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Find Your Inner Despot

The joy of writing despicable characters

My Friday morning class is filled with brilliant writers who also happen to be some of the nicest people you could ever meet. They are kind, funny, supportive and generous, and are rather adept, I recently discovered, at creating despicable characters prone to vituperative outbursts.

When it was time to read out the scenes everyone had worked on in the class, there was a slight bit of ‘everyone will know it’s the character’s thoughts and not mine, won’t they?’ concern, but given the nod, they read, with palpable relish, first person monologues that were spiteful, judgemental, crude, vile and extremely well written.

Listening, I loved the lack of repentance and remorse, the sheer viciousness of each character’s thoughts, the daring as the scenes unfolded.  At the end of the class I decided we would do more of this – creating repugnant types who don’t ever feel the need to reign it in. Because it had clearly been great fun – for writers and listeners.

What is it about creating such awful people that is so exciting as a writer? You wouldn’t volunteer to spend any time at all with these people in real life but from a story point of view, they’re wonderful beings, creating high drama as they gleefully stir, wound and lash out at those around them. It makes a story interesting and exciting and, depending on the genre, possibly even funny.

Writing allows us to explore appalling behaviour at a remove. It’s giving your worst thoughts and actions to someone else, and not experiencing any repercussions. It’s like when actors say they’d rather play a badly behaved character than a ‘nice type’. There’s more to get your teeth into. You have to come up reasons why they're so cruel or irascible and you have to use all your skills to create someone unflinchingly abhorrent but still utterly believable.

The terrible character will shock and enthrall a reader and make them read on, because where can they go from here? Will they learn and change and grow? Will they get their comeuppance? Will they continue just as they are and learn absolutely nothing? Most fun of all, do they get worse?

And what about the reactions to these despicable types? There’s lots to explore here, too, as a writer. How do you stop someone from being atrocious? By removing them from a room? By arguing? By retaliating or breaking down? By being worse? Each option allows for more drama and keeps your reader turning the pages.

If you’d like to find your inner despot and a ‘despicable character’ workshop, drop me an email.




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