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  1. Lynn Dahl

    Lynn Dahl New Member

    Aug 15, 2012
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    Need some advice, please.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Lynn Dahl, Aug 15, 2012.

    My WIP is a novel with two protagonists, an adult and a child (father and son). I'm writing in first person for both and switching with each chapter. At first I was only planning to write from the adult's point of view, but I decided to add the kid's POV for this reason:

    The father is a narcissist and I'm having a really hard time finding ways to make him likable. To me, he's an interesting character, that's why I want to keep him as a protagonist. But when I read over his parts he just sounds like a jerk any reader would love to see fail. I was thinking that because of the events of the story (a riches to rags sort of plot) he'd become more humbled later on and easier to empathize with. I've done a lot of research on narcissism for the story and I really don't know how I'm going to make him relatable and keep him a narcissist at the same time. And even if I manage to find a way to do it I'm worried about if how he sounds in the beginning will turn off readers.

    I "upgraded" his kid to a narrator to add a more likable voice to the story. But now I'm having trouble writing for a child's point of view in first-person because it feels like I have to "dumb-down" the vocabulary (he's 6) and I can't describe things the way I originally wanted to.
    I find it easier to write the child in third-person, but because the adult is unlikable I don't want his narration to seem more important. And I really don't want to do both in third-person, because I don't feel like it "fits" the adult character.

    I need some advice on how to make a really flawed character likable. Either that or how to write from a child's point of view. Thanks
  2. Crystal Parney

    Crystal Parney Member

    Jul 30, 2012
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    Have you thought about writing the father in 3rd person? You said you've done alot of research on narcissism; it's considered a personality disorder yet there have been several infamous men in history who were narcissistic, several political figures. Do you discuss the father's goals? Maybe the reader could empathize with his goals.
  3. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Mar 9, 2010
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    For me, adding the child would make the narcissist all the more unlikable. If the child loves his father, and excuses him, and tries to make us like him... that will make me hate the father all the more, as I watch him receiving love that he's unworthy of and that he will never return.

    With the child removed, so that the narcissist isn't hurting anyone close to him, I could come closer to reveling in the selfishness and self-focus that is a narcissist's mind. We all struggle with selfishness, and there could be some pleasure in giving in to it instead.

    So I think that you need us not to relate to him, but to _be_ him, to be inside his selfish self-loving skin. As I try to think of examples of fiction with likable narcissists, I find that they're mostly movies and TV, not books. _A Shock to the System_ (movie) and _Fawlty Towers_ (TV - I'm calling Basil a narcissist, though he clearly has many issues) are the first things that come to mind. And I rather liked Frank Cross in _Scrooged_ (movie) even before he reformed.

    _A Shock to the System_ was also a book, but I can't remember if the narcissistic protagonist was as likable. (Though I do remember that they replaced the children, in the book, with dogs, in the movie. So apparently they were also concerned about making a narcissist-with-children likable.) Oh, and Robert Barnard's _Death of a Mystery Writer_ also comes to mind, though the entertaining narcissist gets murdered pretty promptly.

    Most of these narcissists have charm, and often a sense of humor that they use to insult people that we, the viewers or readers, would also like to insult. I suspect that there are other ways that they indulge impulses that we'd like to indulge. This leads me to another realization - there's a very wide streak of comedy in all of these examples, and I find myself wondering if it's possible to make a narcissist likable without using a lot of humor.

    Edited to add: But to solve the problem of the 6-year-old's vocabulary, there's always the classic "memoir" premise - the boy, now a man, could be remembering his childhood with his father.
  4. ArtWander

    ArtWander Contributing Member

    Jan 24, 2011
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    Redlands, CA
    In my experience, if you want a character to have a narcissistic view, it's best to give him something unique that the reader will care about. Consider maybe giving him a weird quirk, or an uncommon hobby. Basically by doing what you're doing, you are going to alienate a large base of our audience. Rope them back with something to relate to.
  5. jazzabel

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Jan 5, 2012
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    In a book called "Lolita" by Nabokov, the protagonist is a very malignant narcissist, and a criminal, and yet, it is a fascinating read. I would recommend you check it out if you are looking for tips on how to make an unlikeable protagonist work in a novel.

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