The Unlikeable: Understanding Difficult Characters – by K.M. Powell

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We’ve all read that story containing a character, or the character that no matter how much we try, we just don’t like them. In some cases, it’s because the author intended for that character to be unlikeable; a bad seed, if you will. But, many other times a character fails to win over the reader because the reader just doesn’t understand them.
Character creation is an essential part of the writing process and the story’s success, even when and if we are creating unlikeable ones. One of the most important things a writer can do in the infant stages of their characters’ development is to focus on their “unlikeable” qualities. The next crucial phase is to begin thinking in terms of what will make them relatable, and allow readers to understand their motives, attitudes, and actions. In the end, they may, or may not like them, but they will have at least invested time into understanding them and enjoying the story.

1) Clearly outline your character’s personalities and unlikeable characteristics
You have to know your character and understand them before expecting that of your audience. If you are writing a destructive, or out of control character, you should also focus on underlying issues that may be the cause of their outbursts and/or behavior. In the pre-writing phase, think of these outbursts and counter them with believable background material that may be written into the story which holds clues or reasons behind their trouble. This allows for you to know the character’s ins and outs. As they continue to evolve, you have a well-rounded (despite being terribly troubled) character who readers will want to side with.

2) Make sure you throw them a life jacket
It can be easy to focus solely on making sure your unlikable characters are constantly making bad choices, or wreaking havoc on all the good characters in your story. You should also consider inserting some redeemable qualities so readers can understand why it is that they act the way they do. Maybe they are harboring some secret that is causing what looks to everyone else like bad decisions, or they are making an immoral decision as a sacrifice to help or save someone else. There are many “life jackets” that you can create and help the reader gain a greater insight. A great way to generate these ideas is to first think of what/who your character cares for and why.

3) Give them a friend
Creating these unlikeable characters also means providing them with at least one friend. This person can be just as essential as the previous two components in helping the reader understand them. Their friend can be a portal used to provide background, history, and/or insight into their actions and behaviors. This can also generate feelings in the reader to want to understand them better, maybe even begin rooting for them. It is important to grasp and apply each of these important writing practices both individually and collectively so that you can achieve the most relatability and give your “unlikeable” characters a chance to succeed.

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About Author

I am an avid lover of creating fictional stories, poems, creative non-fiction, and recently, reviews, and blog content. Professionally speaking, I am new to the community of Inkitt Writer's Blog. I have a growing collection of cherished stories that really evolved when I began my graduate studies. I am eager to share the tips, techniques, and practices that have helped me create what I hope will continue to be strong, solid, creative work. I hold a Master's in Creative Writing with a concentration in Fiction Writing. I never shy away from an opportunity to step outside my own comfort zones to seek new and effective writing practices that help strengthen my own writing, and love sharing that knowledge with my fellow writing community. I believe that we all begin our journey from an ambiguous place. As we traverse the many paths our stories will take us, is where we will find our voice and a growing wisdom to continue evolving as successful writers. It’s the experience, the hard-work, sacrifice, and striving to create something better than the last story, poem, or article that allows the fortitude to continue progressing along our writing journey.

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