What makes you instantly dislike a character?
This is an interesting question for two reasons.
Firstly, you would assume that what makes us dislike a character would be similar to what makes us dislike a real-life person, and to a certain extent that is true. This means the question can feel repetitive or pedantic on the surface: manipulative, cruel, or dismissive behavior can all immediately have us cringing away from a character.
However, there are plenty of characters we love to hate. Many more who have large or deep enough flaws that while we wouldn’t want to be around them in our real-life, we find them fascinating to watch or read about.
Secondly, characters have arcs, or at least they should have arcs. This means that they aren’t stagnant and will change, whether for the better or worse. You might fall in love with a character in the beginning of their arc only for them to take action after action that leads you to disliking them immensely. The opposite is also possible.
We, as readers, come with particular biases that will supersede the arcs of the characters and/or the desire to love a character beyond their unlikable traits. These biases are different in all of us, though there are some things that large groups of audience will lean toward.
My own personal biases mean that the following traits of a character will instantly make me dislike them, regardless of their arcs, even a redemption one, or their other attributes that might make them likable as villains. Continue reading