Hello again, Mythcreants! I hope you all are well!
I was just wondering how I could make a character with anger issues likeable?
Even if I make their general anger justifiable when it comes to being triggered by daily events, I want them to be overly sensitive and upset in the least immature way possible.
(My character is an adult, by the way. They are immortal and traumatized by previous unjust events in their lifetime, which I hope will put some reason behind their sensitivity. So I have the reason for their sensitivity down, but I was concerned that I am making them unrealistic when it comes to future events.
I also wanted to put likeable elements in their personality to kind of even out with he unlikeable flaw of their temper, but I’m not sure that’s how it works.)
I want this character to earn sympathy even through their temper. Can I make them prone to strong anger without making them seem childish/unlikeable?
I really hope this is not too complicated to answer, and if it is, I can sort it out on my own.
I can’t thank y’all enough for your help and availability! Have a great day!-Murphie
Yes, if you tread carefully, you can depict this as a flaw while keeping them likable.
- The better you can explain the reasons for their sensitivity, the more understanding the audience will be. For instance, let’s say an abusive person in their life used to lie to them, and specifically used those lies to hurt them. Then someone they know now says something to them that turns out to be wrong. They might jump to the conclusion that this person deliberately lied and get angry. While they are wrong, you can clearly see how this situation resembles past traumatic experiences, and overreacting is understandable. Having your character actually think about those past experiences, make internal comparisons, and question if this new person is going to do the same thing will ensure that your readers get what’s going on.
- How they handle their anger is important. If they lash out at others in ways that are really hurtful, that will look worse than if they handle their anger in other ways. Instead of yelling at people, they might simply storm out. Storming out can still damage relationships – maybe they suddenly left a date or another important social event – but if they are really upset, it might be the best they can do in that situation. It gives them the distance to sort through their feelings alone. Similarly, avoiding people is not constructive but is also not malicious.
- Some self-awareness on their part is also helpful. After each incident, let them realize they were wrong and apologize. Depending on how confident you’re feeling, they can know they have a temper problem right away, or they can realize it after the first incident or two. Then once they become angry, they can struggle with the knowledge that they could be overreacting, while at the same time not being able to discount or control their feelings. They can learn to better handle incidents where they get angry, and they can find constructive ways to work through their trauma that helps to prevent future incidents.
- Finally, just watch how often this happens. Even if you do everything else well, your audience could get tired of constant outbursts. You probably don’t want one in every chapter, though that admittedly depends on how long your chapters are.
I hope that gives you some ideas.
Keep the answer engine fueled by becoming a patron today. Want to ask something? Submit your question here.
Comments on How Can My Angry Character Be Likable?
I think it may also be worth considering that if your book is hard to read because of the protagonist’s anger, that might actually be a good thing. I just finished reading The Strangers by Katherena Vermette, and the hardest part for me to read (of an already very heavy literary ficiton novel) was the protagonist Pheonix’s overwhelming and all consuming anger. It did make her seem childish and it was obvious why she wasn’t coping in the healthiest way, but that was the entire point. It was a tough message to read because it’s tough to experience.
Two spec fic novels that I think have also done this well are Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Xiao and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (there’s also The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang but I personally did not like the way that novel’s protagonist worked at all).
Depending on your story, it may be worth alienating readers who don’t want an unlikable protagonist so you can focus on catering more to an audience who would prefer a more emotionally heavy story with a less likeable protagonist.
I forgot A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik! That book has a really great character arc from the protagonist being angry and lonely and resentful to coming out of their shell and making friends. I liked it a lot.
I have a MC in a story who gets angry easily. The story is told in first person and he’s aware of this character flaw and will actively try to calm himself when he feels himself getting angry. I also have an internal dialog where he doesn’t censor himself. It’s my hope the difference between thought and deed/word will keep the reader from disliking him.
Just one thing to say here:
The absolute simplest way to make a character with a really short fuse remain likable is to have their short fuse be the REASON they are likable. Allow those bursts of anger to be a source of comedy more often than the source of tragedy. Also have the character be deeply remorseful when tragedy ensues out of their anger, and deeply embarrassed when comedy does.
I took Donald Duck as the example because he’s precisely the sort of short-fused idiot no one would like in real life, but is absolutely lovable as a character, and the reason is precisely that his anger so often backfires in such hilarious ways.
Also, depending on what you want to communicate and what kinds of ideas and dilemmas you wish to explore with the character, perhaps the character doesn’t NEED to be likable. You can make a story work wonderfully with an unlikable protagonist, although in that case you’ll need more likable side characters to not make it unbearable. A very recent example of this is Breaking Bad, Walter White has to be the most unlikable protagonist I’ve ever seen in any fiction, I genuinely hated that prick, but the show still works and is considered to be one of the best shows ever made.