Characters We Hate

(Side note: I've updated the Night Sky in Chiang Mai post to link to other writers who did the same exercise, if you're interested. Now back to our regularly scheduled blog entry...)

Last time, I gave a list of 10 things we like in characters. The short version was:
  1. Courage.
  2. Fair Play.
  3. Humility.
  4. Draftee/Volunteer.
  5. Dependable.
  6. Clever.
  7. Victim.
  8. Savior.
  9. Sacrifice.
  10. Goals and Dreams.
The things that make us hate a character (also derived from Characters & Viewpoint) is almost, but not quite, the opposite.
  1. Liar: Cheats, lies, breaks their promises. Their reasons for lying matter just as much as the lie itself, of course.
  2. Self-Centered: Brags. Readily takes credit for accomplishments. Takes criticism poorly. Blames others, complains, or whines about their problems.
  3. Self-Appointed: Puts themselves in a position they did not earn, where they are uninvited or do not belong. A usurper.
  4. Arrogant: We like clever characters, but a character who knows they are smarter or better than other people (or worse, simply thinks they are) is despicable.
  5. Bully: Makes others suffer for their own enjoyment or to exercise control over them.
Like the other list, these are only guidelines. Real people, and therefore real characters, are a lot more complicated than this, as are our feelings towards them. The real world can't typically be separated into "good people" and "bad people." In the same way, not every story has identifiable heroes and villains. I think it's important for writers to know what makes the reader love or hate our characters. Often the reader won't know themselves. In such cases these lists might be useful.

This is also not a checklist. It's rarely a good idea to give a villain all these traits. Just as the most lovable character is mostly good with some flaws, the best villains are the ones who are mostly evil with some sympathetic traits as well.

Above all, any good villain - any good character, actually - is the hero of their own story. No matter how evil or comical or insane somebody is, they believe that what they are doing is right. If the reader is allowed to see their version of events, they may not like them, but they will respect them and, more importantly, they will believe in them. That's the real goal.


Nancy said...

This is why I like "No Escape"

Adam Heine said...

I was going to say, "Oh my gosh, I love that movie! Hardly anybody else has ever even heard of it!"

Then I realized you're my mom :-)

MattyDub said...

It's been too long since I've seen No Escape - I don't see the connection. That was a cool movie, though.
You know what I hate in characters? Stupidity. I had to stop reading the Wheel of Time series because the characters were just so dang stupid. They kept clinging to petty prejudices even when they were demonstrably false. Man, now I'm all angry thinking about it again.
By the way, I'm talking about the protagonists of WoT - the people you're supposed to like. Man, what a waste of paper.
OK, I went off the rails there a bit. I think the most interesting things about these lists of traits are the exceptions. You don't like somebody who thinks they're smarter than everyone else? Well, do you like the Stainless Steel Rat or not? Stuff like that. The one exception, I think, is Frodo, who basically is 10/10 on the "things we like" list. I don't know if any other characters could pull that off.

The Wannabe Scribe said...

I love The Stainless Steel Rat!

Slippery Jim is full of himself and it really comes though in the first person viewpoint, but he has a certain charm about him too.

The Wannabe Scribe said...

Is this "No Escape" the one with Ray Liotta?

Man I haven't seen that for ages - great movie (I hope it's the same one LOL)

Adam Heine said...

I think the SSR falls into the same category as Han Solo (though it's been a while since I've read those books). He has a lot of sympathetic traits going for him, arrogant as he is.

Actually, these lists of traits might be helpful in making an anti-hero, now that I'm thinking about it.

Frodo is an interesting example. You're right. I can't think of a bad thing about him, but he's a darn sympathetic character.

MattyDub said...

The more I think about Frodo, the more baffled I am that we do like him. I think if I were to imagine a character being described by that "Characters We Like" list of traits, I would think him or her insufferable. But Frodo is incredibly endearing. I can't figure out why.

Maybe I should read LotR again. It's been a few years.

Jackie said...

This is why I don't understand why so many people love the book Love in the Time of Cholera. There was not ONE redeeming character in the book. Not ONE. I just kept reading it, thinking someone would be REDEEMED. But no. Patoooowey!

Jackie said...

But I LOVE my husband, and he's got... um... some of those... um... traits. :)

Truly, if someone's smarter than other people, aren't they supposed to know it? If they didn't, they wouldn't be so smart, would they? I think as long as that person (um... character, yes, we're talking about characters) also knows their flaws, they're um... LOVABLE.

Adam Heine said...

I think in all of these (Frodo, Jackie's husband) humility is a pretty huge sympathetic trait. We'll put up with a lot if the person is humble about it.

And at the same time we like the arrogant characters. Well that's why I said these were guidelines!