I'm at the point in my story planning where I need to develop all of the characters. I want this character to be just be a complete asshole, but have more than that one trait. I'm not sure how to write her out.

You know what I mean? She's not the protagonist but I still want her to have less of a 2D personality. How should I go about doing this, any tips?


3 Answers 3


It is highly likely, that you either end up with a 2d character OR a character that people do not actually hate (or dislike).

Look at it this way:

If we (the readers) understand a character's motives and background, we are way more likely to relate to or at least understand (maybe even defend) that character's actions - Even if these actions are perceived as 'bad'...

So, if we do not get insight into what lies behind the character's actions, we are more likely to simply perceive that character as bad/evil...

Therefore, when you talk about this character being 'an asshole', have you yourself worked out why?

Of course, every person/character is unique, but if they do not 'suffer from' some disorder that makes you lack empathy, you most likely try to be a good person or treat people well - UNLESS they've been treated in a certain way, or have experienced some traumas.

In reality, there are close to infinite reasons why someone becomes an asshole... If you want your character to be authentic, they should have a reason for being it.

  • 1
    For example, Snape in the Harry Potter books: an ass because of his hatred for Harry's father, tempered only by his love for Harry's mother. Snape is nowhere near a protagonist, but is a complex (not 2D) ass.
    – webmarc
    Aug 19, 2020 at 14:26


Why is this person an asshole?

Do they get a feeling of power from hurting other people? Did they decide that bullying people into submission was just faster than trying to win them over be reason?

How did they come to those realizations or develop those behaviors?

You get characters that feel real when you keep asking "why?".

You don't necessarily need to show all of those "whys" to the reader, but you will have to show some.

I like to use the seven deadly sins as a starting point. Pride can be the esprit de corps of a soldier, in which case it may be positive, or it can be the towering arrogance of a supervillain, in which case it's obviously not.

Likewise Greed, Sloth, etc, can all explain various - positive or negative - character traits.


Ways to Make an Multidimensional Character

  1. Backstory: It doesn't have to go on the page, but, it helps you, the writer, if you know where this character came from, and how she got this way.
  2. Strengths: As the ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi said, you can't be an effective villain without a lot of strengths and virtues. A villain can be brutal-but-charismatic, or heartless-but-intelligent, for instance.
  3. Hacker-Delany Traits: Poet Marilyn Hacker and writer Samuel Delany came up with a simple metric for multidimensional characters: They should a) play a functional role in the story (make things important to the plot happen), b) have personal, habitual traits that identify them AND c) do things that are neither habitual nor functional. Characters that only do one or two of these things within the story are not multidimensional.

Ways to Make an Unlikable Character

Multidimensional characters are appealing, so you might have to work hard to keep the reader from being sympathetic to your multidimensional villain.

  1. Kick the Dog - Movies have a limited amount of time to build memorable characters, so screenwriters often use a "kick the dog" scene to establish a villain. The person might seem like a good person, but once you see them kick a dog --or hit a child, or shove an old lady, or steal from the communion plate --you know they aren't someone to sympathize with.
  2. Kick the Protagonist - It doesn't matter how great your villain is in other ways, if it's her mission in life to torture your protagonist, the readers' natural empathy with the protagonist will keep them from embracing the villain (usually).
  3. Just Roll With It - People love great villains. Many a book, series or movie has built its popularity off a villain that people love, despite [he/she] being [a cannibal, a murderer, a mean girl, a serial cheater, a dark wizard, etc.]

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