When I write I always want to deliver a message. Not matter what I'm writing I ultimately have something important (to me,) to say. For that reason I try to be very careful about how I deliver certain themes. But sometimes I also want to portray things in my story that I find distasteful. For example, a bully who picks on the weak. And sometimes it is nice when the story evolves and at the end the bully gets their comeuppance. Or maybe if you are feeling more charitable, they gain rehabilitation and reconciliation and grow to be a better person.

But life doesn't always work like that. Sometimes standing up to a bully gets you beat up. Sometimes the schoolyard bully doesn't grow up and mature. Sometimes they grow to be a very successful bully. And sometimes the themes are more subtle than schoolyard bullies.

How do I portray those themes and characters, while treating them fairly and mostly accurately, and have them succeed, without sending the message that they represent anything more but a portrayal of how the world sometimes works?

5 Answers 5


In 1984, Big Brother succeeds. Big Brother is a very successful bully. In the end, one even learns to love Big Brother.

There is no validation and agreement in 1984. There is a terrible warning.

This too is a path you can choose to take with your story.

How would you do that? By keeping sympathy firmly on the victim's side. You are not in the bully's head, there is no thrill of victory. There is fear of the bully, fear of what the bully might do, horror at what he does, revulsion. We keep rooting for the victim, we keep hoping that he would prevail. But the victim doesn't - life isn't always the way we'd like it to be. And we are left with a bitter taste in our mouth, and a smouldering fire in our minds, not to let it happen in real life.

(Orwell does this masterfully. Overdone to melodrama, the same path would lead the reader to put your story aside in boredom and rejection.)


Yes, success implies validation and agreement by the author. I say that for the obvious reason; you wrote the fiction, you designed the plot, you let the bully win. Don't say, "That's how the world is." Reality is no excuse for writing bad fiction; and you are the God of the world you write, so the world in your book is how you choose to write it, God.

Readers look for realism they can relate to, but they are not looking for reality in fiction. Reality is unutterably cruel, cutting off promising young lives without reason, visiting hardships, poverty and injuries unto innocents by the millions with randomized abandon. In reality, the evil get away with their crimes against others for a lifetime, and often die peacefully of old age in the comforts of the palaces they built stealing the lives of the innocent, feeling no guilt for the lives they ruined. In reality, good seldom conquers evil, because the good are restrained by morals that do not encumber the truly evil.

We all know it; crime pays, and the criminals have no sympathy for their victims, and no qualms about destroying innocent lives to make a dollar or protect themselves from justice.

Fiction is a place where the author has the power to let good triumph over evil, and people read to escape reality, and be inspired, and watch a good person (as they feel themselves to be) that is trod upon rise up and find a way to beat evil.

There is a reason happy endings in fiction outsell unhappy endings by a factor of ten.

We read fiction to be entertained. Anybody entertained by endless march of evil in the real world, by the depressing ways that selfishness and corruption and crime constantly triumphs over the good and innocent without retribution, can turn on the news. There are tons of real examples far worse than your example, of women and children being murdered for attending church, or a concert, or school. OF sex slaves, and so-called "honor" killings. Of families begging for help being torn apart and imprisoned, crimes by leaders which will forever go unpunished.

When I pick up a book, I do expect some evil to motivate the story line, but I do not want or expect reality, because I expect good to triumph over evil in the end. Even if the price is high. Find a way to write a happy ending; the power to make your world a better place is literally in your hands.



It's your main character, who is a bully, and wins. There is nothing ambiguous about this. 95% of people are already well aware of it.

This is only a story to the children of wealthy people, and the 5% who are already the bullies.

  • It's worth pointing out that the bully isn't the MC.
    – Summer
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 12:08

Only social success imply validation and agreement. It is entirely possible that these are given without verification. A bully may become socially successful when most people in society were not the victims, and they did not know/ignored the bullying activity. This may be quite common, actually, in particular in groups where bullying focuses on a small number of victims.

To treat them fairly:

  • give the bully a reason. You don't want your character to wear the mask of a stock villain. You need them to be compelled to act in the way they do, and to either feel a sense of purpose in doing it (e.g. they defend some ill-perceived ideals), or a sense of addiction (e.g. they wish they had not done so, but in the spur of the moment they were lured in by the thirst for power), or simply a lack of means to communicate (e.g. they wished to express their frustration, got a negative answer, escalated).

  • give their success a reason. People may cheer the bully if they identify with their purpose. People used to cheer at the hanging of murderers, or at the stoning of adulterous women. We may abhor it, but that is because we see it through the lenses of our values, and our experience. Give the reader the lenses of that particular group, dwell into their feelings, their needs, their fears and their struggles, and you may find yourself cheering at the bully.

  • be just. Reward the effort, and give prizes in the direction where the effort goes. Bright and dedicated students will succeed in their studies, regardless of whether they are bullies or victims.

  • inform yourself. Before you write a slice-of-life story, claiming that 'this is how the world works', make sure you do really understand how it works. It is easy to mistake our limited vision for the truth. The world is often way more complex and nuanced than we originally thought. If you have the chance, throw yourself into it, and experience both sides of the characters in your story: it will be very illuminating.

  • brace for criticism. Bullying is regarded as a crime. No matter how fair your treatment, or how skilled your writing, there will always be readers who are not willing to compromise on this topic.


Yes, kind of.

Specifically it does so by default and only by default. Unless you show something otherwise people will assume it. If you show otherwise they will not need to assume and you can show as much success as you want.

So the story would need to actually show why bullying is bad. What negative consequences it has. Both to its victims and to the bully. And why it doesn't stop you from being successful, if that success is important. I think family connections and nepotism or class inequality are the most common ones used as most people get them without explanation.

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