Loving your character too much

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  • Loving your character too much

    I'm having a hard time with this. I want to do what the story requires, but I can't tell if I like a character too much to make him do something terrible that would serve the plot.


    I find it an interesting and very ethical dilemma, in the sense that we should strive for honesty but that there may be things that keep us from it --in many cases, gratuitous elements, or in this case, misplaced attachment, perhaps? If I spare my character something the story requires simply because I'm too attached to him, am I being dishonest?


    OR: is this a good way to gauge what an audience might feel, and should the writer then adjust the narrative to at least provide... I don't know, not redemption necessarily, since there is such a thing as poetic justice after all and the notion that there are certain lines that cannot be crossed in fiction without consequences, but something.


    I hate to say this, but when your character is beautiful and witty and charming, it's a lot harder to get him to do horrible things on the page than if we wasn't.



    Thoughts?

  • #2
    Re: Loving your character too much

    Originally posted by Rantanplan View Post
    I'm having a hard time with this. I want to do what the story requires, but I can't tell if I like a character too much to make him do something terrible that would serve the plot.


    I find it an interesting and very ethical dilemma, in the sense that we should strive for honesty but that there may be things that keep us from it --in many cases, gratuitous elements, or in this case, misplaced attachment, perhaps? If I spare my character something the story requires simply because I'm too attached to him, am I being dishonest?


    OR: is this a good way to gauge what an audience might feel, and should the writer then adjust the narrative to at least provide... I don't know, not redemption necessarily, since there is such a thing as poetic justice after all and the notion that there are certain lines that cannot be crossed in fiction without consequences, but something.


    I hate to say this, but when your character is beautiful and witty and charming, it's a lot harder to get him to do horrible things on the page than if we wasn't.



    Thoughts?
    I'm a little lost on this. What is this "story requires" stuff? Why does any story "require" anything?

    Maybe others will disagree, and I'm making guesses sight unseen, but...

    ...it sounds to me like you already know YOU don't like a certain something about the genuiness of propping up the character in this way and therefore are trying to shoehorn this character into "PLOT" that YOU don't like, but assume an audience might.

    Idk... that's just not my style on the page. I write what *I* believe this character would do and I don't give a fukk (most will hate it anyway, so do it YOUR way).

    CAVEAT: Don't listen to me. My scripts are currently failing (meaning not selling... generals are meaningless to me).

    Having said that: I've never met anyone who is wholly GOOD, have you? No matter how beautiful, witty, and charming... I will fukkin ALWAYS spot their flaw.

    I think the obstacle is that, nowadays, via social media, people are very savvy as to hustlers/conmen presenting FAKE flaws in order to APPEAR sympathetic/empathetic in order to sell a shitty product. I think the trick is then, how do you present it in a way that resonates as genuine?

    Example: The character hates this THING about themselves (you know, like real people) and doesn't want anyone to know they aren't as "perfect" as they feel they must pretend to be because _____. There's a reason for it. It's a defense against pain. Normally, people act out of not wanting to face pain in nearly every aspect of their lives.

    Example: Buying a house, car, vacation, etc (don't fukk me over... I'm skeptical you might be trying to.). Public speaking: don't laugh at me, or think I'm stupid, or ugly, or dress weird etc. You name it, all we do is try to avoid emotional pan.

    So that's my question: What emotional PAIN is your character trying to avoid, and what are they willing to do to avoid it?

    Sight unseen, it feels, to me, like you don't want your character to REALIZE they're just as fukked up as the rest of us... and that may not be relatable. That's not, as the studios call it, "likable." The note will be "Idk... just didn't connect with me." (wrong word IMO. Should be UNDERSTANDABLE not "likable". Currently, I don't UNDERSTAND why you're trying to protect this character from all the bullsh!t we all go through.)
    Bruh, fukkin *smooches*! Feel me? Ha!

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Loving your character too much

      Originally posted by Rantanplan View Post
      I hate to say this, but when your character is beautiful and witty and charming, it's a lot harder to get him to do horrible things on the page than if we wasn't.
      BTW - Ever seen American Psycho? Your statement is simply untrue. If anything, it's the opposite. The truth is, society allows "the beautiful/talented people" to get away with a lot more devious behavior (#MeToo), so they often do it.

      I used to model, I've hung out with some incredibly good looking, witty and charming people who were absolute PIGS, because they knew society would let them get away with it and strangely justify it and protect them.
      Bruh, fukkin *smooches*! Feel me? Ha!

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Loving your character too much

        Dude, this has nothing to do with social media or anything. It's about story. And characters. We might create these stories and these characters, but there also has to be an inherent truth about them that we subscribe to.



        And as weird as it may sound, at this juncture I feel I am a "parent," in that I do not want to admit that this is something that my "child" would actually do.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Loving your character too much

          Originally posted by Rantanplan View Post
          Dude, this has nothing to do with social media or anything. It's about story. And characters. We might create these stories and these characters, but there also has to be an inherent truth about them that we subscribe to.

          And as weird as it may sound, at this juncture I feel I am a "parent," in that I do not want to admit that this is something that my "child" would actually do.
          You serious? The entire world is about social media these days. And...

          ...Story is about real life.

          But whatever...

          The question is simple: WHY are you trying to protect this character?

          What do you gain if no one else relates to them but you? Said another way: A parent ALWAYS believes their child is the best looking and most talented, even when no one else agrees.

          I think you gotta step back and imagine this character as someone else's kid. How would you write that? The same, different?

          There's that meme. Something along the lines of: "Mom, all that bad stuff I did as a kid. Just be glad you don't know the real story." It's funny because it's true.
          Bruh, fukkin *smooches*! Feel me? Ha!

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Loving your character too much

            Originally posted by Rantanplan View Post
            ...at this juncture I feel I am a "parent," in that I do not want to admit that this is something that my "child" would actually do.
            This sounds a bit like the old "don't be afraid to kill off your darlings" trope.

            That trope, as with any other, doesn't mean that you should always kill off your main characters, or knock off the ones with the sympathy, but that you must have the courage to do so if it serves the plot or story objective.

            Example: Two time travel movies

            12 Monkeys (hero dies at end, and girl left alone to face the very bad world)

            Time Cop (hero lives at end, returns to present with girl AND CHILD intact)

            Which one is more memorable? Heck, they made about the same amount of money, based on budget spent, and there are a ton of differences in plot, quality of work, etc., but for my money the one that's lasted is the former.

            Again, this doesn't mean you have to kill somebody off, but maybe to kill them physically is a parallel to staining them ethically/morally.

            Anyway, if they're imperfect at the beginning, doesn't that mean they have further to travel (a good thing) to achieve sainthood at the end - which is the arc, which is supposed to be the be-all and end-all of storytelling?

            In what I've often called my best story, my guy has it all, but at the end he loses everything - but recovers his soul (which he'd lost in an out-of-character bribe). And only he (and the audience) really knows this; every other character in the story probably thinks "What a loser!"

            So, give 'er (him?) a wart, I say. A big one.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Loving your character too much

              Originally posted by Rantanplan View Post
              I'm having a hard time with this. I want to do what the story requires, but I can't tell if I like a character too much to make him do something terrible that would serve the plot.

              ...

              Thoughts?
              It may be that you've created the wrong character for your story/genre, or you've fallen in love with a fictional character and that love is more important to you than writing a good story.

              There are probably other options but I can't think of them at the moment.

              HTH,
              Just my 2 cents, your mileage may vary.

              -Steve Trautmann
              3rd & Fairfax: The WGAW Podcast

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Loving your character too much

                Originally posted by Rantanplan View Post
                I'm having a hard time with this. I want to do what the story requires, but I can't tell if I like a character too much to make him do something terrible that would serve the plot. ...
                Personally I think that's when your character "comes alive" - when he or she can't do what you originally intended them to do. Change the plot. Let the character be himself/herself.
                STANDARD DISCLAIMER: I'm a wannabe, take whatever I write with a huge grain of salt.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Loving your character too much

                  Originally posted by Centos View Post
                  Personally I think that's when your character "comes alive" - when he or she can't do what you originally intended them to do. Change the plot. Let the character be himself/herself.
                  Best fiction writing I've ever done is when the characters take control. Often after pages of writing, their personalities finally kick in. Then you rewrite everything up to that point.

                  And I understand exactly what Rantanplan is talking about.

                  You get thinking of these folks as living, breathing people. And then you feel like a degenerate when you hurt one one of them.

                  But, it's something you have to do, sometimes, otherwise nobody is going to want revenge, or retribution for what happened to them.
                  "I just couldn't live in a world without me."

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Loving your character too much

                    I can't recall the title of the novel but my annoyance with something the character did in the last 10 pages always stuck with me because it was an example of what a writing prof said was a no-no: character manipulation. Which, in the book that irked me, seemed to serve only one purpose: big whammo ending.

                    In the first 200-plus pages there was no hint that the character would melt down like she did. No back story that might hint it was possible. Nada.

                    My advice is to go back into the pages preceding the event and drop in something to indicate it is possible.

                    The other thing to consider: when people get desperate they're capable of anything. So perhaps raise the stakes for whatever triggers the out-of-character actions of your character.
                    Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Loving your character too much

                      @ Centos: it's actually the opposite here, I knew I had him doing this bad thing, but I sort of don't want him to do it now because I'm attached to him. Which is what Storywriter and Catcon are saying, Don't be afraid to do what you need to do, i.e. kill your darlings.



                      @ SC111: desperation is good. He does get desperate. And there will be plausibility.


                      @KitchonaSteve: That's a really interesting concept you bring up, creating the wrong character for the kind of story or genre. I don't think that's the case here, at least I hope not.



                      It's really about trying to figure out how far to go, what the story requires, etc. And whether or not my subjective POV is getting in the way or not.



                      We usually know when people have to die. That's not a big deal. A good death, even when it's the good guys, is just as emotionally satisfying as happily ever after. Thelma and Louise HAD to die in the end, there was no other way to end the film poetically and with such dramatic impact. In real life, they would have done some time, been released early, and started over. But that wouldn't make for very exciting filmmaking.



                      I know my character has to die, but I'm trying to decide just how much he crosses the line before he does.


                      Anyway, thanks for all the thoughts, I'll figure it out.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Loving your character too much

                        Originally posted by Rantanplan View Post
                        I'm having a hard time with this. I want to do what the story requires, but I can't tell if I like a character too much to make him do something terrible that would serve the plot.


                        I find it an interesting and very ethical dilemma, in the sense that we should strive for honesty but that there may be things that keep us from it --in many cases, gratuitous elements, or in this case, misplaced attachment, perhaps? If I spare my character something the story requires simply because I'm too attached to him, am I being dishonest?


                        OR: is this a good way to gauge what an audience might feel, and should the writer then adjust the narrative to at least provide... I don't know, not redemption necessarily, since there is such a thing as poetic justice after all and the notion that there are certain lines that cannot be crossed in fiction without consequences, but something.


                        I hate to say this, but when your character is beautiful and witty and charming, it's a lot harder to get him to do horrible things on the page than if we wasn't.

                        Thoughts?
                        i have a few. i don't understand the dilemma as the solution is simple, but first...

                        you're over thinking it. it's a story and you should do what the character would do. period.

                        write it.

                        if it doesn't work, rewrite it. but you won't find the truth of it, unless you follow your instincts. if you pander to your feelings as a writer, you'll end up with a story that does not reach its full emotional potential.

                        be bold.

                        loving your character to the point that "you" don't want him to do something the story is telling you is in his character, means you've created a character that elicits emotion-- congratulations, that's your job.

                        i don't get what you mean about ethics. i mean, it's a story. there is no ethical or non-ethical way to write it-- there is intention and conflict.

                        if the story "requires" the character to behave "in character," as you say it does, then you already know the answer-- you must do it.

                        otherwise you are controlling the narrative from YOUR POV and not your CHARACTER'S POV. your story will not fulfill its promise, that this character will take this action.

                        i don't know if that helps, but based on what you're saying, it sounds like you're holding both your character and your story back.

                        of course, i haven't read it, so what the hell do i know?
                        "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

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                        • #13
                          Re: Loving your character too much

                          If it makes you feel better and writing easier, I hate your character.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Loving your character too much

                            Thanks for all the comments guys, appreciate them, sorry so late to respond. Lots of deadlines lately and since I don't hang out here as much anymore, I tend to forget when I post...


                            I don't know if I phrased my problem correctly. Maybe I don't know how to phrase it.


                            On the one hand, I DON'T think we always know what a character will do. @ Finalact, you're right, I might just have to write it several ways and see which one feels true. And what I meant by the "ethics" and the "requirements" of a story has to do with just that: the story's intrinsic truth.



                            @Gucci: you're right about American Psycho, but the guy wasn't lovable. Big difference. You can be witty and hot and all that, even charming, but lovable is a different quality, and when people we feel genuine affection for do something despicable, it gives rise to different kinds of feelings.



                            These past few days reading about the manhunt in Manitoba, I kept thinking about what the father of the one suspected teen murderer said, about his son just wanting to end his pain and going on a suicide mission across the country to do it.


                            I think desperation, like SC111 mentioned, and pain, are two powerful psychological states that can lead a character to do something terrible yet make it possible for readers / viewers to still empathize with him even though they agree that poetic justice must be served. It's just that instead of feeling relief and satisfaction when that character gets what's coming, they feel a sense of sadness. Which can be very powerful.



                            So that's what I'm about to go work on at the library over the next coupla hours (I find it's a really great place to write, actually. I put on headphones with rain sounds and because I'm in a different space, my official writing space, I do it, I actually write).


                            Thanks again y'all.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Loving your character too much

                              Maybe you have the wrong character to inhabit the story? I know I can't get anything moving until I find the right character for the story I want to tell.
                              I heard the starting gun


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