The Top 8 Traits of the YA Bully

Deconstructing Bestselling Novels, One Doodle at a Time.

04.15.2014 by

Don’t make life too easy on your hero. Harry Potter, Bella Swan, and Katniss Everdeen not only have to fight for their lives, they have to do it all while dealing with a schoolyard bully.

In Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy of Slytherin bullies Harry. In Twilight, Bella encounters mean-girl Lauren at school. And in The Hunger Games, Katniss must fight with Cato, a “career tribute” who thrives on intimidation.

Try these 8 traits for your bully and you can easily complicate all of your hero’s hurdles.

1. Describe the bully’s looks and voice with the worst adjectives

Description that would be overboard for other characters is “just right” for bullies.

  • Harry Potter‘s Draco Malfoy has a “pale pointed face” and a “bored drawling voice.” (HP Ch.5).
  • Twilight‘s Lauren has “pale fishy eyes” and an “unpleasant, nasal” voice. (TW Ch.6).
  • The Hunger Games‘ Cato is “brutish,” (Ch.11) “monstrous,” (Ch.9) and throws tantrums. (Ch.17).

2.  The bully doesn’t just speak, he sneers and growls

The bestselling authors relax some of the speech tag rules when it comes to the bully.

  • Harry Potter: “Oh, you’re going to fight us, are you?” Malfoy sneered. (HP Ch.6).
  • Twilight: “. . . don’t know why Bella— she sneered my name —” (TW Ch.6).
  • The Hunger Games: “The Careers regroup on the ground and I can hear them growling conspiratorially among themselves, furious I have made them look foolish.” (HG Ch.13).

3.  Arm the bully with a faithful posse

The bully isn’t such hot stuff when he’s alone. He needs to demonstrate his control even on his closest friends.

  • Draco Malfoy always has his two large-but-dumb friends in tow: “Draco Malfoy and his friends Crabbe and Goyle sniggered behind their hands.” (HP Ch.8).
  • Lauren’s friends know that Bella is a target: “Three other girls stood with them, including one I remembered [who] gave me a dirty look as I got out of the truck, and whispered something to Lauren. Lauren shook out her cornsilk hair and eyed me scornfully. (TW Ch.6)
  • Cato works with the other Career Tributes to make the first kill of the games: “Someone cries out, “Twelve down and eleven to go!” which gets a round of appreciative hoots. So they’re fighting in a pack.”  (HG Ch.11).

4.  Give the bully some sort of advantage over the hero

Bullying involves an imbalance of power. The bully exploits his socioeconomic status, popularity, or physical strength to control others.

  • Draco is from a long line of wealthy wizards, and he is no stranger to getting what he wants. “I think I’ll bully Father into getting me [a broom] and I’ll smuggle it in somehow.”  (HP Ch.6).
  • Lauren has an established group of friends, and Bella is the new girl. She talks behind Bella’s back, and Bella hears her “muttering to Mike” about why Bella “doesn’t just sit with the Cullens from now on.” (TW Ch.6).
  • Cato is one of “the kids from the wealthier districts, the volunteers, the ones who have been fed and trained throughout their lives for this moment. . .  It’s technically against the rules to train tributes before they reach the Capitol but it happens every year.” (HG Ch.7).

5. The bully shoots dirty looks, scowls, and glances at the hero

The bullying is repetitive, so the hero feels the bully’s dirty looks even when there isn’t a direct confrontation.

  • Harry Potter: “Scowling, Malfoy quickly dropped the Remembrall back on the table.” (HP Ch.9). Later, he looks at Harry with “a mixture of jealousy and spite on his face.” (HP Ch.10).
  • Twilight: “I intercepted a few unfriendly glances from Lauren during lunch, which I didn’t understand until we were all walking out of the room together.” (TW Ch.6).
  • The Hunger Games: “Now I see nothing but contempt in the glances of the Career Tributes. Each must have fifty to a hundred pounds on me. They project arrogance and brutality.  (HG Ch.7). 

6. The bully uses sarcasm

The hero is constantly barraged with the bully’s sarcasm and taunts.

  • Harry Potter: “I do feel so sorry,” said Draco Malfoy, one Potions class, “for all those people who have to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas because they’re not wanted at home.” He was looking over at Harry as he spoke. Crabbe and Goyle chuckled.  (HP Ch.12).
  • Twilight: “How nice.” She didn’t sound like she thought it was nice at all, and her pale, fishy eyes narrowed(TW Ch.6).
  • The Hunger Games: Cato mocks the romance between Katniss and Peeta. “Go on, then, Lover Boy,” says the boy from District 2. (HG Ch.11).

7. The bully threatens and provokes the hero

When taunting doesn’t get enough rise out of the hero, the bully switches to threats.

  • Harry Potter: “I’d be careful if I were you, Potter,” he said slowly. “Unless you’re a bit politer you’ll go the same way as your parents. They didn’t know what was good for them, either.”  (HP Ch.6).
  • Twilight: “Lauren said something about you — she was trying to provoke me.” (TW Ch.9).
  • The Hunger Games: The last thing I hear as they enter the woods is Cato saying, “When we find her, I kill her in my own way, and no one interferes.”  (HG Ch.16).

8. The bully has a reason to dislike the hero

Finally, all of these traits would be pointless if not backed by a good reason to hate the hero. It usually boils down to jealously of some sort.

  • Malfoy resents Harry for his fame and his quidditch talent. “Malfoy had been even more unpleasant than usual since the Quidditch match. . . . So Malfoy, jealous and angry, had gone back to taunting Harry about having no proper family.”  (HP Ch.12).
  • Lauren likes Tyler, but Tyler likes Bella. Thus, Lauren hates Bella. “Tyler told everyone he’s taking you to prom,” Jessica informed me with suspicious eyes. . . .  “That’s why Lauren doesn’t like you,” Jessica giggled while we pawed through the clothes.” (TW Ch.8).
  • Cato has prepared for the games his whole life, so he resents Katniss for her higher rank in the games. “Brutal, bloody Cato who can snap a neck with a twist of his arm, who had the power to overcome Thresh, who has had it out for me since the beginning. He probably has had a special hatred for me ever since I outscored him in training.” (HG Ch.24).

Why it Works: Bullying Defined

Clearly, the bully antagonizes the hero and provides lots of tension throughout the story. It’s also a way to connect with the emotions of young adults, who are bound to have been exposed to at least the news stories if not actual bullying at school. Bullying can be verbal (like taunts), social (like spreading rumors), and physical (like tripping). According to

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

So keep that definition in mind as you write: aggression, imbalance of power, and repetition. Note that the bully is different from a villain because he doesn’t have an overarching evil plan. Maybe his values align with the villain, but he’s not the hero’s main battle.

Let’s place the bully’s character card in Chapter 6 and Chapter 11 of the master outline, but he can appear throughout the story.

For more information, check out this list of bully archetypes from the Writing Nut.

Now get out there and write your own version of Biff/John Bender/Scut Farkus/Johnny Lawrence/Regina George/Nelson/Angela Pickles!

P.S. Have your own ideas about common themes between stories? Pick up on the hero’s journey in a popular movie? Check out this information on guest posting and you could share your writing with Better Novel Project readers.

More novels on Betternovelptoject


Collins, Suzanne (2009-09-01). The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc. Kindle Edition. (“HG”).

Meyer, Stephenie (2007-07-18). Twilight (The Twilight Saga). Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Kindle Edition. (“TW”).

Rowling, J.K. (2012-03-27). Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Book 1). Pottermore Limited. Kindle Edition. (“HP”).


About Christine Frazier

I help people write better stories using research instead of luck. I’m a writer, joyous outliner, and compulsive doodler. Learn more.


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