The Art of Writing Unlikeable Characters, featuring Ben Purkert

Jul 24, 2023

Ben Purkert

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.


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.

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