E: Egotism

Most of us have had the unfortunate experience of encountering someone who thinks they are so amazing  that we should thank our lucky stars they allow us to breathe the same air. You can’t help but size them up and wonder what makes them so special. For all intents and purposes, they are just like any other human being but somehow they’ve made the leap from confident to jackass.

I’m working on a new story and for the first time ever, I have a character like this. She is a classic egoist: conceited, boastful, selfish, self-centered, and quick to unapologetically let everyone know how fabulous she is.  And her behavior isn’t to mask insecurities or a result of trauma or some cry for help; she really believes her own hype and will do anything to satisfy her urges.

Normally, I can find something to like in just about anyone (real or fictional). Even when I can’t find redeemable qualities, I can at least muster up some empathy for their condition. Not with this character. She’s what you would get if Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’s Veruca Salt and Macaulay Culkin’s character from The Good Son made a baby, so unlike anything that I’ve written before that I can’t even come up with a proper name for her yet. In my notes, she’s known only as “N.”

Despite my ick factor, she has been fun to write and less of a challenge than I thought. I’m completely unleashing my id on this one! But there seems to be a tendency to have these kind of characters miraculously redeem themselves or be dispatched by swift Karmic retribution. I’m not so sure that’s going to happen in this case. People like this do exist in the world and often they don’t get what they deserve.

Are unlikeable characters guilty pleasures or complete turn-offs?

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14 thoughts on “E: Egotism”

  1. Dang, those type of people are annoying, but they are fun to talk about. I worked with a guy, who was nice enough, but thought he was a gift to all around him. We used to joke that he kissed his biceps in the mirror every morning before work…Enjoy fleshing N out!!

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  2. I always find conversations fiction writers have with their characters fascinating. This is no exception. I write nonfiction so my dilemmas are different, and finding a positive aspect of my characters’ personalities can be challenging, but I think you are on to something here. The sorts of people you are talking about rarely have epiphanies. They go through life with a definite mindset and all the world proves them right (I can think of several national politicians that fit this description). That’s probably why N is easy to write about; she is static. Nice post.

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    1. Good point! I haven’t decided yet if her egotism is going to stay the same or just get worse. I imagine that would be really hard with nonfiction to find something positive about a real person who may just be completely unlikeable, but I’d rather know the truth about them rather than a whitewashed version of events.

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  3. Being confident and even over confident is alright. But over egoistical is a turn off, being human we often say “you’ll get yours my pretty”. But being compassionate I’ve never really wanted to see the person fall on their face. Good luck with your writing.

    I am stopping by via the A – Z Challenge link up, following you via twitter. Feel free to stop by my blog at http://www.scatteredmusings.net/2012/04/buying-car/ (my b- c and d post combined)

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  4. I’m not a huge fiction reader, but I do watch a lot of movies. I’m thinking of the woman that Charlize Theron played in “Young Adult.” She was a train wreck. I don’t think there was anything likable about her at all, but at the end we get a peak into why she is the way she is. Did it redeem her? No. But it was kind of fun to watch her.
    In nonfiction, I think it is extremely important to have a likable narrator that the reader can trust.

    Have fun writing “N”
    P

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  5. Reading a character such as N is a love/hate thing for me. I’m so often disappointed when they redeem themselves or “get their’s”. As you pointed out, they are a fact of life and could very well belong in a series.
    Great post. Good luck with N.

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    1. I’m disappointed by that too. I think it’s mostly so that we can feel better about ourselves as readers, not necessarily because it makes sense for the character.

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