It’s been recently brought to my attention that many popular main characters are too selfish. The prime example given was Katniss Everdeen from Suzanne Collins’ bestselling Hunger Games trilogy.
I didn’t know how to take this. Yes, when you think about it, Katniss might be selfish. Then again, she’s a sixteen-year-old girl thrown into an arena of teenagers forced to fight to the death and trying to fulfill a promise to her sister.
Of course she’s selfish, especially in Book One. She’s trying to survive.
This got my mind whirring. Are other main characters selfish? I thought of Bella Cullen from the now-disgraced Twilight saga. Yes, she’s unbearably selfish, though no one really pays valid attention to her anymore. I thought of Harry Potter. While he’s a kid with way too much to handle and trying his best to be sacrificial, some of his actions betray the selfishness of a teenage boy. Eragon from the Inheritance Cycle — if you look at him deeper, he’s a selfish kid too.
Then I thought: are these characters selfish because of their youth? All of them are teenagers, and teenagers are inevitably selfish.
Are they selfish by accident of the author? Are they made that way?
Does it bug the reader when a protagonist thinks of nothing but him/herself? In poor Bella Cullen’s case, yes. That girl would have no self-esteem if she could hear people talk about her. In Harry, Eragon, and Katniss’s cases I don’t think anyone holds it against them because of their later actions.
Characters have to be flawed, but no one wants another Bella. So when do you draw the line and make a protagonist a little more selfless?
I’m figuring that out. Now I’m painfully aware of how others might read my character’s actions. Out of selfishness? Or out of love? I don’t want my Mina to be annoying to the reader.
While I couldn’t care less of what other people thought about me, I want people to like my character. And, as Mina and I are still being acquainted and don’t trust each other 100% yet, I’m trying to be acutely aware of what her actions/thoughts might provoke in others. To a degree she is selfish — she wants to go home to her little brother and salvage her business. But I’m trying to make her see the bigger picture: maybe it’s best for everyone if she stays at the country’s capital of Naphiring.
I think she’ll come around. We need to get to know each other more; I need to figure out what makes her tick. Once I become situated with being in her head, I’ll be able to pull myself away and tell her to think of other people when necessary. “Think of Tristan and Ilex. They might need you more than you need your brother. Think about it, Mina.”
Just some thought. Take it how you will. :)