Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Nice, the Difficult and the Wimp

I thought I’d write about story characters, but Seekerville already has so many outstanding blogs covering the topic, I realized everything I could possibly say has been said. Then I read a book about called Verbal Judo, The Gentle Art of Persuasion by George J. Thompson and Jerry B. Jenkins. It’s about the art of gaining cooperation—a skill necessary for many professions including law enforcement and sales. It’s filled with important information, but not about writing—except for a chapter about people. Real people, not story characters. But who do we base our fictional characters on except real people? So I got interested.

They divide us humans into three basic types which they call Nice People, Difficult People and Wimps. Each group has different characteristics and should be handled differently. These types cut across all cultures, races, nationalities etc. You find them everywhere.

Nice People
Nice People voluntarily comply when you ask them to do something. They’re people pleasers. They do what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it. But saying no or sticking up for their rights isn’t in their vocabularies or personalities. Sometimes they’re called co-dependent or doormats. Others might label them as heroic or at least people they’d like to know.
Not so nice people tend to take advantage of them.

These characters could become our heroes or victims, depending upon their strengths and weaknesses.

Difficult People
The next category includes the Difficult People who are often persnickety and hard to please. They may be annoying in person, but they’re lots of fun to write about! They send food back to the restaurant kitchen and demand good service in order to fork over a tip.

They usually question authority and ask the great American question “Why?” The word why can throw people off center, especially those who aren’t used to having their orders challenged. Don’t waste your breath trying to explain why you’ve asked them to do something. They probably won’t even care you have the authority!

But they’re always interested in how the deal benefits them—the “What’s in it for me?” type. So show them clearly and specifically what they have to gain by following your orders. If that doesn’t work, tell them what they can lose if they don’t comply. That should do the trick.

In an argument or any sort of conflict, move him and redirect his energy. Don’t resist this type of person head on.

These difficult people can easily become our story heroes and heroines because they’re complex and interesting, full of flaws, but able to stand up to others. They can grow better and stronger as they conquer the obstacles you throw in their paths.

The Wimp
Wimps sound like Nice People, but they’re actually Difficult People. Sneaky. They’ll say “Okay” or “You’re right” to your face, but they’ll stab you in the back. They act as if everything is fine with your relationship, then they’ll complain about you to anyone who’ll listen. They’re hypocrites and they’ll take you by surprise. You may never see them coming so you’re not prepared. They’re hard to recognize.

Wimps hate authority or being told what to do. But they don’t have the backbone to challenge you. They seek revenge instead. More difficult to deal with than Difficult People, they try to hide behind others.

How do you deal with a wimp? Strip him of his cover and now he has to explain himself—either put up or shut up. If he clams up he’s lost credibility. Others think it’s better to ignore wimps, but when they’re ignored or resisted, they grow stronger. Don’t snipe back at them. It’s probably advantageous to confront them honestly because they immediately weaken.

A real wimp will back down and even apologize. Exposure unsettles them. After you uncover them, they’ll probably give up and leave you alone. They’ll go on to someone else.

Wimps are often bullies in our stories. Or they could be villains.

Do you know any of these people?

My family has one of each. All have their virtues and their vices, none are perfect and none are villains. Hmm. I haven’t included myself. I wonder where they’d think I’d fit in. I don’t think I’ll ask.


  1. Interesting, Cara! Sounds like a book that can give us good insights into character development.

  2. Very interesting, I hope I fall in the first category, but that might be too much to hope for. This book does sound like it would be great for characterization development.

  3. Good morning, Cara! Great post -- lots of food for thought here.

    Grin, I'm "nice" and I'm "difficult" (my husband would say "high maintenance"), so I guess that makes me "nice and difficult." But I think I can see both of these traits in a lot of my girlfriends. And the "wimps"? I pretty much stay away from them.


  4. I was always a Nice person growing up, but now I'm more difficult. It pays to be difficult! I've learned that over and over through the years.

    My heroines had always been the "Nice" type until this last book. She was difficult, and I had SO much fun writing her! I think she inspired me to be more difficult! Not sure if that's a good thing or not.

  5. LOL
    I'm Nice (read: doormat) and my hubby is Difficult. But I love him for it and that's what drew me to him. I love that he's so good at saying what he thinks and being strong-willed. His strengths inspire me to be stronger.

  6. OMG. I can say no more in an effort to protect the innocent. ME. OMG.

    This is sooo timely. The wimp. The wimp. I know this person very well.

  7. Fascinateing breakdown, Cara.

    I recently judged a contest entry where the heroine was a wimp. No joke. She spent most the entry whining about all the people who'd done her wrong. Then when the hero (a classic nice person) comes along, she bursts into tears (damsel-in-distress) so he feels compelled to come to her aid (hero complex).

    If I'd been him, I'd have...well, if I were the heroine's best friend, I'd have whacked her upside the head and said, "Quit whining and grow up. It's past time you took personal responsiblity for your poor choices."

    Fortunately, I'm a sincerely nice and gracious judge who would never say such a thing to an entrant. In those exact words. ;-)

    But I did find a way to tell her that her heroine was a wimp.

    Sadly, I judged a contest entry last night in which the hero was a nice person. Nice to the point of being a wuss. Nothing irks me more than a man who is a wuss.

    Makes me want to whack him upside the head and said, "Quit letting everyone walk all over you. Grow a backbone. It's past time you took personal responsiblity for the world you live in and the people God gave you to protect/instruct/lead in paths of righteousness."

    Of course, I don't expect every hero to be an alpha male. But if your hero is going to be a nice guy, he'd better have some truly heroic skill that balances out his wimpishness.

    An excellent example of this is John Locke on LOST. Oh, and Hurley.

    Locke had strong faith and determination to do the right thing no matter what others thought of him. Of couse, now that he died--and possibly resurrected--it'll be interesting to see if he's less of a nice guy and more of a difficult one.

    Hurley has a strong sense of humor, which is good considering he talks to dead people.

    I've always believed that if I coudl talk to dead folks, I'd want to be able to laugh about it.

  8. I thought this was such an easy way to classify story characters. Two of my books on writing characters, Heroes and Heroines, and 45 Master Characters divide people into many more types than just 3. These are really helpful to me, but I think I'll start with Nice, Difficult and Wimp first and then sub-divide.

  9. I think I'm a nice person who's a wimp and I can on occasion be difficult.

    There, a complexity for you.

  10. Gina, is visiting us from the parallel contest entry universe, I see.

  11. Cara, Loved the post. Interesting division of characters and certainly grist for the writer to use. Hmmm. I'm not even going to go where I am. I'm probably close to Mary. smile.

    But in an attempt to be nice, I'm bringing a platter of Cinnabons. You know, the kind they have at the airport to torture you with that yummy yeast and cinnamon smell while you're waiting and bored. Hmmm now I'm being what???? whiney So where does that behavior go? ooops wimp. Skip that. Just grab one and enjoy it.

    Some coffee too, vanilla hazelnut. And green tea. Oh yes, some fresh squeezed orange juice. Its starting to heat up here so have to pick the rest of the fruit off the tree. Fresh juice coming up.

  12. IF I'm honest, I probably a bit of all of them, it depends on the day of course.

    Sometimes, most times, I am the the nice person, or try to be, but that little difficult devil hangs out ready to pounce.

    Then when I'm feeling sorrowful or put upon, the wimp comes for a call.

    I hear that Hefty Bag commercial in my head even now. Ya know Hefty, Hefty, Hefty
    Wimpy, Wimpy, Wimpy

  13. Oh and Gina,

    Glad you could join us from as Tina R puts it . . .
    Parallel Contest Entry Universe.

    Just wanted to let you know that I am deeply affronted.

    You're not supposed to knock my wimpy dude.


  14. Sandra, thanks for the mouth-watering calorie-free cyber food!

    Mary, you're always a nice person, but sometimes your characters aren't which makes them so much fun to read about.

    Nice people are wonderful in real life, but I'd rather read about difficult people and wimps in books.

    I bet we all know some wimps we could put in a story. Good therapy.

  15. Gee whillikers, Gina, you could have at least MASKED Tina P.'s wimpy hero a little better than that!!!!


    Where do snarks fall in this category?

    Definitely under difficult, with a splash of nice softened by wimpitis when confronted with in-laws.

    What a conundrum!

    And I think the best drawn characters reflect us, a blend of the categories.

    If Scarlet had been ONLY difficult, we'd have never given GWTW a second look.

    If Christy had been ONLY a people pleaser, she'd have ended up with the wrong man and Dr. Neil would have never re-married.

    If Peter Pan had ONLY been mischievous, Wendy and the boys wouldn't have gotten home.

    So it seems conscience develops the characters a further degree.

    And faith, in some stories, carries the H/H to a higher level of being, a more attractive human.

    Cara, I loved this. Succinct. Sharp. And when I worked with ED students, I took courses helping us to recognize character traits and hot-buttons, and avoid them. If you wanted to keep yourself in one piece, that is.

    This is a great examination of our character-building.

    And Sandra!!! I love Cinnabon. I actually developed a recipe to use for them because we don't have them here any longer. Soooooooo good. I love grabbing them along the highway. Whenever I head to Philly I grab Cinnabons along Rt. 476 to take to oldest daughter and her family. Wonderful!!!


  16. And does anyone on the planet really think Russo is a WIMP????

    For real?

    Just askin'.

  17. I so believe that Tina R has a case of wimpyitus.

    When the virus clears up she'll be back to her difficult self.


    Are they still calling them things Cinna bon's

    They should call them Cinna Booty or Cinna Axe handle are something. Their much to flavorful for my own good.

    And yet, when I get around them, thankfully not too much, I am compelled to stop and take a whiff.

    I will not admit a weakness to further indulgences.

    Although unfortunately, I'm wearing it.

  18. I don't think Tina's a wimp.

    I don't care what everyone else says, I like her.

    (you know a joke is a failure when you have to label it)

  19. Tina P, I will feel like such a dork if the contest entry with the wuss hero is actually yours.

    Look at it this way, though: I saved the mortifying news for a public forum. So no need to drown your woes in a private bowl of Ben & Jerry's. Plus, The Divine Miss Sandra brought Cinnabons. Mmmm.

    Hey, Russo, don't talk smack to my Parallel Contest #Entry Universe. In reward for all the contest entries I've been judging (nicely, of course) and have yet to judge, God blessed me with great judges in the Duel on the Delta contest. I got word this morn that my Victorian finaled.

    We're talking the Golden Rule working at its finest here.

    And I think the best drawn characters reflect us, a blend of the categories.

    If Scarlet had been ONLY difficult, we'd have never given GWTW a second look.

    If Christy had been ONLY a people pleaser, she'd have ended up with the wrong man and Dr. Neil would have never re-married.

    If Peter Pan had ONLY been mischievous, Wendy and the boys wouldn't have gotten home.

    So it seems conscience develops the characters a further degree.
    This is why I'm convinced Ruthy is more than just a pretty face and a fabulous cook, despite how many times she falsely accuses me of being a snark.

    Oh, look, my word verification is bless.

  20. Okay, some people are born difficult, and some are born wimps.


    a good portion of us go from nice, to diffult, to wimps the older we get.


  21. Cara,

    You make some good points in the post. And I think your later comment about nice people being good in real life but not in fiction is excellent! Just what I needed today.

    It seems like such a juggling act to make them interesting/quirky yet still heroic. Even whiners can be heroic, I think. Does anyone else remember (this dates me, I realize!) Doug and Wendy Whiner from the old, old Saturday Night Live shows?

    They had really nasal voices and she would say "But Doug doesn't want to fill-in-the-blank."

    Now they took whining to an art form. Of course, it's all in how it's done. There's the real rub!

    I'm thinking about the Runaway Bride. That should be a terrible trait in a heroine. Possibly a wimpy one, to run away from commitment, especially for a woman :) So, why did it seem to work? Any takers?

    Thanks for a great discussion, ladies! You are always immensely helpful as I wrestle with my WIP :)


  22. Well, with Runaway Bride, the producers made it easier on the viewers to like the heroine because she was played by Julia Roberts.

    Who doesn't like Julia Roberts?

    Using likeable or dislikeable actors make it easier for producers to get the audience to almost instantly like or dislike a character. Despite some good roles in decent movies, Tom Cruise is struggling to overcome his personal dislikability.

    Will Smith can play Hancock, and we tolerate the character because it's Will Smith. Put Tom Cruise in the role and no one would have gone to see the movie.

    Writers aren't blessed with that visual luxury. Yeah, we could say the hero has Will Smith-charm or a Julia Roberts-smile, but it's just not the same.

    The key is taking an unappealing trait and compenating for it by making the character compelling in other ways.

    Hannibal Lecter was a seriel killer who ate his victims.

    Yet, I can't watch the movie and hate him. He's compelling, fascinating. Like picking at a scab even though we feel the pain and know it will case a worse scar. Or popping bubble wrap. It's annoying, yet I can't stop until every bubble is popped.

  23. Oh, remember how Cheryl talked about using scenes to endear the character to the reader?

    If we're going to have a whiner heroine or a wuss hero, s/he needs to have some external skill and internal strength that endears her/him to the reader.

    Or like Ruthy said: give the character a conscience.

  24. Here is why I could never be a wimp:

    I call a b*tch a b*tch. You never have to wonder where you stand with me.

    I am way too nice, way too bossy and way too guilty (Italian).

  25. Don't dork out yet, Gina. My males are never wimps, ah, well maybe sometimes, mine are usually foul mouthed and mean and highly difficult.

    Did you read that one yet?

    Actually, I believe your buddy in the land of contest evaluation got my entry.

    So breathe easy and know that I will not take any drastic action on behalf of my poor wimpy male character.

    He was such a nice guy, too. Sweet, caring, overly emotional . . . But he had a curly black head of hair to die for, rippling biceps, a defined sixpac and the most perfect green eyes that touched his heroine's soul.

    Gotta love him


  26. He was such a nice guy, too. Sweet, caring, overly emotional . . . But he had a curly black head of hair to die for, rippling biceps, a defined sixpac and the most perfect green eyes that touched his heroine's soul.So why did ya make him a wimp? ;-)

    We need to talk, girlfriend. That's too nice of flesh to be wasted on a wuss. At least if he were gay, we could cut him some slack. Hmm. That might have been politically incorrect of me to say. Drat.

  27. Cara, I found your post fascinating. Great way to look at characters. I thought Wimps were like me, cowards. :-) Well, guess they are with sneaking around to get revenge.


  28. Made him the wimp, a hulk in hiding because my herione had to wear the pants. You know those bossy, difficult women.

    To touch her heart she needed to take care of him.

    And Gina, just be glad what you said isn't a hate crime, yet.

  29. Gina, congratulations in finaling in Duel on the Delta!!! I hope you win.

  30. Great post! I'm definitely a multi-personality kind of gal. On any given day, one will make its presence known...sometimes one right after the other! Feels like my head is spinning round and round! ;)