12 April 2016

Jerks & A-Holes

**My theme for this year's A to Z Challenge is THE REVISION PROJECT. Topics I come across while I write the third draft of my novel, Uneven Lines.**

“First, he beats you up. Then he tells the whole school you’re gay and it turns out to be true? Everyone hates him.”

Not all characters have to be good guys, or even all that likable. How else would we have villains, after all? But if you have a character who's just a complete jerk, then you probably want a reason for it.

I've recently been rewriting the first chapter of UL and as I started the second scene, I realized something: Jordan sounded way more negative than I intended. He hates everything and everyone and isn't afraid to tell you. I don't necessarily think it's the end of the world, but I think he was coming on a little too strong. He does start the book by telling you how he's been manipulating one of his teachers just for the fun of it. I can't really start it any other way, but I worry that he comes off as a jerk and no one will like him.

I think I could sum up Jordan's world view as this: "everything is terrible but I really don't give a crap." (Except replace 'crap' with a stronger word). He's usually just trying to find something that isn't going to bore him to death. The thing that I think works is that underneath his tough outer shell is actually a very vulnerable person, even though he'll never ever admit it. I guess that's what makes first person tricky in this type of situation. You're only going to get what he puts out there. To see that softer side, you'll have to read between the lines.

I think if you put a character who isn't quite as strong in Jordan's shoes, they could fall apart. I know I probably would. He has a terribly depressing home life. I've realized things about him like the fact that he's never had a birthday party or believed in Santa or anything normal children should experience. He's not necessarily struggling with his sexuality, but he's definitely hiding it. That's not an easy thing to deal with. You would probably feel bad for him, but he just won't let you. So does that work? Or does that tough exterior make him seem like a complete a-hole?

There's another character who's definitely a jerk. If my story had a bad guy (and considering the fact that Jordan is the protagonist so it's not him), it would probably be his friend, Brian. Brian is just your typical obnoxious teenager. He wants to be popular but doesn't really want to admit it. Jordan gets the impression that Brian is jealous of him, but since he never says so, how do we know it's true? Why is he such a jerk and a bully?

Maybe he has a crappy home life but doesn't tell anyone. Well, Jordan isn't exactly the kind of person to care even if Brian was the kind of person to open up about it. So do I just let the reader know what Jordan believes? That Brian is a jerk for no good reason? Do I have him ponder it for half a second, or maybe have another character (Eric, most likely) clue him in? I actually do want the reader to dislike Brian, but I also want them to believe that he could exist. If he's too over the top with his jerkiness, he may not seem all that believable.

Do you have characters who are jerks? Do you think there should be a reason behind it?


  1. I think you could let the reader know what Jordan believes, if you can find a natural place for Jordan to think it, or for it to come up in passing (via Eric). But sometimes I think people are jerks just because they can be, and a typical, obnoxious teenager who wants to be popular just might fit that bill.

  2. You do want readers to connect with Jordan, so it would be a good idea to sneak in something good, even if it a realization that he is not as "jerky" as Brian.

  3. You do want readers to connect with Jordan, so it would be a good idea to sneak in something good, even if it a realization that he is not as "jerky" as Brian.

  4. Unlikeable characters are a big challenge. I have to find something to like about them and to make readers relate to. I'm dealing with one of those characters in my WIP.

  5. While there should be a reason for Brian being more of a jerk than Jordan, we don't necessarily need to know why that is. As the author, you need to know, and then maybe later on Jordan could find out and have a better understanding of Brian. Who knows how that information will affect their relationship?

    Well, of course you will. ;-)


  6. I have one character who isn't a jerk, necessarily, but is not a nice person. Though he doesn't play a major role in my story, his actions have definitely caused some friction with the main character. I guess that would make him a jerk.

    G. R. McNeese from
    Project Blacklight

  7. The thing that works with jerk characters is letting a tiny bit of vulnerability show through. Something subtle that Jordan doesn't even notice he does, but the reader does. It's not an easy task to pull off, but you can do it. The same can be done with Brian too.

  8. It's a challenge sometimes to make them just likeable enough that readers don't think they're jerks.
    Byron started out as a bit of a jerk. I found that by tempering what he said and easing back on his reactions softened that a bit. A few readers were still put off by him, but most were able to see why he acted that way and felt some empathy.

  9. It is a tricky line, letting a rough-edged character show it without making him too unsympathetic or off-putting to readers. Some of my favorite characters are jackholes though (my sister's madeup word to combine Ahole and JackA). It helps if they are funny or witty in their jerk-ness moments, and that we get to see a softer side sometimes.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

  10. I'm okay with a MC being not exactly likeable (look at Iron Man). Just make sure that there's something the reader can connect to, sympathise with, and you're golden :-) And remember, every character has a back story, nothing just happens without a reason. Good luck with the rest of the AtoZchallenge.

  11. A friend writer always make her villains pull shenanigans that are rather comical or outrageous, even tho they are mean and villainy. It keeps you reading because you keep wondering what are they going to do next?

  12. I think Jordan's overall attitude will always make him appear to be an unlikable character. As long as you do it right, it should be fine. I've read unlikable protags before. It's hard to sit through, but as long as the story around it is compelling, you sit through it.