For the Whiners

When I saw what my first craft topic as a New Muse would be, I groaned. Character. Why character? Why does it have to be something I suck at? Why can’t it be something I’m good at, like, I don’t know…whining?

I’m so good at whining that many of my main characters whine. But everybody likes whiny characters! Whiny children and even whiny adults are totally endearing, right?

No. Not right. And because whiny characters are something I struggle with, here are a few useful techniques I’ve picked up for transforming Whine into Winsome.

*Less talk, more action. Is he moaning about the sorry state his life is in? Fine. Cut it in half and give him a decision to make. What can he do to improve the situation? What should his next step be? Readers don’t want to languish in a black hole of depression—they want to follow someone who has agency and a desire to change his rotten lot in life.

*Give her a skill. If other people admire her for something, your reader might admire her, too. Beauty or innate goodness is not enough, because then you’re running into Mary Sue territory. Perhaps she’s a gutsy big-wave surfer, or she’s got a way with rats. (Um, those are taken. Think up your own).

Photo courtesy Amanda Turnage
*Add humor. Things might totally suck, but if he can make fun of it, we’ll be along with him for the ride. And no, you don’t have to think you’re funny to write humor…some of the funniest books I’ve read were written by authors who never thought of themselves as humorous people. That’s the beauty of writing—you have AGES to think of funny things.

*Save the cat (from Blake Snyder’s book of the same name). You’ve got someone really down on her luck—have her help someone else. It takes a special kind of coming out of one’s own angst to help another being, and if you can get your sadface character to help someone else, readers will be impressed.

*Give him a soft spot. What would make him fight? It’s one thing to be aw-shucks-what-a-bummer-my-life-sucks, but what sort of incident would make him take up a cause? What pisses him off? Whatever it is, do that to him. It’ll get him off his butt and back into the action.

I’m always looking to learn more about this, so if you have something that’s worked for you, please share! If you don't, I just might whine at you.


Whiny characters are so...UGH! In most cases, they're realistic because so many of us humanoids whine. But, I don't like listening to real people whine, so I definitely don't want to listen to fictional people whine! It's a diffictul task to write a character that whines, yet keep readers from hating him/her! Great tips, Beth! Now stop whining.

Excellent post, Beth! And you're right--a little angst goes a long way. Another trick could be to take Robin's advice from yesterday and have your character face his greatest fear...

Exactly, Aaron--my kids whine plenty; I don't need my characters whining, too!

I've been thinking over Robin's advice since yesterday, Katy, imagining what that fear is. It's going to take her places!

All of these are so well articulated, but my absolute favourite, the one that really got me thinking this morning, is "What would make him fight? What would make him take up a cause?" A big fat YES to this, because too many protagonists lack agency. Things happen to them and they react to those things, but the story only gets interesting when the character fights back. And what makes it interesting for the reader is the "why" in that equation. (awfully clever pun intended) Great post!

Awesome post, Beth! Printing this one out. And... a message to all you New Muses: Dudes. Take it down a notch, okay? Your amazing posts are making us old timers look bad.

Great ideas here. I need to remember, if I don't like to spend time with people who whine, then I don't want to read about them either!

Thanks for the post and the tips. Something I'll have to look out for in the future. Why, oh why didn't I know about this earlier? Just kidding.

Exactly! They need to fight back, & we need to use their PAST to know why (thanks for that post, Lia!), and then they need to start acting instead of reacting. And then it's beautiful. And someday I'll get it right!

Ooh, just wait until you see Kristen's tomorrow...good stuff coming!

I think lots of people feel this way, myself included...and then I go and have my character angst all over the page. That's what revision is for, I guess!

Oh, Karen, why??? Seriously, though: you're welcome! Now I'm off to the Revision Cave to (hopefully) take some of my own advice. Better yet--the advice the other Muses have given so far!

Oh, Beth, I'm giving you a B for Brilliant. These are great devices for setting a "stuck"character free...from being a dull whiner or a "flat stanley". These tidbits are going on index cards in my writing box for those times when I don't know what to do with a character and prefer vacuuming to writing. Thank you!

Great suggestions for Fictional Characters and if I should find myself whining in life.

Love this! Spurring those characters into action is so important.

Great suggestions, Beth! I especially appreciated the idea of having the character (who is down on her luck) help someone else. Brilliant! So glad your a new muse!

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