1. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Any tips for balancing a jerky hero?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by peachalulu, Oct 24, 2012.

    In a story I'm working on my hero is a jerk, didn't really plan on it, but I kind of
    felt lead to give him smart-*ss statements. I want people to feel sympathy
    for him ( it's later revealed he's grieving the loss of his wife) but I also don't
    want to do the whole - he's a creep until the reveal thing.

    It's taken from his point of view. Which I'm battling - because I could
    reveal too much. But on the other hand I could also have him wondering
    why he says the things he does.

    Has anyone seen this done or worked with a similar unappealing hero?
     
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  2. littleshoe
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    littleshoe Member

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    Hi,
    To build your character, search for Personality psychology in Wikipedia. You will find different systems for “Constructing a coherent picture of the individual and his or her major psychological processes”.

    These systems work on stereotypes. You should choose the system that fits your needs. For example, the enneagram of personalities has different vices and virtues for the nine types. The challenger type has lust as vice and innocence as virtue. You could say he is Joey from “Friends”. He is supposed to be likeable because his innocence is at the limit (almost stupidity) and his lust is more at the middle.

    However, you should always keep in mind that these systems help a writer to balance a character. They are not meant to make characters likeable. What you like or not depends on your culture. For example, in US fantasy you can like a nerd if he does not dress smart. Otherwise, people could perceive him as arrogant. In France fantasy, he should care about his looks. (Sheldom, from The Big Bang theory, is a very well developed character. He does not dress smart but he cares about his clothes, which becomes evident in the choice of his t-shirts.)

    Try to scan the different personality systems. Once you have found the one that suits you, ask yourself why your character is a jerk. Then, try to find the counterpart for balance.

    After a while, you will find out that no system is sufficient. You will star construction a “wheel of personalities” analogue to the wheel of colors. As painters do, you will try different combinations to keep the balance in your compositions (characters).

    When you read books about character's development, they always tell you to keep them balanced. It is not always true. If James Bond were human, he would lose his appeal.
     
  3. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    It's possible to humanize the character by making them more complex-giving them reasons to feel why they do. My character get's into wise-a** mode when she's stressed, but then there's a point where her cold-blooded side comes out while making cracks. Like us, they're convoluted, and many conflicts, emotional and otherwise, can help balance out any character.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Read Stephen R. Donald R. Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. The main character is a throbbing rosy sphincter, and yet despite his selfishness and antisocial behavior, he prevails against a being of total malevolence and saves The Land.
     
  5. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I'm reminded of the complete jerk Ash becomes in Evil Dead 3. But he's a fun and charming Jerk.
     
  6. sharonwagoner
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    sharonwagoner Member

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    Ever see the movie Laura? Jerks aplenty. One turns out to be a hero.
     
  7. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, Covenant is about as much of a jerk as somebody can be and still have a chance of sympathy, but we can understand it because we are given a reason for it -- the "Unbeliever" part. And Stephen R. Donaldson built in a very clever safety net: even if you don't care about Covenant, you care about The Land. There's probably a case to be made that Covenant isn't the MC at all, The Land is, with Covenant as a mere narrative focus.

    So perhaps that's a way of dealing with an unsympathetic MC -- give the reader something else to care about.
     
  8. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Of course, you could go the Richard B. Riddick route, and make your character and anti-hero. That's a distinct possibility too. Mine, I know, walks the line between the two believe it or not.
     
  9. Fife
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    Fife Senior Member

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    Are you writing first-person or third-person? I think that also affects the portrayal of the character as well.
     
  10. Michelle7
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    Michelle7 Member

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    Well, when my mom was going through menopause everyone in the family knew when they were around her it wasn't going to be pretty. We kind of expected her wisecracks and "being mean" so to speak. We didn't like it but tried to put up with it. But one day she finally said, "I know when I say something mean, that I'm being mean but I can't help it." It could be something like that. The character has reasons for being mean and he is just not able to help it. In that situation it could help the character be more likeable if the readers understand why he is being mean or a jerk, even if he himself doesn't.
     
  11. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    With all flippancy aside from the 'anti-hero' approach, which could be done...but humanizing any character is a must. No character should be a cardboard cut out-especially ones who are 'villains' or 'jerks' because it doesn't give anyone a reason to care or get emotionally vested in what happens. Take some time, run a chapter or two of a subplot about them alone perhaps. Or find a way to equate something they experienced before, and how it relates to now.

    My MC's working through a futuristic version of 'A Most Dangerous Game,' and something that disturbed her, led her to reflect on life just over a year ago-and how it related to the current events. She's just closed her eyes and recalling-with present day thoughts and takes on things-what happened. It allows her to be humanized, and she'll come out of the reflection with a different attitude about something that's important, and it'll influence one of her next actions.

    Plus, even a villain, has positive attributes about them. While mine's doing something very despicable because he's out of money, there's a love relationship between him and his personal assistant being brought to life during a down time before he starts his evil act. It makes the man more human. So, humanizing a character helps. I also explained a lot about psychology and basic human nature in a recent blog post too.
     
  12. PraileighCormac
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    PraileighCormac New Member

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    You could always just throw in some minor child characters than shows he has a weakness for kids or sick people or something and make it prove that he's really a sweetheart underneath it all. :)
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is there anybody that he behaves decently with? In my experience, people who behave badly often back off when others absolutely will not tolerate that bad behavior. If that seems plausible, maybe you could insert a scene with that person, primarily intended to further some other plot goal, but demonstrating that he behaves decently, perhaps with him trying to push the limits and being put in his place.

    That would at least demonstrate that he's capable of understandig decent behavior. In one sense, that would make the readers be more annoyed with him - if he can behave, why doesn't he? - but in another sense, they could see potential and they might want to see that potential realized.

    Edited to add: And you could make the his-point-of-view thing work for you, because he could, in a self-deluded way, blame the people that he's rude to for his behavior, and think of this one person as an example of how everyone should be. She can take it and dish it out, she isn't a whiny baby who's sensitive about every little thing, she's sharp and funny, why can't everyone be that way?

    (Hmm. I'm seeing her as a she. I'm also seeing her as a waitress, but that's getting a little too As Good As It Gets.)
     
  14. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Thanks for all the great tips guys! I decided to incorporate an even nastier, smug man at a dinner party who attacks my heros
    rather odd profession so my hero's acerbic attitude becomes not only reasonable but welcome.
     
  15. Spiderman
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    Spiderman Member

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    Give him someone (or multiple people) to care about.
     
  16. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    What do we care if he cares? He's still a jerk.

    Make him fun. Just like a Jerk at a party, if he's fun he can get away with it.
     

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