How To Write About Bullies

How To Write About Bullies


In this post, we define bullies, look at their character traits, include examples of fictional bullies, and tell you how to write about bullies.

Everyone knows at least one bully in their lives – and even though these character traits could be difficult to admit, some people are one themselves.

When behaviour, comments, or personality traits trigger negative emotions or feelings for someone, the term ‘bullying’ can apply to it. 

Are you dealing with a bully, or would you like to write one? 

Here’s what you should know about the bully’s character, identifying specific personality traits, and creating one as a fiction writer.

About Bullies & Bullying

Definition

According to Oxford English Dictionaries, bullying and cyberbullying is any behaviour which can ‘seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable).’

There are also different types of bullies. According to HealthyPlace.com, bullies can be:

  1. Narcissistic: Lacks empathy, is sadistic, and needs to feel in control.
  2. Imitative: May be depressed or have low self-esteem. They are influenced by others.
  3. Impulsive: Behaviour is random and spontaneous.
  4. Accidental: If you explain their behaviour is wrong, this bully will stop,
  5. Bystander: Identifies with bully and may enjoy joining in.

This depends on the context of their bullying, and the origins of their behaviour.

Bullying can occur physically, emotionally, or electronically. It is always harmful, and associated with consequences like increased rates of self-harm, depression, and suicide. 

Harassment and intimidation might have additional legal implications. Protection or restraining orders could be necessary, and are usually applied for through court assistance. 

A Bully’s Character Traits

Bullies exhibit aggressive, suppressive, abusive, or deliberately offensive behaviour. For writers, teachers, and guardians, it’s important to understand the potential causes. If someone bullies, it could point to:

  1. Signs of physical, sexual, or mental abuse.
  2. Signs of substance abuse.
  3. Signs of acting out frustration, depression, or anger.
  4. Signs of dealing with trauma or stress.
  5. Signs of underlying mental disorders.

While it cannot be called justified or right, bullying is often used as a coping mechanism to mask or act out other emotions or traumatic experiences. 

A Bully’s True Danger

The consequences of bullying are serious, and can lead to increased anxiety, depression, self-harm, or suicide. Trauma and fear are common emotions which victims feel.

Bullies can also be abusers or criminals. A bully’s behaviour might  be dangerous, threatening, and harassing.

If you are being bullied or exhibit concerning traits, seek counselling or legal assistance before it’s too late.

Anti-Bullying Resources

Need to know more about bullies, bullying behaviour, or cyberbullying? See below for international anti-bullying information, helplines, and other resources:

  1. UNESCO: Resources For School Violence & Bullying
  2. Stomp Out Bullying: Cyberbullying Resources
  3. IBPA World: Educational Resources
  4. Bullying Resources

Examples Of Fictional Bullies

The fictional bully is widespread, and often written as a story’s antagonist, villain, or anti-hero. While rare, the archetypal bully can also be the story’s hero.

Popular examples of fictional bullies include:

  1. Lex Luthor (Batman-series)
  2. James Moriarty (The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes)
  3. Alex (A Clockwork Orange)
  4. Prince Humperdinck (The Princess Diaries)
  5. Lucius Malfoy (Harry Potter-series)

Thousands more examples exist in classic and modern fiction.

How To Write About Bullies

9 Tips For Writing About Bullies

A bully is not pleasant to deal with, but is often fun to write. Here are nine practical tips for creating and developing your character.

1. Consider Cause & Circumstance

Few bullies are born, and most are created by circumstances or experiences. Stress or anxiety can also push someone towards bullying behaviour.

Why is your character a bully, and which experiences made them this way? To create your character, this is important information.

2. Recall & Research Experiences With Bullies

If you have encountered bullying or cyberbullying in any form, recall and write down your experiences. Research other bullying encounters on websites like Reddit.

Pay attention to the emotions, like anger and fear, which the victims of a bully can experience. It’s important to understand the emotional and physical consequences of bullying to create a fictional one.

3. Create A Cloud Of Character Traits

Have you ever seen a tag cloud? Create one for your fictional bully, but include specific character traits that you would like them to have. Physical and emotional traits count.

Ask who you want your character to be. List these things, and your character will be fuller (and easier to map out from there) as a result.

4. Timeline Their Untold Story

A character’s untold life story is one of the most powerful elements of their creation. What has your character lived through that the reader doesn’t get to see, but that impacts who they are? 

Write a basic timeline for your main characters. Divide it into Childhood, Adolescence, and Adulthood experiences. Add ages and years, and keep the timeline of your larger story intact.

5. Write Shorts

Once you create your fictional bully, create individual 150 to 250 word scenes unrelated to your main story. Place them in weird situations, and let their personality traits (or true nature) show in different ways. 

A writer has to get to know their character, and how they react. Experiment.

  1. How would they answer a telemarketer’s phone call?
  2. How would they act when returning a toaster? 

Do you know? As a writer, you should always know – even if it is not in your main story.

6. Conflict Is Key For The Bully’s Character

Bullies often share common behavioural traits. Conflict is essential for a bully, or a story’s villain and antagonist.

  1. Which conflict do they create to the other characters?
  2. What tension do they cause?

Include notes about this and how it impacts your story’s larger plot arc. 

If a bully character doesn’t create some kind of conflict or tension, they don’t belong (or fit the character type).

7. Choose Your Bully’s Environment & Type

Always remember that there are many different types of bullies.

A bully can be within any environment. Elements like age and background can vary, and bullies are just as common in offices of the world as in schoolyards. 

  1. Where does your bully live and work? 
  2. What type of bully are they?
  3. How does their behaviour show?

These questions all help writers to create their characters. Ask them.

8. Include Body Language

Signs of aggression, contempt, and anger include:

  1. Shaking fist
  2. Stabbing motions with fingers
  3. Slamming fist on table
  4. Flushed face
  5. Jutting chin
  6. Clenched jaw
  7. Lowering eyebrows
  8. Baring teeth
  9. Sneering
  10. Crossing arms
  11. Hitting
  12. Kicking
  13. Throwing missiles
  14. Grabbing other people’s possessions

Use our body language cheat sheets to help you.

9. Craft Your Bully’s Vital Scenes First

Writers often have one or two excellent, clear scenes or fragments in their head before they get their minds around the entire plot. As a secret to better, faster fiction writing, craft your bully’s most vital scenes first.

Where do they really shake up your characters or plot? Write this first, and build your plot around your essential scenes.

Let’s Craft A Scene

Let’s start writing a scene using these tips:

The character (Jonas) needs motivation (frustration, anger, depression). He has background not necessarily needed for the scene (habitual drinker, job-to-job, living in a one-bedroom flat, travels far). His trait cloud says COAT, NIGHTTIME, FRUSTRATION, because those are the first three that I thought of.

What’s his scene? What’s his conflict – and actions, or thoughts and emotions? 

Jonas was tired of everything. He was tired of late-night taxis and lit-up taverns. He was tired of counting coins after coming home from the workshop. He was tired of his irritating, two-toned-shirted boss. Jonas sat down and threw a beer bottle at the crying dog in the corner of the dark flat. It, too, was tired.

Exercise: Use the techniques, and craft your own scene.

The Last Word

I hope this post on how to write about bullies helps you to understand these characters and to create them.

 By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at alexcoyneofficial.com.

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