What are the makings of a true terrible character in a novel?



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So today I guess I will talk about the makings of a terrible character. And when I say terrible, I don't mean in the sense that the character is written shallowly. What I mean by terrible in this case is a villain, or maybe a bad friend, a teacher, anyone really, which exhibits somewhat bad behavior.

Firstly, let's go over what we will be discussing today. The first thing is what terrible means, then we will move onto what the core parts of being "terrible" is, and finally discussing how that relates to different characters and what makes them more or less terrible

So, what does being terrible mean? The Cambridge dictionary states that it means being really bad at something or being unpleasant or doing actions that a majority of people would define as bad. Here is the link to my reference.

Moving on, what are the core parts of a terrible character? A supposedly bad character? And after some observations I have found that there are two types of terrible characters in novels. Either, we have the more unrealistic novels which narrate about a villain who slaughter, rape, and pillage. After that we have the other type. The more realistic and relatable terrible character. A person who is uncaring and does things that make people frown, someone who everyone would agree is terrible in their day to day life. Basically, a more realistic depiction of a terrible person.

To clarify, a more realistic terrible person would insult, speak badly, and manipulate the people around him. But is that really the most terrible a character can be? Should we limit ourselves to only THAT terrible? No. Therefore, another more terrible example would be of a person who knows he is terrible, wants to change, but still does terrible things. Basically, a hypocrite! A person who wants to help, but does nothing but that. Someone who creates trouble wherever he goes because of poor social skills.

So in that meaning, we have an extremely bad character because we have a good person who does terrible things, making them more terrible than a person who wants to do terrible things. I mean, who do you want more around you? A person who can admit and proudly do terrible things, or a person who constantly hurts those around him, knowing that he is doing that yet still wanting to be good.

Sure. You may start to try to explain or try to justify his behavior, but the terrible character I speak of has not such thing. He does not try to justify his terrible behavior. Instead he openly says, "I am terrible."

Even after writing all of this, I feel like I still can't clearly define that kind of character. That may be because of how complicated and emotionally unstable such a person is. A person who wants to do honest good, who attracts good people, but hurts them in the end because the terrible character cannot be good.

That kind of character and existence is contradictory. While reading this you might think, how pitiful, or that you would be friends with him. But if you really met such a terrible person, a person who cannot do good no matter how hard they try, who constantly hurts you and makes you feel bad, would you be friends or even be close to such a person?

If you asked me, realistically, no matter how much I want to have an understanding of him, or even have the feeling of wanting to "fix" him, I would probably try to avoid speaking or even becoming a friend with him. I simply would not be able to be friends with a person like that.

*sigh* Man, I feel terrible saying I don't want to be friends with someone who wants to do good. But if we compare them to the more unrealistic villain, I think a person will be more likely to dislike the person who wants to be good but does bad things rather than a villain who justifies his actions.

Like a demon king wanting to end humanity because he wants to help his underlings or wants to have revenge on them for killing his family or something.

But let's take a step back for a second and ask ourselves... what makes a person terrible? Is a person terrible if they do terrible actions but have a good mind. Or are they terrible if they are hurt and want to hurt others because of that?

Are we, as people, supposed to have a say in what is and what is not terrible? I want to think of the world as more grey than just "black" and "white". A person isn't a bad person because they do bad things.

Isn't it the same with young teens and children? They do and say terrible things to their peers, maybe because they want to fit in, or they come from a bad family background, or maybe even to seem cool.

In that sense, I guess as a last thought that suddenly popped up as I write this, are people who judge others as "black" or "white" those who are really terrible?


    1. solivagantsoul Aug 2, 2020
      I believe no one is either just good or bad. considering the grey area to be a point of balance, our actions towards other people in certain situations and circumstances can cause us to tilt towards either the white area or the black area. For example just because a man/woman is a cheater/player does not mean that they are a bad friend/sibling/child.
      Another eg 'Like a demon king wanting to end humanity because he wants to help his underlings or wants to have revenge on them for killing his family or something.' If i was part of the demons who's being protected, the king for me and the rest would be a good person. For -lets say a humans in one kingdom being killed- the demon king is a 'bad' person and the rest of the humans may say that they-the exterminated kingdom- got what they deserved another portion will hate on the demons. As long as they aren't involved with the mess and their lives/interests are not harmed humans seem to be ruthless and indifferent. No matter how many years pass and how civilization develops, it has always been the survival of the fittest. this is only my personal opinion.
      jex890 likes this.