Character evolution: from a-hole to likable

Character evolution is one of those tricky things that cannot be forced by the writer’s hand but is necessary for a good story. If you’ve watched There will be blood, Citizen Kane, and the tv show Breaking Bad. It’s all about how supposedly good and well-natured characters turn evil.

(This article appeared before the publication of A Bitter Winter. Some of the details concerning the book are out of date.)

I wrote a character with the full intention of making him an a-hole. To my great surprise, I grew fond of him. In The Silver Ninja Edition 2, I will be introducing you to officer Daniel Gates.

Officer Gates is a cop with a nasty temper and a drinking problem. He acts on emotion and has been known to break the rules in order to arrest a suspect even if that person was innocent. I wrote Daniel to be a liar, a bully, and a braggart.

When I began the re-write of The Silver Ninja, I wanted to dig deeper into Cindy’s history as an NYPD officer. I wanted to show how much of a positive role model Cindy was and how the department praised her achievements. In order to pull this off, Cindy needed a contrast. I needed to put her next to a character who symbolized everything she hated.

Remember when I talked about writing character agency a few blogs back? No? Here’s the link. Character Agency How would Cindy react to being partnered with an a-hole? Spoilers, she complained to the captain. His response, “You can’t pick your parents and you can’t pick your partner.”

Dan was the perfect foil to straightedge Cindy.

But Dan didn’t stay unlikable like I wanted him to. He showed me motives to his reckless behavior, his drinking, his constant need to break the rules. When I tried to make him back stab Cindy, he ended up defending her and taking the blame for something he didn’t do. What he was doing was not a part of my author plan.

That defiance to my goals actually made me start to like the character. By giving Dan the freedom of choice, I accidentally created someone who had depth and complexity. I know it sounds weird to talk as if these characters have a mind of their own but that’s the best way to describe it.

The feel of the story overrode my absolute control over the text.

The characters start to separate from me like a child wanting to go to the bus stop without their parents. They become independent as long as the author is willing to loosen the grip on what he/she wants them to become. Change your writing mindset from: “Protagonist gets drunk because it leads to my plot point,” to “Why does protagonist want to get drunk?” Create a strong motive and the rest will follow.

So let go! Give your characters freedom and you may end up with a story way more interesting than what you had initially imagined.

Next week I’m going on vacation but I will have a blog on writing a bad ass female character. If you like it, please make sure to share it since I won’t have net access to do so.



Wilmar Luna

Wilmar Luna

Couldn't be a superhero in real life so he decided to write his own. When he's not creating empowered female characters he can be found watching films, reading books, and playing lots of video games. Buy his books here: