Character: O is for Outcast

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the master of magical realism and author of the exquisitely complicated novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, has died at 87.  Rest in peace, sir.

Image: Wikipedia

O is for Outcast.

I could caution about writing a character like this.  A true outcast is one for a reason.  He isn’t going to suddenly become all warm and fuzzy because someone takes him in.  He may be an outcast because he’s an intolerable ass, a dangerous psychopath, or severely antisocial.

At times, Sherlock fits all three.  But we love him anyway.

At times, Sherlock fits all three. But we love him anyway.

Image:  Splash News /

An outcast probably has something wrong with him.  You could get into his head, but I would suggest not making him too sympathetic, because warm fuzzies don’t work with someone nobody wants to be around.

You could also explore how someone otherwise okay becomes an outcast.  Take Carol Peletier in The Walking Dead—she suffered huge changes and losses.  Over time, she became so concerned with survival that she SPOILER: 1) began giving the children in the prison knife lessons, and 2) murdered other survivors to keep illness from spreading, thus shocking Rick to the point where he banished her.  Interestingly, Rick then had to kill survivors to protect Daryl, Carl, and Michonne in Season 4, something he was trying desperately not to do.  END SPOILER

Things to think about when writing an outcast:

  • Does the reason he’s an outcast make sense?  Meaning, if he kills baby puppies, yes, but if he drinks the last of the milk, no.  Wait….let me rethink that last one.
  • Where will he live if he’s not with other people?
  • If he is, will they be polite to him, or will they throw things at him when he appears, either literally or figuratively?
  • How will he survive if the story is not set in modern times?
  • If a modern outcast, will he be one everywhere or just in a certain circle (everywhere could be interesting, especially if you involve Internet stuff like doxing)?

All this assumes your outcast is a bad guy.  What about anti-heroes?

An anti-hero is a different kind of outcast.  Though he lacks the qualities that make a typical hero (bravery, selflessness, nobility, etc.), we end up rooting for him anyway.  He could be someone like Hannibal Lecter, who is irredeemably damaged but who we love because he’s just so incredibly unique (and we can’t wait to see what he’ll do next).  His motives for doing the right thing despite himself can be incredibly complicated or devastatingly simple.  Either way, he’s not going to be the most popular kid in school.

Classic Hogwarts outcast.  Good or bad?  Discuss.  If you haven’t read HP, DO IT NOW, GRASSHOPPER.

Classic Hogwarts outcast.  Good or bad?  Discuss.  If you haven’t read the books, DO IT NOW, GRASSHOPPER.


If you’re going to write one of these characters, you’ll have to work hard to make him sympathetic (if he’s your protagonist) and not make him a caricature (if he’s your villain).  It’s harder than it looks to give someone noble motives and still ensure that readers don’t like him.

Have a favorite literary outcast?  Share in the comments.


2 thoughts on “Character: O is for Outcast

    • I’m not familiar with those, but now I’ll have to go find them. I still love reading kids’ books. :)

      As soon as this semester is over, I’m going to dig out my Paddington Bear books and re-read those (the ones I have). I heard there was a film coming out. I love Paddington. His foibles with Mr. Curry (now there’s an outcast!) are so hilarious!

      On Fri, Apr 18, 2014 at 6:32 AM, Graphomaniac – Elizabeth West wrote:


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