Friday, April 1, 2022

Writing an Un-Put-Downable Character Part 3: Contradictions

by A.C. Williams @ACW_Author

Generally speaking, I don’t like television commercials. They interrupt me. They’re usually vulgar, profane, or idiotic. But then, there are Geico commercials. I like the gecko okay, but the cavemen are hysterical.

Want to know why? 

Last month in our series about creating un-put-downable characters, we talked about Conflict. Now we’re going to talk CONTRADICTIONS.

One of the biggest keys to creating an engaging character is including contradictions in who they are, where they came from, and why they behave the way they do.

Take the Geico Cavemen for example. They’re cavemen, but they live and work and dress like modern-day business people. It’s a contradiction. A silly one, but judging by how long that campaign ran, it was an effective one.

Other examples from fiction include characters like Jean Valjean from Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Valjean is an honest thief. Normally, when you design and create a thief character, they’re villainous or at least untruthful. Not Jean Valjean. He steals and tells the truth about it.

What about the Monster in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley? This poor creature was hideous, built from the pieces of dead bodies and reanimated with lightning. Horrific. And sweet tempered. And kind. A nice monster? Really? 

Of course, who can forget the Beverly Hillbillies. That’s another great example. I didn’t grow up with the television show, but I did love the movie. These old-fashioned country folk strike it rich and move to Beverly Hills, and even though they have all the money in the world, they keep living like they’re in the backwoods. It’s funny stuff.

But that’s just a gimmick, right? A ploy to get people interested. It’s not something that’s true in real life. 

Or is it?

What about the late actor Robin Williams? Mostly, he is known as a really funny comedian. But apparently if you got to know him, you found out that he was really deep, and that he lived a really sad life. He had two sides to his personality. He was a walking contradiction.

Let me tell you about a good friend of mine. He works construction, mostly as a carpenter. This guy can build shelves and hang sheet rock and do all sorts of stuff like that. He also hunts and fishes and does rustic camping. All manner of uber-masculine things. Know what he also does? Ballet. Not even joking. This guy is one of the manliest men I know, and he also wears a leotard and does pirouettes. 

Real people are full of contradictions. If you want to take it from a biblical perspective, even Paul recognized that he was two people (Romans 7:15-20). Every person has a contradictory nature. By including or highlighting the contradictions in your characters, you bring them depth and make them more interesting. 

So how do you do it?

Let’s say you’ve got a character who works as a butcher. Maybe it’s the family business. Maybe it was a life-long dream. Who knows? This character knows everything about meat. He knows how to cut it, how to store it, how to preserve it. Everything. What would be a fantastic contradiction to add depth, humor, and a bit more interest? 

Make him a vegan.

You heard me. A vegan butcher. Why not? If it’s the family business, it’s what he knows how to do. If it was a lifelong dream, maybe he had to become a vegan because of a health condition. Either way, it makes him fascinating!

What if you’re writing a book with Amish characters? I think that’s probably still popular. How can you add contradictions to an Amish character? Make them a car mechanic. Or, here’s an example from my life, make them a nurse. 

Our nearest neighbors for years were Amish, and the father of the family was a conscientious objector in Vietnam. So he went to war as a medic and saw how technology could be used to save lives. And when he came back, he kept working in medicine. With their particular variation of Amish culture, it was allowed because the machines he worked with didn’t belong to him.

Regardless, he was an Amish man who worked as a nurse in a modern hospital. That’s interesting!

What if you’re writing speculative fiction? How can you use this in a fantasy novel? 

Hey, create a dragon rider who’s afraid of heights. A contradiction like that indicates that your character has a depth to him that isn’t obvious. Why on earth would someone who is afraid of heights choose to keep putting themselves in a situation where they are constantly hundreds of feet above ground? I’d read that. Wouldn’t you?

Put some thought into it. It’s likely that your favorite characters are loaded with contradictions. You might even have some contradictions lurking in your own personality. 

Giving a character something contradictory about their nature will make them feel well-rounded and realistic. Plus, it’ll make them much more interesting—not just to read about but to write about.

Trust me. Nobody has the time to write (or read) about a boring character.

In case you were wondering, here’s our road map for the ten steps toward character development: 



Don't Miss the Other Posts in This Series

Award-winning author, A.C. Williams is a coffee-drinking, sushi-eating, story-telling nerd who loves cats, country living, and all things Japanese. She’d rather be barefoot, and if she isn’t, her socks won’t match. She has authored eight novels, two novellas, three devotional books, and more flash fiction than you can shake a stick at. A senior partner at the award-winning Uncommon Universes Press, she is passionate about stories and the authors who write them. Learn more about her book coaching and follow her adventures online at


  1. This is great advice.
    It reminds me of something I learned at a Writer's conference: create a character who contradicts the plot.
    Think of the worst person something can happen.
    Contradictions and conflicts make for engrossing reading.
    Great post, AC.

  2. Great information. You just gave me an idea for one of my characters. Thanks!