1. carsun1000
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    carsun1000 Active Member

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    Author's personality vs. protagonist's personality

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by carsun1000, May 12, 2015.

    So you are a no nonsense individual who is ready to call a spade a spade, and you do not mince words when conveying your opinion (whether objective or subjective). But you want to write a book where the protagonist is soft, indecisive sometimes, and make a lot of wrong life choices but ends up carrying the day by the time you are done with your novel.

    How much effort will it take to actually write a character that goes against your personal beliefs and values?

    Can you accept the plausibility of such character when he/she goes against all you believe in?

    Rainn Wilson's character in the Backstorm (TV Show) is an example of such a character that an author might have a problem with because of his antics. Does one have to be (or have been) such a person to relate to such a character.

    This the road I'm embarked on at the moment and I must confess, it's not easy with this mindset.
    Any thoughts, fellow writers?
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2015
  2. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I would say quite a bit of effort. I'm pretty straight-forward myself so I'd find such a character frustrating to read - if I had to write such a character I don't think I'd cope lol. I'd get too annoyed :D I think as a side character it's fine, but I wouldn't dream of writing someone like that as a protag - well, perhaps in some practice piece or short, but never a novel.
     
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  3. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well it is difficult, but at some level I think all of our protagonists start somewhere where we as authors (and hopefully our readers) think they are, at the least, incomplete people who need to be formed by events. In some cases this means they're just not as strong as they could be, in some cases it might mean they're actually wrong. The protagonist in my main story agrees with me on a lot of important things - but I do have a side project where the protagonist doesn't share a lot of my beliefs and I don't find her particularly hard to write because there are a lot of other things I share with her in terms of behavior and thought process.

    Now, the other thing you've set up is not just that your protag disagrees with you, but that he/she BEHAVES in ways that you do not behave. Congratulations - you've just avoided the self-insertion problem! I personally don't think it takes a TON of extra effort but you do have to think about how and why the character behaves how they do, but it does take some. I've had a little of that with my protag, although in that case it's more that she's mousy and shy at times (which isn't too dissimilar from me but I write a lot of sarcastic active characters and she's definitely not always in that mold). The big thing with any character is trying to get inside their head and figure out what makes them tick, that way when you confront them with events, you know how they react because you know them as people. And when you do that, they sometimes surprise you.

    If the character disagrees with you on important worldview issues, you also have to do some work looking at why people believe whatever that person believes. If you're setting up their beliefs as a straw-man to be knocked down, it won't work if you stereotype that belief system. You're going to have to make it feel real.

    But on the whole it sounds like you have an interesting project, and I wouldn't worry too much about differences between you and your protag. Start writing and see how it feels. That will make some of your decisions for you.
     
  4. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    Writing, like acting, is about occupying the minds and bodies of others. Sometimes it has to come naturally, but it's something you work at. Writing is 10% skill, and 90% talent.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Not too much effort. My beliefs and values don't present a wall against which I have to climb. It's a character in a book; it's not me.

    Of course I can. Again, I am a long time away from those years of early adulthood where the definitions one holds passionately to one's bosom are the epicenter of all things. I am in the years where I find the definitions of youth to be suffocatingly restrictive and I am happy to consider other definitions, or none at all.
     
  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it would be hard to write a character with whom I had absolutely NOTHING in common, but I think it would also be pretty hard to imagine a human being like that. I mean, a character might be pushy where I'm reserved, but that's a pretty surface-level difference, right?

    I think it would be hard to write a character who, for example, was a complete psychopath who had no empathy, who hated animals, hated humanity, had no sense of humour, didn't value intelligence, etc. etc. Like, if I wrote down fifty characteristics about myself and then tried to write a character who was the exact opposite in all those characteristics? Yeah, it would be hard for me to write that character b/c I think it would be hard for me to find a way to understand that character.

    But if there are just a few differences? Not an issue.

    Try to understand why the character is the way s/he is (and, as part of this, you'll have to try to understand why you are the way you are). Take it from there.
     
  7. Dunning Kruger
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    Dunning Kruger Active Member

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    Your description of the character is interesting. Characterstics such as soft, indecisive, and often capable of making bad decisions are personality traits. Yet you are describing them as values. Values are things like your view of morality and related aspects. Family, social justice, patriotism. A soft personality can have a strong value system and vice versa.

    For the traits you described, it takes confidence to be decisive and wisdom to make good decisions. It requires confidence and some experience to communicate in a straightforward fashion. You might want to start by thinking about the distinctions here. Perhaps your character actually desires to possess the traits you are describing but lacks the ability to possess them. It actually provides a means of character development where through the course of the story they develop the ability to become the charactor you admire.
     
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  8. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    For any character I look for motivation. And I think this is where a lot of writer's can stall especially when they're going against their grain. They can't imagine why anyone would cover their body with tattoos. They can't imagine why anyone would kill their own child. Take the tattoo issue even if I feel strongly about it out of print, in my fictional world I can still have characters gush about tattoos.
    I try to find a link within myself - how do I gush about this? - and make it believable.

    Digging deep - my link would be those moments when I was young when I used to buy lick n stick tattoos from the bubble machines. Fuddy-duddy that I am - I used to love decorating my body and showing it off. When I tap into that I might not still agree with the character but I don't hold it against him.

    For my villain Charlie I created his own rules of logic.
     
  9. -oz
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    -oz Active Member

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    For every character I've created (which is a lot at this point), there's *something* that I share in common with them, even if it's just being tall. It can be the most minor thing in the world, but you have to relate somehow.

    My best piece of advice is to think of someone in your life who is indecisive and base your MC's thought process off of that. I totally piece together my characters from real life friends and relatives: my best friend's indecisiveness, my cousin's flirtatiousness, and my sister's short fuse. Voilà! I have a cute, flirty female protagonist who is still trying to figure out what to do with her life while she wastes it away flirting with dudes at a bar. It's easy to slip into this character to write if you can relate it with what you know (even though I'm an ugly, inflexible, ever-patient guy who couldn't pick up a chick if he tried).
     
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  10. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I've written several manuscripts with my writing partner @T.Trian, and while in the first two my characters were closer to what I'm like in the sense that I knew I could get along with these people, I had to later look elsewhere 'cause I didn't want to write the same character over and over again. So when we finally settled to polish our current WIP (most of the other manuscripts are finished drafts but not finished products), I had 3 characters who were quite different from myself. For example, I had to find ways to plausibly describe and "justify" e.g. faith, abstinence, and obsession, none of which have ever been part of my life. It's still challenging, but like @peachalulu said, finding the character's motivation really helps.

    Also, knowing their background may help to motivate you to write the character and explain why they're e.g. indecisive. She might be morbidly afraid of failure or some kind of punishment or afraid of accepting responsibility and that's why she lets others decide for her, and so on. Understanding why she makes wrong choices can be very intriguing. Why is she being self-destructive? Is she so afraid of letting herself down it's best not to even try? I think a lot of people can recognize themselves in that kind of character -- whether they like it or not. Nobody's strong and decisive all the time.

    As for being soft vs.being a no nonsense individual (I think this is what you were juxtaposing in your post as well). Perhaps you need to find something positive or admirable in the personality type you consider an opposite of yours, so as to understand their "beliefs" and "values" (I used quotation marks, I'll explain later why)? For example, not speaking your mind is not necessarily a negative thing or a sign of weakness. Have you heard the shit people talk about behind these "no nonsense" people? They call them arrogant twats, or simply difficult (I can recall two conversations like that from the past two months, one at work, one at a party), so there're good and bad sides to both types. Sometimes softer people are called e.g. shifty and dishonest, like you don't know if they secretly hate you 'cause they want to be nice to everybody, so yeah, nobody's perfect.

    But these are not really values and beliefs, are they? Just personality traits that have their strengths and weaknesses.

    The good thing about your character is that you can really develop her over the course of the story. Maybe she'll grow more confident, stops sabotaging herself, or whatever you decide. On the other hand, she might have some skill she's really confident about, and this way you can show another side of her to the reader (so we don't get frustrated) before she finds her feet in other aspects of her life as well.
     
  11. Ivana
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    Ivana Contributing Member

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    That's where all the fun is! :D
    Actually, mc in my first novel really annoyed me. It took me some time to realize that he possesses some of my own bad characteristics which I hated to admit. :p
    Anyway, I think writing a character which (you think) is your total oposite can be really exciting and challenging.
     
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  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Don't laugh, but one of the best sources of character determination is a good horoscope book. It doesn't matter whether or not you believe in astrology, but astrology offers lots of different types of characters. One of the best books I have is called Sun Sign, Moon Sign by Charles and Suzi Harvey. The subtitle is: Discover the key to your unique personality through the 144 Sun-Moon combinations. This book goes into several pages of detail about each 'type,' including Themes, Relationships, Greatest Strengths, Greatest Weaknesses, Images for Integration and finishes with the names of famous people who were born under that sign combination.

    If you are ever stuck for a character, you could do worse that get this book, or one like it. It goes deeply into motivation, rather than superficial characteristics, which are an immense help to a writer. If you understand a character's motivation for the kind of personality they exhibit to the world, then you won't be tempted to write them as if they were you.
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2015
  13. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I completely agree. This is one of the most challenging and interesting things about writing to me, putting myself in somebody elses clothes and with their given background and personality trying to get into their mind and understand the reasons why they act like they do. How challenging would it be to write only about characters that mirrors ourselves and share our beliefs? I think this all depends on your ability to put yourself aside and "become" that character on the page.
     
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  14. Lemon flavoured
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    Lemon flavoured Active Member

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    I kind of like writing characters who aren't like me, although I do usually include at least one character who is based on me to some degree (almost never as the MC though). One of the "villain" characters in my political intrigue story is quite a lot like me, just with the worst parts of my personality made more extreme. The villain in my fantasy story is based on a guy who used to bully me at school.
     
  15. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    It can be especially tricky, I've found, when you're writing in first person. All that "I" can become *I* if you're not paying attention.
     
  16. uncephalized
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    uncephalized Active Member

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    I don't find this difficult at all. Spend time observing other people, listen to now they talk, what they talk about; figure out what is important to them. As others have said, the character's motivation is the key. What will they fight for? What is precious to them? What are they afraid of? What do they hate? What do they love?

    I just finished a short story with a main character, Ribekka, who is sarcastic, skeptical and distrustful of authority--these are traits I can identify with, but the mix of her personality ends up much different from mine. She is motivated by being good at what she does (computerized cartography), by gaining the personal respect of others, and by survival. She comes from a lower-class background, and is mentally tough, capable of grinding through danger and difficulty and of working very hard, especially for a person or goal she respects, and she resents being treated as a lesser being simply because of wealth, rank, or status, which she sees as mere labels.

    Her superior officer Michao is different, arrogant and ego-driven to a larger degree. Handsome, wealthy and intelligent, he is vain and proud, and much more motivated by status and public reputation. He is more authoritarian, tends to treat his inferiors as servants rather than valuable assets, and has little sense of humor. And he is willing to take unreasonable risks and make outrageous demands of others if he believes it will be to his benefit.

    Both characters take some traits that I have in myself, and exaggerate them in some way. I think of myself as more like Ribekka than like Michao, but I also can sometimes be arrogant in my knowledge and abilities like he is, and inconsiderate of others' opinions. I think you can go a long way by looking inside yourself and saying, "here is a trait I have. What would my world be like if it was a much bigger part of me?" And then you can go the rest of the way by observing and understanding other people.
     
  17. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    Interesting topic. Thus far, both of my MC's have been female so right out of the box I'm doing the 'opposite' of who I am. I sprinkle in elements of myself (sarcasm, over-thinking, low tolerance for stupidity) but also mix in things I'm decidedly not (particularly brave, willing and able to take lives with no remorse). I think if a character is challenging to write then you are on the proper path. If its too easy you may just be creating a reflection of yourself.

    I would argue this is not always bad. A character in my first book is very heavily pulled from my life and much of his background is directly autobiographical. However, since the female is the main protagonist I put most of my efforts into writing her. The male character is ultimately a vehicle for her to live and have a purpose in the book. Having done that once though, I am not interested in repeating the same character (male) in another story. I do struggle slightly trying to make the male 'love interest' characters decidedly different from myself to avoid that trap.

    Frequently I think we probably write the person we would like to be rather than the person we are.
     
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  18. animenagai
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    animenagai Member

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    I do the same with personality types. I used to be obsessed with the enneagram and Myers-Briggs type analyses (still kinda am). They're soft science, but they are still more scientific than horoscopes and are very powerful tools to use when writing.

    @carsun1000 Here's an example: Take your situation, flip your MC's psyche and your own, and you basically have my situation. For most of my life I've been easy going, passive and indecisive; my MC main character is blunt, action-oriented and determined. I can shrug off most things, but everything annoys my MC. As you could imagine, he can be difficult to write. I've been using the enneagram for insights. Here's the description of one of the types:

    And here's some further insight into their personality:

    Read more here: http://theenneagram.blogspot.co.nz/2007/09/type-1.html

    You obviously have to flesh out some details that are specific to your story, but these types give you a good baseline to work off.

    So right now, I'm thinking that my MC's father died as a soldier because the men and system were inept. The main character hence tries to correct the system from within. He's very critical of others, but ultimately, he's just unleashing his insecurities and wonders if he could have saved his Dad when things turned sour.

    The thing with personality types is that you don't even have to agree with the systems! Still useful. I really like the depth that theses systems bring.
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2015
  19. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I don't happen to think it's a good idea to write characters that are me. In fact, I think it's a bad habit to get into, if for no other reason than that it makes all of your characters (or at least all of your heroes) the same. It also risks you becoming too emotionally invested in your character - overly protective and tending to idealize him/her.
     
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  20. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Hoo boy. As an INTJ (~1W4), that enneagram summary sure does make me wince.

    OP: I can highly recommend having a look at MBTI - in particular, "Understand me II", some of the MBTI websites have fantastic information, and the sunsign stuff mentioned above can also be a great resource in understanding essential patterns of behaviour of more feeler-type people.

    Another good resource could be love languages. There are only 5 and they provide a good foundation of what motivates people or makes them feel the best about themselves, as well as how they communicate love / care / compassion.
     
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  21. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    So what happens if you already have a low self-esteem and super negative image of yourself? :D

    T and I wrote this contemporary romp many years ago. I sinned: I modeled my female character after myself... She was terrible. I recognize I'm not that terrible, that I'm really not that big of a dick in real life, but, god, she absorbed every damn awful aspect I could find about myself. If more people than one person had read that rather terrible manuscript, I would've fully expected them to hate her with vigor. :ohno:
     
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  22. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I have another suggestion, he wrote somewhat tautologically.

    Have you considered checking out meetup.com for an infj or any --F- meetup group? You could go and hang out with them for a couple of hours. It can provide some insight into why / how people can appear to be indecisive and very careful about how they word things / conflict avoidant, etc.

    I'm lucky in that I have an INFJ friend and get to see both the good and the bad. Sometimes people just prefer to be led. Personally I am a fan of the type, even though it is often at odds with my own mostly confident, assertive, etc self.
     
  23. Shbooblie
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    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    I'm the opposite to you OP, I'm writing a direct and decisive character but I myself am a typical Pisces with an INFP personality type (not that I necessarily believe in them but the descriptions are definitely me) . I must say I'm finding it very enjoyable to put myself in the head of the kind of person I sometimes wish I could be!
     
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  24. animenagai
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    animenagai Member

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    lol I also wince when I read my own type description (4w3). The enneagram descriptions can be quite negative, which is a good thing for writers. We're more interested in a character's weaknesses anyway.
     
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  25. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Damnit really? I was aiming for strengths - seriously. OOh ooh maybe that will be my USP!? Seriously though - can you unpack that a bit, it seems on topic still?
     

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