You’re a writer, and you love your characters. Right? All of them. Equally. They’re like your children. So you have to love them. Don’t you?
Of course not. They’re not your real children, they’re your mind-babies, and you’re allowed to hate them.
That may seem like blasphemy, and maybe it is a little, but you yourself don’t like everyone you meet every day. At least I don’t. I’m fairly indifferent to most people, but some people, a few of them, I actively dislike, even if I don’t know them. Maybe especially if I don’t know them.
So how do you translate that real-world distaste to your fictional characters? I’ll tell you in this internet-friendly numbered list.
1. Make the Character a Traitor
For me, disloyalty is the worst. If I can write a scene with a character who even hints around at being a traitor, I’m down on them the rest of the story. No matter what else happens. It’s an easy drive for me then, as the writer, to put that character through the wringer. They deserve it, after all.
But what if the character is a bad guy, and she’s being disloyal to other bad guys? Then that makes her very, very interesting. But it doesn’t make me like her any better.
2. Make the Character Rude to Helpless People
I particularly hate this trait in real people, in my imaginary people it drives me crazy. People who are rude to wait staff, for instance, or to service workers. Rudeness is pointless and lazy.
It’s so easy to take a moment for kindness, and when your characters just can’t be bothered, even when they’re in a position of clear superiority, that’s grounds for hating them.
3. Make the Character a Hypocrite
Ooh… this really chaps my ass in real life. Like the TV preacher who expects his congregation to tithe to him, but who doesn’t give a single dime of his own to charity. The moral-values politician who’s cheating on his wife. The cocaine-addicted prosecutor who locks minor drug offenders away for years. Those assholes.
As despicable as this trait is in your character, if it’s hidden from other characters (at least at first), it’s also dramatic irony. And readers love, love, love dramatic irony.
4. Make the Character Cruel
This is related to, but different from making a character rude. Rudeness is usually just careless, but cruelty is calculating. You have to put effort and creativity into being cruel. The guy who pretends he’s going to give a homeless guy a sandwich only to hand over an empty paper bag is one cruel bastard.
In real life, cruelty is a serious character flaw that often comes from deep-seated emotional pain. Your character should have a reason for being cruel, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to like her any better because of it.
5. Make the Character a Weasel
Everybody knows a weasel. This is the guy who doesn’t have a position of his own, he just gives a ‘yes, and’ to what someone else says. The guy who can’t stand up straight because he has no backbone. The guy who’s in it for one person alone: himself.
I have to confess, weasels are fun to write. I usually just have to think about what I would do in any particular situation, then write the opposite and amp it up times five. Doesn’t make me like the character, but it does hold my interest.