Characters' Hot Buttons: What Drives Them Crazy?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Some people drive me a bit crazy. Yes, I know, I'm not supposed to admit that, but I'm human. We don't all get along. Each of us has buttons people push. Some people push them on purpose, some by accident, some have no clue that their actions push not only ours, but a lot of people's buttons.

I'm trying to not let someone trigger mine today, and it occurred to me that book characters have the same issue.

Do you know who pushes your characters' buttons?

Scenes with button pushing can be fun to write, more importantly, they're interesting to read. Which characters push your protagonist's buttons? The antagonist should push the buttons of the protagonist, but we expect that. Other people will do it too. Readers like to read about  interactions between people. This means some people will always push your protagonist's buttons and others will do it in certain situations.

What about the people who your protagonist gets along with?

I have several close friends but to say none of them have ever gotten on my nerves would be a lie. When a close friend or friendly acquaintance starts pushing our buttons, we might feel annoyed, hurt or shocked. How we respond to this unexpected occurrence will depend on what's happening at the time.

What pushes your characters buttons?

Do you know what annoys your character? Have you figured out what behaviors make them grind their teeth while trying to remain polite? What makes them push back? What makes them explode?

For me, I'm a bit of a control freak. I plan how things should go. I plan for the unexpected because I don't like things to go too far afield of my plan. When events or people conspire against my plans, I go to plan B, C, and sometimes D. If I run out of options, I get annoyed. Sometimes I get annoyed while I still have options.

How annoyed? It depends on who is doing the annoying, how many things have gone wrong, the importance of what I'm trying to do, and my location. Public areas get a nicer response from me than a private spot. Same with work. I can keep it under wraps most of the time in a professional setting. While I try to deal with an annoyance in an adult way, all of these issues swirl around in my head. I have to pick how to respond based on what's happening.


Given the right circumstance, any normal person can lose it. If you have children, you know what I mean.

How do I incorporate this in my manuscript?

Put people in your character's path that will challenge him. Create characters who do this on purpose, maybe for the pure joy of pushing the buttons. Ask yourself, who can make her lose it? Who can make him crazy?

We hate living through these experiences, but writing these scenes can be fun!

Also, you need to determine what pushes your character's buttons. If you've never thought about it, read back through your manuscript and notice the following:

  • Events where he is upset or annoyed at something beyond his control. 
    • What set him off?
    • Is a specific person involved?
  • Events where she should be upset or annoyed but she's not.
    • Why did she stay calm? 
    • Did you miss an opportunity or has your character found a way to face this challenge?
    • Did you make it easy for her? (Please don't. That's boring.)

What are your characters buttons? Please post some examples in the comments of this blog. Writers can always use ideas on ways to drive their characters crazy.


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