As a writer, I sometimes forget to paint my walk on character’s personalities with a broad stroke. While no one may like the chronic complainer, the always critical, or even the hypochondriac at work or in real life, they exist everywhere you go unless you live on a deserted island.
The personalities you hate to be around serve to make you appreciate the sweeter ones more. After a day with a grouchy co-worker, aren’t you glad your spouse is polite or witty? What about the parent that always screams at the referee, the coach, or heck, your child because she struck out?
It’s hard to make a true sourpuss loveable like in the Odd Couple. If a grump is a secondary character in your story that’s great, but you’ll have to work hard to make readers appreciate him. But if you’ve ended your story and your walk on characters are all sweet as cherry pie, is that realistic?
Sprinkle People with Flawed Personalities Wisely into a Scene. Here’s How:
1. Showcase a sourpuss under a spot light and leave them behind.
A co-worker, a grouch at your character’s favorite hang out, or even a rude secretary at your doctor’s office. The take away is to put these characters in places you wouldn’t expect to see them. A rude, argumentative secretary scheduling a doctor’s appointments is supposed to be non-existent. After all, the secretary is the first person a would be patient contacts. Office personnel should be professional and pleasant. A snarky secretary calling patients to remind them of their next day appointment will be memorable. Her/His rudeness will shock in the story, and the reader will appreciate how the main character either handles it or ignores the behavior.
2.Don’t worry about giving them motivation, grumps just exist, like resurrection ferns on oak trees.
In the absence of rain the resurrection fern dries up and withers. After rain, it grows brilliant green and looks like lacy, gloves on tree limbs. You can scrap it off but resurrection fern grows back. Think of the walk on sour puss as born to be rude, but give them pizzazz.
3.Consider giving a grump a quirk or tag–like the sour puss who loves trouble.
They snap off at someone and then hold up a cell phone like they’re recording the other character’s response. Or they snarl out something rude and when another character turns around, they hold up their hands and say, “What?”
4. Make them a nasty gate-keeper.
The main character is running late and shouts, “hold the elevator.” Sourpuss closes the door in their face and smirks. You’ll be tempted to set up the main character with a face to face with the sour puss, but don’t do it. The sourpuss is put in the story to add realistic flavor, remember?
5. Use a grump to garner sympathy for another character.
For instance, your secondary character’s beloved dog is lost. She’s had the pet 12 years and considers the spaniel to be family. The character is walking around putting signs up in the neighborhood and knocking on doors to alert people to watch for her pet. Her eyes are swollen and she’s a wreck. Sourpuss sees her signs as he drives past in his car, gets out, and rips the signs down screaming about city ordinances and litter.
Just like real life, not every character can be the hero or heroine. Sprinkle in the sourpuss, the nags, the agitators, and the jealous because they make the setting real.