1. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    Admitting flaws makes an unlikable character likable?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by spklvr, May 30, 2011.

    After finishing the first draft on a shorter story of mine, novella sized in other words, I noticed something odd. My MC shares a lot of the same traits as characters in books that I really don't like. He's immature, selfish, can't see beyond tomorrow and most of his actions are controlled by his... hormones (let's go with hormones, he's 15 after all). He's all that, yet I consider him a very likable character. And while this may or may not be true, I consider myself good at seeing when my characters become unlikable.
    I realized that while my character shares a lot of the same traits as unlikable characters, unlike them, he is the first to admit that he is all of those things. And towards the ending, most of the story revolves around his attempts at maturing, something he ultimately fails at (realizing this is something he can't force and he accepts the fact that he just isn't a grown up yet).

    So is that really what it takes? Make a character flawed, and portray him as such, and he will be likable? Or am I simply biased because I care for this character I created?
    Have you ever liked a character you created only to find most of your readers don't?

    Edit: And I realize I didn't make myself completely clear right away, sorry. I didn't mean that the character necessarily had to admit their own flaws, more that they were made aware of, either through themselves, other characters or the narrator. There are characters who have a lot of flaws, yet they are portrayed as good things or ignored by the writer. So say a character is immature and selfish, yet everyone considers this character the best thing since sliced bread. Very common in Mary-Sue characters and in YA vampire romance novels.
    I think my character could have been portrayed as an "awesome" character that didn't need any changing, and done exactly the same things he is doing (except the trying to change part), and I would have absolutely hated him.
     
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  2. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    I think it differs with the character and the story. Your character sounds likeable to me simply because he admits his faults and tries to mature and change them. Other characters in other stories may do the same and yet be unlikeable to some. I think it varies. :)
     
  3. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hannibal Lector is a villain, but he is a likable character. He even admits some of his flaws in one of the books. :)

    I agree with Gigi though. It really differs depending on the character and story.
     
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  4. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    What's wrong with not being able to see beyond tomorrow? :( I'm no good at long-term forethought, but I think I'm likeable.

    Anywho, I hate the idea that flaws make a character likeable. It's the good things about a person that we like, and the bad things that we tolerate. For some people, being immature is a major deal breaker, and they won't like that person no matter what. For some people, being prideful is a sin, even though pride can be portrayed in very very good ways.

    Character flaws do not a good character make.
     
  5. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    Flaws make a character realistic, down to earth, and relatable. If they don't have flaws you are going to have a much harder time making a reader like your character or have empathy for them. Character flaws are everything to a good character.


    EDIT: Yes, Spklvr, I think you can make an unlikable character likable if that character is aware they are unlikable and wants to be better.
     
  6. Sage Dufraine
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    Sage Dufraine Member

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    Firstly, hello fellow Brisbanian :) Unfortunately I have to disagree with you though, despite your great choice of worldly locations to reside haha.

    While in real life I can't stand arrogant, selfish people.. I love that in a fictional character. I'm not sure if I like it in movies, but in books I love it. I can't stand characters without flaws; they bore me. I don't want to read about a clean-cut hero with sun shining out of his a$$. My favourite character that I've made is completely selfish, arrogant and just down right evil; I love her. There is still so much about her that I can relate to, even if it's the 'darker' side of myself that is relating, and I think that's what you have to achieve. I think it's a lot harder to make your audience like these characters; you need to give them something more in order to have them relate to and fall in love with these characters.

    Who watched The Jackal and actually wanted the Jackal to die in the end? I was so disappointed! Just seeing the effort he went to to get the job done really had me hoping he'd succeed and not get caught for once. I felt sorry for him when he finally failed; he was a likable guy, despite his complete disregard for human life, I found his cool, calm exterior really drew me in. I find the characters I really love the most have the most flaws they struggle with, or embrace; embracing the darkness is always fun.
     
  7. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know about where you live, but in Australia, "down to earth" is a personality trait, not something that's caused by other traits.
    What I'm trying to say, though, is that flaws are subjective and a) won't necessarily be flaws, and b) don't guarantee that the character will be good, likeable, or realistic.

    :love: Brisbane.

    My reply is as above. I'm not saying character flaws are unnecessary. I'm saying they don't make your character good.
     
  8. Sage Dufraine
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    Sage Dufraine Member

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    Well that's very true; no one thing would make a character good. I'm sure there's zillions of characters out there who have lots of flaws and they're uninteresting. All depends on what you do with them, I think. :)

    EDIT: I should say too, that I don't think a character necessarily has to admit to flaws or even try to change them to make them more likable. I just think there needs to be something in them that people can relate to.
     
  9. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    How is that relatable? It's very rare in life that people will admit their flaws. Back in February I got denied (for 12 months) from the Australian Defence Force because of the psych interview. It took me a couple of months to realise that, yes, most of the stuff the psych said about me was actually true. Unfortunately, she still did the wrong thing by denying me, since if I got in it would fix my problems.

    I used to be incredibly antisocial and arrogant. About two years ago, it began to stop and didn't fully go away until late last year. I used to say that I was okay being that way, but really I wasn't. Admitting to those sorts of flaws doesn't make you relatable or likeable. It makes you a dick.

    And relatable isn't even a word.
     
  10. Sage Dufraine
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    Sage Dufraine Member

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    I suppose that's true, yeah. And I guess what I meant was that if you can't relate to the flaws themselves or the fact that the character was trying to change them, then there could be something else you can relate to. Take my Jackal example above.
    When it comes to my own character I mentioned, the reason I like her (other than the fact that I made her) is that I know why she is like she is and I know what her past is, and what events have lead to her being where she is now. So she may be a nasty bitch but I can understand her flaws and why she has them, and I know her inner desires, even the ones she doesn't admit to herself; I guess in that case I may know more than a reader might. Perhaps I like this character out of sympathy only, you could say, which could be a reason why people like relatively unlikable characters at other times too?
     
  11. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    You sound kind of similar to me. I wrote out an extensive plot for a story that I've wanted to begin for several months, but I started another piece first.
    The plot I wrote, though, has characters that I absolutely love. I haven't even written them yet, and barely describe them at all, but I know that even if I can't describe their personalities to myself, I KNOW the personalities. I've also fallen absolutely in love with the main character's love interest. C:
     
  12. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    A character being "down to earth" has to do with them having multiple traits, some of which are flaws, that make them relatable. "Down to earth" is not a trait in and of itself.

    Flaws may very well be subjective, but they still need to have them because NO ONE IS PERFECT. So if your character has no flaws they're not very realistic are they?

    Perhaps you should look again. It's the adjective for the word "relate" in Merriam Webster's online dictionary, The Free Online Dictionary, Wiktionary, and even had an article written about it in the New York Times (about it having been introduced to Merriam Webster in 1947). Is there some other dictionary you believe we should all be following?
     
  13. dizzyspell
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    dizzyspell Active Member

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    This is probably a different country thing. In NZ, too, you would consider "down to earth" a trait. We might be wrong in the strict sense of how the phrase should be used, but yeah. We would use it to describe someone relaxed, who takes problems as they come and deals with them appropriately.
     
  14. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Read my posts again, and the quoted post below. I repeat: I don't know about where you live, but in Australia (and NZ apparently), "down to earth" is a trait in and of itself.

    Second: read my posts again. I said, and I quote, "I'm not saying character flaws are unnecessary. I'm saying they don't make your character good."

    Third: yes, there is a dictionary we could all be following. The Australian one. C: In Australian English, relatable is not a word, and likeable is spelled with two 'e's.

    Now, you seem to be getting flustered. I'm sorry if this is the case. I'm just trying to provide my point that it's not the flaws that make the character realistic or good; it's the way that the different parts that make the character up are used. If you only present a character with flaws to a reader, they will not be realistic at all, and may not even be likeable or 'relatable'.

    QFT.

    Down to earth is a trait that is displayed in any woman who can be deemed a keeper. C:
     
  15. spklvr
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    spklvr Contributing Member Contributor

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    And I realize I didn't make myself completely clear in my first post, sorry. I didn't mean that the character necessarily had to admit their own flaws, more that they were made aware of, either through themselves, other characters or the narrator. There are characters who have a lot of flaws, yet they are portrayed as good things or ignored by the writer. So say a character is immature and selfish, yet everyone considers this character the best thing since sliced bread. Very common in Mary-Sue characters and in YA vampire romance novels.

    Well, in my character's case, his inability of forethought messes up a lot of things, hence making it a rather bad trait.

    And about the last statement, I think they can in some cases. That's why I like a lot of villains that don't even seem to have any good qualities about them, and hate characters that are too good. I like people that are nice and boring, but characters that are? No way.
     
  16. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'll be honest, I was replying more to other people than to you with that first quoted post. The OP was pretty clear, I think, or was at least close enough.

    Again, though, about my last statement, I meant that it requires more than just flaws to make a good character. I'm not willing (right now, I'm not at least) to agree with the idea that any character in existence is good or realistic just because of their flaws, and I challenge you to really try and find a character in that position.
     
  17. LaGs
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    LaGs Banned

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    In Irvine Welsh's trainspotting, Francis Begbie is one of the most depraved, psychotic, mental but still one of the most HILARIOUS characters i have ever read in a book, ever. Flaws in a character actually make me like them even more sometimes, their dark side is more interesting than their good side
     
  18. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I still haven't read the book, but man, oh man, do I hate Begbie in the adaptation. I don't know how true it is to the novel, but I love it as a film. I mean, towards the beginning I don't mind him, but he's probably the closest I've ever been to being actually scared of a fictional character.
     
  19. LaGs
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    LaGs Banned

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    Well, he kicks his pregnant girlfriend in the stomach and it's actually laugh out loud funny

    That makes me sound horrible LOL, but you just need to read it for yourself. Trainspotting is a great book, absolutely brilliant
     
  20. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I should assume so, with an adaptation so excellent. I heard about that, too.
     
  21. LaGs
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    LaGs Banned

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    Yea I really love the film as well. They did an impressive job of making a coherent and structured plot out of the book which is basically a load of stories only loosely tied together. There are some parts of the book which were left out as they would not have transferred well over to the screen , but they are equally as good in writing
     
  22. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was debating about this with a friend last weekend. I tend to like the "unlikable" characters and dislike those we're meant to adore; my friend said she reads books with unlikable MCs, even though she never learns to like them, because they are interesting. I also let her read some of my current novel and she says she dislikes my protagonist (selfish/manipulative/close-minded) and the antagonist (arrogant/two-faced/show-off) yet she keeps reading because she thinks they are "interesting, well-rounded and funny" characters.

    If I disliked a character I wouldn't think them admitting their flaws would change my mind in the slightest unless it was done in a way that somehow felt in-character for them. Eg: they might cross a moral boundary that triggers something in their head; they might unintentionally hurt someone they care about and feel remorse.

    If you have an unlikable character then it's a matter of trying to make something about them appeal (whether positive or negative) to the reader right from an early chapter, to make them care about the things that are going to happen over the course of the story.
     
  23. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    Okay, well where I live it's a combination of things. You can see where I'm from if you look under my name.


    Fine. Of course you can have a terrible character even with flaws. This is just semantics now.

    Well that's not going to happen, sorry. And when you're on a forum it's helpful to not call people out for misspellings that are NOT misspellings and word uses that you feel are wrong that are NOT wrong due to the differences in American vs UK english. This is counterproductive and causes confusion for the people who don't know enough to call YOU out on it.

    Haha... umm.. no. This is semantics. You mean you have to actually write it well? Oh. Thanks. So you're saying the same thing as everyone else, that they need flaws, but that you actually need to have some skills in writing them? Ah. Very helpful.


    So it's a combination of traits, yes? Going by Dizzy's definition. Just because you use the phrase to lump them all into one happy package doesn't change what made them up.
     
  24. dizzyspell
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    dizzyspell Active Member

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    Out of curiosity, what makes a trait a trait, and not made up of a combination of traits?

    ^That sentence used the word 'trait' far too many times, eek!
     
  25. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I meant that I don't know what the gig is with "down to earth" where you live. Not "I don't know where you live".

    Yes, it is semantics, but there's no need to say that like it's a bad thing. I was trying to get my point across. I appear to have finally done so.

    My original call about relatable was more to do with my own post. I didn't even think about the fact that other people had used it. I noticed, when I finished posting, that it had the little red line underneath it, so I added the last little bit.
    As for my little joke about changing to an Australian Dictionary, that was, quite obviously, a joke.

    You sarcasm isn't appreciated. What I was saying was different to most other people. I said it's an amalgamation of everything you use to make a character that makes them good, not just/necessarily flaws.

    I do believe that I said, "Down to earth is a trait", 'a' being singular, of course.

    I think, now, that we can hang up this argument.
     

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