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Bully cliches

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I'm writing a futuristic, middle-grade fantasy, and I want my POV character to have some intimidating peer antagonists. However, I also want to avoid the cliched bully.

What steps should I take to make these kids believable? Or, are bullies something writers should avoid altogether at this point?
#1 - June 23, 2014, 08:24 AM

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Bullying is still quite relevant, so I don't think that the topic is something that writers should avoid. In order to avoid the cliches if you do decide to go with a bully (e.g. bully who secretly has low self-esteem. This is wrong anyway, according to the actual psych research which shows that bullies are more often narcissistic, which means that they have very high self-esteem that requires constant approval from others, making it breakable, but not low. Psych rant over). Anyway, to make them believable and real characters, take the time to develop them fully. What does the bully actually want? What is it about the protagonist that the bully doesn't like? I think one of the issues that makes these things cliche is that writers might include a bully just for the sake of being an obstacle to the protagonist. This makes the bully's motivation unclear, and makes their bad behavior toward the protagonist just seem arbitrary and for the sake of the story. People always have reasons for acting badly, even though they don't always make sense to others.

Also, what are the good things about your bully?

For the sake of the story though, figure out which makes the most sense - intimidating peers who know more than they do? Who are higher in status because of a hierarchical system? Just make sure to develop either choice well within the context of the system that exists in your story.

Hope this helps!
#2 - June 23, 2014, 09:30 AM
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Definitely what Tara said about fleshing out your bully and making their motivations clear. Also, I think there are character-type cliches to avoid, such as the big burly kid named Billy or Max. Your bully might be small, or a girl. Something more unexpected. 
#3 - June 23, 2014, 09:48 AM
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Everything Tara and MG said.


I can only add to what MG said about the bully being a girl.... My reference is a bit dated, but your question immediately reminded me of the movie, "Mean Girls."  Regina George is a rich, beautiful, sometimes subtle (sometimes not), controlling, demanding bully. Pretty, put-together females aren't often classified as such, but she truly is.
#4 - June 24, 2014, 12:45 PM

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My Zeke Meeks chapter books use silly humor.  I tried to use the exact opposite traits of a stereotypical bully. I think that worked well. The bully is a small girl named Grace Chang, who wears pink, lacy dresses. Grace's chief weapons are her threats (never realized) to rip people's faces off with her long fingernails. When I do school visits, Grace and the annoying Princess Sing-Along are the characters who kids seem to get most enthusiastic about. 
#5 - June 24, 2014, 03:25 PM
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Thank you for the advice, everyone. Think I'll make a list of all the bully cliches I know, and try to spin them in more interesting ways. I appreciate your thoughts.
#6 - July 03, 2014, 11:11 PM

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I'm also tired of the rich kid automatically being a bully or even unpleasant. Cheerleaders and jocks are also overdone as bullies.


I think a regular sort of kid with a different kind of bullying weapon - maybe like damaging information or access to something dangerous or just a sly cleverness that keep people in place - would be a lot more intriguing. Someone in the background who flies under the normal adult radar.
#7 - July 04, 2014, 11:26 AM

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