Most of the characters in my story are well thought out and have realistic motivations and backstories, as I think most people agree that believable characters are important in writing (if you’re going for that sort of thing.) There is, however, one character which isn’t realistic and I think he reads as a caricature or just plain weird. I don’t really have an excuse for this, other than maybe saying “he’s insane”. Really I just need him to get in the way of my protagonist in minor situations.

I’m wondering if the character will stand out glaringly against my other characters. Am I being lazy to not delve into his psychology, or is it fine to put in varying levels of effort into different characters?

  • 2
    a lot of stories have unbelievable characters, especially those in movies or tv shows, and while I'm growing to despise these types of characters the more I see them it doesn't stop them being written
    – BKlassen
    Nov 14, 2019 at 17:48
  • I would even say that many works of fiction deliberately put "oddball" characters in the mix, either to make the story more entertaining or to make the plot work at all.
    – Alexander
    Nov 14, 2019 at 18:43
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    @BKlassen, yes, I hate this device too. Far too many shows have a "stupid sibling" whose sole purpose seems to be to mess things up. Yet despite their ridiculously unacceptable behaviour, all the other characters seem to react to it for a minute or two and then proceed with their lives as if what happened is perfectly reasonable. In real life, no one could put up with such behaviours, especially when it is repeated time after time. This person would be shot or kicked out of the house or something. Nov 15, 2019 at 13:55

3 Answers 3


It would help if you could explain why his backstory is unrealistic. Suspension of disbelief is defined by the work, not a rule external to a work. Consider the exchange from Dogma where Rufus (an angle who in life, actually knew Jesus Christ really well and still hangs with his bro) reveals that Jesus had brothers and sisters:

Bethany: Jesus didn't have any brothers or sisters. Mary was a virgin.

Rufus: Mary gave birth to CHRIST without having known a man's touch, that's true. But she did have a husband. And do you really think he'd have stayed married to her all those years if he wasn't getting laid? The nature of God and the Virgin birth, those are leaps of faith. But to believe a married couple never got down? Well, that's just plain gullibility.

I always felt this is the best explanation of "Willing Suspension of Disbelief", that is that the more fantastic elements of the plot can get a free pass from the audience, but the more plausible elements that are out of place... that's a tall order. You can believe through divine miracle a virgin woman gave birth to a savior for billions of people, or that there could be a person who is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Audiences will buy into it and invest. Saying that the same woman never had sex with her husband or that the aforementioned super-human person hides from everyone by wearing a pair of glasses... that's when the audience checks out of the story and comes back to reality.

There are some Christians who will loudly protest at the mere probability that Jesus may have been a big brother but gladly accept that a woman can somehow carry a child to term without having sex. There are some comic book fans who will complain that no one, in a nationally read newspaper's bullpen of reporters no less, is capable of figuring out the most iconic superhero is sitting one desk over, wearing glasses for some reason... and be fine with a man in tights and a cape flying and shooting laser beams from his eyeballs. And if you want to really have fun, get yourself a friend with a physics degree and pop in any scifi movie, and watch him point out the dumbest logical misstep of the entire film (my personal favorite, was when during the climax of the animated Transformer's movie, the heroes turn into their various vehicles and drive out of the eye of a giant robot that transforms into an entire planet (and eats other planets) before said giant-robot explodes, my physics student friend scoffs "A helicopter (one of the transformer's vehicle forms) can't fly in space!" Just to recap, this guy was fine with sentient robots that turned into cars, guns, planes, helicopters and dinosaurs. He was fine with a planet eating robot (that turned into a planet to boot). He was fine with several cars accelerating to a speed great enough to achieve escape velocity from a skull which is stated to be about the size of a moon. But a helicopter flying in the vacuum was, in his mind, for some reason, the absolute final straw that made the movie to illogical for him.). Then throw in your copy of The Core and watch someone with a physics degree assume the fetal position (too be fair, the film demonstrates a lack of understanding of basic scientific principle that is so profound, it probably offends astrologists (and yes, I am referring to the pseudoscience of telling the future through movement of stars in the sky and not the actual science of Astronomy. Don't edit to tell me I'm using the wrong term. I stand by this statement.).

Quirky personalities do exist and if that explains the way your guy behaves, go for it. And there are people who are weird in real life... at least from our point of view, because they are that obsessed with something odd ball to me that they love. Like I will never, ever be so into the Roman empire that I would self-teach myself Latin to the point that I set my Facebook default language to display in Latin... but I know a guy... and Facebook has the setting. Likewise, I see no good reason to ever go out in below freezing tempurares, wearing no shirt, painted in the bright colors of my favorite sportsball team. But every NFL season, I get a quick reminder that those people exist... and occasionally, I personally know them... and lest I be thought of as normal, I will not tell you exactly how much money I spent to enter an amusement park celebrating a cartoon rat, nor how much I spent on building my own personal laser sword from a beloved science fantasy film series in said cartoon rat park... but I will say I find it money well spent... and I didn't spend nearly as much on laser swords as other people in the same rodent park that day... and I personally a guy who did!

It's never crazy if it works, only when it doesn't work.


It's generally fine for minor characters to be shallow, especially if their impact on a scene is minimal, and putting more effort into your main characters than your side characters is perfectly normal.

However, when you say:

Really I just need him to get in the way of my protagonist in minor situations.

...that's a bit more worrying. If you don't have a reason apart from 'the plot requires it' for this character's behaviour, it's not unreasonable to expect the readers to pick up on that.

He doesn't need a great deal of depth, but at bare minimum I'd say what he should have is a motivation. 'He's insane' isn't really sufficient; even insane people generally have an internal logic that makes sense to them—they don't simply stop thinking. It doesn't need to ever be made explicit in the text, but as long as you know why he keeps getting in your protagonist's way, and write him accordingly, his actions are much more likely to be internally consistent—and thus, much less likely to break the reader's suspension of disbelief.


You need a motivation, insanity is not a motivation. What you are proposing will break the suspension of disbelief.

Does the character think it is funny? Do they have a grudge and just want to passively aggressively satisfy it? Are they in love and trying to tease her to get her attention or make her engage with them?

What motivation does the MC have for putting up with it? Why doesn't she anticipate it, and prevent it, or guard against it?

What you are writing just doesn't sound realistic, not even the "insanity" excuse, which is no excuse at all. Stories have to seem plausible. You can introduce magic, and pretend "scientific" objects and discoveries, but the behavior of humans in the story needs to seem plausible and have reasons, and in your story it does not.

For all the magic in The Lord of the Rings, and for all the scientific mumbo jumbo in Star Wars or Star Trek, the characters in these stories (even the intelligent Trees) still seem like human beings with plausible emotions and thinking.

Readers relate to humans and your guy is unrelatable.

If you want a suggestion, I'd turn them into a pet the MC loves like a child, or baby. I have dogs. A pet dog can want to play, and they are forgiven for not understanding what their master is doing, and can knock things over with their tail or by bumping into them without caring. They can jump up on you, and make you spill coffee on yourself. I had a dog once accidentally step into a tray of paint on the floor, spill it then walk across a carpet trailing paint.

Pet accidents aren't malicious. They are just clumsy, and you might be upset but it doesn't mean you are getting rid of the dog, or even staying mad at him for very long, because the dog loves you. He's going to make sad eyes at you, and you're going to forgive him. And they'll be another dog accident in the future.

You can sell that better by making some early accidents that are inconsequential, thus establishing the accident prone nature of the dog character.

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