I’m here with a little something related to my favourite bit about writing a story: character development. And this post is all about jerk characters who start off with the baddest vibes but glow at the end with goodness; these characters often impress me because they are super hard to nail but if done well, they’re always amusing — and pretty charming. So, hopefully, this five step process would help writers get a slight idea of what to aim for when outlining such jerks’ arcs. This post majorly highlights protagonists though it can be twisted and used for a secondary character too.
Step 1: Let charisma blind the readers.
Jerks are jerks in the first place because they don’t sound, talk, or socialise in a manner that others often follow. They won’t weep in front of you; in fact, they would zip up their lips or change the topic when anything related to their personal problems is gaining a potential spotlight in the conversation. In such cases, you can often use their charismatic appearances to make your readers take their side, even if for a short time. I mean, sharp jawlines do have this charm to them…
However, it isn’t possible for every jerk character to have physical features that one can die for (and that shouldn’t be the case, either) so let’s switch to an alternative step one. In this case, let your jerk use their charisma in the form of wit or the evergreen sarcasm and win readers’ attention. Nope, we’re not wining readers’ hearts yet, be patient. After all, your character is a jerk.
Step 2: Let them stand opposite to vile antagonists
This is slightly similar to what the world keeps doing with politicians. You vote for the one that’s less bad. Same here. Your jerk can climb up the first step in this ladder by being comparatively less obnoxious than the official bad guy. One way to do this is to let your jerk protagonist question the antagonist’s motives, thereby making your readers rightly decide who they’ll be rooting for — the one who might take the right decision at some point.
Step 3: Let them be vulnerable
Now comes the part where your jerk is being peeled off layer by layer — sorry for the graphic description — and will show their true self to the readers, or at least hints of it. You don’t want to give away everything at once, right? A few tried and tested methods with a good success rate are: crying when drunk, freaking out in darkness, or writing poems. For anybody who questions: yes, writing poems or practising any form of art makes you vulnerable in a good way. This is the first step to show a normal, yet imperfect, side of this person and thus make them more relatable.
Step 4: Let them have a compelling backstory
Everything happens for a reason, even if it’s fiction. While the no-reason bad attitude is a great motivation to despise a villain, we’re not aiming for that here. We want this jerk to get all the support of their readers while the climax is right around the corner. So how about giving them a backstory that would resonate well with their personality? This step follows the idea of garnering the reader’s sympathy and giving them a good enough explanation for whatever inconsiderate comments your jerk must’ve made. Anything from the parents’ death to a lost love, plot a flashback that would peel off the last layer of this jerk and allow them to show their true self — the one that deserves to be a protagonist of your story.
Step 5: Let them grow
The last step is so much like cutting out all the leaves of a tree in winter so it grows back greener in the spring. They haven’t actually grown, they’ve simply started anew through this journey. For the conclusion, craft their actions in a way that’s almost opposite to what they would’ve done if we were still at the beginning of this post. The story was winter where the leaves kept falling one by one and your jerk is now stepping into spring with a newer version of themselves — they changed for good! Make it evident enough for the readers to applaud this jerk of a hero.