There are a lot of different character types out there. One of the ones that’s currently popular is the Bitch. Especially for antagonists, and especially in YA. (Though other major characters and other genres can work with a Bitch as well.)
In this post, I’m going to look at why Bitches are so popular, and what exactly it takes for a character to be a Bitch–rather than a bitch. To start us off, here’s the #1 Rule for Being a Bitch: “If being a bitch doesn’t work, be a bigger bitch.” Sort of like how you build a better mouse trap. Basically, we’re talking about perseverance. Bitches are popular because they’re easy to hate. Changing character types mid-book can be a big turn-off for many readers, so a character that’s consistently bitchy, but consistently inconsistent otherwise makes for a great conflict. You never know what they’ll do next, except that it will be Bitchy.
For example, “Redemption” is a good theme, but it can be hard to pull it off, and sometimes when you just Love to Hate someone, “redeeming” them can ruin that great character-reader dynamic. Characters interact with the rest of the story, but a good writer can make it seem like they interact with the reader, too. And that means there’re are going to be character-reader dynamics just like there are character-character dynamics. Both are equally important to the story, so you have to consider how a story change is going to affect them. It’s something to keep in mind.
Also keep in kind that good Bitch is clever, manipulative, and just downright self-absorbed. They know what they want, and they know how to get it. They’ll lie, cheat, steal, and be your best friend if it means getting what they want. Whether it’s your boyfriend, your money, the pirates’ treasure, whatever. And they always have a back-up plan which is even more clever, manipulative, and self-absorbed than the original. That’s what makes them so enjoyable. A dumb bitch gets no respect, and a clumsy bitch just gets pure derision. If your reader is just laughing at the antagonist, you’re not going to get enough story tension, and the reader will be left wondering how pathetic your protags are that they can’t even get around this loser of an antag.
The absolute key to a great Bitch is that your protag doesn’t realize they’re a bitch until the climax. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the Queen Bee of the local high school, or the seductive sorceress down the lane. If your Bitch is too obvious, the character won’t be fooled, and there won’t be the bittersweet tension between what the reader knows and what the protag knows. And that’s where the power of a Bitch plot comes from: the subtle undermining of the protag, the strange coincidences the cause them to miss the goal, the emotional damage they suffer for believing in the Bitch. Whether they’re a powerful swordswoman, a lovelorn but confused teenager, or a coroner in need of some lovin’, a good Bitch can be just the thing to turn a boring story into a rippin’ good yarn.
In the next post, we’ll look more closely at the different types of Bitches and how they operate. Every genre is going to have its own take on the Bitch, and every setting is going to have its own version of that take. Plenty of fertile ground in which to plant a story.
ETA: I’ve noticed lately that this post is getting a lot of traffic from tumblr, mostly what seem to be YA writing blogs. Even though this is primarily a speculative fiction blog, and not YA or contemp, I’m glad people are finding something to enjoy. So much so that this is one of my top five most popular posts.