Ben Purkert on the Art of Writing Unlikable Characters
From the Write-minded Podcast, Hosted by Brooke Warner and Grant Faulkner
Write-minded: Weekly Inspiration for Writers is currently in its fourth year. We are a weekly podcast for writers craving a unique blend of inspiration and real talk about the ups and downs of the writing life. Hosted by Brooke Warner of She Writes and Grant Faulkner of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), each theme-focused episode of Write-minded features an interview with a writer, author, or publishing industry professional.
This week’s guest Ben Purkert, author of the newly released novel, The Men Can’t Be Saved, gives us some insight into the art of writing complex characters, including the downright unlikeable ones. Atrocious acts and bad behavior are at the center of storytelling, and when constructed well, supposedly unlikeable characters are often more gripping and memorable than likable ones. We’re titillated and drawn forth by a character’s conflict, bad behavior, and perhaps even downfall. A good author challenges their readers to be interested in their unlikeable characters—even through their flaws.
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Ben Purkert’s debut novel is The Men Can’t Be Saved. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, Poetry, Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, Tin House, and elsewhere. His poetry collection, For the Love of Endings, was named one of Adroit’s Best Poetry Books of the Year. He is the editor of Back Draft, a Guernica interview series focused on revision and the creative process. He also teaches creative writing at Rutgers.