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If you’re writing an action movie about somebody who is pure evil its easy to make them unlikeable. You can show him stomping on a kitten or nuking a child. But if your scripts skew more toward the plausible, one easy way to come up with ideas for that is to look at what makes people likeable and then have your unlikeable characters do the opposite.

In the book Likeable Business, Dave Kern lists the following as the characteristics of likeable business leaders:

LISTENING —to customers, colleagues, shareholders—and competitors

AUTHENTICITY—because today’s savvy customer always knows when you’re faking it

TRANSPARENCY—honesty builds trust and any deviation can destroy your reputation

ADAPTABILITY —managing change and finding new opportunities is critical to success today

SIMPLICITY—in design, in form, and in function

GRATEFULNESS —every “thank you” is appreciated . . . and generates surprising returns

If we leave aside the sales-speak, we could say those are the hallmarks of likeable people in general. When we reverse them, we come up with a character who:

  • Never listens to other people, being too busy trying to think of what to say about themselves next;
  • Never admits there’s anything he or she doesn’t know or hasn’t done;
  • Lies, cheats, and steals;
  • Refuses to consider changing;
  • Complicates everything, perhaps trying to keep people confused so they won’t see through him or her;
  • Never says thank you, just assumes that everybody should help.

It could be overkill to give one character all of these negative traits, but having them show two or three gives you a good, realistic unlikeable character.

This can also be helpful for creating credible protagonists. To show they’re not perfect, give them a mild form of one of these faults. For instance, not somebody who never listen to anybody else, but maybe someone who tunes out when under stress.

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About 

Jurgen Wolff is a writer, teacher, and creativity consultant. In the United States, he wrote for sitcoms including Benson and Family Ties. He wrote the feature film, The Real Howard Spitz, starring Kelsey Grammer and directed by Vadim Jean. He was a script doctor on the hit film, Mannequin and others starring Michael Caine, Walter Matthau, and Eddie Murphy. For Germany, he co-created the comedy series, Lukas, which ran for 65 episodes, and an original comedy series called Krista. He also wrote nine episodes of the series, Relic Hunter. He wrote two TV movies for the Olsen Twins, and several the German TV movies including, On Top of the Volcano, starring Maria Schrader and Sebastian Koch (2007). His play, Killing Mother, was produced at the Gorky Theatre in Berlin, and he’s also had plays produced in New York, Los Angeles, and London.

As a writing and creativity teacher, his courses include Beyond Brainstorming, Create Your Future, The Creative Breakthrough Workshop and the ground-breaking Script Coach Series developed exclusively for Raindance. He has presented his courses at the University of Southern California, the University of Barcelona, the Skyros Institute, many films schools, and groups and organisations including The Academy for Chief Executives, Egmont, Grundy-UFA, and Columbia-Tri-Star. For eight years he was a visiting lecturer for the Pilots Program in Sitges.

His books include Your Writing Coach and Your Creative Writing Masterclass (Nicholas Brealey Publishing), Creativity Now (Pearson), Do Something Different (Virgin Business Books), Successful Scriptwriting (Writers Digest Press), Top Secrets: Screenwriting (Lone Eagle Press), and Successful Sitcom Writing (St. Martin’s Press).

He has written for many publications including the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Broadcast Magazine, and he is the editor of Brainstorm, the creativity ebulletin.