1. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    first-person, aloof characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by deadrats, Oct 21, 2016.

    What are your thoughts on first-person, aloof characters? Voice is very important, obviously, but how can you make sure readers will connect with a character telling a story in the manner? Have you ever written a similar character? Did you give them redeeming qualities for not giving a shit?
     
  2. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    Personally, I like characters that don't necessarily make me feel sympathy for them. The challenge for the writer is to make the character interesting enough that it's worth the read. If there is an interesting dynamic in the story, I'll enjoy just about any kind of main character.

    I recently read a horror short by Nathan Ballingrud in which the main character not aloof, but she ultimately makes some really fucked up decisions That I'm sure a TON of readers could not relate to. I really enjoyed it. I can't think of the name off the top of my head, but I'd be happy to look it up if you're interested.
     
  3. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    The voice has to be engaging, even if the character isn't engaged with the things happening.

    I think this works well in comedy, especially satire or black humour - a more aloof character can make more humorous observations (which is why some say omni POV lends itself to comedy). In a serious work it's harder, and I would question the choice.
     
  4. G. Anderson

    G. Anderson Active Member

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    I enjoy reading these stories but I also don't connect with the story as much as I would with a different type of narrator. Therefore, I rarely re-read these books (I'm a re-reader!). However, that doesn't mean that I haven't enjoyed those books and I would still recommend them to friends, but I probably wouldn't read a second volume of the series.

    So, that's my experience with this type of narrator but I am sure there are many different experiences!
     
  5. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I struggle with this. I keep wanting to write laconic, stoic MCs, and then keep wanting to give them long speeches.

    Nope. Can't do it.
     
  6. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I had someone give this story a read and he said it was a good first draft. Too bad it was actually my forth draft. But he said the character worked. But something is bothering me that this character doesn't seem to really care too much about anything. I didn't mean to write it this way. I'm second guessing myself a lot here. I'm not sure there is a good reason for this character to act this way other than this is just how they are. My reader didn't think any of that was a problem. There were other problems. But this is bothering me. It's like I give this character a lot of things to react to, but there's never a big reaction. And in present tense, there's not a lot of reflection. I guess what I'm hoping is that the subtext is working and that's what is really telling the story. What does an aloof character want? Probably not to be bothered by anything, right?
     
  7. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    I'd just keep in mind that anyone who wants something badly enough is (almost always) automatically an interesting character. The problem with super aloof characters is that they don't want anything, they don't CARE about much, and because they have little interest in either retaining what they have or gaining something new, they're not subject to any tension. Tension is what fiction readers read fiction for. They want to struggle with the main character (because the main character is the one they're connected to the story with). They want to sit on the edge of their seat up to the climax, and they want to feel that release of tension and get a sense of "everything is at it should be" at the end of the story.

    So, I guess pick one thing your aloof character isn't aloof about. All she needs is one goal, one hope, teetering just on the edge of the horizon. She can still display the attitude of "its fine if I don't get it," but at every opportunity when it seems just a little closer to her, she should jump at it. That's what I'd recommend, anyway!
     
  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Works for me, if done well. Look at Humbert Humbert - I know he's not normally considered aloof, and for many purposes he isn't, but he has a degree of it about him when it comes to his rationalization of sexual desires. He's also self-deluded, unreliable, and a despicable person. Nevertheless, an engaging first-person narrator.
     
  9. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Just because my character is aloof, the story is not lacking when it comes to tension. The MC is put is taking care of a matter for a family member. It's a very important matter and this puts the aloof character a situation. The only person who read it said everything was working in terms of story, but it needed a good rewrite. I don't know why I'm having a hard time with this one, but I am. And I don't want to screw it up by changing the character if it is working. I'm just having some self doubts and procrastinating.
     
  10. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    Well that's easy then: just kick procrastination in its grimy teeth and write! Who cares if you mess up? You can always fix it later!!

    I read once that if you're having a hard time writing, throw in some unexpected, crazy, yet logical element of change and see if that brings your muse back. You can always get rid of it later, but at least you'll start back on the write path.

    Get it?
     
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  11. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    I do this quite frequently. I open a new word document and copy and paste the story then add the ridiculous portion that I'll never keep. But it does give me a jump start. And it usually only takes a couple minutes. Fun exercise. Sometimes I write little flash pieces in second person POV just for the sake of engaging the creative side of my brain.
     
  12. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    The story is already written. I'm procrastinating on revising it because I feel so unsure. But you're right. I just got to get to it. However, I do care about messing up. I really hate fixing things later. This is the later. If I hadn't gotten such positive feedback about the potential of this one, I probably wouldn't want to work on it at all. And my feedback was pretty much "Good story. Now write it again."

    I just keep wondering if there needs to be more of a reason behind an aloof character. Or will readers just accept that that's who the are? Do I need more backstory? Do I need more front story? I'm sure not aloof. I think aloof characters stress me out. I will see the guy who gave me feedback again tonight. He told me he's willing to read it again. This is someone I wouldn't mind impressing. Okay, it's time to see if I can make some magic happen in the next few hours. And maybe I'll even pick up some tips on how to be more aloof myself. Oh, you like my story. Yeah, just sort of banged this one out. I do it all the time. No biggie.
     
  13. TheWriteWitch

    TheWriteWitch Active Member

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    Maybe it's the word 'aloof' that's bothering you? Maybe you should think of your character as insulated or even compartmentalized? That way they can care but their attitude does not make them demonstrative. Readers only need a few hints at attitude before they reference it through the story, so I doubt you need any major changes if the story is working.

    My favorite first-person, aloof character is hands-down Phillip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler's private detective). Works for me!
     
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  14. wrigby paige

    wrigby paige New Member

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    You might also consider how your protagonist plays off the other cast of characters who are, I'm presuming, not so detached as your MC. Having sympathetic antagonistic, secondary and tertiary characters who contrast the MC creates a very dynamic story even if it is in the first-person.
     
  15. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Camus did it in The Stranger, and I thought the protag deserved every speck of the trouble that came to him in the end. On the other hand, that book is considered a masterpiece. So it can be done.
     
  16. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Dirty Story by Eric Ambler is another classic example of an unlikeable protag (he's not exactly aloof , but he's a deeply unlikeable spiv)
     
  17. 123456789

    123456789 Contributor Contributor

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    When it comes to writing first person aloof characters, tread carefully. I think many amateur writers automatically come off as aloof in their writing even when they don't mean to. In those instances, it's more of a lack of skill, (missing entirely the concept of MRUs, poor handling of setting, lack of tension, stilted wording, etc) than an intentional portrayal.

    I also recognize in many younger writers (myself at one point included) a desire to create a sort of main character who is completely clean of embarrassment, thus the true source for intended apathy. More often then not the result is simply a boring character.

    @Steerpike calls Humbert Humbert aloof and I could not disagree more. Humbert Humbert continually embarrasses himself. He describes himself as a pathetic ape of a man pining for this oblivious little girl. Apathetic characters have an air of attachment- they're too cool for school. And they leave us thinking, "why the hell are you even here?"
     
  18. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    This was the first time I wrote such a character in this sort of situation. At first, I was giving him/her too much backstory so I took it all out. I thought I was going to have to explain some sort of emotion or response. But when I got to that point I thought, "What if he/she doesn't have the typical response? What is he/she has almost no response?" It was an interesting element to the story and took things in a different direction. Plus, I can get lost in backstories. With this one, the story feels more in the present. I think the aloofness of the character kept me on track. There's some subtext mixed in with the aloofness that hints of backstory. I'm not a young writer and these are middle-age characters. I don't know if that makes a difference. Aloof at 20 is somewhat different than aloof at 40, right?
     
  19. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Does aloof mean unlikable? I think it could, maybe. How much could like an aloof character?
     
  20. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Good book. I might have to reread that one now. It's been ages.
     
  21. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    IMO Aloof means standoffish, a loner, someone who doesn't care about others, or about the story they are narrating - therefore while most aloof characters are unlikeable, not all unlikeable characters are aloof... 'little Arthur' in dirty story isn't aloof , he clearly cares about what hes telling the reader, but hes unlikeable and unreliable and you have to read between the lines of his account to get the real story
     

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