How do you make an arrogant character likable?

Specifics about craft, talent, technique, etc.
Henckel
Posts: 54
Joined: Sun Oct 13, 2013 6:30 pm
Location: Wellington, New Zealand

How do you make an arrogant character likable?

Postby Henckel » Thu Jan 12, 2017 11:28 pm

What are your thoughts on making an arrogant character more likable?

My story is written in the 1st person. To successfully pull off this story, it requires an untrustworthy POV.

The protagonist is efficient and ruthless. He acts on intuition rather than emotions, and considers workplace laziness on par with corporate sabotage. The problem is, his absence of emotions makes him come off as a real prick. The result is that readers won’t be able to sympathize with him and my story fails.

Any suggestions on how to make him more likable?

User avatar
disgruntledpeony
Posts: 576
Joined: Fri Jul 31, 2015 7:21 pm

Re: How do you make an arrogant character likable?

Postby disgruntledpeony » Fri Jan 13, 2017 12:16 am

My best recommendations would be to either flesh the character out more (show his more positive qualities as well as his negative ones and/or explain why he has the traits that he does so that the reader is more likely to empathize with him), to shift from 1st person to 3rd person, or to shift viewpoint characters to someone who might interpret the protagonist's actions in a more relatable light. All of these options will take some work, but you definitely want to ensure that your protagonist is relatable. It's worth the extra effort.
If a person offend you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. ~ Mark Twain
2015, Q4: R
2016: SF, n/a, SHM, SHM
2017: SHM, n/a, F, R

User avatar
MattDovey
Posts: 358
Joined: Tue Sep 22, 2015 1:33 am
Location: England
Contact:

Re: How do you make an arrogant character likable?

Postby MattDovey » Fri Jan 13, 2017 1:30 am

I'd think of it in terms of Writing Excuses' Three Sliders concept. In brief, there are three prongs of character likeability: sympathy (nice, friendly person), competence (the James Bond effect) and pro-activity (pushing the story forward themselves, not just reacting to events).

An arrogant character obviously falls short on the sympathy, so push them on the competence and proactive scales.

For a satisfying character arc, have them move up on one of the sliders; ideally, here, make them more sympathetic by the end by losing some of that arrogance, or learning to connect with people despite it. You might be able to do it with one of the other sliders and keep sympathy flat, but that means you only have one of them high at the start and that's going to make it really hard for readers to connect with them.
Golden Pen winner v32 (2016)
Stories | About | Facebook | Twitter

amoskalik
Posts: 944
Joined: Sat Aug 17, 2013 1:40 pm
Location: Detroit, MI
Contact:

Re: How do you make an arrogant character likable?

Postby amoskalik » Fri Jan 13, 2017 6:01 am

Wow, some great advice by both above. I'll have to read that sliders article when I get home.

Combining Peony and Matt's advice, you might consider giving the reader insight into why this character is such a prick. This will create reader sympathy toward him at the outset. Then have the character arc such that he becomes more understanding of those around him by the end of the story, Somehow he discovers those slacker coworkers weren't so lazy after all, but were providing a different sort of value that he couldn't comprehend at the beginning of the story.
Trajectory HM R R HM R R HM HM HM R

kentagions
Posts: 242
Joined: Wed Mar 25, 2015 2:45 pm
Location: Saint Paul, Minnesota

Re: How do you make an arrogant character likable?

Postby kentagions » Fri Jan 13, 2017 11:53 am

The most iconic prick in literature is Sherlock Holmes. Sidekick POV is John Watson. I don't believe Holmes could have worked if written in third person close narrative from his POV. His major appeal is the ruthless pursuit of truth against all social and intellectual convention. He elevates the weak and tears down the powerful, making him a hero to the masses.

Monk (TV series starring Tony Shalhoub) concentrates on another character who is very hard on all of those around him. This character also has a sidekick in the attendant/nurse who is always with him. Monk's audience appeal's are his own commitment to truth and his crippling OCD. The OCD is distracting to the point where the audience nearly disregards the fact that Monk is a prick.

Mechanically, you may need to choose another POV. When considering several characters for the POV role in a story, one normally chooses the one who will be most emotionally affected by the story. Emotional vacancy doesn't sell an audience looking for emotional immersion. The character must live an extensive internal life.

On the other hand, the story being told can dictate the POV character. Adventures, Detective stories, Mysteries and Sci-Fi gadget stories can certainly be told through a jerk. As Matt suggests (nice link), sympathy can be superseded by competency and drive. But remember that these are highly external, action driven stories, not driven by internal character conflict.

User avatar
storysinger
Posts: 711
Joined: Tue Jul 30, 2013 1:00 pm
Location: Pensacola

Re: How do you make an arrogant character likable?

Postby storysinger » Fri Jan 13, 2017 12:35 pm

Maybe you could surround him/her with totally obnoxious individuals that make him the best person in the scene. The boss that is even more arrogant, the manipulative secretary, the intern on the bottom rung looking up.
HM-1
Today's science fiction is tomorrow's reality.
D.R.Sweeney

Henckel
Posts: 54
Joined: Sun Oct 13, 2013 6:30 pm
Location: Wellington, New Zealand

Re: How do you make an arrogant character likable?

Postby Henckel » Fri Jan 13, 2017 10:51 pm

Thanks everyone. Really good suggestions and advice. ive been pondering these all day.

ultimately, I've decided to keep him as pov and soften his character. if I allow him 10% emotion then that will be enough for me to reveal plausable reason for his other 90% arrogance.

also. What ive learned from this is that, although id writen him with 100% authentic personality type, .... that some personality types are poor choices for main pov characters. if he were a secondary pov character, then im sure readers would love him. ...

lastly, I listen to writing excuses every week. in my opinion, they are the best free resource for sci-fi fantasy writers. ...anyway im familiar with the episodes mentioned. ...but ive alwats wondered if "sympathetic" meant the others characters ability to sympathise with the character in question, or the readers ability to sympathise with him? ... ... im guessin it must. be the other characters....

User avatar
disgruntledpeony
Posts: 576
Joined: Fri Jul 31, 2015 7:21 pm

Re: How do you make an arrogant character likable?

Postby disgruntledpeony » Sat Jan 14, 2017 2:13 am

Henckel wrote:lastly, I listen to writing excuses every week. in my opinion, they are the best free resource for sci-fi fantasy writers. ...anyway im familiar with the episodes mentioned. ...but ive alwats wondered if "sympathetic" meant the others characters ability to sympathise with the character in question, or the readers ability to sympathise with him? ... ... im guessin it must. be the other characters....


I can't speak for Writing Excuses, but generally a sympathetic character is someone the reader can identify with. If the reader doesn't care about the character, chances are they won't read on. (Please note that 'sympathetic' is not a synonym for 'nice'. There are plenty of protagonists out there who are far from pleasant, but still have a core element to the character that makes the reader care about them.)
If a person offend you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick. ~ Mark Twain
2015, Q4: R
2016: SF, n/a, SHM, SHM
2017: SHM, n/a, F, R

amoskalik
Posts: 944
Joined: Sat Aug 17, 2013 1:40 pm
Location: Detroit, MI
Contact:

Re: How do you make an arrogant character likable?

Postby amoskalik » Sat Jan 14, 2017 7:45 am

disgruntledpeony wrote:
Henckel wrote:lastly, I listen to writing excuses every week. in my opinion, they are the best free resource for sci-fi fantasy writers. ...anyway im familiar with the episodes mentioned. ...but ive alwats wondered if "sympathetic" meant the others characters ability to sympathise with the character in question, or the readers ability to sympathise with him? ... ... im guessin it must. be the other characters....


I can't speak for Writing Excuses, but generally a sympathetic character is someone the reader can identify with. If the reader doesn't care about the character, chances are they won't read on. (Please note that 'sympathetic' is not a synonym for 'nice'. There are plenty of protagonists out there who are far from pleasant, but still have a core element to the character that makes the reader care about them.)


There is no bigger prick than the Jack Nicholson character in "As Good As It Gets", and he is portrayed in a highly sympathetic way, so it is definitely possible and perhaps even desirable as it gives you a lot of room for character growth which leads to a high emotional payoff.
Trajectory HM R R HM R R HM HM HM R

kentagions
Posts: 242
Joined: Wed Mar 25, 2015 2:45 pm
Location: Saint Paul, Minnesota

Re: How do you make an arrogant character likable?

Postby kentagions » Sat Jan 14, 2017 10:00 am

Petting the Dog: A plot device designed to soften a hard-edged character. One facet of a character which is undeniably goodhearted. (Examples: Giving change to a beggar, over-tipping wait staff, kindness to children.)

Henckel
Posts: 54
Joined: Sun Oct 13, 2013 6:30 pm
Location: Wellington, New Zealand

Re: How do you make an arrogant character likable?

Postby Henckel » Sat Jan 14, 2017 4:20 pm

Great advice everyone. ...and good examples Kent.
I just put my kids in front of a movie. ...Thus, I've got exactly 1.5 hrs to write. ...time to fix this character I've created.


Return to “Writing: Craft, Talent, Technique”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests