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Character debate: Everyone thinks they are good people...

Discussion in 'Tea Room (Book Chat)' started by tirial, 11 May 2018.

  1. tirial

    tirial IT fixer extraordinaire

    I've heard many writers say that every character thinks they are a good person. I've even had someone say that to me in real life. And I don't think it's true.

    I've met people who don't think they are good, they think they are the only person, and others who outright reject the idea and gleefully embrace trying to make the world a worse place for everyone. There are many people who just don't think about whether they are good or evil at all, and others who simply don't care. Why shouldn;t this be reflected in writing?

    They may think they are the 'hero', but that's hero in the form of the Greek sense: a protagonist who moves the action, not a good or modern-day heroic person. So why is it standard writing advice to make sure that everyone thinks they are good? It can make the characters seem a bit flat.
     
  2. Kindler

    Kindler Active Member

    I don't think it's true. I'm fairly certain there are plenty of characters out there, who are not only evil, but embrace that fact and revel in it. They would never describe themselves as good. They may well describe themselves as right, but definitely doing evil.

    Perhaps this is a case of authors writing what they want to believe or even only writing what they can comprehend. Unless it is one of these new fads and styles that has come out to make all the characters more relatable. I really, really don't want to relate to a murdering psychopath thank you very much.

    It shouldn't be that the characters are good, but that they are consistent.

    Heh, here's a very recent example. Thanos from the Infinity War movie. He knows what he is doing is not "good", in terms of what good is currently described as today, but he certainly thinks he is doing the right thing, no matter how horrific those acts may be.
     
  3. Honeybee42

    Honeybee42 Member

    I think it's a bit of trying to invert something that I have read (that no one thinks they are evil) in an effort to avoid cartoon-level villainy. I'll agree with the no one thinks they are evil.

    I can see the "every character thinks they are a good person" if it's written well enough that even though Character X says/thinks that they're a good person, as a reader, I can see that Character X is either flat-out wrong or horribly mistaken.

    I guess that's a long way around of saying "doesn't think he is evil" =/= "thinks he is a good person".
     
  4. Terry

    Terry Member

    It's probably another trope that gets bought up as the "in thing" to do these days, but I'd bet that Hannibal Lecter doesn't think he is good or righteous in any way.

    If they can make the character interesting with a solid backstory which justifies their POV, no matter how far fetched and can make the reader see how they got to that position, then great.
     
  5. Tregaron

    Tregaron Member

    Would you say it is truer that every character thinks their actions are justified? That is very different to saying characters must believe that they are good.
     
  6. Honeybee42

    Honeybee42 Member

    Yes, that sounds much more accurate, to me.

    I do know, that for myself, reading about a villain who might as well list "Hobbies: kicking puppies, destroying children's sandcastles, and stealing from orphans" is just plain boring.
     
  7. tirial

    tirial IT fixer extraordinaire

    Justified to themselves is a good way to put it. After all, the reader may disagree, but if they can see how the character justifies it to themselves then it is still believable.
    My main complaint about characters like that is that their backstory must be fascinating. Sadly that is not the story that the author chose to write.
     
  8. Reader

    Reader Vile Critic

    I have seen one book where a villain was of that type, which I loved. Admittedly, the villain was being paid by the hero, who had run in all the actual villains, to give him someone to fight so his sponsorship deals kept coming in.
     
  9. atry

    atry Member

    What about random characters like the Joker, or his indie equivalent Jack Slash? I don't think the Joker ever justifies anything. Neither of them think they are doing good, either.
     
  10. jessica

    jessica Active Member

    ::rofl::::lol::::rofl:: How often does that happen, you know, that a character drops a comment about something and you just think that story would be much better than this one?
     
  11. porridge

    porridge Member

    Come on! Larger-than-life moustache-twirling villains can be fun and ham-tastic. No one else here loved booing Blackbeard at the panto?
     
  12. Honeybee42

    Honeybee42 Member

    My general experience is that people who write such villains can't do a proper job of it. More like "I'm going to engineer the release of this murderer via my role as head honcho of the police just to stick it to you, detective who quit sleeping with me".
     
  13. Angel

    Angel Munificent Critic

    I always seem to find it comes under the reader* must empathise with character to fully understand the reasons why they are acting the way they are. And as authors only see themselves as good people, make the mistake of trying to make the villans, in some part, good as well. Write what you know and so on.


    * No, no that @Reader
     
  14. Flash Harry

    Flash Harry Member

    Makes sense they have to be getting something out of their actions. If not, why do it? Good? Dunno.

    Ex-squeeze me? Don't quite get ya there.
     
  15. Tregaron

    Tregaron Member

    Ah yes. The straw villain who sets himself up so the hero/ine has someone to take down.

    It is still better than the ones who can't write villains at all, and believe that everyone is the same under the skin (normally cultured and intelligent with just a few different beliefs) and genuinely good under it all. One recent spin-off I was reading had a character who was a hedonistic mercenary in the original source who sold family members for money and burned antiquities portrayed as being an honourable warrior type concerned for his heritage. The same one had the local Nazi/KK faction as just being deeply misunderstood, and glossed over their multiple gory murders in the original work as politics. The dialogue used for the characters could have been exchanged without any change to the story as none of them had truly distinct voices or personalities.

    I am not sure that is derailing a character as much as "had not read the source material" and derailing the entire series.
     
  16. Zelda

    Zelda Member

    I don't think I've heard that every character thinks (or should think) they're a good person, but I recall something similar: Every character is the hero of their own story. As you said in your last paragraph, 'hero' is meant to be taken in the Greek sense. At the least, they're the protagonist of their own stories.

    As others have said, I think this is an attempt to make sure that villains are done properly; that they aren't just evil for the sake of being evil. I think it's important that characters are able to justify their actions, good or bad. Every character doesn't have to think they're good, but they should have a "good" reason to do something.
     
  17. atry

    atry Member

    What is scary is that the view everyone thinks they are good is making its way into mainstream psychology: Why Bad Guys Think They're Good Guys After watching someone boast about how two-faced they could be, using those exact words, to try and threaten a person who was going to expose their wrongdoings, I really don't believe people think of themselves as good or evil. I think they think they are just people.
     
  18. tirial

    tirial IT fixer extraordinaire

    No, but both of them have specific reasons to want to tear the world down. The Joker (depending on version) because nothing has meaning, including the definition of good or ill. Jack Slash because everything he knew was a lie, he wanted meaning and to stand out, and discovering
    that he could cause the end of the world
    meant that he could fulfill those goals.

    (I can't believe I just tried to unravel the motivation of a character who likes his past to be multiple choice. Batman's been failing at that for years, and he has much more training than me.)
     
  19. penumbra

    penumbra Member

    Ugh, yes. I hate it when there's no real differentiation between characters. I do like my villains (and heroes) to have conviction. However, this doesn't mean that they have to believe that what they're doing is good, they just have to believe in something. Does that make sense?

    That book sounds like a good example of my issue with spin-offs. They usually derail the character(s). They aren't usually as extreme as that example, but a lot of them seem to alter the character rather than adding depth. I don't even know where to begin on the white supremacist faction. That sounds...crazy, for lack of a better word.
     

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