How to Write Unlikable Characters

Unlikable CharactersUNLIKABLE characters? You’ve read it right. This post is about creating characters we dislike. But hold on. Aren’t we taught that a character has to be likable for our stories to work?

Well, yes. But not all characters have to be likable. Certainly, we have to like the hero. But surely not the villain. Nor his cronies. After all, we need to pit likable characters against unlikable ones if we are to create tension in our stories.

So, how do we make readers and audiences dislike a character? The techniques vary, but here is one approach. Consider these traits, several of which have been drawn from Margret Geraghty’s The Novelist’s Guide. Some are more potent than others, depending on how unlikable you intend to make your character(s).

Unlikable Character Traits and Behaviours

A character might exhibit one or more of these:

Humiliate others
Ignore a plea for help
Be deliberately unkind
Break a promise without a valid reason
Cause physical or mental pain in others – be a bully
Behave selfishly
Smell bad
Exhibit chauvinistic, sexist, or racist behaviour
Poke fun at someone who can’t poke back
Be cruel to animals
Have bad habits – pick his nose in public, spit constantly, etc.
Pick on someone vulnerable (after all, who roots for Goliath?)
Blame the innocent to save his own hide
Lie and cheat

You get the idea. Apart from obvious physical traits such as bad smells and irritating ticks and habits, unlikable people violate our sense of fair play at a fundamental level. They do not treat others as they would like to be treated in return.

Keeping this principle in mind will help you generate any number of new unlikable character traits.

Summary

Negative traits and behaviours make for unlikable characters who serve to balance your cast.

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