1. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Self-centered or introspective

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by HorusEye, Nov 24, 2009.

    Hello all,

    I'd like to hear what everyone's view is on main characters with selfish motivations versus character with philantropic motivations, as well as characters with introspection versus characters who keep their focus on the outer world.

    Classical, popular heroes are typically the ones who are extrovert and selfless. They don't question their own soul much and their goals are strong and clear-cut selfless quests. They're easy to admire, but can you identify with them?

    In the other end of the spectrum you have the modern man, I guess. One that makes mistakes based on impulses, selfish desires or narrow vision. Perhaps even one who's only quest is to safe himself. Less admirable, but perhaps easier to identify with? Or perhaps the identification becomes unpleasant? Maybe we don't wanna identify, but prefer to simply admire? Does introspection too easily become navel-gazing?

    I'd like to hear what people think about this, in their own words. Have you read books with main characters in both ends of the spectrum and liked them equally?

    Is it necessary to even like the main character?

    Is a strong character really stronger than a weak one?
     
  2. InkDream
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    InkDream Senior Member

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    I don't think it's necessary for the reader to like the main character by any means. But there's a fine line between not liking the MC and not being able to stand the MC. If the reader can't stand the MC or the narrator they will be more likely to stop reading.

    As for my characters, the MC I'm currently writing is motivated by money and self-preservation. Nothing over the top but sometimes she doesn't turn down a job when she probably should.
     
  3. Marshmallow
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    Marshmallow Member

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    Indeed, anitheroes can be powerful tools. In all honesty, the situation is more of a deciding factor than anything.

    The plot of the story is what should determine the nature of the hero. If you're going for 'realism' in, say, a zombie survival type scenario, your main character would likely be a middle aged NRA member holed up in his basement/safe room in backwoods Kentucky...The only people who would identify with him, well, likely wouldn't be reading your book. So going with the seemingly logical choice is not always best.

    However, if you look at a contemporary zombie apocalypse example, Cell, the main character is a liberal city dweller who gets a wee bit uneasy at the sight of blood...That totally sounds like the winner in a zombie showdown with kentucky boy, huh? No, but through plot development, Stephen King turned this cake-ass honky into a zombie slaying SOB.

    It's up to you dude.
     
  4. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    I’ll just give some classic examples:

    Hamlet: flawed characters who may be hard to identify with

    King Oedipus: dude slept with his mother: self centered.

    Ishmael: ordinary fellow who mostly observes.

    Bilbo: your average hobbit. Is not extreme one way or the other, but is forced to find
    courage in himself.
     
  5. Mr What
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    Mr What Member

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    Gotta disagree with your assessment of Oedipus. Oedipus' tragedy doesn't come from Oedipus sleeping with his mother (well, not directly). His sleeping with his mother was not a self-centered act, either. The tragedy stems from the fact that Oedipus - the ideal Greek ruler - leads himself to his own doom by doing the exact thing he's supposed to. Were Oedipus self-centered, he would have said F*ck the Gods, F*ck Thebes and just gone off on his merry way (as Creon does in "Antigone"). His discovery of his parentage, and the atrocities he has committed stem directly from his selfless act of pursuing the murderer of Laius so as to lift the plague affecting Thebes (i.e. do the best by his people and the all-so-important Greek Pantheon). Oedipus' tragedy stems from his ignorance of the truth and lack of knowledge. His killing his father and sleeping with his mother were completely unavoidable on his part. Hence it's kind of hard to say he was self-centered.

    Addressing the topic. I don't think your characters need to be selfless and philanthropic to be interesting, remarkable, or enjoyable, especially in this day and age. The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Death of a Salesman, and many other "modern classics" across a variety of mediums are centered around less than admirable main characters. On the other hand, plenty of other iconic characters aren't self-absorbed and are admirable. At the risk of being totally unhelpful, it really boils down to the context of your work, the plot, the story you want to tell, the other characters, the message and the writing. There isn't a simple "yes" or "no" to any of your questions.
     
  6. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks. Most of the time, in my own eyes, my MC seems like the right choice for the story, but once in a while I get struck with a bit of paranoia. I begin to make comparisons with other characters from other stories and sometimes my MC seems way below their league, when I pretend to compare them through some imaginary reader's eyes.

    And still, I don't really wanna change him. I don't wanna make him like "all the rest". And then I wonder if it's just me who thinks characters like Superman and Indiana Jones are superficial cardboard cutouts I could never identify with. I mean, alot of people really adore those characters. It makes me think -- maybe there's something I missed. Maybe those who like strong heroic characters will think my MC is a wimp, for his introspection, his whims of selfish desires and general urge to hide from the world.
     
  7. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    Oedipus came off very self-centered. That’s why he killed his father. He wouldn’t even move out of the way or take an insult. He just kills people who bother him.
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Self Centered.

    A term loaded with meaning, yes?

    Negative connotations.

    In real life we might not care to share time with someone who is thusly oriented. In youth, the wielding of self centered as a derogatory appellation is quite popular. It is one of the weapons of importance in middle school where pretty much everyone is self centered and thus those not paying attention to us seem markedly more self centered than we ourselves, so we bandy out these words, and... *sigh* how did we survive those years, I will never know.

    Later in life some of us replace these terms with what we learned in college or university and trade in the now blunted blade of self centered for the more refined and elegant edge of egocentric and obsessive.

    But are these questions and observations sequitur to the consideration of literary characters. Do we hold a character in disdain because he/she is egocentric, or do we consider the author's mastery in painting him/her effectively? Can a true hero be self centered? Those who would say that there is no such thing as altruism would argue that by default a hero is self centered. They would argue that the praise, the accolades, the knowledge that he/she will be placed upon a pedestal regardless of the sacrifice (because of the sacrifice) is the actual goal of the hero.

    I think there is a place for all characters because all characters would be representative of all of us, the greater us, and also metaphorically speaking, the lesser us, in all our warty splendor.
     
  9. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Great post, Wreybies. You are indeed a wise sillywalker.

    Since I posted this I've been examining my MC closer and realised that the places where I find him weakest are the places where I try to make him something he's not, namely a selfless, invulnerable or noble hero. My conclusion was, it's not that I was going the wrong way with him, but that I wasn't going all the way with him. The real wimp was me as a writer, trying to cover his persona up, and make him seem like a half-hearted attempt.
     
  10. Phantasmal Reality
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    Phantasmal Reality Contributing Member

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    A "hero" doesn't necessarily have to be someone we totally identify with. He can be an egocentric jerk as long as he gets the job done. In fact, I'd say the bare minimum requirement for a hero is simply to be interesting. Whether you love him or hate him or don't know what to feel about him, your reader must be compelled to find out what happens to him and what happens to the world because of him. The only bad hero is a boring one.
     

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