileges and blame her for adding to the world's overpopulation.

The key is having some sort of twisted, over-exaggerated logic for the crazy behavior. See any politician, sports/movie star, or teenager for an example.
CS Cook
Posted: Monday, August 1, 2011 8:33 PM
Joined: 7/28/2011
Posts: 1

Arrogance, aggression, subtle undermining, pointing out to others how what they did was absolutely wrong. Things the character has done himself but when confronted explains how the reasons were different; his were acceptable, theirs were not. (those arguments should be solid and show the inability of your character to see their own faults in what they are saying)

Impatience is always a good one also when coupled with the above mentioned

"have HIM be offended by the 'otherness' of other people"

should lead the character into situations where comments can be downright appalling but his reaction to his own comments should be like he truly feels that way. No celebration just the comment no smirk just move on in stride.

Start right out with a reason to hate him, the next one more than the last and keep the subtle water flowing to grow that hatred - then when the moment is right you can mow him down.

Writing the hated character is often difficult as the traits and actions you supply to them are in the eye of the beholder. You will always have the responses that vary, the successes I have had usually are in creating a villain that through their own greed and disregard makes them hated . Sounds though that you want them to change and see some light. If you have developed them from some sort of bad upbringing which causes them to act but not of their own fault you may be finding your readers have more pity for him than hatred.

I would suggest looking at leaving any background out if you plan to make a change and include that background pity later to start the metamorphosis. .

Jay Greenstein
Posted: Thursday, September 1, 2011 2:30 PM
I have to ask why you want people to hate him. You didn’t say he was the antagonist. But that aside, the people you hate have friends who don’t look at them as evil and unlikeable. And a serial killer might be nice to everyone who they’re not out to kill. And worse, while you're presenting him as "bad" suppose your reader likes that kind of person, and feels that what they do is justified?

To me, the key is how the “good” character sees others in the story. If you’re showing that “bad” character through the perceptions of the protagonist it stops mattering what we think of him. All that will matter is if we feel the protagonist is rational to feel as he does. And if it does make sense, and through the filters of the protagonist’s POV the other person is unlikeable, he is. Then, we might argue with the protagonist, and feel that it’s a character flaw that makes him misunderstand, or to see bad where it doesn’t really exist, but since it’s his perception, and he’s our avatar, we will accept his assessment for purposes of the story.

On the other hand, if you have the reader viewing everyone from your own POV the reader makes their own decisions as to liking or disliking all the characters based only on what you tell them—which might be your problem.

Make sense?

Sinnie Ellis
Posted: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 1:48 PM
Joined: 4/3/2011
Posts: 66

I have done this in one of my novels. My MC hates her husband. He is self absorbed and basically a giant douche. Most of his statements include him in them. He's always talking about making people eat their words. He's insensitive to everyone. A liar, a cheat, and yells at people for no reason other than his own self importance. Think of the worst version of someone you hate in real life and write it down. It worked for me. Yes exes do serve a purpose.

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 2:02 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 412

Read Matilda. Her parents make excellent people to hate, and they have several quirks. They are better villians than the actual villian, if you ask me, because they are more believable.

Jay Greenstein
Posted: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 10:14 PM

From what I can see of the work you have posted, you’re limiting your POV to that of an external observer, be that the author or, nominally, the protagonist at some later date. And therein lies the problem. As the external storyteller all you can to is talk about the characters from the viewpoint of someone not on the scene, which means you report activities and give editorial opinion on what happened.

The problem with that it that it’s emotion free, other then a report that someone was happy, or angry, etc. So you have a focus character, yes, but not a POV character, and that reduces the story to report or history, rather then a dynamic story that’s happening as we watch.

Were you in the POV of one of the characters in the scene, in real time, that character would react to the “bad” character and we would know how he or she perceived the problem character. And because it’s their POV we would know what attracted their attention and how they feel about it, which is a measuring stick to calibrate our own reaction. And because we would “see” the action through the character’s eyes, filtered by their preconceptions and needs, we would probably react as they do. And that’s the key. We evoke emotion, rather than report it.

It’s a different, character-centric approach to writing that has the power to make the reader feel that they’re experiencing the story directly, and in real time. It’s the difference between hearing someone report on their vacation and going on it with them. We don’t learn those skills in our primary education because the techniques are of use only to fiction writers, but since you’re now writing fiction…

Try these three articles. They’re a pretty good introduction to some of those techniques. And if they make sense, you might look into the Dwight Swain book the first author recommends so highly. A glance at the reader reactions on the page will tell you why he recommends it.

Tim Gordon
Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012 6:49 PM
Joined: 5/28/2011
Posts: 22

I feel like an idiot because I totally forgot I started this discussion. I set aside the current book I was working on where this was an issue and dug into editing another.

The particular book is first person, and I'm curious now if I can tell it from the characters point of view and make his bad actions believably seem like good actions in his mind. I would think ge would be more likeable if he at least thought he was doing what was right, even if his actions externally would be seen as terrible.

By the same token, if he'll at least admit to himself that what he's doing is wrong, he could potentially still be likeable.

I'll have to play with this. Like I said, this book was definitely put on the backburner, so I appreciate all the recommendations now that I'm starting to look at it again.

Vincent Tuckwood
Posted: Thursday, May 24, 2012 12:10 PM
Joined: 5/24/2012
Posts: 1

Tim - Hi. If you're in this guy's head, just remember that, from his POV, his actions will always be justified and 'right'. We are all narcissists and hypocritical when it serves our own needs.

If he's witness to the act and the aftermath, then he's not the guy to help us see how dislikable he is - the only route to that is to have him do something so obviously 'off' and create incredulity that he would even think it OK. Also, just as an afterthought, we often over-respond to our own failings when we see them in others - he might notice his own flaws in another person and 'go off on one'?

All that said, I worry that you'll end up introducing superfluous fluff just to establish his character in broad brush strokes - what does the story need him to do? If he's redeemed by the end, then pull a chance for redemption forward and have him willfully ignore or destroy it.

Hope that makes sense, happy to discuss,

Alexander Hollins
Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012 11:36 AM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 412

Been gone awhile myself, but I gotta say, if he knows they are wrong actions, but think they will lead to right results, he'll be believable. Even if he REALLY has to stretch to believe it.


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