Some characters are the heroes.
Some characters are the villains.
And some characters are just punchable. But not actually bad, or even antagonists- though sometimes they can be towards specific characters rather than the general plot goals.
Every time this type of character opens their mouth to say something, our hand curls in a fist or we groan, ready to scorn or scoff at him/her. Every time something happens to them, we cheer.
There are two reasons for this:
Either the effect is unintentional, and unfortunately the result of bad writing, or it's absolutely intentional, and the irritation stems from the interaction this character has with the protagonist or other characters we, as the audience, do like.
When it's unintentional, the character usually has no friction with the other ones in the story's cast. Jar Jar Binks, for example, only received amusement at his antics and was regarded as a valuable member of whatever group he was part of in Star Wars, but his effect on the audience is at least incendiary.
That happens because the punchable character breaks up the flow of the story, or the flow of interaction among the other characters, or his/her behavior or general role in the story is not only redundant but also undermining: he/she is the token comic relief and their only personality trait is to crack jokes. Or he/she is the ‘naive’ character and only knows how to ask questions, often too infantile or simple the answer to which the audience already knows. Or they are the ‘carry along’ character who is portrayed as a ‘strong independent one’ when in reality they only come across as ungrateful, troublesome, and rude. Or, they only cause trouble or put the other characters in danger, serving as a plot device generator but in the same time making the audience wonder why the others don't just ditch this character.
If the effect is intentional, it's usually not meant to last long.
The irritating character simply starts off as such as their baseline for their development arc: maybe they are a problem child that is going to slowly warm up to the other cast, and gradually change behaviors. Maybe they are someone experiencing trauma, and will come around through the healing power of support and acceptance. Or maybe they do have a nasty personality, but actively decide to work on it for one reason or another as the story progresses.
The difference is that when the effect is intentional, the other characters in the cast reflect it. They are irritated by the irritable character, need to work on tolerating them, or have to have motivation for putting up with them. The rest of the cast's emotions will coincide with the audience's emotions, which creates stronger engagement.
Have you ever written an unlikable good guy/gal?
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Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Jan. 23, 2021
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