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  1. NyMichael20
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    NyMichael20 Member

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    Basic tips for making a character unlikable?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by NyMichael20, Aug 23, 2010.

    I have a complex character in a story I'm working on right now. He is a former military man who is very capable, but also short-tempered and arrogant. He has a very "us vs. them" cold war mentality.

    The thing is, I don't want to just come out and say "This guy is a jerk." In the story I already have him cheating at a poker game and then throwing a fit when he loses, as well as killing an injured man who could have been saved at the end.

    This is the first serious writing I have done for years, so maybe I am a little rusty. What else can I do to make this guy unlikable? I want the reader to both respect and hate this guy. I have a few ideas but I'd like to get some opinions from others. Thanks!
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sounds like he's already unlikable. You don't want to go over the top with this. If you have him kicking puppies as he walks down the street and calling every woman he meets a whore, your reader is not going to suspend disbelief. So don't push it too far.
     
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  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm going to agree with Minstrel you also need something that the reader can identify with even Skeletor and Hordak (He-Man and She-Ra) had their moments when you felt bad or sorry for them.

    I'd just make him seem superior to the people around him. aloof and short tempered.
     
  4. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Whatever type of character becomes unlike-able to the reader if you take them just a step to far.

    A cheery character that is a bit to cheery, a wimpy character that is a bit to wimpy, a military character that is just a bit to military-esq, or a intellectual character that is just a hit to intellectual will strike a nerve and not be like generally. Whatever quality that is taken to far.

    If he already have negative threats that you push give him a few good traits and take them a bit to far. I think you might already overdone it, with killing someone over a card game.

    We all have met the teacher who sympathy always felt like condescending pity or oversimplification. Or the funny guy that becomes annoying because he never takes anything seriously. Or the person that just to honest and blunt. Or the guy thats to nice for his own good. Or the protective parent that just overprotective and restraining.
     
  5. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    The way you view a character shows through in your writing. If you see him as highly unlikeable, this will show through in your writing. Describe his bad characteristics and describe him in a way that feels natural to you; don't overdo it.
     
  6. NyMichael20
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    NyMichael20 Member

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    Thanks everyone for the great advice!
     
  7. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    You're welcome, Mike. By the way, the respect thing works the same way: if you respect him, it will show through in your writing. However, it might be hard to make him respected and hated at the same time, all throughout the story. You might have to settle for him being hated at some moments and respected at others. I mean, you can make someone respect someone else while not agreeing with them, but it's harder to replace "not agreeing" with "hating."
     
  8. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    This has got to be the funniest choice of examples, ever. :D
     
  9. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Hardcore military men can be arrogant/rude/insulting towards men whom they think to be weak. As others have said, don't go overboard, just some gestures and some few words will be enough.
     
  10. curmb
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    curmb New Member

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    If you're trying to make him unlikeable, you're looking at it all wrong. Stories and their characters should be honest. In my opinion, stories that leave you with a sure opinion of anyone are bad stories, 'cos you never in real life 'like' someone - always something you don't like about them or do. Even if you are committed to fixing him into your plot, it isn't my paradigm.
     
  11. TobiasJames
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    TobiasJames Contributing Member

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    A disgusting physical habit is always a great way to turn readers' opinions very subtly against a character. Have him always scratching an ugly, red boil on the back of his neck, or picking his nose and flicking it away, or coughing up flem and spitting it on the floor whilst in the middle of talking.

    This will make readers think, "I dislike this man," without necessarily making them think, "This man is evil."
     
  12. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Hahahaha! Eww!! But, that's a great idea. :)
     
  13. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    He seems pretty unlikeable to me. When you design his character, just try to remember,
    "Adolf introduces Fascism to Germany, spreads war throughout Europe, murders millions in concentration camps — but he's a strict vegetarian and loves his dog. Tossing in a touching scene with his German Shepherd Blondi and a dish of lentils won't make Hitler's character 'balanced'." The quote's from How Not to Write a Novel, BTW.
     
  14. razcox
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    razcox Member

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    This is very true and even a slight bad habbit can make some one unlikeably. Anyone that has ever worked in an office will know someone with that annoying habit that puts you off them. The BO, the farting, the spitting (there is a guy in our office that goes and hacks up in the loo everyday ewww) hording food ect. People will not like them but its not over the top evil.
     
  15. NyMichael20
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    NyMichael20 Member

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    Thanks everyone for some great tips. I went over my first draft last night and found that the character already was really unlikable, but at the same time commands a bit of respect from his military service and knowledge. Still, thanks for all the great tips and I'll definitely keep them in mind! Especially that quote about Hitler, which was a real thought provoker.
     
  16. jameskmonger
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    jameskmonger Member

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    Well, in my opinion, the way he acts should make him unlikeable, but a general spoilsport is unlikeable I guess, as is someone who's grumpy, grouchy, etc.
     
  17. Lothgar
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    Lothgar Contributing Member

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    Just offering my views on a few points here.

    This former military man, was he a combat soldier, or a non-combat soldier (Communications specialists, cook, motor pool mechanic, Army Chaplin etc.)?

    If he was a combat soldier, what manner of mentality should he have, other than the "us vs. them" outlook? Seriously, the "Can't we all just get along" outlook will get you killed in a real world war zone.

    Okay, the thing about military tradition, is that it is based on discipline and honor.

    If you want him to be a respected military professional, then those types of guys usually don't end up cheating at cards and throwing temper tantrums when they lose. Part of being respectable is being dependable, honorable and reliable.

    If, on the other hand, this guy was dishonorably discharged for dealing drugs and/or stealing military equipment to sell in a pawn shop...yes, those types of guys tend to be drunks, addicts, cheaters, undisciplined temper tantrum throwers, etc.

    As for killing an injured man that could be saved, that depends on the context.

    Was this guy trying to save one of his own men and just let him die?

    Was the guy who died an enemy soldier? If so, it typically is the job of Infantry soldiers to kill the enemy. If the infantryman screws up his job and only wounds the enemy, instead of killing him, it tends to be medics who stabilize and secure the wounded prisoners for transport (And you'd be surprised how many wounded enemy soldiers still have enough energy to pull a pistol and shoot a few more people...and heaven help you if the wounded enemy is a religious zealot that has a grenade and can't wait to get back to his god...and take a few others with him).

    If you want your reader to respect, but hate, a professional military man, the way I'd go depends again on the context.

    You can respect and hate the perfectionist who looks down his nose at everyone else who doesn't measure up, and his sharp tongue will never let you forget that you aren't as good as he is.

    You can respect the ability of a former special forces commando to engage the enemy, rack up the body count and secure his objective, but harbor a strong distaste for the fact that he is a sell out, lacking in patriotism. He no longer fights for his country, but works as a mercenary fighting for cash. The competent professional fighter who has lost his honor and moral standards is easy to disapprove of.

    Just offering my two cents worth...
     
  18. archerfenris
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    archerfenris Active Member

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    Much of what you say I agree with. Particularly about the dishonorably discharged. However, characters aren't concrete. They can be very complex. The same officer that keeps his uniform straight, always shows up 15 minutes early, and always achieves his objective while being praised by his men can be the same guy who cheats on his wife. How? After all those speeches of honor and integrity and owning up to your wrongs? Because he's human.

    And I would like to add I've met PLENTY of guys in the military who LOSE THEIR SHIT if they lose. Think type A personality. Losing to them is one of, if not the greatest insult. Most military guys have it a little. Some have it a lot. I'm not particularly bad about it but if someone starts trying to pass me on a run I speed up...and then it ends up in a foot race. It's the way soldiers are.
     
  19. Felipe
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    Felipe Active Member

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    I fall back on initial impressions, and physical characteristics. Sometime you can just look at a person and see evil there. In today's world, it could be a visible skinhead tattoo, manner of dress and many other things. But in my opinion, if we are writers, we need to quickly paint a visual image in the reader's mind combining all of the things I mentioned. Mine is historical fiction, here is an introduction..

    The King returned to the Grand Hall to find a scribe and the assassin Felix Chavez waiting for him. Chavez was a very tall, muscular man with a reputation for cruelty. His black hair was cropped short and combed straight back. His moustache and goatee were trimmed to a point. His small eyes had a feral look about them, he was a formidable looking man. They both bowed as he approached and sat on his throne and then they were seated.

    There is an immediate dislike for this man due to his occupation. Add the physical characteristics and then follow through with actions.

    “Where are your son and Andreas hiding?” Chavez asked.
    “I do not know.” she said.
    Chavez slapped her with a hard backhand that snapped her head around. She tasted blood and put her hand to her mouth and then looked at it.
    “Leave her alone!” Carmen shouted.
    Chavez wheeled angrily toward her and said, “Perhaps she told you something. I will get the truth out of you or I will have my way with both of you. Then I will let all of the soldiers in this garrison take turns with the two of you. We will keep you here for whores if you do not give the information that I seek.”
    Marianna looked at him as he openly stared at her breasts and licked his lips. He looked her in the eyes and said, “We can do this pleasantly, without pain, if you cooperate. But I assure you, I will get the truth out of you. I will ask you once more nicely, where are Andreas and your son?”
     
  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    If your character ridicules a relatively helpless or powerless person in full view of other people, that's a pretty good way to get the reader to dislike him. Especially if the character he's targeted is a POV character, or one whom the reader 'likes.'

    Attacking an underdog usually gets readers' attention and the underdog gets the sympathy, and the attacker is disliked. The unlikeable character can be cruel, dismissive, sarcastic ...anything along these lines that hurts the 'good' character will do.

    I suspect you could easily pull something like this off, if you're using a military sort of setting and this man has rank, or formerly had rank.
     
  21. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Thing is, it's almost too easy. You could have the guy violently push an elder or a disabled into the middle of a busy crossroad where cars may not see the person in time. Or he could go to someone of a different race, yell out a racial slur before decking the person across the jaw. Or he could laugh at a grieving family who just lost their child and mock them. Basically anything you can think up of that would make the readers want his head on their bedroom wall.

    To me, it's about balance. The guy's a jerk, but he doesn't see himself as a jerk. What does he see about himself? What type of excuses does he have? From what you told us, is he the type who sees himself as top dog? Does he think that he deserves everything because he feels he is living in a dog-eat-dog world, and he's one of the few who made it to the top? Was he raised with everything already given to him, and feels insulted if something is not given to him, so he throws his weight around until he gets what he wants?

    Anyone can make a complete asshole. But to make that asshole's behavior understandable takes work. I'm thinking of Dr. Gregory House from House, M.D. We hate him, sometimes to the point where we want to beat him over the head with his cane, but we can also respect him because he's smart. He saves lives through his wit and careful thinking. You can get a sense that he feels as if he deserves all the glory because he's the only one, in his mind, who can get things done.
     
  22. ToeKneeBlack
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    ToeKneeBlack Contributing Member Contributor

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    An unlikable character is probably likely to kick their opponent when they're down, see nothing wrong with harming the people around them (even their allies) and generally suffer from a god complex, or at the very least, too much confidence.

    To these characters, everyone else is expendable, their time is too important for them to deal with minor threats unless they're bored and nothing is too good for them.

    There are more subtle methods of making a character unlikable, but the above traits spell it out to the reader without adding much depth to the character.
     

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