1. Ritrezer
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    Ritrezer Member

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    Underdogs- The best or not?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ritrezer, Apr 22, 2014.

    I always hear that the heart of the hero is important and should be displayed well. And that usually People like underdogs as the "hero" (read Appeal of the underdog, a psychological report). I understand this, but what if your hero is not truly an underdog? What if he is special and not the bottom guy all the time?
    Do you truly like the underdog best? Or do you think not?

    In my recent novel, my MC finds out he is not truly weak, rather he possess's powers others would die to get even among the people of my "Special world". So, he does not truly remain an Underdog, to counter that- until the discovery of this power- I have clearly made him average or bad in certain things, to not display him as Over Powerful and how truly human and weak he is and can be. Is that s good choice?
     
  2. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    You'll probably come to hear this a lot—it all comes down to the writing.

    Even characters who are a little more powered up need grounding, whether it be through temporary loss of power or finding out that there is, indeed, an individual more powerful with an even bigger axe to grind. Giving a character flaws is all well and good but make sure the flaws you pick serve as more than superficial additions. Make them mean something in regards to the story you are trying to tell. Being an underdog is not necessarily a state of being, it can also come into play as a result of having the cards stacked against them externally, through circumstance.

    And yes... I am a firm supporter of the underdog but I'm no more attracted to a badly written underdog than I am to a badly written villain. ;) When it comes down to it, my preference is for well written characters regardless of their 'title.'

    Joe Abercrombie has always amazed me by taking the most morally bankrupt, indefensible characters and making me root for them, turning even a misanthropic torturer into someone I want to see end up with the girl.
     
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2014
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  3. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Stories thrive on conflict and tension. Without opposition, the main character cannot overcome the challenge and earn his or her victory. And if the victory isn't earned, there's no satisfaction for the reader.

    It's not about being an underdog, per se, but the character has to have a rough time. The character needs to get beaten, she needs to fight hard, she needs to feel hopeless but dig deep anyway. If not--if she's got the power to defeat the villain or overcome the challenge without getting beaten down first--then there's no real tension. The conflict is a sham.

    Readers identify with characters who share their problems, their insecurities, their failings. We cheer for these characters because we want to see them win--because that means that maybe we can win, too. The introverted girl with no friends can overcome her shyness and play the big show? Maybe I can, too. The physically disabled man can put aside his insecurities and find love? Maybe I can, too.

    I'm not perfect. Perfect characters don't resonate with me. I'm not powerful. Powerful characters don't resonate with me. Why? Because even the strongest, smartest, and prettiest among us have problems. They lose everyday battles. But we don't want to see them quit, because we want hope. We don't want quitting to be our only option. So we cheer when they get back up and fight. And we feel vindicated when they win. Because maybe we can win, too.

    Tension drives story--it's what puts the characters hopes, dreams, goals, and desires at stake. It has to be real danger--the character has to truly be at risk of losing these things--or else there's no real investment from the reader. And what that means is that the character needs to be pushed down again and again, because if she's able to just reach out and get what she wants, there's no tension. The readers don't care about her, because she doesn't have to struggle. We have to struggle, why doesn't she? But if she does struggle, if she gets pushed into the mud, beaten, hurt, denied, rejected...and then gets back up and keeps fighting, well, that tugs at our heartstrings, makes us cheer for her, and makes us turn the page.

    Is that an underdog? Maybe, maybe not. Depends on how you look at it. As far as I'm concerned it's just a well-developed character, and I'm fine leaving it at that.
     
  4. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Depends. The character doesn't have to be from the token "group that's kicked around a lot like a volleyball"* to be relatable. What matters is the tension, what drives this character to want to accomplish whatever it is he/she wants to accomplish.

    I know this isn't a book, but take Goku from Dragonball Z. He wasn't an underdog by any stretch of the imagination, but what attracted people to him and to that show was because he had one thing in his mind: train to protect the Earth and its inhabitants. He trained hard, and even when the enemy was unstoppable, he kept training, kept trying. His entire message was basically, "If you train hard, you can accomplish what was thought to be impossible." Again, he wasn't from an ostracized class, no one in the anime rejected him because he was really an alien from another planet (if anything, that made them love him even more) The reason people rooted for him was because no matter what, no matter if the monsters were more powerful than he was, he would find a way to stop them and protect those he cared about.

    To echo Xanadu (love the name, btw), it's the tension that drives the story, not whether or not the character is in some ostracized, kicked-around-a-lot group.

    * That's what I think of when I see 'underdog' characters.
     
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  5. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm pretty much in agreement with what has been said. I'd just like to add one type of "underdog" I don't like (a purely subjective opinion):
    Someone who's essentially a useless whiner who can't do anything, who makes stupid mistakes, and ends up in trouble simply because of his/her stupidity (I haven't read the books or watched the movies, but from what I've heard and read about it, Bella from Twilight sounds kinda like this, at least in the first novel; I've no idea what she's like in the sequels).
    If I encounter a character like that, chances are, I won't read very far because I meet enough idiots IRL (one of them being myself), so when I read, I'd like to be inspired instead of annoyed (I know, I'm weird that way).

    The character doesn't have to have super powers, they don't have to be physically strong or able to outwit every antagonist / obstacle they encounter. Those are all optional (I actually prefer characters who have to go through hell to reach their happily ever after / downfall).
    What I do look for in a character, is the willingness to fight for something, be it their own survival, that of their loved ones, or some other goal. I want them to work to improve themselves / their situation and fight to overcome the adversity they face, for better or worse.
    The end result doesn't really matter; regardless of whether the character triumphs or fails, the important thing is that they at least put in the effort. That is, in order for me to enjoy the story.
     
  6. Jak of Hearts
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    Jak of Hearts Member

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    If you're trying to write conflict for a character that is super powered as you say, I suggest looking to comic book super heroes (especially superman) for ways to bring out a struggle. Just because he's not physically an underdog doesn't mean he doesn't make sacrifices and have things to lose.
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Bella never whines. She the self sacrificing quietly suffering type. What she lacks is anything other than she's nice, pretty, and has a boyfriend.

    Harry Potter in book 6 (or maybe it was book 5) was much too whiney. It was the one book Rowling failed to make enjoyable.

    Whiney is not synonymous with underdog, in my opinion. An underdog has to be likable.
     
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  8. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Underdogs are great when they, despite their disdvantages, do their best to fight the odds, and it's a type I enjoy reading about as long as they have some guts. It's okay to be afraid and fail, but I want them to keep trying. To me Harry Potter was like that. He was a chosen one, for sure, but pretty average at school, not much to look at, and an easy target for bullies, but he's brave, and to me as a kid, that was cool. Also Lyra from His Dark Materials is something of an underdog, being just a kid, but she's determined, resourceful, and brave, even when she faces overwhelming odds.

    I think the fact that she's an incessant whiner inside her head just makes her a whiny underdog. Jesus, she detests her new hometown, (p.4) complains about painful memories of fishing (p. 6), Forks is too green (p.7), and she complains about not fitting into a presumably very untanned community even though she's "ivory-skinned" (p.9).

    Granted, Harry Potter complained from time to time too, but I guess I always felt he was less of a lays-in-fire and mopes kind of character.

    But teenager girls love this stuff. Teenagers are, for the most part, whiners. I know I was.
     
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  9. Slade Lucas
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    Slade Lucas Member

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    Having special powers does not, at all, mean that a character cannot be an underdog. Learning to use these powers is often half the battle and it usually just so happens that this process comes when their powers are needed the most. What a coincidence.

    Heroes need to be special in some way, whether it be powers, brains or just luck. They will always be the underdog because, no matter what they have, the enemy always appears to have more. It is usually willpower that gets the through.
     
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  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    If you didn't read it, I think someone gave you a false impression. If you did read it, we read two different books.

    Not fitting in was more along the lines of self-deprecating comments, not whiney comments. But whatever.

    I loved Lyra and her dæmon in that series.
     
  11. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I read it up until p. 350 or so, but admittedly then I gave up :( It was terrible inside Bella's head.
     
  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    From what I've heard, Bella was never pleased. Why do you think she ran after a guy who had been dead for a hundred years? (vampires are basically undead people, no?)

    In some ways, I could understand why Harry was 'whiney' in Book 5. Let's examine what had just happened to him just a mere few months earlier:

    -- Had to participate in a tournament he wanted no part of, lost Ron as a friend for a while, had people think him some arrogant, self-entitled jerk for daring to be the fourth contestant.

    -- Kidnapped to a graveyard on the third trial, watched Cedric Diggory get murdered right before his eyes.

    -- Witnessed the nightmarish return of Dark Lord Voldemort, who then proceeded to torture him twice before engaging him in a mock-duel in which he then tries to kill him.

    -- Moving onto the fifth book. No one believes him, they think he's some looney prattling on about the return of the Dark Lord, and others think he personally murdered Cedric himself. Has a sadistic teacher who gets her giggles carving words into his hand and calling him a delusional moron.

    With all this in mind, I honestly don't blame Harry for behaving the way he did. What's the legal drinking age again in the UK? 'Cause I think Mr. Potter would've deserved weekly trips to the pub after all that.
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    :confused:
    Not the same book I read, but it's no surprise people have widely varying reactions to the books.

    Understanding why wasn't the issue. Droning on and on was.
     
  14. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Steerpike from Gormenghast novels (1+2) is an underdog, yet, he pulls all the strings. Robin Hood is an underdog, but I mean, come on..... I don't think underdog is synonymous with weak, it's more of a status thing.

    Also, I can think of plenty of famous works (Beowulf, Time Machine, anything King Arthur) where the MC is certainly not an underdog.
     
  15. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Underdog only in the sense that the MC must face an opponent who presents a definite and daunting challenge. If it is obvious from the start that the MC will win from the beginning, there really is no story. That is why I never liked Superman much. His challenges are mostly threats to someone else.
     
  16. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Come to think of it, I wouldn't necessarily consider her an underdog anyway. She was loved by pretty much everyone. To me underdogs often tend to be unpopular.

    I did acquaint myself with the rest of the saga by reading a read-along blog on SparkNotes which was friggin hilarious. The person who wrote that should've become a millionaire :D
     
  17. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    That's also partly why I liked Goku over Superman, because even as strong as Goku was, he still stood a real chance of losing. He died two times against Raditz and Cell (even before losing his life against Cell, he almost died of a heart virus. Think on that.) He also almost died when Namek exploded, and came *this close* to losing against Majin Buu during the final fight of the series.

    In short, there were plenty of moments in Dragonball Z in which Goku came close to dying due to circumstances outside his control. He died twice already. Yet did he give up? No, he just kept training to be even stronger than he was before.
     
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