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With regards to ahole characters

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Kasper Hviid, Oct 15, 2020 at 9:41 AM.

  1. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Sage

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    I'm currently writing an asshole character, but it kind of bothers me that I feel that this trope is ... just not entirely cool, you know?

    I stumbled upon this clip:

    It suggests that we like asshole characters because they are up against a greater threat, such as organize crime or broken healthcare, which makes whatever they do kinda okay in comparison. Which is some part of it, I guess.

    One thing that really got to me was this soundbite:

    "We risked our lives and did terrible things, and it meant nothing when we came home"

    Yeah, try reading that one more time.

    The premise: If someone bravely sacrifices himself by doing "terrible things" to others, then they deserve some sorta reward. It would certainly be unfair if they got nothing for it.
    Even Wisecrack buys into this. It is presented as "this totally makes sense". They didn't even noticed how fucked up that logic was. So it's a very deep-rooted way of seeing things.

    I think this is a basic trope for a lot of asshole characters. By some weird mindhack that I haven't entirely worked out, character A doing horrible things to character B makes us empathize with A.
     
  2. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    We write urban fantasy, so we have a lot of asshole characters, and one of our most popular characters, our tarnished faerie knight, is one of them. But, one of the major themes in our series is redemption. Is it possible to earn it after doing terrible things? I think that is one of the draws to this. "If he did that and can still be redeemed, can I be redeemed for what I've done?" So the draw isn't the jerk-as-they-are, but the flawed, sympathetic person they become at the end of their character arc.
     
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  3. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

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    Ever watched Breaking Bad? The main character is a ruthless criminal who shows a disturbing lack of care for those around him, all the while gaslighting them into thinking he does all of the evil he does for their sake. And who do fans unanimously believe is the asshole in that story? His wife. It's entirely backwards if you look at it from outside of the story, but framing and characterization does the trick.

    I'd say there are a few more things that factor into why we love "assholes" in fiction.

    1. Who is framed as the protagonist and who is framed as the antagonist matters, even when the former is objectively in the wrong. As people we naturally empathize with those who we spend time with. As long as a protagonist bad guy shows signs of not being completely abhorrent, there's a good chance you will end up sympathizing with them.

    2. Who is more Interesting matters. People don't engage in fiction to see everything go well for characters. We want to see change happen in a story, we want there to be action. Therefore, the good guy who tries to stop change from occurring can turn the audience agains them because deep down we know that they're trying to make the story less fun. On the other hand the bad guy who drives the story forward can be beloved for that same reason. In fiction, morality is secondary to interest.

    3. Morality is turned upside down in most forms of fiction. As the audience you don't truly care about a random extra being shot by a main character, nor do you care about any other act of evil they do unless the format of the show/book specifically zooms in on it. When we engage in fiction we know it to be fictitious and we are generally willing to accept the moral framework imposed on us by the work, A skilled writer can make us forget our real-world morality and focus our attenton on things they want to single out, even if objectively those things are not comparible in scope and significance.
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2020 at 12:28 PM
    A. E. Lowan likes this.
  4. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    The asshole is in the eye of beholder... ohh, that sounds icky.
     
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  5. Helen

    Helen Inkling

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    Or just make the character a straight-up A-hole. No empathy required.
     
  6. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Just a heads up I changed the name of the thread. We don't need to be total prudes, but we do want to be family friendly and safe for work. In the title it's just too prominent.
     
  7. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Sage

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    Fair enough!
     
  8. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    You ever hear of the “superfluous man”?
    It was a genre of Russian literature at the turn of the century which would center on wealthy and capable but nihilistic and ruthless protagonist who would go around manipulating or ruining the lives of those around them and often destroying themselves.

    A theory I’ve heard for the genre’s popularity was that it was basically a wish fulfillment kind of thing. Deep down, some people want to be a-holes but they also need to be able to justify it. With the superfluous man, the justification was the failing institutions and social hierarchy in 19th century Russia.
    So, I think the whole “it’s ok to make the hero a jerk because they fight against corrupt powers” might just be a justification for this power fantasy of being a jerk who uses their abilities such as intelligence or charm to jerk-ish ends.

    I feel pretty comfortable saying that the modern crop of jerk protagonists are just the modern West going through a “superfluous man” phase.
     
  9. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Sounds like the entire plot to Crime and Punishment. No empathy, no sympathy, no real connection with the reader-I was-in-high-school. I just didn't know what it was called until now. I just called it "painful."

    I went to an arts school and we even put on a little black box RP-style trial to try and see if we could send the jerk protagonist to jail. I had a little too much fun playing him and got him acquitted - and I hated him.
     
  10. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I feel the need to explain this since that’s my favorite novel...
    Crime and Punishment and especially Dostoyevski’s earlier novels (Notes from Underground and The Idiot) were sort of subversions/critiques of the genre.
    The general idea of the book was that being a “superfluous man” wasn’t admirable or cool and living that life would realistically end with jail time or general misery. I’d be willing to assume Dostoyevsky would have preferred it if he was sent to jail in your mock trial thing.
    The idea with Rodian Raskolnikov is that he’s an actual person trying to pretend he’s a superfluous man archetype and failing miserably at it since that type of character might seem cool and fiction but would be reprehensible in real life.
    I mean, that’s not what the book is about, of course, but that’s how it fits into its genre.

    In any case, your assessment is right: Crime and Punishment would be an example (more or less).
     
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