Making more relatable characters (or: making nice characters that are still interesting)

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Moogle-Girl, Aug 3, 2015.

  1. Someone once pointed out to me that too many of my characters are jerks.

    I was quickly on the defensive about that. I argued that I've only told them about the jerks because those guys are the most interesting! If someone sees a puppy in the street, arguably the "default" behavior would be to save it, so a guy that laughs as the puppy gets run over is more deserving of attention, right? Well, today I sat down and sorted my characters into three groups: jerk, neutral/fluctuating, and nice. (Obviously this was grossly simplified; I based it on character traits that stand out the most.) Here is a breakdown of my findings by character faction:

    Protagonists of current arc: 25% nice, 12.5% neutral, 62.5% jerks
    Antagonists of current arc: 0% nice, 25% neutral, 75% jerks

    Protagonists of arcs gone by: 100% nice, 0% neutral, 0% jerks
    Antagonists of arcs gone by: 0% nice, 20% neutral, 80% jerks

    Major characters of neutral standing: 66.6% nice, 33.3% neutral, 0% jerks
    Side characters of neutral standing: 50% nice, 25% neutral, 25% jerks

    Silly parody characters with their own self-contained story: 0% nice, 25% neutral, 75% jerks
    More grounded characters with their own self-contained story: 83.3% nice, 0% neutral, 16.6% jerks

    This is not what I was hoping for.

    Now, some of my favorite characters in any fandom are those that play against their type and trend more towards a moral gray area. But as you can see, I've only done that with the protagonists -- the current arc has WAY more jerks than the previous one, but the moral spread of antagonists hasn't really changed. This is a problem!

    I already know the reason behind this. I ended the referenced "arcs gone by" because the characters involved weren't interesting. And my attempts to make characters that were mostly churned out jerks. Now I don't have enough relatable characters!

    Tl;dr: Too many of the important characters are jerks. Not enough of the nice characters are important. Characters that are nice and important aren't interesting.

    Taking into account that I really don't like scrapping characters that have been around as long as some of these guys, the solution that I've come up with is to make some of the important jerks more relatable. I can already point out a few who have good intentions but act all self-superior for no good reason. But I feel like if I take that away from them, they'll lose their depth and become boring pancakes.

    Another possible solution is to take some of the interesting nice characters and make them more important by folding them into the main story. I already have a couple in mind, but I'm not sure if this would really fix anything. It's not like anyone changed; their goals just shifted around a little. I mean, maybe this nice character could help chill out the jerks a little bit, but that seems so forced...

    Of course, there's the caveat that when I say "interesting," I mean "interesting for me to write." It's entirely possible that the nice characters are interesting, but I'm inherently doomed because I find them boring to talk about and write for! owo'

    How can I fix this mess? Is there anything else I can do? Am I just reading way too much into things? YOU BE THE JUDGE.
    #1 Moogle-Girl, Aug 3, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 3, 2015
  2. Thank you! Here's a more specific question that I'm worried about: how do I stop a character from overcoming their problems through extensive development SO WELL (even if it takes a long time) that they come out reeking of mary sue? And I don't mean like, "oh, I never looked at it that way, I'll stop doing it right away!" I mean something like the character overcoming all of their problems. Is there an acceptable line to draw? What if an antisocial asshole overcomes his anger issues but is still antisocial and maybe a little mean when he comes out? Is that just bad character development?

    I suppose what I'm really worried about is the balance. I always feel like I'm going too far, or not far enough.
  3. First off; recognize that overcoming problems does not mean overcoming flaws.

    Second, remember that just because someone conqured one demon, doesn't mean three more didn't pop up behind it. A grump may learn to play nicely with others, only to discover that when they have a social life, they get waaaay too competetitive and develop rage issues!

    Remember also that the very fact that a character had to struggle and work hard to achieve and maintain a victory over one of their problems makes them not-sue. A Sue just decides she wants to not be an alcoholic anymore, sweats for a chapter or two, and then is magically over it. A real character makes a decision, struggles with it, slips, needs help, needs support, suffers losses in the battle, and is never really done working to keep that shit under control.

    There's no "leave X amount of problems/flaws remaning" line because every character is different. But you can tell when your character is having too easy a time, which makes you the best judge of when to dial back the victories/good fortune. Practice makes perfect in this case, and Springhole has some great resources about what makes a character sue, including one you might want to look at called "Before You Go Declaring Other People's Characters Mary Sues" - it can apply to self-criticism as well! Check out the related articles at the bottom, too.
  4. Hmm, these are things that I definitely need to keep in mind, I've realized. That's all very helpful advice. Thank you so much!
  5. Take Game of Thrones (early season spoilers following) It's filled to the brim with jerks. And many of them are great characters. Would that be the same if we didn't have Jon Snow and Sam in the Night's Watch? Would Tyrian be just as interesting if he didn't genuinely fall in love? Didn't you go 'ffffffffffffffffffffffuuuuuuuu' when Ned died?

    Game of Thrones generally turns the jerk vs. good guy ratio around, but what this does is make the good guys interesting as they struggle to survive in this world.

    The reason most jerks you feel are interesting is because they are minorities in their worlds. They do not conform to the norm, which makes them different and therefore interesting.

    See, one part is character building, the other part is character and world dynamics. Besides developing individuals, you need to keep in mind their interactions and environments. A good character is the base. What they do and what they're challenged with is all the meat on the bone.