Posted in Challenges and Contests, Coffee and Conversation, JuNoWriMo, Life Writing, Writing in Freedom

Why AM I Writing a Character I Don’t Like?: Coffee and Conversation

When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.
I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own.

As some regular readers here may know, I’m currently in Month 3 of four consecutive months of intensive writing challenges (April brought CampNaNoWriMo and the Blogging from A-Z Challenge, May was Story A Day, and this month,for JuNoWriMo I’ve returned to Kifo Island to complete the draft of Generations, and begin Sea Changes.

But sometimes writing challenges me in ways that don’t have to do with word counts, worldbuilding, plotting, dialogue, or any of the usual suspects.

Sometimes, the biggest challenge is writing characters I don’t like…and there’s never been one I liked less than Howard George, the antagonist in Generations. Howard commits repeated offenses against others, for his own gratification.

He excuses himself, because he’s suffered. I want to be clear on this – his suffering is real, and shouldn’t have happened. I understand that, and I know why he does what he does – but that doesn’t mean I approve of him, or it.
He chooses to inflict suffering on others, rather than deal with his own pain and the wounds caused by what was done to him.

He chooses to harm others – many others, over the years – and to justify it by setting a stopping point beyond which he would be wrong. That stopping point shifts to allow him to do whatever he wants, whenever he has the opportunity to bully or abuse another.

He doesn’t consider the harm he’s doing, or the damage and pain being inflicted upon other innocents, wrong. He justifies that away. Everyone else should feel lucky they didn’t have to live his life. Howard’s perspective doesn’t allow him to accept that others may have their own pre-existing damage, and have lived lives that would make his seem very good, in comparison.

I know where he comes from, and that’s part of the problem I have with him. He comes from my own life. He’s an amalgam of things I’ve lived and stories I’ve been told …he’s not always the worst part of those memories and stories, but his collected attitudes reflect a specific mindset I’m too familiar with.

Howard uses others as a means to vent his pain, when he could choose to face it, eradicate its power over him, to not spread the dysfunction that created it…

He could choose not to inflict it upon others, as though his pain matters, but theirs does not.

I recently wrote his most – well, for want of a better word, icky – scene. It wasn’t fun – and the things he did…he justified them, to himself, but they were unequivocably wrong. I didn’t want to write this scene. And yet, I did. It’s long, and the detail is…uncomfortable, to say the least. I won’t say the most it was.

This begs the question – why did I write this, if I didn’t want to? I mean, I’m the writer, the one in charge, right?

Well, not quite. I didn’t consciously create this character, and, when I began the scene, I had only a sketchy idea of what was going to happen, and how. I knew why he chose these actions, and what the end result would be, but the specifics turned out to be quite different than I’d expected – different, and more disturbing, because he delighted so in violating the rights of others in ways I never imagined, until I lived a few days in his fictional skin…

Shattered Shards…Photo by Shan Jeniah Burton.

I’ll be cutting much of this scene in revisions, and I even know how – but I had to write it, unpleasant as it was, because I needed this character to show me where his bottom is. It turns out that there’s more darkness, and more ugliness, in him than I suspected – by a long shot.

I’m getting through the yuck as quickly as I can, but that means taking frequent breaks to live my own far more peaceful life. Part of me wants to just blitz through the slimy taint, and then take a dozen or so long hot showers…but I live with people who need me not to disappear too far into his sliminess…

I write this character, give him his voice, and make the record of his transgressions against others because I want to bring him into the light of day and out of the hidden places, where he plies his pain like a bladed weapon. I want to name him, show him, point out that he might have made other, better choices, but he chose this path, instead – a smaller, meaner, lonelier path that leaves wreckage in its wake…

That’s a paradigm that too often goes unchallenged as people tiptoe around those who hurt others because they’ve been hurt, and are still hurting, and don’t see that the hurt will never truly go away until they face and heal it. I write him, as he is, to learn him, understand him, maybe take away a portion of his power by seeing him as he is…and to shine a light, on real people who do similar things in hidden places..

Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation? Done something you might rather not, for reasons that were important to you? How did it go? Do you know anyone like Howard George? Do you have coping mechanisms for dealing with this type of person?

I’ll put on a soothing pot of tea – let’s talk it over!


I am myself. I own my life, and live with three other people who own theirs. My intention is to do only those things that bring me joy, and to give myself wholly to those things I do. Writing has been my passion throughout my life, and this will become the home for my writing life...because it brings me great joy!

4 thoughts on “Why AM I Writing a Character I Don’t Like?: Coffee and Conversation

  1. I agree. Part of our “job” is to shine a light where it’s needed. That’s why, even though I hated reading Tom Perotta’s “Little Children,” I respected him for creating a deceptively sympathetic monster as a main character…it forces the readers to grapple with the realities and confront our own reactions. Good post.

    1. I knew all along, from the time the story cropped up in my mind, that I would have to write it…I didn’t anticipate Howard being so dysfunctional, though. It turns out that he’s capable of worse, by far, than I thought he was.

      I am happy to have gotten through the scene that most triggered me. There’s more to come, but that one – that was blacker than I’d ever imagined…

      I’ve never subscribed to the idea of just calling someone a ‘monster’ and dismissing their violations of others’ rights. That’s too easy, and doesn’t address whatever lies beneath those actions – because SOMETHING always does…

      And we can’t fix it if we don’t understand what happened to create a person who could and would choose to take these actions against others….

  2. I had to write a very unpleasant character in Fire Wizard, but he was necessary to the plot. He was actually the antagonist. I hope this doesn’t make me sound weird, but I LIKE writing those awful characters. I don’t know why, but maybe it’s because it feels like I’m stretching myself a little as a writer. Since I’m a very kind, non-violent kind of person, it seems odd that I like to write dark sometimes. Maybe I do it because I CAN, and it feels good to be able to do something that’s a little scary. I don’t know. Maybe I AM just weird.

    1. Howard touches on things that are just a little too personal to me and my family history for me to enjoy him the way I have other unpleasant characters. He takes things to levels I jut can’t be comfortable with…

      I may or may not have been heard to say, yesterday, “It’s a strange world inside my head.”…

      Maybe that’s part of why we do what we do?

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