Monday, January 27, 2014

Writing Annoying Characters

Holmes: Shut up.
Lestrade: I didn't say anything.
Holmes: You were thinking. It's annoying.
         —Sherlock: A Study in Pink 
Try not to write annoying characters. Making a character unattractive is perhaps the simplest task a writer could ever set themselves, and that is why it is so, so easy to do exactly wrong. Instead of rendering an engaging character who antagonizes other members of their story, writers all too often erect effigies to annoyance itself with little else to offer the story than a headache for everyone involved, including the reader.

Why would you want to annoy your reader?

I have never met a wholly annoying person whose company I enjoyed. I have universally wished them harm, if not at least inconvenience and distress. I have bullied them intellectually, probably unfairly, whenever I've had the energy for it. And these have all been real people—or so I've assumed—with lives and families, sometimes even goals, at least those with the capacity to imagine much beyond their next meal or text message; imagine how unforgiving I am of fictional annoyances. How often have the overdone antics of an annoying character made you want to throw a book across the room and never pick it up again? Why do this to someone else?

Hopefully by now you have shaken from the dusty storage of your brain a number of annoying characters from books or otherwise who you feel added to their stories; maybe you even enjoyed them greatly. Excellent. Hold on to those examples. I suspect these characters were not overstated. I suspect they mostly annoyed us indirectly through their antagonism of our protagonists. Even Lucius Malfoy, a popular and adamant pest, does not torment Harry Potter and company beyond what we would expect of any other age appropriate Slytherin. What is most important, though, is that the conflict he, or other such characters bring to their stories is interesting. We want to see how other characters will interact with them, and potentially put them in their place.

So if you're dead set on writing an annoying character, be careful who you are annoying, and don't over do it. Remember annoying characters, however ridiculous or petty or twisted, are people too. In other words, don't write annoying characters; write interesting characters who annoy people.

Do you have any beloved annoying characters, or can you think of any who added a good bit conflict to the story, however minor?  

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