Thoughttree Writing Workshop:
Please bare in mind that these workshops are about participation and my write up involves things that emerged from the group activities as well as advice and instruction given by the group leader Deb Henderson.
Unlikeable protagonists and secondary characters.
• Tom Ripley in The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
• Frank and April Weaver in Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
• Nick and Amy Dunne in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
• Amon Geuth in Schindler’s List (film with Ralph Fiennes): Schindler’s Ark by T Keneally
• Bill Sykes in Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
• Percy Whetmore in The Green Mile (film screenplay by Stephen King)
• Cal Hockley in Titanic (film screenplay by J Cameron)
• Gordon Gecko in Wall Street (film screenplay by Oliver Stone)
• Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
• Mr Elton in Emma by Jane Austen
• Dorian Gray in Pictures of... by Oscar Wilde
• Patrick Bateman in American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis
• Hamlet, Macbeth, Iago etc ~ some of Shakespeare's flawed characters
• Emma Bovary in Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
• Kevin in We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver
• Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger
• Frederick in The Collector by John Fowles
• Michael Corleone in The Godfather (ﬁlm. and novel by Mario Puzo)
...please add your own favourites!
'The unlikable character is a one-man plot building machine.’
Adrienne Geezo, Writer's Digest
‘I like a character who makes bad mistakes. I like conflicted characters who don't stumble but walk directly into the darkness. And then I like them, even more, when they find their my out. It gives me hope that if I fail, I'll find a way to make it right, and still be loved.‘
Linda Sienklewicz, writeology.net
Today’s Session is all about creating a dysfunctional character.
Creating characters is a skill which we have to learn.
To begin building your character you should have certain elements within them.
• They should have a redemption element.
• You should avoid black and white characters for no one is wholly bad and no one is holy good.
• You should try to make your character appear real.
• You should think about points that you have made in your character profile notes and use these to help mould your character.
• Ideal characters or sociopaths who do not fit in with the rest of us.
• Try to be consistent with your flaws and don’t dwell constantly on their failings. Try to give an example of a flaw and then an example of something they do well and then perhaps another flaw and then perhaps something else that they do well.
• It is good to use ‘self-putdowns’ these people are always fishing for compliments or praise for things they have done well. This is very irritating behaviour for any reader.
• Know that the views of other characters can also be horribly wrong.
• Try to make your characters believable and do not stray into totally outlandish ridiculous behaviour. The reader will think the character needs saving from you ;-)
Task number one.
1. Create a character who is radically different from yourself.
2. This character can be a major or a minor player in a future story you may write.
3. Point out their good points and their unsavoury elements.
|Generous with time or money
||Spiteful of tongue
|Gay/ Gregarious and a good mixer.
||Hates the opposite sex.
||Check out why?
||but also deceptive
|| Why Deceptive?
|Friendship is something they appear to do well
||they just appear to be nice.
||endless ongoing they display malice to people who
have upset them.
|Tall, slim, good figure, great pair, faultless makeup
||instantly has an impact on any room and plays to
the crowd - they have lots of charisma.
|Beware this can all be approved of by certain readers. Make sure it is to gain some bad end result.
|Sleeps and eats in their own house
||but lives in other peoples houses.
|Every activity they do is well organised, brief, efficient and is often done for others.
||appears to be a do good’er.
||Some readers love do good’ers
Think of something that may have happened on a particular day which really threw them off balance.
“ and ex-partner is coming back to the area where they lived and certain of her
friends are entertaining that partner.”
These are “thinking exercises” in preparation for including this character in a future story or stories that you may be thinking of writing.
1. Ask yourself what makes your character tick?
2. Remember Robbie Burns once said ‘If we could only see ourselves as others see us.’
3. Make sure that you make your character good at something and take pains to explain their good point early on in the story to the reader.
4. Determine what your characters' motivation and passions.
Think of a way of being able to make your reader have sympathy for your character.
Give an example now.
“When she was 10 her father left the family home and her new stepfather had two boys
from his previous marriage. The stepfather doted on the two boys and made it
crystal clear that he had no love or care for his new wife’s daughters. The mother,
stepfather and the two boys were ‘one family’ and the two girls just lived there.”
Writing Example 2 [making a flawed character have a good side]
“ She was throwing the present that he had given into a skip which had been left in the
car park. As she threw the package in she noticed some movement in the skip
. In a bag, there was something that wriggled. She carefully and unzipped the bag
and found inside that it contained a puppy. She removed the puppy from the bag
and placed it under her coat. She then made her way to the vets and made
sure that the puppy would be cared for.“
The above would be a totally unexpected event that the reader would not have anticipated.
Readers will believe the flawed character better if you can find a way of giving the character some redemption. You should plan this well ahead and mention something right at the beginning of your story that you will use at the end to redeem them.
Things that you could use to achieve this are as follows.
1. They have obvious wit, charm and charisma.
2. Generous acts of kindness.
3. Loyalty to a friend.
Your character may have very strong viewpoints. This is okay, some of their strong viewpoints maybe very skewed or misinterpreted by them as something very different.
Never have a character which has no flaws at all a reader will be very antagonistic towards a goody two shoes.
Writing exercise number four.
Give an example of your character being judged because of their usual bad points and then redeem them from the situation later.
“It was well known that she hated her job and when she left to become her
nan’s ‘live in’ carer people just said, “well there is her way out!” However, her
nan was so well cared for, that she recovered her health and also her love of life
. So much so, that she suggested that other lonely old people who were much
more deserving people be sought to look after. Bingo! a successful
thriving business came into being which the nan helped her granddaughter
In your story try to convince the reader that your character is worthy of being saved.
You might like to provide them with a Saviour who comes to rescue them or you might prefer to put them into a group of people who are far worse than your character has ever been. Your character will then appear to be much nicer than the reader originally thought they were.
Another way out is when I bad guy kills another bad guy. In this way the killer becomes a sort of good guy.
Keep in mind a character is never bad for no reason. There must be a creditable explanation for the bad behaviour they display.
In every case use the readers shift in sympathy to encourage forgiveness.
For example Fagin is thought by the reader to be a thoroughly bad person. Charles Dickens introduces Bill Sykes who threatens to ruin Oliver by involving him in serious crime and then later murders Nancy. When Fagin is fleeing from the mob who effectively kill Bill Sykes he loses some of his treasures and by this time the reader has seen Fagin in a different light and will have sympathy for him.
A question to contemplate. Is it easier to make a woman a bad character is to make a man a bad character.
• Women are supposed to be nurturers they are supposed to be patient kind loving.
• Men are supposed to be hunters providers gatherers givers.
• You decide. But it is probably easier to make a woman appear bad.
To make a bad person appear to be seen in a better light one device is to give them a friend. This friend need not be a person it could be a pet such as a kitten or a puppy.
Ask yourself what is my character's motivation?
1. In case of the woman that I have been writing about during this session, it would appear that her motivation is that she hates all men and is determined to put every man who comes under her spell severely in his place.
2. Think about what it is that makes your character feel vindicated i.e. what is it that makes their behaviour seem to them to be entirely justified.
3. Think about what your character appears to know about themselves.
4. Think about their personal history and the experiences they have had in the past.
Last item. It is entirely possible that your character knows their bad points so well that they are always looking for distractions so they do not have to look at themselves too much. That is that they prefer to be in trouble for something minor that they have just done, rather than dwell on something major that they did in their past.
As homework write a story that features the character that we have been building this morning. Remember from early on in the story give your flawed character a way back into the reader's sympathies by using one of the methods that were discussed this morning.