Category: character development

How to Rescue an Unlikeable Character

Have you been faced with the dilemma of having an unlikeable character? It can be tempting to kill them off, but before you do, read this! Today, NaNoWriMo Young Writer Patience Parrott offers some helpful hints on how to smooth out those rough edges:

Has anyone ever told you that they didn’t like your character?

That’s probably the most depressing comment a writer can get on their story, and also one that seems almost impossible to fix. How are you supposed to just revamp the character at the core of your story?

One good way to go about this is to find some fresh test readers. Ask them for specifics. Ask them whether or not they like your character, and why. Printing out a little worksheet for them to fill out with questions you’d like answered (ex., were there any places where the MC felt out of character, what did you like/dislike, etc.) can work wonders as a source for accurate, smart reviews on your characters.

Once you know what’s wrong, what do you do? How do you fix that, exactly? What if you’re not sure HOW to fix the problem? 

For example: someone says your character’s way of talking is boring, or seems to dislike your character’s very personality. Do you just… give up and set your draft aside? Do you rewrite your character completely? Do you blindly make all the recommended changes with no regard for the havoc they might wreck?

Sometimes it’s tempting just to throw those glum edits away with the handy excuse: ‘They just don’t know my character yet’.

But what if I told you that your character isn’t a character? What if I said that they are a human being? What happens when a human is unlikeable, and wants to change?

It actually does happen. There are some very unlikeable people out there, and sometimes they’re mature enough to realize that and take action on it.

As a personal example, I used to struggle with self-control issues. So, I picked up a book from the library called The Anger Solution. My sister, who wanted to be a better conversationalist, chose the popular book How to Talk to Anyone.

Self-help books. There’s the solution, plain and simple. People who want to enhance their conversational skills read books on how to talk to others. People who want to become better at something read books, blogs, whatever, on every topic from seeming professional to dating tips. When people want to do and be better, they seek information on how to get better.

Instead of learning things the hard way and viewing our people inside the pages as changeable creations, why not use expert advice not just on ourselves, but on our characters?

Quick Fixes for Unlikeable Characters:

Do your character’s conversations feel bland and scripted? Why not try a conversation-themed book to spice up their dialogue?

Is your character in a place of leadership, and yet still somehow feels utterly non-influential? I recommend Compelling People by John Neffinger.

Maybe you don’t know what makes your character unlikable. How to Win Friends and Influence People is really great for that sort of scenario, and is almost guaranteed to boost a character’s likability. After all, if you think about it, readers are really just friends for your character to win over.

No matter what stops your character from becoming a powerhouse of likability, self-help books are a great way to help them out. Treat your story people like actual people! Help them improve. You can do it!


Patience Parrott is a sixteen-year-old dystopian author who enjoys creating ‘worst case scenarios’ and identifying viable ways to take over the world (and sometimes the universe, depending on her mood). She frequently attempts to add romance to her novels, much to the chagrin of her mother and certain best friends, who like to claim that it’s ‘nothing like that’. Patience enjoys experiencing new things, being different people, and living her dreams inside of her novels. She hopes that others will find the same freedom and adventure that she did inside the pages of her latest works! 

Top photo by Philip Veater on Unsplash.

prompt 1070

To compose our character is our duty, not to compose books, and to win, not battles and provinces, but order and tranquility in our conduct. Our great and glorious masterpiece is to live appropriately. All other things, ruling, hoarding, building, are only little appendages and props, at most. 

                                                             ― Michel de Montaigne

prompt 1068

If your character were an animal, what animal would they be? Write a list of traits and how the character expresses them through actions. If you don’t have a character right now, invent one based on an animal and do a character sketch based on that.

prompt 1064

There are those who, when you tell them your heart’s desire, will do everything in their power to make sure you don’t get it.

prompt 1063

You sit down for a cup of coffee with your grandma and she spins out an amazing tale. Write the scene.

prompt 1061

Give your character a pet that helps with character development of that character. The pet should have a personality, even if it only appears in a few scenes. What kind of personality would complement your character?

prompt 1056

Antique stores are full of items that say different things to different people. They are great for character development, even if they don’t appear in your story. Take your character into an antique store. Write a paragraph on what item they are most attracted to and why.

prompt 1053

You are visiting a married couple. At breakfast, they begin to have a snippy debate about an inane issue such as coffee (weak vs strong) or toast (soft vs crisp). Just as you realize the debate isn’t really about the toast (or whatever), one of them turns to you and says, “Isn’t that right, [insert name here]?”

Write this dialog from the beginning, and be sure to include physical gestures throughout. They are eating breakfast, after all. Also, avoid dealing directly with the underlying conflict (ie, “What is this really about, Frank?”) or you’ll sink the scene.

prompt 1052

Create a character who is afraid of going outside and put them in an extreme weather situation like a flood or a fire. Write what happens.

prompt 1049

List 3 qualities you don’t like about yourself (or someone you know) and then create a character that personifies each. Take the most interesting character somewhere (on paper), like to a bar or a church service, just to see what they do.