It seems today’s fiction is dominated by tough and often jaded characters bruised by life’s hardships. Sarcastic and cynical, these flawed characters make choices efficiently without letting emotion get in the way. They’re tough, with steel in their bones, ready to handle whatever is thrown at them. And readers line up to devour their stories.

What makes this “rough around the edges” character type so compelling? A sense of control, even in chaos. Heroes who can handle pressure and persevere give readers hope (and maybe make them feel a bit better about their own world compared to what the character is facing.) But like all things, it’s easy to go too far.

To be credible, characters must have flaws as well as strengths, just like real people. There is a tipping point for flaws, however. A bit too much snark or insensitive internal narrative and the character slips into unlikeable territory. Too much surliness, negativity, secretiveness or an overblown reaction and the reader will disconnect, frustrated by character’s narrow range. Like a joke taken too far, it’s hard to claw an audience back once this happens, so it’s best to stay away from the likeable/unlikable line. Because of the semi-antagonistic nature of anti-heroes, this is something to be especially watchful of when writing them. Here are a few tips to make sure you don’t go overboard with negative personality traits.

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March 3, 2014 · 2:52 pm

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