Bullies: how do you do them well?

So, I have a couple books whoere I am adding in high school bullies, but for one thing, I have never been to public school I have very few ideas on keeping them as good characters without being cliche and corny.

So, what are some things to watch out for when you are writing bullies?

I’m being honest when I ask this question: do you want what you should or want to do when you’re being bullied, or what the school tells you to do?

There’s a big difference :grimacing:


Mostly you should just really make them unlikable (duh!)but be sure you have a back story for them. Sure, in a few cases people are just the way you are… But in most cases, bullies are trying to conceal their own insecurities by bullying. Bullying, however, is kind of a cliche on itself. The way a bully bullies depends on who he/she is bullying and his/or her own back story.


Ah, it seems my question was misinterpreted. I’m asking how to write a well-rounded bully, not what you should do when you are bullied. Sorry for the confusion.

My high school was really huge so I can’t remember if there were designated bullies. I know there were fights and people who were mean to other people but there wasn’t like a generic popular crowd who beat down on the nerds. If anything all the “popular” kids I remember where the ones in all the AP classes who also did lacrosse or field hockey and were generally nice to everyone and most of the fights happened between people I’d never heard of for reasons that weren’t in line with generic bullies (y’ know the stuff on TV where you get a wedgie for being a dweeb and liking star wars or something)

Now I do know personally I had the tendency to be snappy with people who I thought were better than me at certain things and while I never bullied anyone I did dislike some of the smart kids because I had trouble in school and I guess that’s generally what people say when they see kids bullying the whole “you have something they don’t” or “they’re acting out of an insecurity.” so it’s probably more realistic if said bully has some reason why they dislike this character and why they’re acting this way rather than the kind of stuff I see in low budget films where a character bullied another for liking a popular movie franchase that I’ve never seen someone get bullied for since like the 80s.

1 Like

I’d suggest not distinguishing them as bullies, but just making them either micro-antagonists or unlikeable side characters.
It may make them easier for you to write.

Ramp up the personal antagonisms. Especially as it’s a school (?). Yes we can be told they stole some lunch money or beat people up but comparing that to writing a scene with someone who kicks a dog or mocks something we’ve just seen the protag struggle to earn makes it far more relatable and personable to the reader.

1 Like

I remember accidentally getting in a fight with a bully/violent guy. I was a bit hot headed kid. I said something to him he grabbed me by the collar, violently jerked me and threw me on the ground. Was laughed at.

In my horrible attempt at self defense I tried fighting back but it was futile.

1 Like

This sounds like a stereotype to me.

This is exactly what I am trying to stay away from. Because bullies aren’t actually like this.

A reasonable motive. The problem falls when dislike blossoms onto hateful or inconsiderate actions.

This is definitely a good example, thank you.

So, just kinda going against character development, I guess?

1 Like

That is likely what would fit best.

They’re there as an obstacle to the protagonist yes?

What better way than to have them either take or obstruct a desired part of the protag character?

Perhaps subvert it slightly.
If the MC is a ‘nerd’ have one bully be a nerd to. Both shooting for a spot on a team or top prize in a science fair. We can see the research / project prep and the hurdles with that, then have an underhanded win. Hurting a friend / slashing tyres, sabotaging project or affecting the judges.

You may find more ground by extending it further. Have the bullying target a friend. Or have a friend threatened to coerce the MC into following direction. Sets up personal or inter-personal conflict.

Lots of ways to develop this.

I’d link you to examples in my own work but they’re way down the release schedule.

If you wish I can PM or pen some for you in greater detail, but I’d rather not write your words for you, or say so much that you feel as if you’re taking them unintentionally :roll_eyes::smirk::upside_down_face:

1 Like

The one thing that you need to know about bullies is to never make them stereotypical. In most cliches, there’s either a popular person—whether a jock or cheerleader—or someone who is rich ends up being the bully because they think they’re all cool and better than everyone else. This doesn’t happen in real life. While there are jerky jocks, cheerleaders, and rich kids out there who are bullies, the majority of bullies are just random people who have no life whatsoever. Take it from someone who has been bullied throughout her entire life in school. xD

Bullies come from different backgrounds and they do it for many different reasons. They may bully you because they’re jealous of you and they’re insecure. They may bully you because they have a rough background such as trouble at home. This doesn’t always mean that they live in an abusive home or have an abusive background, but it could mean that their parents fight too much or don’t give them enough attention, so they could be bullying for attention. They may bully you because they’re extremely judgmental and or abusive. They may bully you because they’re bored and have nothing else better to do.

And just know that bullies aren’t always physical. In some cases, there are people who do actually get physically hurt, but this may be from another kind of agenda. I’ve heard of people who have had bullies that were racist against them and would literally beat them to a pulp. There are also bullies at school that aren’t students, but instead teachers and other faculty members. Some of them may also be physically abusive as well. There have been teachers (more for the younger ones in elementary school) that couldn’t calm a child down and put duct tape on their mouths to “shut them up.” And in some of those cases, the child actually died. There are teachers that are also verbally abusive, too. Like, they yell at you because you’re “not good enough” or something like that.

Otherwise, besides the physical abuse, it comes down to verbal abuse. They’ll say things like, “Go kill yourself,” “No one loves you,” “No one cares about you,” “You’re a fugly whale…” And more.

You can find a lot of different videos on YouTube for teachers, bus drivers, and student bullies. Like, this one video (in a compilation), there was a kid who was being bullied by students on the bus and they were calling him a terrorist for racist reasons. There was a teacher at my old school who was a bully and would seriously call you fat and ugly and more names in front of the entire class.

There’s also bullies who sexually harass you as well. My sister was bullied because of her virginity and there were multiple guys who would go up to her and touch her boobs and butt.

In some cases, bullying leads to a lot of messed up teens. In fact, it can lead for some teens moving away or suicide. One of the major cases was Amanda Todd.


My school was small, and bullies weren’t really considered true ‘bullies’ in the sense if he word, but there were still kids who did a lot of bullying where they would pick on loner type kids, say mean things/nasty remarks, and even sometimes go so far as to push/trip them and cause actual harm. I saw this all the time.

I think the key of writing a bully is not making them over the top. Bullies can be anyone (not just the really popular guy or the ‘outcast’ crowd). They’re people who have learned how to get under another person’s skin with comments and actions that are usually private in nature (unless performed in a group) so as not to draw attention to themselves.

Consider cyber bullying in the context of your story. In a future novel I plan to write, one character is a bully that likes to pick on a girl at school, tease her and what not but it’s not until they’re outside of school that he does anything physical to her (in my story, he pushes her into mud).

That’s my two cents on bullying from a small town public school system.

1 Like

Honestly, it depends. My personal bully was slow and steady- subtle. They weren’t so in your face. No one chased me through the halls or laughed at my glasses. They just tore down my self confidence slowly over time and now I suffer from really bad trauma.

Depends on the bully you are looking for, I guess.

1 Like

It’s just really important that you make it clear that the bully is a real person too. It’s unreasonable for the bully to actively be in every scene, or for them to only ever focus on the main character. It comes off as really stiff and artificial when all the bully does is bully the main character in a book.

As far as making it seem less stiff and more realistic, understand that not every bullying act is going to be a huge event. You can’t overdo it. If you can make it build up or fluctuate, that will help. I hate when I’m reading and every time there’s an encounter with a bully it’s some huge throw-down that almost always seems to end in the main character passed out or something to that extent. You also have to make sure there’s some sort of motive or reason/cause for the bullying. It’s not realistic when the bully decides to be mean just because they’re a mean person. People are more three dimensional than that. It also allows you to make the story more rich.

Bullying is snide comments, manipulation, little movements and tricks. There’s more to bullying than being incredibly in your face and beating you up. If the bully says something terrible about your main character in the back of class and everyone laughs, it can potentially be written and presented more powerfully than if the bully just punched the main character.

An incredibly strong thing that will really enforce the effects of the bully is just making sure you write heavily into the head space of the main character. Those little comments add up, and your main character is not realistically going to be able to ignore all of them. The snickers and teasing and degrading comments often all add up to create a really toxic mindset in the main character.
The most important thing with realistic bullies is that the bully does have an impact on the main character. If the bully does something, but the main character just continues on like normal, then the bully might as well be a useless poster in the back of the scenes that could be removed without any problems. On the flip side, you have to make sure the bully has more of a slow burn effect on the main character. The first few comments and actions may not mean anything, but the longer it continues, the worse your main character feels. Some of the worst and longest lasting suffering is caused by long lasting events.

This was longer than I thought it was going to be.
I hope this helped and made sense!

1 Like

It depends on the type of story. If you are writing a fiction with a bully who is meant to be severely disliked by the reader, you want to aim for actions that are incredibly hurtful. If you want a story where the bully is redeemed, you will want him to have a backstory that explains his tendencies and a way to help them overcome those tendencies to ultimately become a good person. If it’s a romance, you want the bully to be mean, but have enough redeeming qualities that coupled with a good backstory it makes it feasible that hate can transition into love. Regardless, the more well thought out and complex the character,and the more character development throughout the story, the less chance you have of writing something that is corny or cliche.


I wasn’t really bullied, bullied, I don’t think, not after a found my niche in high school. But, I do have some instances. First day of PE I became friends with this girl and realized early on she had some personal issues. We were still friends. I was a freshman who knew nobody and she was a sophomore. Well, year progresses and we gain a couple of friends, but I realized they were talking behind my back. Making fun of me for running the two miles we had to, so I got new friends, and basically she drove a wedge between everyone who hung out with her by being rude to them.

Sometimes people just don’t know how to interact with others either. I had someone slam into me once, knocking off my feet, onto the ground, and she felt terrible for it, but I was hurt, embarrassed, people laughed. I was on the verge of tears.

Me too, I panic and say things I don’t mean because I’m awkward and try to fight it by being overly confident and it hurts people around me sometimes because I don’t think.

If you know why the character is a bully then that makes them more rounded.

1 Like

Absolutely, on that –
If the bully is a future romantic interest, do not make them do things that would be irredeemable in real life. That’s one of my least favorite things to read. It’s disgusting when the bully has done unforgivable things to the main character, they spend like a week talking to each other, and suddenly all is forgiven.

1 Like

Totally agreed. It’s one of the few things that makes me really angry as a reader. I can’t stand it when their just a giant a-hole for like 16 chapters, then all of a sudden the two main characters are in love and there is zero attempt on the bully’s behalf to alter their behavior. It’s unrealistic and is a huge pet peeve.


Yes! And if there’s enough work put into the backstory of the bully and they have an EXTREMELY slow build of friendship before they get together, then it might be passable, but even then, if the bully has done unspeakable or horrible things to the main character, I can’t find myself accepting it in any way.

1 Like

Agreed! I keep having the issue here of reading romances with bullies and they get together, but the relationship is just so toxic I can’t get behind it at all and it ruins it for me. :frowning_face:

1 Like