1. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    Balancing Strength, Independence with Empathy, Likeability

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Foxe, Sep 7, 2016.

    Hello folks,

    In my first novel project, I have a female character whom I want to embody strength and independence, but who makes poor decisions due to an underlying insecurity based which pushes her to project strength and independence even more so to make up for moments of doubt.

    My intent is to make her a likeable, even admirable, and ultimately to for her issues to be understood by both character and reader.

    The problem is is that in an effort to make her strong and admirable and free and whimsical, I've made her out to be almost naive and conceited.

    How to I balance this character who is admired and desired by many, but ultimately running away from herself and puts up an impenetrable front to others, even when she knows it's harming her?
     
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  2. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Just drawing from real life experiences: Sounds like to me she's been hurt emotionally and she's afraid to let go of her armor. One good relationship might help but is that even possible? Especially if you want to sustain her independence.

    I don't write for a living but this is my opinion about women.

    I've known a few woman who love to be in love but remain independent, but not very many. I know you're not talking about romance (unless you are) but romantic relationships make us soft, in a good way. But that damn vulnerability screws it up every time. :)

    Loving your children helps too.

    Actually, I see lots of possibilities for this character. Maybe find one particular area of her life where she's vulnerable AND hopeful.
     
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  3. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    That's great advice and I will add that to her background and fit it into the story.

    The independence and strength manifests itself in her pursuit of art, her whimsical approach to life (so whimsical that she never settles), and with multitude of her lovers.
    Unfortunately, as convention has it, this classify as a sort of bitch. But I don't want that AT ALL. I want her to be loved and admired by the readers.

    I think that ultimately, I want her to be admired at the start for her strength and independence, and then at the end for her better understanding of herself which leads her to be softer and vulnerable, but more confident in what she wants which makes her happy.
     
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  4. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Just a couple of questions. What kind of relationships do you want her to have? And, is she the type of person who becomes obsessed with what she wants to the point she can't discern between reality and fantasy?

    When I first read this and answered I was thinking 'no' to the second question, but if it's yes, that's an altogether different type of person I had in mind. Can't help with that! Unless you put her in a mental institution! lol
     
  5. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    She's not obsessed. She's a genuine person who wants to be good do good. But she hurts in her attempt to pad herself from being hurt herself. However, it's justified (at least by others) by her free spiritedness. The more she runs, the more she is desired.

    What we do see from her is that she sabotages good things (shuts people out, leaves altogether) when they get too close.

    Edit to add: her relationships with the protagonist will be a sort of "meant to be, if only she allows herself to have it" while the other ones will be self-destructive, or very emotionally non-committal.
     
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  6. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Gotcha! Yeah, I know this person or know women like her. I'd say she needs lots of faith, hope & trust. A tall order to fill!

    This is an interesting thread. I'll keep watching!
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    One of the hazards of having several prerequisites for a character is that it can hamstring your writing of her as new ideas emerge.

    You want her to be strong and independent, but she makes bad decisions and then pushes ahead because she wants to be strong and independent. But you also want the reader to like her and maybe even admire her. So, stumbling block #1 - it's difficult to like someone who makes bad decisions because she wants to appear strong and independent. It's fine to have those traits, and it's even acceptable for someone to make bad decisions because of them. But I'd expect to see someone at some point learn from her bad decisions and change her behavior because of them. Maybe she realizes she's not as "strong" as she thought; or she realizes that being independent does not mean shutting out advice from others. OTOH, if you really think that this obstinate person is really who she is and she cannot change, then you need to accept that people won't empathize. One possible way out might be (he said, not having a clue about the story you're actually writing but just approaching the problem in general terms) that she embarks on a course of action rashly in aid of someone else (or a cause of some kind), realizes that the decision is bad for her, personally, but helpful to someone else and sticks to it, anyway, eyes wide open.

    Good luck.
     
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  8. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Ed's reply made me remember why I hesitate to give suggestions about these things. I don't, yet, look at things from a fantasy/science fiction/action point of view. I have lots to say about personalities and relationships, but that's about it.

    Watching this thread has already helped! Very interesting!
     
  9. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    This is the ultimate goal. She will redefine her strength throughout the course of the story. I think I like the idea that she realizes she's been doing it all wrong and tries to fix the situation, but makes the situation worse in so doing. However, it's her realization that is the point of growth for her character. The drama that unfolds reveals truth behind every character (protagonist + two other male secondary characters), behind the veil they put up for society. Kind of like the saying "in vino veritas" but more appropriately, "in drama veritas."

    The story is neither fantasy nor sci fi nor action! It takes place in Paris and it's about North American expats living in Europe.
     
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  10. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    How likeable she is to the reader will be strongly influenced by the opinions of other characters and how they treat her, despite her flaws.
     
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  11. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Oops! I made an assumption. You know what they say about those. Sorry! Very relieved to hear this! I can dig it! :)
     
  12. Phil Mitchell
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    Phil Mitchell Active Member

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    Don't we all, but you're not going to be able to control who the audience loves. What's admirable to you may be annoying to me and vice versa. You just have to let the character BE. Write the character with conviction and challenge the audience to take it or leave it.
     
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  13. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    In other words, don't baby the readers.

    I like that.
     
  14. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think it's a matter of babying the readers. It's a matter of holding their interest.
     
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  15. IHaveNoName
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    She doesn't have to be likeable at first, as long as she's interesting. I'm going to echo what Ed said, because it's very good advice.

    I don't know if you watch anime, but if you do, try out Re: Zero Kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu. The MC is earnest and tries so hard to impress/support this girl he loves, to the point where you start to hate him for it (despite hating him, I kept watching because his character was so damn good). Eventually, though, realizes that he's being an ass and finally mans up and becomes more of a hero-type. I'm glad I kept watching to that point, because the change is very rewarding to see.

    One of the MCs in my WIP is the same way. She starts off as a spoiled daddy's girl who was bullied by her siblings (except her youngest sister) and has no friends and little socialization. She's sent to an academy to learn magic, and things start to turn around for her after she saves a fellow student from getting beaten to death by a bunch of racist assholes.
     
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  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't feel that I fully understand the situation. Maybe more specifics?
     
  17. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Although you've already found out that this particular story ISN'T fantasy/etc., @cydney , what I don't understand is why you think that there's a specifically fantasy/etc. way of looking at personalities and relationships. If anything, fantasy/etc. has a reputation for shallow, unconvincing personalities (e.g., Conan the Barbarian, Jack Bauer), and could use a little more depth.

    I don't understand what you mean by this.

    1/ I don't understand what "others" are justifying. a) The fact that she hurts...what? Herself? Kittens? Her parents?... b)The fact that she pads herself (strange image...I'm imagining her in one of those Sumo suits!)? c) The fact that she's trying to avoid being hurt? OK, by a process of elimination it must be others that she's hurting; and that leads me on to...

    2/"Others" don't usually justify our behaviour because of our "free- spiritedness". They're more likely to throw in "free-spiritedness" as being one more thing that's wrong with our character, alongside being a mean bitch who's on some sort of power trip to make the life of every man she meets that bit more miserable. And, yes, there may well be some sexism thrown in with that judgement; it may well be that it's made by those suffering men who're getting together to bitch about her.

    3/ The more she runs... Do you mean playing hard-to-get? Treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen?

    You've got a tough gig making her "admired and desired" by many, as your OP says, whilst insulating herself from involvement. The best you're likely to get is scary. She may come across as strong, independent, etc.; she may look a million bucks. But, personally, I'd run a mile.
     
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  18. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Another real life experience: based on what you've described, the women I've known who've more or less met the description have not been seen in such a positive light by others. Sure, other women would envy her because she seems popular and men would definitely want to at least bang her -- but in the end people get tired of her if she's like a wind vane; doesn't know what she wants, can't commit, seems to disregard other people's feelings ergo appears selfish, and so on. She's easy to romanticize from afar, but you don't want to be in her inner circle because it's exhausting.

    My female MC is kinda like that, but I'm not really even attempting to make her 100 % likeable. When her free-spiritedness becomes assholeness, the people around her will react to that, and not necessarily by swooning.

    I'd say it's fine if your character has many colors. She can be strong and vulnerable at the same time.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why do I keep envisioning Louise from Bob's Burgers?
     
  20. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel like this type of character is quite common, although I cant for the life of me remember which characters! There should be plenty of examples of this type.
     
  21. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Just my take on this, but I think any character who makes poor decisions does so because she (or he) is naive and/or insecure. I don't really see this as a problem. These two traits often go hand in hand.

    And I've met numerous people IRL who are strong (you might even say 'forceful') of character, but naive and insecure. I don't see this as a problem either.
     
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  22. cydney
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    cydney Banned

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    Shadowfax, that's not what I meant. Not by a long shot. I meant that I thought the story might be written in that type of setting.

    @Foxe , you want this girl to be likeable, right? Not dead.

    This thread continues to challenge me. Thanks for that!
     
  23. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    She hurts others by her actions, like not fully committing to those who care or making herself vulnerable in response to their attempts to get closer. They may say something like, "I tried to get her to open up to me, but she's just too much of a free spirit."

    She pads (insulates) herself by leaving someone, or a situation, before she becomes vulnerable and loses control.

    Free-spiritedness is a double-edged trait, it makes a character both desirable and fleeting at the same time. She is not a mean bitch who's on a power trip to make every man she meets a bit more miserable, but that is the ultimate result of how she is.


    She runs away. She leaves, disappears from someone's life when the going gets tough, or as I explained above.

    I wouldn't say scary but certainly intimidating. She's not for everyone, and not everyone is for her -- like people who find her scary :)
     
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  24. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    Yes, this is what will lead to her growth. No one has unlimited patience for her, and she realizes that she suffers in the long run for being an asshole.
     
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  25. Foxe
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    Foxe Active Member

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    I am putting a lot of consideration in this character, and specifically this dynamic of traits is because the story will largely be about her as seen through the eyes of the protagonist.
    Her character will bring to light the greed and rapaciousness of two other characters, which leads to her realization. The protagonist will also gain from her revelation and growth, as well as from his own.
     
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