7 Ways to Write Characters Your Readers Love to Hate

In last week’s post, I gave you 9 Ways to Write Characters Your Readers Will Love.

This week I have some tips to help you write characters that readers will love to hate. Surprisingly, its a lot easier to get your readers to hate a character. It’s really simple human psychology. All of a person’s good and wonderful deeds fade if they do or say something horrible. And when a character is completely loathsome from the get-go and your reader will never forget them.

Here’s a few ways to write characters we love to hate.

1. Make them a bully and/or a sadist. The east way to make a reader dislike a character is to show them deliberately causing an innocent person physical or emotional pain and suffering. If they derive some sort of pleasure from it, we will despise them even more.

Sadistic villains might torture the hero into divulging information that they don’t have. They can make demands that are impossible to fulfill so that everyone around them is constantly terrified of punishment or crushed by guilt and disappointment. However, sort of villain often that lacks depth. We rarely know anything about them except for their hunger for everyone’s suffering. It’s easy to see them as purely evil.

In order to avoid creating a cliche, it might help to keep in mind that bullies and sadist are not necessarily in love with inflicting pain and emotional distress—it’s the power that gets them off. The need to control someone else’s body and someone else’s life is the driving force behind their actions.

2. Make them a murderer or a vigilante. This seems odd to say but killing someone doesn’t make a character likable or worthy of hate. Crazy, right? Unlike bullying, if the intended victim is evil enough, the killing can be justified. “Some people just need killing.” And just like that, a murderer becomes a hero.

Murder—and all other crimes, for that matter—only transform the character into a villain if they do it for selfish reasons, or if innocents are caught in the crossfire. A motive can make all the difference. A cold-blooded killer can be sympathetic if they are avenging the deaths of innocent people. A con man who targets lonely, single mothers and drains them of every cent to their name, will not garner sympathy.

3. Make them self-serving and/or self-aggrandizing. There are a few things that are more annoying than a know-it-all or a self-appointed expert. It’s a strange dichotomy when you really think about it. We can’t stand folks who are shiftless and lack ambition, but we can’t stand a social climber or a clout chaser either. Shame and woe upon those who insinuate themselves into places where they are unwanted or uninvited. And that disdain for an interloper or self-serving opportunist will linger until they have proven themselves and/or earned the respect of the group.

This character is recognizable and can garner quite a bit of sympathy at the beginning of your story because at one time or another, we have all felt like an interloper. Be it at a new job, a new school, or a new neighborhood, we have all longed to be accepted by that new group. To make this a character we love to hate, they must remain an outsider. They can never be vindicated. They must always remain too different to be accepted and that fact can drive them to react in negative ways.

4. Make them break promises. A character that breaks your hero’s trust will be a betrayal that your reader will take personally. Depending on the damage it causes, this breech of trust may even be unforgivable. This character will have a long way to go to make amends and until then, they will be see as a villain.

5. Make them classist/and or elitist. Any character who presents as someone who believes that they are superior to others is easy to dislike. Some folks are distrustful of educated people and may even harbor some resentment toward that person. Formal speech or eloquent diction can be intimidating as well.

6. Make them mentally unstable. This is a touchy one, but we are fearful of people who frequently experience breaks with reality. They can’t be reasoned with. They won’t talk it out. There’s no way to get them to see things from your point of view. While most people who are mentally unwell are only a danger to themselves, there are a select few who are dangerously and criminally insane and must be handled accordingly. Consider the recent Ted Bundy documentary for example. No matter how “charming” and “attractive” the media portrayed him, there is no way you can see him as a good guy after you’ve learned of his heinous crimes against women.

7. Make them rude and/or difficult to be around. We all know what makes a person rude or difficult, but I’ll list a few: no sense of humor, a whiner, a complainer, callous, and apathetic toward others, judgmental, hypocritical. You get the jest. Slather your villain in some of these negative traits and your reader will immediately see them for who they are.

One important tidbit to remember is that everyone is a hero of their own story. None of these heroes would be interesting if all they portrayed  were negative qualities. Find ways to justify their actions and you can effectively soften your villain into an antihero. And that, word makers, would be a worthy opponent for your hero.

Until next week…happy writing!

Tasha

9 Ways to Write Characters Readers Will Love #amwriting #writerwednesday

Hey word-makers!

I’m back after a little blogging break and ready to ring in the New Year real proper like. I hope that your holidays were happy and if they weren’t happy, at least they’re over, right?

Right.

So let’s dive back into my favorite writing topic: CHARACTERS. I swear I’m gonna get off of them one day, but that day ain’t today.

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I recently received a review for In Her Closet that spoke to my little writer heart. Here’s part of the review:

“I found Yves to be unlikable but in a very relatable way. The sort of woman who most women wished they could be or are afraid of becoming. She did what she wanted, had sex when she wanted and in the words on Destiny’s Child Independent part two-She did them boys like they used to do her. I wish there were more heroines like this, but I know the reason there aren’t.”

*FIST PUMP*

That shit right there made me so happy, you guys. I’ve stated before that when I wrote Yves Santiago it was with the exact intention to give her all of the “negative” traits that we often see in romance heroes. Traits that we easily forgive once he falls in love because love redeems all things. I wanted to know if we would feel the same about a heroine. It feels good to know that I was successful.

However, as much as I have championed purposely breaking the stereotype and suggesting some ways to make unlikeable characters more relatable, I realize that this is a difficult task. Not everyone wants to do that, nor is every story meant to have an out-of-the-box character. Sometimes you just need a Joe Schmoe or a regular-smegular girl.

But no two readers are alike so, how can you encourage empathy for your character?

9 Ways to Write Characters Readers Will Love

1. Make them pretty. I’m gonna go ahead and tackle this one first because it’s really the easiest way to get this done.

None of us wants to admit that we’re this shallow, but there are literally thousands of books and movies out there to prove us wrong. Screenwriters and filmmakers have it easy. All they have to do is throw Trevante Rhodes up on the screen and instantly we’re all dialed in.

Oh, that was just me?

My bad.

But like I said, they only need to trot out a physically attractive person to get the viewer’s attention. A novelist doesn’t have that option so we have to be more deliberate. We have to describe the character in a way that suggests attractiveness. We do that by showing how other characters respond to that attractiveness. Maybe we wax a little poetic about the timbre of a hero’s voice or how flustered and shy he becomes under our heroines advances. The secondary and tertiary characters that they interact with can compliment their looks or express jealousy or envy because they won the genetic lottery.

However, it’s important to be careful with this because you can turn off a certain segment of readers who are sick to death of reading about incredibly attractive people. I must admit that I feel this way about blond-haired, blue-eyed, heroes and heroines. There are so many blond and blue-eyed characters in romance that one would swear the bulk of romances were written in Scandinavia. Yes, our shallow asses love to read about someone who is not only attractive to us but is attractive to the people in the world you have created. Just shy away from too much sameness when you’re describing them.

2. Make them a victim/savior/martyr. These three things can be used as plot devices to raise the stakes and increase tension, but depicting any character in this way can also make your reader interested in their journey.

A victim will be pitied and the reader will hope that they are ultimately delivered from their suffering. When writing victims there is some danger of making them appear weak, but you can combat this by illustrating that they had no choice and give them either the courage to endure or make them brave enough to rescue themselves. If they are a victim of psychological or emotional abuse, you have to make sure you really explain why they can’t just leave their situation.

A savior will always be the hero of a story. There’s not much you can do wrong here. Your reader will undoubtedly admire their courage to accept responsibility for others and take care of the people they love. However, the savior can look reckless and foolhardy if he rushes into the conflict in a way that makes everything worse or only interfering just enough to seem like a meddler instead of a true hero.

The martyr is probably the most difficult of these to do well. Sacrifice doesn’t always win sympathy, especially when or if the reader feels like it was a needless sacrifice. There must be some reason for it beyond being noble or admired for that alone. Your character must really have no other choice but to make that sacrifice. It also needs to make a significant and positive difference in the lives of the supporting characters.

3. Give them plans, purpose, ambition, and dreams. A lot of newbie authors make the mistake of letting the story happen to their characters versus letting their characters actions drive the plot. This creates a character with no initiative who seems to be pushed around by the plot until the writer runs out of things to put them through and decides to write “the end.” The best way to combat this is to always have your character arrive on the page with a purpose or plan. This way, when the plot point is presented you have a thing that your character is trying to achieve.

In addition to plans and purpose, if you’re treating your characters as real people they will have hopes, dreams, and hopefully, ambitions. These are easy things to get your reader to sympathize with–especially if you ground them in the five categories of human desire. These are things that every human needs to survive and thrive. Your reader will identify with them even more if your character puts great importance on that dream or desire.

If your story is about your characters plan—also called a quest—you characters journey toward obtaining their goal is immediately sympathetic. This is why we root for Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen, and even characters like Dexter Morgan or the murderous and deceitful heroes of dark romances. We get caught up in their plans and dreams even when those things are appalling or criminal.

4. Make them risk it all. Real tension and conflict are created when your character has something to lose. Be it a social, physical, or financial risk, make them do what is right or necessary in pursuit of their goals—even up to breaking the law or turning a blind eye when someone else commits a crime. From that moment on, their fate is tied to that person or event and we will root for them to overcome it.

In that risk, however, there must be some sense of fairness. They shouldn’t be sneaky, underhanded, or a cheater just for the sake of presenting some sort of negative trait that they have to overcome. That won’t garner much sympathy. Readers will respond to a character who is brave and at least attempts to play fair, but will find it difficult to connect with a character who is morally bankrupt.

5. Make them a positive and optimistic. Your characters attitude toward other people, their inner dialogue with themselves, and their approach to the plot points in the story can sway the reader from ambivalence to like. A character who takes responsibility for their mistakes, responds to their trials and tribulations with self-deprecating humor, and always strives to improve themselves will show your reader a struggle that they recognize. We’re all trying to be better people, aren’t we? And in that way, your character is just like us. A character that is written the complete opposite way can also be endearing, but the ones who feel, think, and struggle just like us are the ones that we love to love.

6. Make them selfless. Doing a courageous thing without seeking recognition is probably one of the most difficult things to do in real life, so it would definitely be commendable in a fictional character. This is not something they should be forced into, it shouldn’t bring them fame or fortune, and should be approached with modesty, and humility. Selflessness is a form of sacrifice, so of course, it will garner sympathy.

7. Make them dependable and reliable. In the words of Tony Montana, “all I have in this world is my balls and my word and I won’t break them for no one.” A character who is a good guy, who keeps his word no matter what, will be easy to fall in love with. Especially when everything and everyone tries to make their word impossible to keep. Never underestimate the impact of a promise. Promises kept and promises broken are a reoccurring theme in fiction.

8. Make them clever. This is different from intelligence because intelligence can be misinterpreted as elitist or snobbish. Clever is being smart without flaunting your intelligence. It’s using your street smarts to get out of sticky situations. It’s conquering a situation with self-confidence and being surprised that it works. Readers love a character who solves a problem with exactly the right facts when they need them, but they don’t like a pompous know-it-all that flaunts that knowledge.

9. Make them perfectly imperfect. Now that I’ve given you a long list of squeaky clean, perfect characteristics that we love to love, now I’m going to tell you to give them some imperfections. Your character needs some flaws or they won’t have anything to overcome and your reader will have nothing to root for. So scuff them up a little bit. Make them a smoker. Make them brutally honest. Give them anxiety or a deep-rooted need to always drink green smoothies for breakfast whilst complaining about how awful they taste. Dig into their backstory and give them a limiting belief that makes them feel real.

Well, that’s it, wordmaker!

I hope you find these 9 tips useful and that they help you create a character that your readers will love to love!

Until next week,

Happy writing!

Tasha

 

 

How I Set Up My Writing Journal #WriterWednesday

A few weeks ago, I was a guest on Rachael Herron’s podcast How Do You Write.

It was a fun conversation during which I had a chance to nerd out about journaling and tarot and writing processes because that’s what I do. Pop over and give it a listen if you haven’t heard it already!

After that call, my thoughts turned toward goal setting and planning for 2019. Part of that planning involves me looking back through my writing journals from this year, taking note of what I have accomplished and deciding what projects I want to focus on in the new year. Which made me think that I should share this part of my process with my fellow word makers.

Your Daily Writing Journal

Keeping a journal specifically for writing has become the best and most useful tool in my writer’s toolbox.

Whether you use a cheap spiral notebook, loose leaf paper, and a binder, a beautifully bound journal, or your Evernote app, getting in the habit of keeping what really amounts to a writing log is one of the easiest ways to stay productive and keep yourself on track. I know that a lot of writers recommend this, and I’ll be the first to admit that it doesn’t work for everyone. Establishing a habit of any kind takes commitment, and sometimes that feels like added pressure on top of the writing itself, so feel free to skip it. But for those of you who are looking for a way to focus on your writing in a way that will help you discover your practice, here you go!

How to start your own writing journal.

First, make a short-term commitment. I’m sure you’ve all heard that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit, so that’s a good way to start. During those 21 days, set aside a time and place to set up each entry in this way.

  • Date
  • Title of story/article
  • Projected word count
  • Article topic or scene/chapter you’re writing that day (this can be a brief synopsis of two to three sentences)
  • What points need to be made in this article? Or what needs to happen in this scene/chapter?
  • Who is this article about? Who is in this scene/chapter?

Then close your journal and get to work!

Once you have completed your writing for the day, come back to your journal and ask yourself these questions.

  • Did you meet your projected word count?
  • How do you feel about what you wrote today?
  • How do you feel about writing today? Was it hard? Easy? Fun?

After you write your twenty-first entry on the twenty-first day, reread your journal and write an end of month entry that sums up your 21 days of writing. In this entry, ask yourself these questions:

  • How many words did you write? Was that more or less than the month prior? Do you want to set a projected word count goal for the month?
  • Have you completed all of your writing projects? If yes, GREAT! If no, why not?
  • Did your writing journal keep you on track?
  • Will you continue to use your writing journal as a habit tracker to hack your process?

Keeping a writing journal is the best way to have a real inventory of your process over time. Before long, you will recognize patterns, identify the point in your book where you always feel blocked, and learn a way to get around it, or just keep a record that will be an amazing way to look back on your accomplishments for the year.

I know that the type of notebooks or programs we decide to use is an intensely personal decision. How-and-ever, I’ve designed a Daily Journal for you word makers, and I want to give you an opportunity to grab one up so that you can start your new year and your new daily writing journaling habit off right!

 

Happy writing!

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