Have You Annoyed Anyone Lately?

Lesson 4 Annoying Somebody

Guest Blogger: Marty Coleman, The Napkin Dad

Have you ever read a book where you liked everyone and everything they did? Did you like everything about how they behaved, all their quirks and eccentricities, all their choices and concerns? If that was the case I think you read a pretty boring book.

The essence of a story is conflict. Maybe it’s not through a ‘good vs. evil’, black and white dilemma, but in a story you are introducing characters who have to go through something. They can be very nice people, but if you don’t show some aspect of their character and their methods contributing to the problem as well as the solution, then they really aren’t all that engaging.

You can’t root for someone who has nothing to overcome. What they have to overcome isn’t always something on the outside. It’s often overcoming their own shortcomings. It makes you annoyed seeing those things inside them holding them back while at the same time you are rooting for them to overcome.

Sort of like real life, isn’t it.

Have you annoyed anyone with your writing lately?

Cartoon courtesy of “The Napkin Dad”

Marty Coleman, Photographer and Artist

Visit Napkin Dad Website

See Marty Coleman’s photography

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Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  5. Marty, The Napkin Dad on September 1, 2011 at 10:09 AM

    It probably will annoy someone for me to say this but if you like these writing lessons, and especially if you are a teacher of writing, you can get the 4 I have drawn so far as small 12×12 posters for a classroom or office if you would like.

    They are HALF OFF until Sept 7th so it’s a good deal.
    Just use the discount code – DECKYOURWALL at my product site listed under the drawing.

  6. Anna on September 1, 2011 at 1:10 AM

    I did. A friend of mine read one of my stories last year. I warned her that the ending had a twist. She was soooo annoyed by it. Loved it but hated it haha

  7. bridgetstraub.com on September 1, 2011 at 12:46 AM

    Oh, you mean in writing! I was drawn to this post because I know I annoyed someone today. I’ve since apologized but since we were disagreeing over something I’d written I thought it was funny to see that header.

  8. TNeal on August 31, 2011 at 11:37 PM

    I listened to the audio version of “A Dog’s Purpose” recently and annoyed wouldn’t describe my initial reaction. Angered! I tuned out for a week because I was so mad. I picked it back up, finished the story, and am now bugging my wife to read and/or listen to it. Cameron annoyed me then he won me over as a fan. I use the experience to open my latest post.

  9. Beth MacKinney on August 31, 2011 at 7:04 PM

    Well, one of my writer’s group gals just about had a conniption when I killed off a favorite character.

  10. Katie Flanagan on August 31, 2011 at 6:40 PM

    What a great reminder. In high school, I attended a writing camp where we lived in the same dorm as the people in our classes. The night before one of my stories was to be workshopped, I heard a boy in my class on the stairwell saying how much he hated one of my characters for a decision he made. This classmate was UPSET. And I thought it was because I had written a horrible story. Turns out the next day in workshop, the kid loved my story: in fact, it was powerful enough for him to be complaining to his friends about my character on the way to dinner. Boy did that make me feel good.

  11. Kathrine Roid on August 31, 2011 at 6:34 PM

    I’d never thought about it before, but an annoying MC has always made the book more “real” to me. Probably because a lot of people annoy me in real life.

    But enough about characters annoying readers. Some of my most fun character annoy the author. 😛 I try hard to stay true to a character and not let my preferences interfere with their reactions.

  12. Wendy on August 31, 2011 at 4:07 PM

    I love this point and couldn’t agree more. I’ve described my characters as “scratchy as Brillo pads” before. Human, so human.

    We all need room to grow. And it is oh so freeing to know not everyone will like us and what we write.

    Rachelle, you look so happy in that new sidebar picture!
    ~ Wendy

  13. TC Avey on August 31, 2011 at 3:47 PM

    I’m sure I have, especially on my blog. Though most comments I hear are via email and not posted for others to read.

  14. Linda on August 31, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    I’m writing a memoir. I’m being very honest even when it puts me in a bad light. One of my editing group friends didn’t want me to be honest in a certain scene. I said, I have to tell the truth. Real life can messy and controversial. I feel good about staying honest.

  15. Kristin Laughtin on August 31, 2011 at 2:28 PM

    Good point! We need to create some conflict with our readers, not just between characters. That’s not to say we need a full-blown controversy with every book, but relationships that go too swimmingly are boring and unmemorable, and that’s true even if the relationship is between the page and the reader. Plus, it’ll make people think, which I generally view as a good thing.

  16. Mel @ Trailing After God on August 31, 2011 at 2:28 PM

    Great post! So very true! I hate reading a book where the hero is perfect. Can’t relate to perfection. Of course sometimes this can be taken to such extremes that I won’t finish a book because there is too much annoyance.

    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

  17. Lisa Jordan on August 31, 2011 at 1:56 PM

    I annoyed a critique partner recently with the way I handled my character’s mother’s resolution at the end of the story. We agreed to disagree. I’ll let my editor have final say on how that situation plays out.

  18. Theresa Froehlich on August 31, 2011 at 1:53 PM

    An honest and true-to-life post!

    The purpose of writing is to influence people. Invariably some readers will agree with me and some will not. The goal is to get readers to think, ask questions, and hopefully act.

  19. McKenzie McCann on August 31, 2011 at 12:52 PM

    I think a character can be complete on their own if they have to overcome a conflict. It makes me think of Elphaba from Wicked. She’s a good person who is simply, and unfortunately, green. She doesn’t annoy me, but I still think she’s a great character in a great play. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t vouch for it.

  20. Clarice James on August 31, 2011 at 12:52 PM

    Hmm. I wonder why it’s easier for me to be annoying in person yet not in print? Maybe it’s my way of eliminating annoying people from my life. Oh, wait, on second thought there is an annoying person in my novels–the protagonist. And she’s usually a lot like me. Uh, oh.

  21. Emily Wenstrom on August 31, 2011 at 12:19 PM

    What a refreshing perspective. And it’s true, now that I think of it—a lot of the most compelling protagonists, in my favorite books even, drive me nuts at certain points in the story. I’ve been worried lately about my main character’s internal struggles and how he handles certain things getting on a reader’s nevers … worry gone!

  22. Caleb Bartholomew on August 31, 2011 at 11:41 AM

    I have gotten annoyed when people dislike the quirks or get annoyed with my character’s behavior. This helps me know I’m doing the right thing

  23. kbr on August 31, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    I entered several contests with a story that either finaled or won with requests for either fulls or partials, but then I received a terrible score from a published judge who told me (in several rude ways) that my story was offensive and that the only reason she finished reading it was because she was required to as a judge. And then she actually signed her name with a big flourish! Wow.

  24. Sharon Bially on August 31, 2011 at 11:07 AM

    Well said! I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I read too many of those boring books where nobody annoys me, which…annoys me to death! Meanwhile, I get so many passionately mixed reactions to the characters in my own novel, Veronica’s Nap, each of whom are equally hated and loved by any given number of readers. But I like that! As a result, people are talking about them, arguing about them, contacting me about them. It makes the whole experience so much richer for all.

  25. Flora M Brown, Ph.D. on August 31, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    Love this article and the cartoon.

    Annoying is definitely more interesting and its what keeps readers moving forward.
    It also sends them looking for that sequel.

  26. Kristina on August 31, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    I have not written a book yet, but have participated in NaNoWriMo last November. I have started writing again, and considering I am a mother of 6 kids, I know I can be annoying. They remind me every day (ha ha ha!).

  27. Jessica on August 31, 2011 at 10:34 AM

    Hahaha! I love this. I’m afraid when my book comes out because whenever I used to have crits or subbed the book, half the readers adored my heroine and called her cute. The other half hated her and said she was annoying. Whoops! lol

  28. Debi Walter - The Romantic Vineyard on August 31, 2011 at 9:55 AM

    I’m afraid I have, and I don’t like it. I guess it’s part of learning to write well. Thanks for making me think more about it, but from a different perspective.

  29. Marty, The Napkin Dad on August 31, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    Thanks everyone, I love the comments. Just as with our own personality and characteristics, I think (considering there are 7 billion people on the planet) it should be assumed that OF COURSE you are going to annoy someone with your writing, whether it be a character, a plot or a style.

    Life becomes much easier once you accept that not everyone is going to like you or what you write.

  30. Sarah Thomas on August 31, 2011 at 9:39 AM

    I wrote a character that I meant to like, but he turned out to be pretty annoying. And there’s a difference between a character who annoys and one you love to hate. Those hateful characters can actually be a lot of fun. It’s the annoying ones who get under our skin and make us keep reading to see if they get any better or if we’re right not to like them very much.

  31. Joanna Aislinn on August 31, 2011 at 9:30 AM

    Second post I’ve read on this is an as many days. Conflict takes on many forms; talk to anyone trying to survive a day in his/her life and note the conflict each has to overcome daily. The danger can be always showing characters fighting or arguing as conflict. I like when characters come together and address stress in ways respectful–wish more people did that in real life. Growth happens just as easily via creativity and kindness as it does via high action, high drama or high-pitched dialogue.

    And “That’s all I have to say ’bout that.” (Forrest Gump). Thanks for suffering thru MHO. Good post!


    • Joanna Aislinn on August 31, 2011 at 9:32 AM

      And the creativity and kindness approach doesn’t necessarily make for bad reading, especially if characters are likable enough. (Now I think I’m really done. 🙂

  32. Cathy West on August 31, 2011 at 9:29 AM

    I have actually, do I get a prize? One of the fun things about being a new author is getting feedback on my book. Especially since at one time it didn’t seem likely that it would never see the light of day! Most people are annoyed at the same scenes, but then it all turns out okay and they don’t want to kill me anymore. But recently I ‘annoyed’ someone with certain aspects of the story that they did not feel were appropriate for a Christian novel. We had quite an interesting conversation, but it was a good lesson for me. Very eye-opening to say the least. 🙂

  33. Nikole Hahn on August 31, 2011 at 9:22 AM

    This brought to mind what I read in Donald Maas’ book, “The Fire in Fiction.” Micro-tension, contrast…I read Veiled Rose by Elisabeth Anne Stengl and the characters were all going through massive change. I didn’t like how the prince failed to return for five years, but eventually he did.

  34. Peter DeHaan on August 31, 2011 at 8:35 AM

    It seems that there are good ways to annoy and bad ways to annoy.

    May we all be a “good” annoyance.

  35. Neil Ansell on August 31, 2011 at 8:20 AM

    Try writing memoir – now that’s a really good way to annoy people.
    If you put people in, they get annoyed; if you leave them out, they get annoyed. You really can’t win.
    It is fascinating though, how two people can share an experience and remember it so utterly differently.

  36. otin on August 31, 2011 at 7:56 AM

    I think I tend to shock more than annoy.

  37. carol brill on August 31, 2011 at 7:42 AM

    Thanks Rachelle, this gives another lens to view critique. One annoyed reader felt my herione was too passive…asking why she didn’t stand up for herself more. The answer, that is who the character is and learning to know/meet her own needs is part of her conflict. It’s like real life, we try to make our characters likable in spite of their flaws

  38. Diane Bailey on August 31, 2011 at 7:22 AM

    This has gotten me laughing! Just last night my brother was helping me do some research for a book idea I have when he stopped and said,”you know this is going to shake up some people in some churches.”

    I laughed and replied, “I hope so!”

  39. Sharon Wachsler on August 31, 2011 at 4:40 AM

    I love this. It both negates and reinforces the rule that your protag must be likeable. Perfect people ARE annoying! I think it’s a fun challenge to write an unlikable character the reader still wants to follow. One of my favorite stories was one in which the narrator was unreliable and unlikable. But I think not only did the revelation of how screwed up her POV was make the story more fun, but it was necessary for the ending, where someone she wronged gets her revenge.

    One trend I’ve noticed in a lot of romance novels is for the MC to have “flaws” that are really positive traits couched as flaws. I find that annoying (not in a good way). It’s sort of like when you interview for a job and are asked what your strengths and weaknesses are, and you say that your weakness is working too hard and neglecting the rest of your life because you’re so dedicated to the job. Give the reader some credit for seeing through this snow job.

  40. Kathy on August 31, 2011 at 4:03 AM

    My oldest daughter called me after reading my novel. She was outraged that one of the villains was still alive at the end. “How could you let that snake live?”

    I wore a silly grin for days afterward . . . .

    • Michael Seese on August 31, 2011 at 8:02 AM

      And did you say, “Two words, my darling: the sequel.”

      • Kathy on September 1, 2011 at 1:44 AM

        You betcha . . . .

  41. Michael Collins on August 31, 2011 at 3:36 AM

    I shocked a few of my beta readers because my main character behaved like a young callow male, and was perceived as taking advantage of a vulnerable woman. But they do that sometimes, don’t they?

  42. Taz on August 31, 2011 at 3:01 AM

    I LOVE this post!! It’s such a cool reminder of how to write best. In my last fiction offering the two characters were against each other for the larger part of the book, until they had to join forces and the conflict came from a different angle that wasn’t disappointing at all.

    The hardest thing for me when I’m writing is not letting my characters have their way. By nature I like everything to be rosy. Conflict is like air. If they don’t breathe it, they’re dead even before arrival.

    The last book I read that annoyed me wasn’t because the characters had or lacked conflict.

  43. Sherri on August 31, 2011 at 2:51 AM

    Sounds like social work! 🙂

    I got several comments back from my critique group on a WIP with a domestic violence theme. They couldn’t stand the male MC right from the first chapter. He didn’t get much better in the second. That’s good. I don’t like him very much myself. 🙂

  44. Donna Pyle on August 31, 2011 at 2:24 AM

    A great question and fresh way of looking at conflict. Thanks!! Now, I’m off to be annoying… 🙂

  45. Beth K. Vogt on August 31, 2011 at 2:24 AM

    Yes, I’ve annoyed someone recently. My editor. (Yikes!) She was frustrated with my heroine. Did I pacify her? Well,yes and no. I had to rewrite some so my character didn’t seem passive-aggressive. But in some instances, I merely clarified why my character acted the way she did so her choices made better sense to my editor–and to my future readers. (I hope.)

  46. Ishta Mercurio on August 31, 2011 at 2:05 AM

    Great point! I hate it when the moment i get annoyed with a character is at the end of a book, though. Those books don’t go down so well with me.

  47. Nancy Kimball on August 31, 2011 at 1:56 AM

    As a matter of fact, I have. Initially I became concerned when critiques for middle chapters came back with closing comments like “Why does he do everything the hard way?” or “He is supposed to be the hero, right?” and “I hate her.”
    Thank you Marty.
    I feel better about this now.