Character: N is for Negativity

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

N is for Negativity.

So many people tell you to think positive and positive things will come your way.  A bright-eyed view of the world helps some folks cope with adversity.  Not everyone believes this, and everyone knows a relentlessly positive person who, like Pollyanna, always believes the best of people and situations no matter what.

Rubbish.  People are awful and you know it. 

Rubbish.  People are awful and you know it.


A negative character (we’ll call him Mr. Neg) will affect everyone around him. Other characters will probably get tired of listening to him whine.  You’ll have to consider the reactions he elicits and whether it’s appropriate to your protagonist or POV (point-of-view) character.

In this article at, Lori Deschene writes, “When you think negative thoughts, it comes out in your body language.”  She’s right.  Mr. Neg, accustomed to resisting efforts to cheer him up or help in any way, may exhibit mannerisms that smack of No.  Examples:

  •  Crossing his arms (defensive or protective posture)
  • Holding anything in front of him (book, papers, etc.)
  • Narrowing his eyes, as though he is suspicious
  • Not making eye contact.  In certain situations, this may simply indicate discomfort or shyness (or that you’re minding your own business), but it can also be incredibly dismissive.
  • Rude behavior, like flicking a hand at someone or walking off.

Negativity is often accompanied by (and a symptom of) depression, so some of Mr. Neg’s actions may indicate this as well.  Signs include sleeping too much or insomnia, lack of interest in sex, eating too much or barely doing so, and withdrawing from activities he previously enjoyed.

It’s very difficult for someone like Mr. Neg to snap out of his pattern of bleah.  Believe me, I know from personal experience, though lately several things have combined to make it better.  While it’s possible to have a huge sea change like Scrooge, for some people, even the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future wouldn’t be enough.  A story about how a negative character affects everyone might be interesting, but if you’re looking for a happy ending, you might not find it with him.

Happy for me is when everybody leaves me alone.

Happy for me is when everybody leaves me alone.


You could use Mr. Neg to challenge your protagonist, rather than make him the focus of your narrative.  If your main character is more like Pollyanna than Scrooge, he could work as an adversary.  He could even drag her down to a dark place from which she has to fight her way back up.  The journey could be worth writing (and reading) about.






3 thoughts on “Character: N is for Negativity

  1. Elizabeth, your insightful words tempt me to call you “Liz,” but I know that’s an assumption you might not like. Your alphabetical method is useful as hell, even to a scarred rain-dog like me. Very much so. It’s the minor gestures, the thrown-away verbal tics, that bring fictional characters to breathing, shifty life—and you know that. You’re sharing such useful stuff here that, well, I can only appreciate and admire. I think many books for writers don’t really clarify the potency of simple, real-life gestures and ways of speaking, upon those seeking “secrets” of effective characterization. As someone who knows, I applaud what you’re doing. Keep it real and simple, like overhearing someone in Dollar General, or anywhere, for that. I see a lot newer writers struggling with dialogue, when all they need do is pay attention to what’s happening around them, every day. What a cool, useful, thing you’re doing here.

    • Thanks! :) I think it’s useful for writers to get out of their garrets and go people-watch for a while. For actors too, although once they become famous they can’t do it anymore.

      The alphabetical posts are part of the Blogging from A-Z Challenge. It’s a lot easier to post every day during this thing if you have a plan.

      On Thu, Apr 17, 2014 at 6:11 AM, Graphomaniac – Elizabeth West wrote:


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