How to make an interesting character–give them some bad stuff

Hawaii glowing.

Last day of Residency

Graduation is tonight and our students go off as writers.

I keep thinking about what makes a good story, what makes a compelling character. Something about a character that needles you. You don’t want your character to be flat/boring. You want him/her to wake you up. Surprise you. Be realistic. Make you crazy. Seem like someone you’ve met.

In real life, you think about bad boys and bad girls and how they’re more interesting than the good ones although you don’t necessarily want to marry them.

Bad boys usually do at least some of this stuff, but the best characters have some of these bad characteristics too:

Don’t visit their parents. Don’t call their parents. They go to nude bars. They get lap dances. They smoke. They drink too much. They throw up on the floor. They cheat on their spouses. They think about cheating on their spouses. They forget to call their wives/girlfriends. They’re narcissists, they think only of themselves. They think they’re the most important one in the family. They don’t let their wives decorate the house. They don’t want their step children. They don’t want their children. They golf every weekend. They don’t use enough soap. They don’t shave the backs of their necks—hair crawls from beneath their shirts and you can see it curling out. They have hairy backs and they take off their shirts in public. They tell nasty jokes. They listen to Rush Limbaugh. They put headphones in their ears while their wives drive. They marry the wrong woman and then make her miserable instead of setting her free mercifully so she could find someone to love her. They travel and leave their wives behind. They make their wives serve food at parties while they do the talking.

Bad girls usually do some of this stuff:

They spend too much money on shopping, their nails, their special clothes/food/vitamins/shoes/hair care/skin care. They cheat on their men. They spend all their time/energy on the children. They refuse to cook/clean/do laundry, just on principle. They get divorced and demand as much money as they can get. They refuse to shave. They smell weird. They want their spouse to bring them food in bed but they never reciprocate. They talk nasty about their spouse with their girlfriends. They spend way too much time staring at the mirror. They go to therapy but they don’t get any better. They tear into their spouse in front of other people. They humiliate and emasculate their spouse/boyfriend. They are given to public outbursts. They think it’s okay to be a drama queen. They want all the attention in the house to center on them. They obsess about their weight.

Interesting characters can’t be all good or all passive. They need some of these bad characteristics to bring them to life.

Off to Hawaii. We’ll see if my family, who are already there remember to pick me up on our wedding anniversary. Over and out.


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