How To Write Characters You Hate


Some writerly musings this Monday…

One of my favorite parts of writing is creating characters.

As a lover of character-driven stories, it’s one of the things I consider crucial to spinning a well-told tale. You can keep your high-speed action sequences, your paragraphs flowing over with florid prose, your careful world-building — give me character over that, any day.

(I do realize that you need those other things as well; I’m just letting you know what my favorite part is.)

I love creating characters whom I love with my whole heart. I love giving them flaws, I love watching them struggle, I love listening to them speak, I love seeing them make the wrong decisions and the right ones, I love watching them fall in love. Creating a protagonist, or love interest, or supporting character whom I absolutely adore comes relatively easily for me.

One thing that doesn’t come easy?

Creating an antagonist.

Because I’m not a fan of one-dimensional characters, because I have trouble believing anyone is PURE EVIL (and anyone who is isn’t interesting, to begin with), because I have empathy for nearly everyone (didn’t YOU feel for tiny Voldemort alone in that orphanage? No? Just me?), I have some trouble coming up with good villains.

My favorite stories are ones in which everyone, from the protagonists to the antagonists, have so many shades of gray it’s hard to tell who’s “good” and who’s “bad.” (See: A Song of Ice and Fire series, everything Tana French writes; in TV, look no further than Lost, Buffy, Angel, and even the wildly-flawed The 100.) But there also come along stories where you want a clear-cut antagonist; a bad guy, a mean girl, someone so awful it’s easy to hate them.

I have trouble writing these people.

Someone once said that every character you write is you. I can’t remember who said this; maybe I’m conflating this with Freud? But in my case, it feels true. Even with the most minor of characters, I like to try and climb inside their skins and live there.

I find it quite a lot harder to climb into despicable people’s skins.

So as a result, my really bad bad guys come out somewhat one-dimensional; the kinds of people you don’t empathize with, because I can’t. Because I truly can’t imagine someone being that bad. So they cackle and they plot and they do bad things–but they don’t feel fully realized.

So here, I’m asking, not telling: How do you write characters you hate?

Image found here

3 thoughts on “How To Write Characters You Hate

  1. The most important thing about creating a villain is their motive. whether it’s selfish or they think they’re helping someone, they have to have a motive. Then you want to think, “Why did they get this motive?” Think about their background and what steps led to them to this mindset. Did someone anger them? Neglect them? Do they truly believe that by forcing everyone into submission that they are in someway helping them? Get inside their head like you mentioned before, but then make them do such awful things because of that motive and you’ve got yourself a villain.
    Hope this helps!


  2. Perhaps this is just me, but here goes:
    The Big Thing the MC has to fight for is the antagonist’s whole world – and they think they’re the hero in this story. So if the MC has to save the forest from burning down, the antagonist has to feel that the only way to save the forest is to burn it down (and the MC is obviously the worst person they’ve ever met for trying to stop them from starting that fire). I dig deep into my supervillain side to write despicable characters – even I don’t like them much, but they have depth and even if they’ve kicked the cat at the start, people will relate to them because they’re real.
    Good luck! And if you don’t have a supervillain side, a bottle of wine and thinking “what if” until you get into their head a little will really help 😉


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s