1. TheDarkWriter
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    TheDarkWriter Active Member

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    Is my main character too dark?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by TheDarkWriter, Mar 19, 2016.

    So I'm writing two books and this one is about a monster hunter basically he's like John/Dean/Sam Winchester meets The Punisher. He's driven by vengeance and is very ruthless he's the kind of monster hunter that wouldn't think twice about killing humans. For example if he sees a woman or couple in trouble or sees something really bad he will snap and kill the bad guy in the situation regardless of whether the bad guy is a monster or human.

    He does however have some flaws he suffers from PTSD, alcoholism, and is abusive towards his love interest. He's very damaged and knows it and when he's not monster hunting he's trying to work on his issues. The main character was once a regular guy then his life was ruined. Ultimately because of a series of traumatic and very bad events he's gone from a nice guy to borderline nut case.

    The whole theme of the story is the constant debate as to what makes a man a man and what makes a monster a monster. Through out the series he does change but it's a very slow process. Is he too dark?
     
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  2. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    No.
     
  3. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    NOOO! Do it! Absolutely love it! There is nothing more refreshing than a story that recognizes the complexity of morality. Look at Firefly. SOO good. Why? Because it was about more than simple good/evil, a lot more. Half of the morality is left up to the audience to decide rather than giving clear weight 100% of the time. This character looks he could be really fun and interesting and thoughtfully made. I hope the rest of this story is like that because that would make it quite possibly awesome! :superagree:
     
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  4. Sundowner
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    I had a similar issue to yours. I'm guessing what you're asking isn't "are they too dark?" but rather "are they too boring?" The secret, if you wanna call it that, to writing a dark character, is to give them some light-heartedness or humor, either for the character or the story. You can write the baddest, darkest, most tragic character you can think of, and as long as you balance it out with breathers of light-hearted moments, they won't get stale. Off the top of my head, the best example of that I can think of is the 2015 film He Never Died, just because I watched it recently. Just don't take it seriously, that's all. Have him kick some monsters in the balls or non-nonchalantly whack a weapon out of the hands of a powerful enemy. I'm not saying to make it a full-blown comedy or anything like that, just, do things that are unexpected. The contrast, besides breaking up the mood to keep it from getting stale, also helps contrast the tragedies of the story and help emphasize them.
     
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  5. Feo Takahari
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    Feo Takahari Active Member

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    Only killing bad guys might not be dark enough. Consider the Count of Monte Cristo, who torments and murders those who wronged him. The point when he finally realizes he's gone too far is when his actions lead to the death of a child.

    Depending on what "abusive" means, that could definitely be dark.
     
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  6. LinnyV
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    LinnyV Contributing Member

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    I think it's more about if you can bring across his point of view authentically. So while we may not agree with his awfulness, we can appreciate the source of his darkness. The flaws have to make sense in context of the story.

    So back to your monster hunter:
    Driven by vengeance - fine
    He has PSTD - fine
    Alcholism - fine and would make sense relating to above
    Abusive - also fine, he's aggressive and has a lack of impulse control. Alcohol can make this worst.
    Kills at injustice - relates to the lack of control above. He's a psychopath to me. Some people have that in them and they can use that for good or bad.

    I don't think he's excessively dark or unique in the fictional world. Everyone loves a well written anti-hero so you'll be fine. :)
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2016
  7. LostThePlot
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    I second this notion. You can't go 'too dark'. You can however go 'too dull'. Dark by itself is not necessarily interesting, especially in ruthless character that (no offense intended) we've see that type before. Making dark, even extremely dark, something that's still engaging and not just a death march on paper (which is coincidentally my bands name) is giving it contrast. The dark parts can plunge as deeply dark as you want but that can't be the default tone of the book; you need lighter moments to set up the stakes and ensure we sympathize. It's critical for story pacing; not even I can write 'all harrowing all the time; we need some quiet time between intense dark sections so that when we go back in we've re-centered and are ready to be pulled off balance again. If there's no contrast to that then you just get numb to it and stop caring.

    Perhaps most importantly showing different sides of your guy, especially him doing something very normal and nice will help your readers feel this guy is similar to themselves. That's super important in this kind of work. It's something I've done in all my books because a big point in my work is saying 'these people you think are fucked up are exactly like you' and you should look to do something similar. Give your guy something normal and everyday that he takes some happiness from, something he has a genuine passion for. If you can really hook your readers with this; make them see themselves in your MC then they won't come away thinking 'is man really the monster?' they'll come away thinking 'am I really the monster' and that's vastly more effective.

    So; you need contrast. That's important. You need to punctuate this guys work with softer, quieter moments and positive ones at that. I would dial right down the personal problems he has too. Not to say you shouldn't show him drinking; just don't address it directly. Outside work he always has a drink in his hand, but he doesn't see it as a problem. He has flashbacks but he considers it part of the job. This will give you the space to show another side of him and set up the core conflict in the character which (from your initial description) I think is lacking. Give him something to be happy about and you'll unlock his real potential.
     
  8. jannert
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    Well, it seems to me he has a couple of issues driving him that are not his fault, and creates situations that he can't control. He has PSTD, which is horrific for him and is totally not his fault. He drinks, which is his fault (for starting in the first place), but what the drunken state makes him do is not. He is drunk and out of control. Presumably suffers some remorse when (if) he sobers up. Don't forget also that alcoholism will mean he's not going to be able to function very well over a long period of time. If he's just a binge drinker, I suppose that effect is lessened, but if he's a constant drinker, his thinking is going to be constantly muddled, and while he may be occasionally energised, most of the time he's going to be flat on his arse. So keep that in mind.

    Vengeance? Well, the coupling of those two things I mentioned would affect how he takes his revenge (for something, I presume, is also not his fault?)

    He hates injustice. Injustice can make him kill the person/thing he sees perpetrating an injustice? Okay, that's a huge over-reaction and shows lack of judgement or control ...but that doesn't make him a psychopath. A psychopath generally feels no emotion, does not relate or empathise with anyone, which is a psychopath's main problem. A psychopath would not give a shit if somebody was being unjustly treated. He would view the situation as a potential way to advance his own cause instead. He might well kill somebody who was perpetrating an injustice. But he'd do it to advance his own cause. Either to ingratiate himself with the person he's rescued, or throw people off track about what he's really like.

    I would leave clinical diagnosis (including PSTD) out of your story altogether, and just build your character from scratch. What happened to him? What made him into what he is now? What kind of personality did he have before? What changed it, if it did change?

    And here's a little tip towards giving the a story some real kick. What would it take to heal him? I don't mean you have to heal him in the story, but always leave that little hint that if the right things happen he COULD be healed or redeemed. That gives depth to the story that nothing else will.
     
  9. TheDarkWriter
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    TheDarkWriter Active Member

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    I agree with all your points my main concern was the statement I made about the abuse. I was worried about that the reason I included it is that I needed to add something that shows he's genuinely not well. I mean a guy who hunts monters and is driven by vengeance is clearly not going to be very stable and would likely show that in all ascpects of his life so I didn't want to do a guy whose just a monster hunter with a drinking problem and I'm thinking about removing that drinking problem bit because well alcoholism is dibelitating and realistically an alcoholic wouldn't be much of a capable threat.
     
  10. LostThePlot
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    You'd be surprised.

    Thing is this; as you (quite rightly) say this is not the portrait of a stable person. Thing is that you can't stay balanced on a razors edge of stability for a long time. People find ways to cope. Not healthy ways by any means but still ways. People learn to self medicate even if they don't really understand what they are doing. They figure out stuff that will allow them to cope just a bit longer. For some (including me) the idea of slaving their emotional state to an external force is substantially preferable to letting what's in your head walk around freely. Addiction isn't a great way of life but it's a step up from being a barely functional pile of sludge who has figured out how they are going to kill themselves and are just waiting to hit the bottom. That's why I like him having some kind of crutch. He needs one. He's found a way to cope (kinda) and that's what people with all kinds of diseases do. Either they kill you right away or you learn to cope(ish) and settle in for the long haul.

    Also, surprisingly to most, addiction doesn't mean you need to get hammered (or high) all the time. It just means that if you don't put a little bit of the good stuff in your blood then you get withdrawal symptoms (which are a whole heap of not fun) but as long as you do you are effectively 'sober'. Your guy can be a drunk and be just as good a shot as he ever was. Probably not halfway down the bottle but as long as he gets a belt from his flask in the morning he'll be good to go. Protip - Addicts never travel without their tipple of choice; if he's a drinker and has to go outside civilization to hunt he'll hide booze in anything that he reasonably can.

    As for abuse; I don't like it as a symptom. That's not because it's so impossible for someone with PTSD to abuse someone but in general (anyone knows better tell me) I believe that sufferers tend to react extremely poorly violence of any kind. If they are hallucinating or you scare them they might lash out and accidentally hurt someone but that's not the same thing as abuse. Again, I don't know for certain but it just doesn't quite mesh for me to see someone be both scared of violence and a perpetrator of violence; that's getting into kinda cognitive dissonance territory.

    On a more literary level I'm not crazy about seeing someone be physically abusive and have the narrative saying 'it's not really his fault, it's his illness'. It almost feels like the book is enabling his bad behavior. The only he gets a pass from me is if love interest literally terrifies him and gives him flashbacks; in which case why is this person a love interest? I mean, I'm not going to say people can't have their kinks but I think 'I like a woman who makes me scream in terror and believe I'm back in Nam' is pushing it a bit and I write weird sex in my books. If she (he?) doesn't scare your guy then he chooses to do it and in that case it's him not the disease.

    I think a better way to show that your guy is coming undone is to show just how dysfunctional he is in the real world. Show him being unable to emotionally connect with people, show him being paranoid and even violent at slight provocations, show him seeing everything in his life through the lens of hunting. So; he never walks anywhere, he stalks. He's always moving quietly, always carrying a weapon no matter what the law says. He expects other people to understand hunters hand signal and becomes angry when they don't. He doesn't go shopping, he gets provisions. He carries his life on his back, always ready to react to a new threat. Every day is a hunt, every day is a life or death struggle. That with the flashbacks and the drinking and the single minded focus on murdering the living shit out of the monsters... Yeah, that to me feels suitably unwound. Yeah, there's a lot of nuance to it that needs to be well written but it feels truer to the character.
     
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  11. Seraph751
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    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole...

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    I would classify this as psychological genre and no I don't think your character is too dark. This is interesting because it is realistic and people go through things like this (well maybe not as extreme in many cases). The psychological consequences of when you realize how far you have fallen the path of generally what is right and wrong and what you do or how your cope makes for many a fascinating read. This particular genre pushes the boundaries of what you think is right, what is not, how do you get there and when you do are you ok with what your are/have become.
     
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  12. LinnyV
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    LinnyV Contributing Member

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    The way I see it, what combination of flaws you choose is never wrong. We're not all the same. But the more socially unacceptable the flaw you have, the more work you have to do. We all know there are stuff that happens behind closed doors, and to always have main characters behave honorably is unrealistic. That's stuff for Romances, which I read a lot of ;)

    An abusive MC because he's spiraling down the path of evil makes sense to me. It's all about your execution and how you can draw the reader into his mind filled with rage and lost of control and of course, his heavy sense of regret. But that's me making stuff up, he may not feel any of that at all! He could feel well justified in what he does and lacks self awareness. It's just up to you to convince us his thoughts are real.

    But I think @Feo Takahari raised a good point, it depends on what type of abuse you are are talking about and the degree of abuse as to how dark a place you are taking this guy. I admit, I immediately assumed something more lightweight like some verbals, a shove and lover's tiff getting physical. So just keep in mind that if he beats his girlfriend blue and blue, then you're going to have to do a lot of explaining to the reader for us to keep reading. We won't necessarily like him but do we need to for the purpose of your story?

    I still think this guy is a 'psychopath' but this is more along the lines that he had psychopathic tendencies and given the right circumstances, he does bad things. He may be a functional nice guy in his past life but if you were to drill down, you might say that he doesn't relate so well to people and their feelings, he's a compartmentalizer and a logical thinker, he clearly has a lower threshold when it comes to impulse control. But regardless of his reasons, he will follow through and do the deed because he can separate his thoughts and justify in his own mind why it was okay. Most of us will never go there no matter what, a few will. That's what I mean.

    I am not a drug addict or an alcoholic but I grew up with some domestic violence. Just because people lose it and are abusive under certain conditions of extreme stress, does not mean they are essentially bad people and unworthy of having their story told.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2016
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  13. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Sounds more like a sociopath, especially with the drinking. Psychopaths are more cold and selfish generally, sociopaths are more emotional, and more often tend to have an actual sense of right and good, albeit different to most.
     
  14. TheApprentice
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    Heroes that are totally good and won't kill the villain, never commit a crime for the greater good and don't even drink are boring.

    Also, I have a pretty dark character myself. He will go massacre a cult and leave a gory scene then go clubbing hours later like nothing happened. That's my idea, and not changing it.

    I don't know about you, but my ideas are my ideas and nobody changes them.
     
  15. Oscar Leigh
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    Well, there is such thing as an editor...
     
  16. TheApprentice
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    I will auto publish my book without an editor :3
     
  17. David Tice
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    I think every point I could touch on has already been touched on by the guys above me, from the fact that there never can be too dark, just too boring, to the point about touching on deeper issues in the overall psyche of the character.

    I think it all depends on how you want the character to be viewed by your readers. I don't think you want the guy to be so cold hearted and cold blooded that readers begin to loath him in which case it could actually turn into a tale where the good guy actually IS a villain in the eyes of the reader though this would serve as an interesting standpoint to write from. It's really up to you and how you decide to paint him and how you picture him in your own mind.

    There are a number of characters in popular fiction who push the envelope as far as evil deeds is concerned though many of them are loved by the reader. The more I type the more I wonder if you are worried about him being too dark with too many issues or if you are worried that the way you as the author has painted him isn't in a flattering light and it's gotten to the point where certain good qualities in your character aren't being acknowledged and he's being seen as the Anti-Christ because of stuff that he's done which isn't how you want him to come across. I'd have to read the story *Which I wouldn't mind doing* to really touch on the issue more than that, but as to your question of whether he's too dark. I doubt it, my mind is so twisted at times I'd likely say he isn't dark enough.
     
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  18. TheDarkWriter
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    TheDarkWriter Active Member

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    That's all very true and my main character is somebody who doesn't really 'fit' in well with normal settings. He's like what you described to a T, he's somebody who use to be normal and after he went through an Oliver Queen style five years in his own purgatory became very different. He's brutal and violent anti social and doesn't know how live in normal society because he's been a hunter so long.

    Here's a little bit of the history I've been thinking about giving him he was framed for a crime he didn't commit, and escaped prison but not before someone he loved was murdered. After he escaped he began living in the shadows working as a hit-man, hacker, con-man,and other criminal professions ultimately becoming a hunter because he kept getting thrown back into that world. One of the reasons he's messed up is he finds he can't really function in a regular work environment like he's an expert criminal but sucks at regular work.

    A running theme about him is that he according to other hunters is the most unstable. Like how in Supernatural hunters are often called damaged that's a theme in my story to but it gets taken to a serious degree. Like with my main character he acts a mentor but his teaching is pretty scary he teaches people to kill and gets violent if they screw up their training.

    He's like a drill sergeant when he trains someone to be a hunter albeit an abusive one because hunting is serious life and death stuff and the slightest mistake and it's over. For example there's an instance when he's training a teenager to hunt and he times him/her on assembling a gun and every time his protege screws up he gets angry and if they screw up a far more serious training session like being able to stay wake while being keeping watch or standing guard he'll get violent because he's not the kind of guy that allows for error.
     
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  19. ChickenFreak
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    The abuse seems inconsistent. Doesn't that make him the kind of person that he himself would kill? There are various ways to make it make some sense (though not necessarily allow the reader to forgive him for what looks like a big chunk of hypocrisy) but at first glance it doesn't make sense.
     
  20. Doctore
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    I think what I see here isn't dark enough or too dark, but edgy or dark. I like the story and the way you plan to tell it, but it reads as edgy not dark. The things mentioned above, the flaws and such seem to me the type of things any person with loose mortals and revenge on the mind would do. If you want a dark character then they need to have already crossed the line, not just walked the edge.
     
  21. LinnyV
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    You might be right @Oscar Leigh as far as this character when considering the snapping and killing. I'm not an armchair psychiatrist. :)

    The way I see it is sociopaths and psychopaths have similar behaviors but that it comes down to their innate ability to have empathy, their intelligence, their ability to manipulate and their organisation. But I don't see the behaviors to be overt, just underlying and being exhibited in different ways. Not all psychopaths turn into serial killers or murders, they can be perfectly functional emotional nice people. And I'm also not sure I would say that Psychopaths don't drink and be affected the same as anybody else.

    I have twins and we have observed the differences between a child who lacks empathy and a child who will empathise with a chair. We have extremes on opposite ends on almost everything and it gives us massive headaches. They came out that way, nothing we did. The contrasts is pretty amazing and continue to be mind boggling for us as we watch them grow.

    Our lack of empathy daughter is a very creative liar and we have watched her execute plans to torment her sister with careful planning from an extremely early age. No remorse and it is all about her needs. She's a gorgeous little girl, the sweetest thing but highly emotional and it's quite a lot of work to teach her to be more empathetic. She's a complete charmer, quite the actress and of course, a manipulator. I just realized now that on top of being a careful planner of naughty deeds, she is the ONLY person in the family at age 6 who likes to clean her room. Because now that I think it, her room is neater than ours typically. I get told off for re-arranging the blankets on her bed! But she's just like that, always observing and assessing why others will get a certain reaction and then she will copy the behavior. And while people would say a lot of this is just a child being a child, which it is, with twins we get to see nature vs nuture. It makes us realize it's hard to box people under labels based on definitions.
     
  22. LostThePlot
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    I believe the present nomenclature for what we're calling a sociopath is anti-social personality disorder. That covers some very classic sociopathic stuff like a willingness to use violence to solve any problem, pathological lying and lack of remorse but it covers other stuff too under a better umbrella for that cluster of problems. I've heard it said that, fundamentally, the real personality problems are the result of teenage problems not being resolved into adulthood; remaining narcissistic and catastrophising and petulant is what will mess you up going forward.

    Don't judge your daughter too harshly. She's a kid; adult standards simply don't apply. Don't read more into her behavior than is really there. Some kids are just naughty. Almost all know how to get what they want. This is stuff that will normalise as they get older and have a better idea of society. The problem isn't that she has an impulse to misbehave and charm and manipulate. That's totally normal. The problem will be if she continues to do those things when it is socially transgressive. As she gets older she'll get a better idea of friendship and people and what things are right and wrong. You really shouldn't worry unless she does these things with the intent to hurt people or without caring that she does. Also, she's a twin. Twins have weird parental relationships. They have no immediately defined role the way traditional siblings do; there's a good chance that she's doing this stuff simply because her sister doesn't. Her sister declines to have as much fun or get as much whatever as she believes is possible and seeing someone else be a goody two shoes likely encourages her to go ahead.
     
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  23. LinnyV
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    @LostThePlot We certainly do not judge her too harshly, we're the kind of parents that try to treat both equally and often marvel at how different they are despite this. As I mentioned earlier, this all started at birth. You see the little behaviors that grow and change but the underlying source of it is the same. So unless you have twins that you can observe from birth, it would be difficult to explain. Most parents would understand what I mean when I say children are born with their own personalities. This is not about parenting mind you, which I feel you are making this. You misread my intent above. I am simply trying to highlight there are some things that are innate to a personality and they would be more inclined to exhibit certain behaviors to a greater degree compared to others. I don't claim to be a psychologist but I feel I get to see things watching my own children grow because they are twins. So it's not from reading pages of documents and thinking, that's it...it's that! I don't feel people can box people under labels because, hang on - they're not violent or impulsive based on my definition of what is overt violence or impulsive. That it's not simple like that and behaviors are much more complex in nature.

    Anyway, both girls have a different set of things for us to work on because of their ability to empathize. You would notice I said that a lot of this is also part of being children. I'll emphasize it just in case you missed it the first time. But it's also parents recognizing what is also core in their personality. Because we don't see anything she does as terrible and if anything, we are trying to encourage these behaviors in a positive way. She's extremely funny and creative and her level of sneakiness astounds us. She doesn't do things to hurt people for the sake of hurting. From what I can see it's difficult for her to put herself in other people's shoes and to see beyond her own hurt, so this is something we work very hard on. You don't need to make it more than an observation that I put above. Noted, I didn't color it with lots of love and appreciation of her as an individual but that was not the point.

    I will agree with you on one point and that is I never have two children that is well behaved. But that is the normal dynamic of children competing for attention, they're both now more aware of their individuality and this is affected by the people around them including us.
     

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