1. Ettina
    Offline

    Ettina Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2011
    Messages:
    440
    Likes Received:
    20

    writing characters with stupid opinions

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ettina, May 4, 2012.

    OK, I consider myself pretty good at writing characters whose opinions differ from mine. The thing is, all of them still have well-reasoned, well thought out opinions, they simply differ from me in either their perception of the facts or their basic values (or both).

    The problem is, I know not everyone is actually like that. Some people hold opinions for stupid reasons and don't even notice when they're being hypocrites. (And not just because who disagree with me. I'm pro-life because I feel that birth is an artificial division, given that it can happen to infants of different gestational ages, and viability is artificial because it keeps changing as medical technology advances. Some other people are pro-life because 'aww, it looks like a baby!')

    So how do I write someone who isn't very good at noticing flaws in their reasoning, and hasn't thought out their opinions to their logical conclusions? Do I just avoid them introspecting too much so they don't have the chance? Or what?
     
  2. Gonissa
    Offline

    Gonissa Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2012
    Messages:
    264
    Likes Received:
    12
    Location:
    Ghost Tower
    It's simple, really. Just have them state an opinion, and when someone asks them why, have them go blank. Have them start talking it out, but then realize that what they say doesn't make sense. People aren't hypocrites because they sincerely believe in conflicting things (usually), but because they just don't think about it at all. They hear an opinion from someone they trust, and then automatically assume that that opinion is true.

    It's like cavemen. There's the whole thing about cavemen banging women in the head with a club, and we all know about it. Trouble is, there is no evidence for this. There are not a bunch of battered female skulls in caves. People talk about it so much, that they never take the trouble to realize that this simply isn't true -- or is at least unprovable.
     
  3. Ettina
    Offline

    Ettina Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2011
    Messages:
    440
    Likes Received:
    20
    And then afterwards? How do I keep them from thinking it over for the next few days and eventually coming up with a coherent answer, the way I usually do?
     
  4. 123456789
    Offline

    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2012
    Messages:
    6,346
    Likes Received:
    3,092
    Um, if people thought their own opinions were flawed, most likely they'd change them. This applies to you and me as well. Your opinions might very well be flawed, but you just don't realize it.
     
  5. Ventis
    Offline

    Ventis Member

    Joined:
    Apr 23, 2012
    Messages:
    32
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Bratislava
    Make them try to explain their opinion, without realizing they're not making sense. And when other characters try to oppose, let them say stupid things or start insulting the other person, their education, cultural background, mock them for their age, etc.

    - you just don't get it
    - well, my opinion is different
    - you were brainwashed by conformist society
    - what can (insert insult here) possibly know about that
    - ...

    Just remember the stupid things you heard people say. :D
     
  6. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    If it really is a stupid opinion, then let other characters' reactions show that they, too, think it's stupid.

    If it's simply an opinion you personally think is stupid, then you have a challenge as a writer. You have to try to see the arguments that support that opinion, and defend the opinion of the character who believes those arguments. You need to be able to see the opinion from their point of view, and be ready to present that point of view to the reader.
     
  7. MissRis
    Offline

    MissRis Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2012
    Messages:
    235
    Likes Received:
    3
    Location:
    Canada
    Just have a conversation with someone who has a really awful time arguing a point or just watch politicians debating (LOL) I think the easiest route to take would either be have them not explain themselves at all. I don't know if you've ever had an argument with someone over something like immigration, religion, or reproductive rights, but often you encounter the "repeat my opinion over and over," but never really argue why. And often they contradict themselves.

    I had a frustrating conversation recently with some members of my family about immigration into Canada and (their) opinion was that "they need to learn English" and "they need to respect our culture." But every time I asked "why" they would just repeat this over and over again. I find broad brush strokes in an argument, without seeing the other side, often indicate that someone hasn't really thought about why they have the opinion they're arguing.
     
  8. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    To take an example, I abhor racism. When I was in my teens, I told one of my older relatives in no uncertain words not to use the N word in my presence. And walked away. No one ever spoke to Uncle Gardner like that.

    I say that to give an idea of just how much I despise racism. I don't tolerate it at all.

    So how would I write a racist character without demonizing him? I would keep in mind fear and misinformation the character grew up with. I would take into account his having lived in a bad neighborhood, and having been assaulted by members of that ethnic group.
     
  9. The Tourist
    Offline

    The Tourist Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2012
    Messages:
    1,089
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Wisconsin.
    Oh, it happens in life constantly. In fact, I use that for inspiration.

    My 'adult job' was saving companies on the verge of bankruptcy. Now, you would think that a guy who owns a once profitable corporation that is now crumpling would do anything possible to save that entitiy, the jobs of hundreds, and even the fancy-schmancy car he drives.

    The truth is that my success rate rate was very good for the industry, and that was 50/50. I saved three, and lost three.

    It made no difference whatsoever if things were improving. Some guys just couldn't stand to change. I once collected 1.1 million dollars--in cash--within one week, and they managed to spend 1.3 million during the same period. They were going to do it their way no matter what the consequences.

    And that's what I write. It's not that my characters hold bizarre opinions, for most of the forum I personally hold bizarre opinions. What I do find in developing the characters is a steadfast pursuit to things that do not and cannot work--repeatedly.

    It's not the overall opinion, but the ridiculous application of ego. If your character must win at all costs or fail miserably, you're on good footing.
     
  10. Show
    Offline

    Show Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,495
    Likes Received:
    30
    I think it really depends on the context of the situation. What is the purpose of your character stating these views? Who is this character aside from all of these views? Maybe this character is supposed to come off as an idiot? Or if not, what is their purpose in saying this? Maybe they simply have irrational beliefs from poor upbringing? Or maybe to them, it seems perfectly rational because they have different scopes to view rational thought.
     
  11. The Tourist
    Offline

    The Tourist Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2012
    Messages:
    1,089
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Wisconsin.
    I think we should spend more time on developing our villains than our heroes. I mean, the villain carries the story, frames the plot, has all of the good lines, the cool toys and the best vehicle. The hero serves only to derail the plans of the only guy in your story who creates an executes a plan--you know, a guy with spunk, drive and a vision.

    Oh, it's a crazy plan, but usually the one that's fun to read.
     
  12. Show
    Offline

    Show Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,495
    Likes Received:
    30
    ^^^^^
    Well, I've developed quite a few villains. They do tend to be fun to create and we rarely do agree with their views or their twisted logic that to them makes perfect sense. Although, I get the feeling that the OP wasn't necessarily referring to a villain?
     
  13. The Tourist
    Offline

    The Tourist Banned

    Joined:
    Mar 27, 2012
    Messages:
    1,089
    Likes Received:
    28
    Location:
    Wisconsin.
    I was speaking more in the global sense, but I think the idea applies.

    Most people infuse their lead characters with ideology to which they sympathize. In framing the issue with the word 'stupid,' I think the OP is probably not going to make these people heroes.

    Having said that, my lead is naive. He believes that the world is black and white, so he has villains who are multi-layered, conniving against each other and a woman that loves him and then tries to kill him. In many ways he's 'stupid.'

    I mirrored him after myself. ;)
     
  14. Show
    Offline

    Show Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,495
    Likes Received:
    30
    ^^^^No arguments. lol

    There is a tendency to model protagonists after oneself, or at least one of them. If there are multiple protagonists, there's more room for the stupid friend who's still a good guy.

    My villains tend to range from shallow to complex to kind of shallow and complex at the same time. lol I think we should just try to individualize our characters. Sometimes I think we feel like we want to make them a certain way but think we have to make them a different way and so we try to find a compromise. Don't really think we should have to compromise. Maybe a character with "stupid" opinions might come off as realistic. Like anything else, it's really all in the strength of the writing.
     
  15. Ettina
    Offline

    Ettina Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2011
    Messages:
    440
    Likes Received:
    20
    I would like to clarify that I see 'people with stupid opinions' and 'people who disagree with me' as two distinct groups which may, but don't always, overlap. I know how to write an intelligent, thoughtful person who disagrees with me, and that's exactly the strategy I use to do this. What I'm talking about is someone who - whether or not I agree with them - does not have good justification for their opinions and/or fails to notice inconsistency in their opinions.

    Oh, and not necessarily a villain, either. In fact I was thinking of a protagonist with a stupid opinion, which gives me the added problem that I need to show this from that character's perspective.
     
  16. thecoopertempleclause
    Offline

    thecoopertempleclause Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Apr 13, 2012
    Messages:
    206
    Likes Received:
    12
    Location:
    Cornwall, UK
    I wouldn't think it's necessary to have a conversation about opinions which characters hold. The best signifier of our opinions are our actions or our speech, so personally I would use these to show what's going through the character's mind rather than having a sit-down and debating the pros and cons of the free-trade agreement. Want to subtly show that your character is against global companies, briefly mention that he walks past a chain store and enters into a local version of that store.

    I also hate it when people feel the need to justify characters having opinions that the author doesn't share. If a character is racist, they don't need a ten-paragraph backstory about how they were held hostage by a gang of white/black/asian/hispanic youths for hours. If your character is a misandrist, or a misogynist, again you don't need an extensive history lesson about how their mommy or daddy never loved them. Readers are perfectly capable of accepting that there are people in the world like this without needing to know the reason.

    Additional: people never change their mind on an opinion during one conversation. During the length of a novel you can reasonably expect that a character can generate superpowers, earn the support of the entire world, defeat a league of evil enemies and then go home with the pretty girl/guy they met en route. During this same time, it is just about reasonable to expect that a character might change their mind about the benefits of immigration into a developed nation.
     
  17. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    In that case, does the person have problems following logic, or is he or she too stubborn to listen to opposing viewpoints?

    If the former, she will only change her opinion if she sees one of her fundamental assumptions refuted in action. Such a person is not necessarily stupid. There are many intelligent people who comprehend complex information but don't understand the discipline of logic and critical thinking.

    If the latter, he may be like the religious extremist who shouts and preaches the loudest because he is not secure in his own beliefs. He feels threatened by the possibility that what he believes in is wrong - he is afraid he will lose himself along with his beliefs.

    In both cases, it's useless to try to explain why their logic is flawed. The first is tired of trying to sort out all the arguments, and has long since stopped trying. The second is actively resisting change.

    These aren't the only types. You can also have the herd animal who believes what she has always heard (herd?), and has no interest in considering foreign ideas. She has a fuzzy notion of the supporting arguments for the dogma, not enough to argue the case effectively. So she will avoid discussion of the subject rather than expose her ignorance of the subject. Again, she need not be unintelligent, However, she is probably no innovator. Innovators question everything, especially long-established assumptions. But she could still be very methodical, and skilled in her area of expertise.
     
  18. prettyprettyprettygood
    Offline

    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 8, 2011
    Messages:
    452
    Likes Received:
    46
    Location:
    Edinburgh
    I agree with Cogito (post #8)- 'stupid' opinions usually develop from the opinion-holder's upbringing, particularly opinions on things relating to race, gender, sexuality, etc. These opinions are so ingrained that a debate or a ponder is very unlikely to change their mind, and sometimes even direct experience that contradicts their opinion isn't sufficient.


    I'm generalising here of course, but through work I have had to meet a lot of people who hold pretty dumb opinions and upbringing seems to be the root of it. So I think to write someone like this you could picture how they came to this stupid opinion- perhaps they got it from their parents, and it was reinforced by an isolated incident they had which they now use to brush off any opposing argument.


    As the above poster says, there's no need to include all this in the story unless you want to, but if you want to get into character, so to speak, this might be a way to go.
     
  19. jo spumoni
    Offline

    jo spumoni Active Member

    Joined:
    Jun 23, 2010
    Messages:
    392
    Likes Received:
    20
    Location:
    La Jolla, CA (and Mission Viejo, CA, during the su
    I feel I have some experience with this, given that I'm writing a book in which some of the characters are Nazis! My approach to it has been to research the basic arguments for the Nazi philosophy. In my research, I've had to acknowledge that Nazism was more complicated than just hating the Jews. A lot of it was about Germany being a great country, the common man gaining the respect he thought he deserved, and the traditions and values of German life being restored. It was also about being part of something greater than oneself. When my characters say that they're in the Nazi party, they talk about these positive aspects in order to justify it.

    Now in my case, I'm a bit lucky. I don't really have to say anything except "Nazi" for my readers to realize that the opinion is appallingly wrong. But basically, I think you should underplay it. Try to understand why the character believes what he/she believes, have him/her communicate his/her opinion, and leave it up to the reader whether the opinion is "stupid." More than likely, your opinion is going to come across in the way you write the character anyway. He/she will try to justify the belief in a way that doesn't make sense or will act in a way that betrays the falsehood of the opinion.

    I think it's important to remember that when we communicate our opinions, we try to make our opinions sound good. If you asked me why I disliked fastfood, for example, I'd tell you it was because I thought it was unhealthy and I hate thinking about how processed the food is. What I wouldn't mention is that I'm a snob: I like the atmosphere of sit down restaurants even if the food is no better, and I really couldn't care much less about my weight; fast-food to me feels cheap and dirty, whether it really is or not. Opinions, no matter how logical they seem, are often based on emotion or illogical experiences. Often, logical justification comes later. In the case of my story, the characters feel better connecting to the oppressive state than they would being against it because resistance feels futile and compliance has a lot of benefits. Thus they rationalize and say it's the best thing for everyone.
     
  20. Ventis
    Offline

    Ventis Member

    Joined:
    Apr 23, 2012
    Messages:
    32
    Likes Received:
    0
    Location:
    Bratislava
    Talking and discussion of opinions don't have to be 'info dump'. As you said, the best signifier of our opinions are our actions or our speech. In real life, most people won't say, 'let's sit down and discuss or opinion on global companies' (or whatever else). They usually start in some other, innocent way. If one of the participants has totally different opinion, it will soon become heated. Depending on circumstances, it can lead to conflict and/or to violence. An author can use such dialogues for many things.
     
  21. Metus
    Offline

    Metus Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 29, 2011
    Messages:
    138
    Likes Received:
    2
    Location:
    Omega 4 Relay
    Huh. I tend to model antagonists after myself.

    Anyway, I've gotten in to quite a few religious and political arguments. I'm not going to say which side I was on, but something I've noticed is that when people are very certain of a stupid opinion, they repeat it over and over and over, never providing any proof or real argument, they flat out ignore your arguments, and then insist that you're not listening to them.

    Also, they often say things like "Can't you just see?" or "That's just the way it is." while seeming not to comprehend that they might possibly be wrong. The losing end of an argument can sometimes become so dogmatic that the argument stops being about finding the truth, and starts being about affirming their values by shouting down their opponent. Their words stop being about persuasion and start being about intimidation and victory.

    Now, if you want to make a character harmlessly stupid instead of actively so, they can simply not know why they support something. A lot of stupid people literally have no idea why they think what they think- they just assume that it's the truth because it's pleasant or because they were born into it. In these cases, they often act with indecision and can be timid. Upon argument, they tend to become angry with you and try to withdraw, claiming that the subject of the argument is unknowable, or isn't a big deal. (Even if they started the argument. Especially if they started the argument.)
     
  22. Ettina
    Offline

    Ettina Active Member

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2011
    Messages:
    440
    Likes Received:
    20
    Thanks everyone for your advice!
     
  23. Gonissa
    Offline

    Gonissa Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2012
    Messages:
    264
    Likes Received:
    12
    Location:
    Ghost Tower
    Oh lol, somebody actually told me this one. XD
     
  24. raraavis
    Offline

    raraavis New Member

    Joined:
    May 12, 2012
    Messages:
    6
    Likes Received:
    1
    A lot of the time a person has an unreasonable opinion that they are unwilling to change because they are being ruled by their emotions over any sort of common sense. In that case, I would just give that character the backstory that makes sure it is impossible for them to have any opinion other than the 'stupid' one they hold--because of trauma, loyalties, or whatever else.
     
  25. Gonissa
    Offline

    Gonissa Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 17, 2012
    Messages:
    264
    Likes Received:
    12
    Location:
    Ghost Tower
    People get stupid opinions not because they are stupid, but simply because they don't think things through. They settle for an opinion that seems reasonable enough, because on most topics they don't have enough knowledge or the ability to research the topic on hand. Like for example, government foreign policy. Very few of us know enough to critique our governments with any sort of reasonability, and we don't have the ability to learn more because that stuff is classified. We can only make a few sweeping judgements, like for example it's pretty sick that Israel gets more flak from the UN than North Korea gets.

    Other than stuff like that, we simply don't know enough. Someone on this very forums said that government searches on the internet have never saved anyone, and no normal citizen has the ability to prove or disprove that statement, particularly since even if lives are saved it's pretty hard to calculate how many would have been. Like if someone was going to blow up a building, the numbers for who might be in the building working, visiting, or just passing by on the outside.

    In any case, sometimes the wisest choice is admitting our ignorance or inability to know a situation for what it is.
     

Share This Page