How to Make Your Surly Character Likeable

by | Writing | 4 comments

“Well, the thing about great fictional characters from literature, and the reason that they’re constantly turned into characters in movies, is that they completely speak to what makes people human.” —Keira Knightley

Image courtesy of Rosemary Ratcliff / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Rosemary Ratcliff / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have a surly character in my inspirational contemporary romance. Allie is ill-mannered because people and events have hurt her in the past and she’s had enough. She has much room for growth. How am I going to make readers care enough about her to read her story? 

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  • Do you have a character who’s surly and might be disliked by your readers?
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So what am I to do?

  • Be true to my character’s position at the opening of my story. Allie is flawed. She’s quick to misjudge people.
  • Recognize, especially at the beginning, the times Allie is too harsh with little good to balance her disposition.
  • Give indications of the true person who lies beneath Allie’s current tack toward insolence.
  • Show Allie’s fears, hopes, and struggles.
  • Show a moment when Allie is vulnerable. Especially near the beginning.
  • Feed in bits of backstory as necessary to show why she acts as she does. When Allie is brusque, give a memory that makes her fear letting a person see her soft side.
  • Continue to give glimpses of Allie’s internal goodness as the story unfolds.
  • Make her able to do things by the end of the story that she isn’t able to do at the beginning. Allie will be able ask Jesus to come into her life. She’ll strive not to misjudge others. She’ll ask for forgiveness from others and forgive those who’ve hurt her.

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  • How do I show my surly character’s internal goodness?
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    by cjhulin85

    by cjhulin85

  • Have Allie do something at the beginning of the story that shows she has redeeming qualities.
  • Give Allie thoughts and physical reactions to her wounds, dreams, hopes, and fears. Other characters may not recognize Allie’s deep emotions but her feelings will come across to the reader.
  • Show Allie what she sounds like to herself when she speaks harshly. At times, show her wanting to be better than a person who speaks like that.
  • Show moments in which Allie is honest about past events, her struggles and fears, and her hopes and dreams.

But what if she’s over-the-top surly for much of the story? I hope I can make Allie more likeable without resorting to these.recite-26912-292788037-188q2fb

  • Give your character a unique flaw that you play up so readers enjoy “hating” the character.
  • Give your character an enemy who is more unlikeable than your main character.

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  • What traits are turn-offs that I should avoid giving my main characters?
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  • Bullying
  • Patronizing
  • Picking on weaker people
  • Using violence to get her way
  • Gaining pleasure from ruining others’ lives
  • Moaning about hardships
  • Holding lots of pity parties
  • Making wrong inferences and not allowing others to explain themselves
  • Gossiping to hurt others
  • Lying all the time

What do you use or have seen others use to make surly characters likeable?

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4 Comments

  1. Elaine Stock

    Excellent advise. Thanks for posting this!

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Thanks, Elaine. I’m looking forward to using this info and making Allie more likeable whether she wants to change or not!

  2. Jane Foard Thompson

    Great post, Zoe. For me, revealing “why” even for villians gives a fleshed out person. When it’s someone we’re meant to like, we have to CARE early on. If we don’t care, it won’t matter how much we know about the source of the behavior.

    • Zoe M. McCarthy

      Jane, you’re right, and I’m getting that for Allie now.

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