1. theoriginalmonsterman

    theoriginalmonsterman Professional Pickle Delivery Pickle Contributor

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    How to subtly hint at a character being selfish?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by theoriginalmonsterman, Dec 20, 2016.

    This is a tricky one, or at least it is for me. I'm writing a horror story, and the victim (or one of the victims) within the story is my main character. Here's the thing. I don't want to give off right away that he's a selfish and arrogant jerk. I want to give it away later when he's confronted by the main antagonist. The story is in first person, so I realize it's possible to make him perceive himself as a decent person. Of course I figured I'd see if anyone on here had any ideas of how I could execute this. I'll try to go at it myself, but if anyone gives me a good idea I'd be willing to give that a go. Thanks!
     
  2. antlad

    antlad Banned

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    It is first person from the view of the MC who is selfish, but doesn't know it.
    Will there be a trip somewhere? Is it all taking place at one location?
    If you know the answers, you can get more fleshed out answers.
    My first thought is to have him take the last of things, not move on door knock or phone ring.
     
  3. theoriginalmonsterman

    theoriginalmonsterman Professional Pickle Delivery Pickle Contributor

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    To sum it up he's knocked out, kidnapped, and brought to an isolated town with the other victims.
    That gives me some idea of where to go with this. Thanks for your comment!
     
  4. Mumble Bee

    Mumble Bee Keep writing. Contributor

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    You have to break it down deeper than that.

    Selfish is a word we use to describe other people we generally don't like. We have excuses, and softer words, for the people we do. So for someone to be 'selfish' they need to be an unlikeable character. If you're trying to ride that line between likeable/unlikeable, then you need to show attributes of both, being a terrible person and having an excuse for being a terrible person.

    Go into why does this character exhibit selfish behavior. Were they neglected as a child, and have a self defense mechanism of keeping extra food/etc stuff for themselves? There's a valid reason for being selfish, but people grow up. If this character is 30 now, married, and with children, then they must recognize their own faults, and refuse to change them. They think that because they have an excuse to be a certain way, it gives them free range to do so without taking responsibility for their actions.
     
  5. theoriginalmonsterman

    theoriginalmonsterman Professional Pickle Delivery Pickle Contributor

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    The character is a spoiled thirteen year-old. He's selfish in that he's never had to step out of line for anyone else. He's always come first, so he suspects the world to treat him as if he's always first. I guess that makes it a bit difficult to hide that he's selfish since that character type just screams it out loud. XD
     
  6. Mumble Bee

    Mumble Bee Keep writing. Contributor

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    Selfish implies that one person wants more for themselves than others. Sure, that could apply to your character, but you could also make them simply not understand the concept that 'if they have something, someone else doesn't'. That's not selfish, they just have a poor understanding of resources, since they've always had plenty. A way you could show they're selfish, without beating the reader over the head with it, would be to have the antag spell it out for them.

    "You're not thirsty, are you?'

    "No..."

    "How about hungry? Want a snack?"

    "I'm fine, thanks."

    "How about your friends over there, how are they feeling?"

    "What? How should I know?"

    "We'll didn't they share their water with you? Didn't they give you that jacket?"

    "Yeah, I was cold and thirsty."

    "And they're hungry. Look at them, they haven't had anything to eat in over a day, yet you haven't offered them a thing!"

    "... Why would they need- I mean how was I supposed to... What do you want from me?"


    I know, I know, this isn't the best writing, but its the least amount of effort I could put in, and still attempt to prove a point.
     
  7. theoriginalmonsterman

    theoriginalmonsterman Professional Pickle Delivery Pickle Contributor

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    It gets the point across fine though, so thanks for typing it up. It gives me a much better understanding of what I need to do.
     
    Mumble Bee likes this.
  8. antlad

    antlad Banned

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    Is this where we meet him?
    Set the scenario in your head and play out each character.
    There's one flashlight, and it is dark. Everyone wants to stay put, he wants to go. What would he say to make sense? What would the two sides of the argument be?
    Hate to say this- Think horror movie. The dick still makes sense, part of the audience doesn't get that he is a dick until he proves it. Reader are the same.
    If I read, "Jon called shotgun and jumped in the front seat; he turned and grinned triumphantly to those in the back, while unwrapping the last stick of gum in the console."
    I would think, 'this guy is a dick and I hope he dies painfully dow the road; however, I am in the minority. A lot of people actually identify with that person........because that is the norm for most societies, a lot see this as a harmless competition. If he keeps doing these things, readers will clue in at their own pace (when he crosses one of their internal lines).
     
  9. Jasmine Collins

    Jasmine Collins Member

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    People who come across as self centered often misunderstand what others are going through. They might not lack empathy, they may just not be paying enough attention, or they're avoiding understanding because it's scary or hard. You might be able to show him misinterpreting other people's needs, ignoring hints that they needed help, that kind of thing. They could say something, and he could repeat it incorrectly later, or think about it and gets it sort of wrong.

    I really like the portrayal of a self centered teen boy, who grows up over the course of the story, from The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams. The character is often angry with other people over their reasonable or responsible actions, even though it's clear from the way the situation is described that they're not doing anything wrong, he's just frustrated. Or, he gets upset with women he likes because he's confused by the way they make him feel, very clearly not because they're being weird or irrational. Showing the disconnect between what is described as actually happening vs the very narrow view that character projects, can be really effective.
     
  10. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I would need to know whether this person is supposed to be oblivious, selfish, or narcissistic.

    As a really simplistic view of how I see it, imagine that the character just ate all the leftover Chinese food. The oblivious character doesn't even think of the possibility that their roommate might be hungry. The selfish one knows their roommate is hungry and doesn't care, and in fact makes a point of getting home from work a little early so that they can get at the food first. The narcissist feels that their roommate should be honored to have had the opportunity to contribute to feeding them.
     
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2016

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