If you hate writing a character… don’t write them

Writers are often asked which of their characters they hated writing.

The expected answer is usually the murderer, the villain, the cheating wife, the despicable and repugnant millionaire …

Brace yourselves, non-writers. We enjoy creating those people.

But if I dislike a character, if they are a chore… I change the character.

It’s nothing to do with whether they spoil things for my other characters. I’m just as excited to write my bad people as angels. But if sharing headspace with a character is not appealing, it means I’m not interested enough to write them well. And the reader will feel the same heartsink sensation whenever their eye alights on that darned name.

Here’s what to do.

Cut them

If they don’t excite you and the rest of the story does, perhaps it’s a sign they don’t have any effect on the world of the novel. Are they needed at all?

Are they only in the book to give a central character a plausible background, for instance a mother? Have you written her in too much detail, perhaps tried to give her scenes by herself and come up with only trivialities? If a character is in the cast to flesh out another character’s life, it’s perfectly okay to write only the scenes where they are together. Or narrate them from the perspective of the more important character.

But they will become important

Perhaps they’re in the book because they do something important later on. Try cutting the earlier appearances. Not all the cast has to be on stage from the word go. Could your dull character begin as a walk-on and gradually become a significant speaking part? Characters are allowed to blossom late – that can be very rewarding to read. But until they become useful, don’t make them tread water or amble aimlessly. (Or if they must, make them do it outside your book.)

Splice them with someone else

You might find you have several characters who perform roughly the same story function – and this may be what’s bugging you. Could you ditch most tedious one and give their role to someone else? Combining two characters might also give you a fresh perspective on other parts of the story.

Give them even more to do

Yes, you’re already grudging the time you spend with these blots, but I’ve often found my attitude changes completely if I beef up their role. Challenge them, make them a more crucial link in a chain, tighten their attachment to one of the other characters and watch them transform from soggy to sparkling.

Don’t soldier on

If you loathe writing certain people, it’s a sure sign that you need to take action. Don’t soldier on, dragging them through scene after scene, thinking it’s part of your writing duty to sometimes find things hard. Find what makes you want to write them.

Thanks for the pic rotokirby  

Have you had a character you hated writing? What did you do about it? Share in the comments!

You can find tips for writing and revision in my book, Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence. Available on Kindle and in print. You also might like my multimedia course with Joanna Penn – more than 4 hours of audio and slides with an 86-page transcription – find it here.

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  1. #1 by Susan Price on November 25, 2012 - 10:20 am

    Great advice, Roz! It took me a while to learn this for myself. Eventually I learned that when you have to keep writing in mentions of a character, just to remind readers that they’re there – they shouldn’t be there at all! If a character has an active part in a scene, you don’t need to be reminded of them.

    • #2 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on November 25, 2012 - 11:25 pm

      Hi Susan! It took me a while too. And the same goes for situations where I feel blocked or reluctant to write something – it’s a symptom that I shouldn’t be slogging away at it. And mentioning someone ‘for the sake of keeping them there’ is deathly – for both writer and reader.

  2. #3 by mgm75 on November 25, 2012 - 2:48 pm

    I have never loathed a character. Quite simply, if I hated a character that much I would ask why I even have them there in the first place. Stories are not made by the individual characters but how they mesh with the story.

    I don’t understand writers who say that they hate writing the villain; on the contrary, they are one of the most interesting characters to write about. I enjoy wondering about to what depths they would sink, whether they have any redeeming qualities and most importantly of all, figuring out how I am going to give them depth

    • #4 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on November 25, 2012 - 11:27 pm

      You’re so right – what really matters with characters is their relationships with other characters and what they do to each other. Villains should be especially interesting to write because of the power in their actions and the consequences of what they do. If we don’t feel provoked or upset by the villain’s actions, they’re not doing enough!

  3. #5 by Carol Riggs on November 25, 2012 - 4:13 pm

    I don’t know if I’ve really hated a certain character. I think I’ve been BORED by one, and IF I figured out how to spice that character up (adding a quirky sense of humor, a unique trait, or an intriguing past or motivation), that was the solution. Good suggestions here–and great point that if we as writers aren’t invested, the reader won’t be either!

    • #6 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on November 25, 2012 - 11:28 pm

      Thanks, Carol! Our instinct for boredom is a good friend – once we understand that it’s telling us we’re boring the reader!

  4. #7 by Patsy on November 25, 2012 - 5:06 pm

    I agree. If we’re not interested in a character we can’t expect our readers to be interested either.

  5. #9 by Inion N. Mathair on November 25, 2012 - 7:08 pm

    Brilliant points, Roz. Our antagonists have always been our fave characters to write.

    • #10 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on November 25, 2012 - 11:30 pm

      Inion, I think writers are rather like actors in that respect. How many actors enjoy a thorough-going villain, or a deeply flawed character? But it’s interesting that readers assume those are the people we hate to create.

  6. #11 by Vanna Smythe on November 25, 2012 - 7:37 pm

    Great post! haven’t yet had to cut a character because they were a chore to write, but I do find that it’s usually my main characters that don’t come together until the final revision. Go figure!

    • #12 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on November 25, 2012 - 11:31 pm

      Thanks, Vanna! I find a lot of things don’t come together until the final revision. I do a lot of experimenting and it’s only in the final stages that the whole lot play well together.

  7. #13 by acflory on November 26, 2012 - 9:15 am

    Like you I don’t write characters who bore me. There’s one character I have who is rather repulsive so it doesn’t get too much page space, but out and out boring is just not on.

    • #14 by rozmorris @dirtywhitecandy on November 28, 2012 - 8:12 pm

      That’s the key, isn’t it? Repulsive is one thing, and you’re probably right not to expose that character too much. But boring…. noooooooooooooooooooo

      • #15 by acflory on November 28, 2012 - 9:33 pm

        Absolutely! It’s odd though, isn’t it? I mean we all live pretty boring lives and do boring things, yet we can’t really /relate/ to a character who does the same boring things that we do, or at least only in very small doses. Fictional characters have to be larger than life and ten times as interesting!

  8. #16 by Michelle Gregory on November 28, 2012 - 2:09 pm

    in my case, i’m letting my son write the villain and i’m doing the rest.

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