7 Tips For Writing An Unsympathetic Character

Writer’s Relief
4 min readJun 1

Not every character in a short story or novel should be likable or relatable — and that includes protagonists! While it’s easy to root for the sympathetic characters and to care about their goals and struggles, unsympathetic characters are important too. Unsympathetic characters are usually less relatable, and their actions may be driven by selfishness or a skewed vision. In fact, they may seem downright evil! But we know even the most evil, unsympathetic character should have a personality trait or backstory that will grab your readers’ interest. Here are 7 tips for writing an unsympathetic character who will intrigue your audience.

Tips For Writing An Effective Unsympathetic Character

Unsympathetic characters are a great way to add conflict and tension to a story. They’re also more realistic, since not everyone in the world is relatable or likable! Your unsympathetic characters could also be a way to show behavior that’s not condoned, like Humbert Humbert in Lolita, or may give your readers someone to cheer for as the character grows and changes over the course of the story (we’re looking at you, Severus Snape!). These traits and actions will make it harder for your audience to initially relate to your character.

Unrelatable background. Creating characters with unrelatable backgrounds is one of the simplest ways to make it more difficult for your readers to feel a connection. Maybe your character grew up filthy rich and spoiled, or perhaps your protagonist was raised by selfish, manipulative people with a warped sense of the world and reality. These details shouldn’t be immediately revealed to your readers.

Allowing your characters to act in ways that seem unkind or illogical without explaining the motivation for their actions will make them unsympathetic and unrelatable. As the story progresses, you can reveal some of the reasons for their behavior. The explanation may not redeem them, but it will help readers better understand and relate to those characters as the story progresses.

Lack self-awareness or introspection. If a character repeatedly does something without realizing how it affects others or themselves, readers will have a harder time empathizing with that character. For example, Jane Austen’s…

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