1. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    For some reason I'm attracted to damaged characters...

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Mackers, Mar 22, 2014.

    When I think about all the things that I have ever written, many of the characters I have written about (either 3rd person or 1st person narrative) happen to be damaged people. I have no idea why this is. I am a normal sort of person, if a little manic and insecure sometimes, with a weird sense of humour. But otherwise, I'm not mentally ill.

    When I think about why I write the things I do, it's possible I just happen to believe damaged characters are more interesting. They sort of take you out of normal reality, and into something else that pushes the boundaries. We see normal people everyday, and sometimes when you try to write about them it can come across as mundane; it reminds me of the kind of beginner writers who sit down and write about their own life, under the misguided sense that other readers would find it interesting. They don't.

    This, in turn, makes me think of the relationship between reality and fiction, where fiction of course is a bending of reality, sometimes with realistic elements. To an extent, fiction imitates real life but it manipulates it for its own ends. Damaged people end up in fiction all the time; sometimes it's fantastic, other times it's irritating and edgy for the sake of it. With characters, I often feel there is a delicate balance between writing things that feel genuine and writing something that is entirely out of the ordinary. It's a skill that I've yet to master.

    I suppose the real gift in terms of writing is in making the average interesting, giving a testament to our times, perhaps even without the reader noticing.

    I think that's the real challenge for us all...
     
  2. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think "damaged" characters also present opportunities for exploring new territory that is rich in potential conflict.
     
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  3. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    The thing is, there's no such thing as 'normal'. Not in the way that everyone thinks, that other people are more disciplined, uncomplicated, easy going, contented, ordinary, (insert any number of adjectives that describe 'normal'). So really, the 'normal' people aren't so normal after all. But with characters, you get to see into the soul of another person, all kinds of stuff get revealed there. A lot more that we ever get to find out about others in real life.
     
  4. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    Good point Ed.

    I've sometimes had the criticism from readers that they don't like reading "loser" characters, when they've read something I've written...This sometimes confuses me. When I write these sorts of characters I consciously try to avoid whining, self-pitying, and things like that. I can understand people would not want to read that. But I think when you concentrate on the darker sides of characters, it's maybe inevitable you'll take readers to places that might make them uncomfortable. It frustrates me sometimes that readers expect their main character to be their best friend, and agree with everything they say
     
  5. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    It's very difficult to portray characters with a fully-developed 'soul' as you mention. You only have a finite number of opportunities to present their character through dialogue and that has to fit with the prose at that precise moment, and what they say will of course affect the prose that follows it. It can lead you down dead ends, or not fit with the rest of the story
     
  6. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    People don't always do what they say or say what they do. I think dialogue can have a degree of subtext that hints at what's below the surface. Also, you have the internal monologue which is sort of what the character is saying but can be more detailed or completely different from the dialogue they engage in. Their body language and actions don't have to be consistent with either their dialogue or monologue.
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    It may depend on how wide your population of readers is. Are they from the same social group? Age group? Do they all share, more or less, the same values? "Loser characters" is a very unspecific term that could signal many things, and the fact that you do not present them as self-pitying might not have anything to do with it. Certain stories and certain characters make us feel uncomfortable, and I've always thought that one of the benefits of reading widely is to force oneself to acknowledge that such characters exist.
     
  8. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just about every new police procedural or spy show on TV features a "damaged" character. Personally I can't stand them. I don't find that they add interest at all and are basically just annoying. That doesn't mean that people can't be non-standard.

    For instance, I don't see Hannibal Lecter as "damaged" at all. He is perfectly functional and is happy with the way he is. He doesn't agonise and breast beat over his supposed faults or failures. Dexter is not "damaged" either. He has come to terms with what he is and does his best to live his life the way he wants. Modesty Blaise and Matt Helm are not "damaged" because they function perfectly well in their chosen world.

    "Damaged" is the alcoholic detective who lets a murderer escape because he was shaking too hard to stop her, or is totally wrecked by his divorce and lives in an empty apartment furnished with cardboard boxes. I do not enjoy reading about such characters at all. I much prefer characters like Reddington (James Spader) in "Blacklist".
     
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  9. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    Lecter isn't damaged, but he is certainly loony, which I love. The same goes for Dexter. Both those characters push the boundaries of sense and stability, in a way. They ruffle feathers, if you see what I mean. It all depends on what I mean by damaged. I'm basically referring to unhinged, irreverent characters. Trauma might play a part, but isn't an absolute necessity. I like characters who don't give a ****
     
  10. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I rather liked Monk. :)

    As to OP, maybe the term "loser" is applied not because the readers think these characters are self-pitying, but because the characters have too much stuff happen to them instead of taking action themselves? It may be something to do with how these characters respond to conflict in your stories.
     
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  11. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    I don't know Ed...The word loser is such an American term. I guess people mean 'unsuccessful', typically meaning no career, social problems such as a lack of friends or ambition to go places. It could mean a lot of things, maybe even drug dependency or something.
     
  12. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Perhaps your choice of words or the way you have your characters act convey the "looser" impression even when that is not what you intended. Choice of words and body language can be a difficult thing. What may be restraint or courtesy to one, could be seen as weakness by another.
     
  13. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    Weakness can definitely play a part.

    I'll give you an example. The latest piece I've written is a first person short story about a severely socially awkward man in his 30s. He is shy, unhappy in his job etc...what you'd expect from a character like that. He is definitely weak, there's no doubt about that. He's also lonely. But I've tried to make the narrative style really unusual. Unusual in the sense his view of the world is weird, almost surreal at times. He's lonely, he probably needs to see a therapist, but there's gallows humour thrown in as well, which I hope will alleviate the discomfort a reader might experience at the subject matter. It's got a sense of realism, maybe even sadness. It would kind of frustrate me if someone hated the story if they didn't agree with his worldview, and his actions, because, as a character, he is what he is, and he can't help it.
     
  14. Bryan Romer
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    The fact is, unless there is something inspiring about the story or unusual wisdom in his words and thoughts, most people dislike reading about someone with the characteristics you describe, perhaps because there is some of it in all of us. I doubt they disagree with his world view so much as they don't see any reason to empathise and to follow the story. You need to find that reason.
     
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  15. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    That's essentially what I'm aiming for which I hope will redeem the story. If it doesn't work, oh well...
     
  16. Echoesian
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    I personally enjoy reading about abnormal characters. If it's well done, it's an opportunity to see life from a different perspective, which I love. A socially awkward character is going to have conflict, that's a guarantee, so it's all in how it's handled by the writer. A character that comes to mind is Libby from Dark Places-- she was a mess and I loved that character.

    You can't blame the writer for what the characters say or do, right? :)
     
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  17. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    Sounds interesting, I'll check that out thanks :)
     
  18. vera2014
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    vera2014 Contributing Member

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    I like novels where the main character goes through growth--the bigger the jump, the better. If they're already perfect then the story isn't as inspirational or interesting. Obstacles drive a story forward. Flawed characters are intriguing. On DeviantART, there is a lot more art of Loki than Thor...Loki is doing something right, lol. I like to see mentally ill people portrayed fairly. I'm schizoaffective--I hear voices and see things--so fairness is important to me (I'm not going to eat anyone's liver). Unfortunately, some thriller and horror books don't handle it well. The movie A Beautiful Mind was very well done.
     
  19. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    This is really interesting for me. I wrote a story recently involving someone with schizoprehnia; I tried to portray it accurately, to what I know.

    If you don't mind me asking, what is your experience of it? I've never met anybody with it before. In the story, I described the audible voices demeaning the sufferer, constantly calling him names and putting him down etc, which he simply ignored. I described hallucinations involving angels and things like that...Would that be realistic at all? There was a point in the story where he had his medication sitting on the coffee table, and the voices were encouraging him not to take the tablets. I don't know if that would be accurate at all...
     
  20. vera2014
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    I'm pretty open about it. No worries. Your story sounds realistic. I’ve gone off of meds many times in the past. My reason was that the anti-psychotics dimmed the voices and visuals; I felt that part of my social life faded. I have much better conversations when off meds. Everything comes through crystal clear. I got lonely and wanted it all to come back full-force.

    Usually, the biggest reason that schizophrenics go off of meds is because of the side effects (sexual problems are a big reason men and women go off of them).

    The hallucinations say anything you can imagine: they babble hideous insults, beautiful flattery and everything in between. I've seen creatures that aren't in any movie. Some people with severe depression also hear insults.

    I got off lucky. By some fluke, I have no problem with hygiene or cleaning my apartment (in fact I wash my hands so much that my knuckles get red and bleed but that’s another story). My emotions aren’t dead. I don’t talk out loud to myself—it’s all hidden from others. I can hold jobs. These things place me in the schizoaffective area (right now) but it is a bit murky...one illness can cross over a bit into others as far as symptoms go.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2014
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  21. aikoaiko
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    I agree. Damage is Relative.:) I suppose it's more exciting to tell the stories of people who are off-kilter, but I guess a writer with enough skill could make anyone sound interesting. A story about a 'normal' person might seem ordinary on the face of it---but everyone has a past and reasons for being the way they are, so there is really no such thing as normal or even 'undamaged', in the end.

    But speaking of Conventionally Damaged, I started reading 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'. I know that trilogy came out a while ago, but I just picked it up this week. The writing isn't exceptional and most of the characters seem mediocre, but Lisbeth Salander is a total shot in the arm! I am blown away by the strangeness of her, and there is absolutely no question that she is really, really damaged:eek:.
     
  22. Bryan Romer
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    I'm fine with a "damaged" person in the story if the damaged character has an interesting purpose. That is perfectly legitimate. But far too many writers use it as a shortcut to making the main character/hero "sympathetic" by giving him or her a huge and immediately obvious handicap. "Normal" people have more than enough handicaps to work with already.
     
  23. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Strange people are often more interesting than mundane ones. But there's a twist. A character who may appear mundane or average, may not be at all.

    I'm always attracted to characters who appear normal, but have an inner life that is either weird and wonderful, or very screwed up. I love that 'mask' sort of thing that happens in situations like that. And I'm always interested in a character who goes through the motions of life outside himself, when in fact, he's not fully engaged with it at all. Instead, his inner demons or dreams are what feel real to him. What he says and does, and what he feels and thinks are polar opposites.

    I suspect a lot of us feel that way, from time to time. I know I do. It's kind of the photo-negative of your kind of character, but it probably boils down to the same thing. Weird IS wonderful...at least from a writer's perspective. Sometimes the buttoned-up character encounters the outwardly strange one, and all sorts of cathartic happenings take place. I love this idea.
     
  24. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    I recently started writing some stories where the leading man was damaged very badly damaged.
     
  25. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    Just from reading this post some questions come to mind. Why is he weak? why is he shy? Why is he unhappy in his job? Why is he lonely? You can only lead the reader on for so long. So, as you indicated, in order to agree with his "worldview" we are going to have to see some justification for his perspective. If it turns out he's just a little...wimp...well your readers won't give a damn about him. Everyone has problems.
     

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