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We all know the spiel:

  1. We have an insufferable jerk who is a jerk/annoyance for 95% of his "screen time".
  2. In the remaining 5%, he sacrifices himself to save everyone else.
  3. The fans dance around a campfire and sing "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" from The Wizard of O- WAIT, WHA?

I mean, sure, you can tweak his death and how the other characters react to it, later on, but it's still inefficient since 95% of him was all about how bad he was.

It's logical to assume so, that we somehow have to keep him a jerk, for undisclosed reasons (DRAMA), but make the reader (and the other characters) not give up on him, in a subtle way. How should I do that?

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    I don't understand: do you want a character to be annoying to the readers, but not so annoying that the readers hate him? Why would you want to annoy your readers in the first place? – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jun 29 '18 at 21:04
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    @Galastel It's just simply the way my character is, very flawed. – Mephistopheles Jun 29 '18 at 21:08
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    Pls edit to explain whether you mean Scrappy-Doo tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheScrappy or the Scrappy animated shorts en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrappy . Overcoming the antagonist is a common plot, and your example is a successful musical so pls explain what you mean by 'O-WAIT WHA?': Are your readers celebrating, what have they told you about their relationship with the character, and how would you like to change that? – Qsigma Jun 30 '18 at 7:47
  • @Mephistopheles - Welcome back LZP. You mean the character in the story, yes? (Sorry - couldn't resist.) – ItWasLikeThatWhenIGotHere Jun 30 '18 at 8:33
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You have your trope (The Scrappy) wrong; the trope you are looking for is called Good Is Not Nice.

The Scrappy is disliked and stays disliked and does nothing to redeem himself from being disliked, by characters or fans.

The Good is Not Nice is an abrasive, even abusive anti-hero, that in the end will not actually harm innocents or let them come to harm if he can help it.

The Good is Not Nice link contains some of the qualities you are seeking. Part of the way to have the characters dislike your anti-hero, but the audience like him; is to show him doing something altruistic in secret, and perhaps even denying that he did it, or berating whoever did do it. After all, the most pure form of altruism is helping somebody and taking zero credit for it.

Or, for example, have your character on an early road trip, pass a family stranded on the road with a raised hood and three kids. He drives past, then a full minute later, turns around and goes back to help them. But he's irritated as hell, tells them to stop talking, etc. but fixes their car, gets it started, then without a word just goes and gets in his car and drives away.

(A scene like that can stand alone, or actually play into the plot: he was far from home; but the family he helped end up in his town and recognize him. He recognize them. Maybe they out him as a nice guy? Too obvious. Maybe they don't out him, because they know he doesn't want that; but they are sympathetic and know the truth about him, and this contributes to the plot in some way, providing secret aid to him. Maybe when the anti-hero does set off to save the world, the father in this family is his ally and keeps him from getting killed.)

Good is Not Nice.

7

As you rightly pointed out, the manner in which the jerk dies (or more broadly, the manner in which his story ends) isn’t important in determining whether the audience gives up on him or not. They will long have made up their minds by then. In fact, if you don’t set things up right, then the more significant your character’s final gesture, the more annoying your character becomes after the fact (on top of how annoying he already was). Because it will all feel incredibly artificial.

So for me, the example that immediately comes to mind is Gollum (spoiler alert, I guess, if you’ve never watched/read The Lord of the Rings). He is precisely the sort of character that is up to no good for the entire length of the story, and is loathed by cast and audience alike. Sam wants to leave him behind, and Frodo even suggests killing him (in the movie, at least). Yet Gollum carries on as part of the narrative specifically so that he can perform the (figurative) ultimate sacrifice and save the world at the end.

There are several ways in which this is achieved. The first is that the protagonists need him. He’s their guide into Mordor. Without him, they’d be screwed.

Next is the fact that Frodo progressively identifies with Gollum—he recognizes what may be become of him should he give in to the power of the One Ring. Frodo needs to keep his hope alive that there is some sort of redemption at the end. So, through Frodo, we as the audience begin to empathize with Gollum, even if we still view him as an annoying bad guy.

Third, Gollum’s presence ratchets up the tension, not just between Frodo and Sam, but between the Frodo and the audience. He sows increasing doubt in our mind as to whether Frodo will ever complete his mission. And he does so while helping him through it.

In short, Gollum is a necessary actor who moves the plot forward, even if he does it as an anti-hero, or even as a quasi-antagonist. More than that, through this tug-of-war of helping/hindering the protagonist, he is the manifestation of the protagonist’s inner conflict, foreshadowing the failure lurking in the dying moments of the story.

But really that is the baseline for justifying the presence of any character in any story: what purpose do they serve? If they’re just here for the ride so they can perform a single action at the end, then they’re useless, and the reader will always wonder why they’re even here. If they’re crucial to the plot, then your job is to make it clear to the audience.

After that, the usual advice stands: your character needs to be interesting, and present a certain depth of character. Because a character who is nothing but a jerk is no more or less annoying than a perfect Goody Two-Shoes. Make him clever, making him funny, make him speak in rhymes, make him do unexpected things. Anything you add to elevate such a character from bystander to active participant will give the audience reason not give up on him.

TL;DR: Justify your jerk being an integral part of your story, and most importantly, make him interesting. Just as you would as any other character.

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    It’s hard to read Gollum’s end as a sacrifice. He slipped and fell. There was nothing noble about it, aside from how it was a kind of natural justice as well as release from his torment. – Todd Wilcox Jun 30 '18 at 9:10
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Good illustrations from Amadeus and Phong.

It's all about the narrator establishing a rationale for the character's behaviour, and holding out an offer of redemption (which has to be fulfilled, even if the other characters don't know it - that's part of the "contract with the reader"). And you could have other characters who never lose faith, who have their own reasons for doing that. If you have a couple of years to spare, Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are well worth a read.

The offer of redemption could be something the other characters (or at least some of them) don't know - or know, but think couldn't possibly be related to the annoying character - an obscure prophecy or journal of a time traveller, for example. It's particularly easy to do in a prequel - less of a Scrappy and more of a Young Anakin.

You could play with the way the narrator reacts to the character - differently to the way some of the other characters react - which will tell the readers that something interesting is going on : where the narrator leads, the readers will follow. With sufficient rationale and hope of redemption, you could even have an ending full of irony and pathos where the most hated person in history was the one who saved the world - if only more people knew.

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