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Imagine every person you have been jealous/envious of because of their skills/reputation/family influence.

Combine all of that in one person, and you get my MC.

My MC would be classified as the poster child every parent wants and every cousin out there gets annoyed at because their parents always compare them.

A character I could have a similar backstory with is Glam from Metal Family, and a character with similar cunning and striving for perfection is Tom Riddle from Harry Potter.

My point is that he is insecurity-inducing enough to have attracted enough haters as well as supporters (haters hate successful people; what else is new?) but he's mostly "untouchable" (as some top people are).

People who want to beat him up? He's athletic and fit, so he can win some fights or run as fast as them to get away. And they could ruin their own reputations by assaulting and attacking a beloved treasure.

People actively voice their dislike of him? Why are you hating on the nice, star student? You're just jealous. Leave him alone.

People could try spreading rumors, but even if they were true, no one would suspect him of something so heinous, so it would fall at the end of the day.

The Achilles heel I could give him is that he's not exactly perfect and, ironically, a raging perfectionist.

Behind that persona is someone obsessed with keeping his reputation, yet he's smart enough to know there will be attempts at downfall, so he has connections to stop it or he immediately addresses the source. Like mafia systems.

Doesn't mean he's like a completely horrible person; it just means he wants to be the very best. Role model-wise, who may or may not have parents who drilled it into him to be like this so that's some psychological bag of angst we'll see later.

His own downfall could be in his own hands, but what else could I do?

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    "And they could ruin their own reputations by assaulting and attacking a beloved treasure" - then his enemies would be striking from the dark. If there is a "poster boy" at school who is insolent and "untouchable", kids would sure find a put him in place.
    – Alexander
    Nov 23, 2022 at 20:07
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    Give him an antagonist that won't let him win (all the time). It doesn't really matter whether that antagonist is just plain bad luck, a rival to his alpha status, a friend or enemy that sees through his veneer of perfection, or just someone dumb enough to not care. The biggest enemy of perfectionists is things they can't control.
    – user54131
    Nov 23, 2022 at 21:14
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    Sometimes, the author needs to stop being a simp for their characters. The author's job is not to root for the MC's success. The uthor needs to put the MC on a tree, then throw rocks at them. Also, check "my guy syndrome" on how to dissociate the narrative from your feelings about the character. Nov 24, 2022 at 18:04
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    What is the exact question you are asking? You are either asking to nerf your mc, or asking us to help destroy him.
    – Crafter
    Nov 25, 2022 at 5:43
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    People tend hate characters who have been handed everything on a platter and take it for granted. People also tend to hate characters who are jerks with no redeeming character traits. Successful people aren't necessarily hated for success, though they may be hated for being jerks and acting like everyone else worthless for not having achieved the same successes. One person's success is another's nightmare. I don't want to be rich because I have some idea of the responsibilites that goes with the money - and the burdens of being the boss.
    – JRE
    Nov 25, 2022 at 15:01

4 Answers 4

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The best character writing advice I've ever encountered was this:

Characters do not have strengths and weaknesses. Characters have traits. Whether those are strengths or weaknesses depends on the context.

For pretty much anything about a character, you can flip it around and figure out a way to use it to attack them. He's athletic and dedicated? Hmm, what if you suddenly destabilize that. What if he gets some injury - maybe one where there's the chance it'll be a permanent end to his athletic career, definitely one which will take months at minimum to recover from? Suddenly he has to figure out what his life looks like without the sports, deal with his body which he's always relied on in the past letting him down, discover that some of his friends find him boring and uninteresting now that he's not the cool athlete guy anymore... major character crisis material there, especially since you've mentioned he's a perfectionist. Or, since you talk about him able to win fights, find a situation to put him in where fighting provides an easy way out but creates long-term problems - someone's trying to goad him and will twist the story around to make him look like the bad guy if he does. Oh, now there's video floating around carefully edited to make it look like he beat up someone defenseless. (A great thing to do to bring ultra-skilled characters down to earth is to put them in situations where using those skills is the wrong thing to do.) Or maybe he overestimates his skills, the guy he's dealing with is way better than him, now he's nursing wounds and a horribly smarting pride and spiralling about how he put in all this work but is still not good enough.

His family is rich? Hmm. How secure is that, can you attack it, can you give him stress about potentially going broke? (Or just regular middle-class, so that it'd still be a major lifestyle change for him and result in his losing things but his friends have absolutely no sympathy.) Or maybe their influence opens them up to blackmail, or to other players twisting their arm to try to get them to something for them - potentially using MC in the process. (This is a good chance to throw someone who's the biggest fish in his pond into an ocean he was totally unprepared to deal with.) And what if his family start getting really bad press and rumours floating around about them, how does that affect his reputation? He still as popular?

He has lots of friends? Give him a crisis in his friends group - a hard one, where no matter how he deals with it people will be pissed off. Maybe it's one where both sides are really right when you get down to it but now they want contradictory things and there's no way to make both of them happy. Maybe there's a duplicitous person around who's using people and MC has to figure them out... but even afterwards, not everyone believes their great friend duplicitous guy could do such things!! and MC's reputation takes a hit. There are events that shatter friends groups. Throw one in there and see what happens.

He's popular but not actually close enough to anyone to be pulled in by the above? This probably means there's nobody around who will unquestioningly take his side if things look bad for him. Popularity is always fickle, and now if it turns he'll have no one.

Speaking of: you have to remember that your MC is a side character, often a bit part, in the other character's lives. They are always and 100% the star of their own show. So... for one, not everyone loves him. A bunch of people will only vaguely know who he is. Some will be turned off by him. The geek girl who wants to win the maths olympiad this year and is spending her time on practice problems and the after-school maths club is not going to be impressed by a star athlete. Maybe he looks like this other guy's childhood bully and that guy knows it's irrational but he just can't manage to like MC as a result. This other girl here is put off by intense he can be instead of having fun. (Or this dude over there is put off by how he goofs off sometimes instead of being serious - there's no winning!) This other one thinks he's distastefully arrogant and doubled-down on that when people (incorrectly) accused her of being jealous, by now he's like nails on chalkboard to her. This does not make any of these characters one-dimensional bad guys against your MC who need to be taught the error of their ways, it makes them people. And this also means that he simply can't be as immune to rumours and reputation damage as you're suggesting. No one is.

Now...

If your reaction to all the various ideas I threw out was to immediately insist they wouldn't work and not consider how they might be adapted for your specific setup or whether something similar might - if your reaction to spotting a potential vulnerability in your MC is shielding it instead of going "ooh, I wonder what'll happen if I hit this with a stick" -

Then Amadeus is right, what you're writing is a wish-fulfillment story. I actually don't think there's anything wrong with writing wish-fulfillment stories! When I started out writing everyone was warning about the dire writing sin of writing a Mary Sue, but frankly I think attempting to avoid any sign of one did way more damage than just letting myself write some idealized wish fulfillment characters would have. But - be honest with yourself that that's what you're doing, that you actually have no interest in seriously hurting your character, and realise that it does probably mean your story is going to be pretty uninteresting to the majority.

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Sorry, this sounds like just another boring wish fulfillment story by a beginner.

Stories are not interesting if the hero doesn't suffer. The whole point of being a hero is that they get kicked in the face and knocked down and beaten mercilessly and still get back up and try again, and again, and again, despite the pain, and the losses, and even despite their personal hopelessness of succeeding; they'd rather die than fail.

Many beginners write wish fulfillment stories, often addressing their own personal shortcomings. Wouldn't it be great to be physically fit and a black belt, and handsome and get the girls, and to be a straight-A student and the Football Star Quarterback, and still be kind and generous and be the Class President on the Student Council, and the principal and teachers treat you with respect as a colleague? Wow. What a life. It's fun to write, and it appeals to you.

But that isn't a hero. Watch Bruce Willis in Die Hard. Watch Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. They fail. They lose. They get hurt, they bleed, they get trapped, they get captured. They get deceived. And they get back up and try again.

It is why Superman stories focus on others better than Superman that stand a fighting chance of defeating him. Lex Luthor is smarter. Often Superman fights other Kryptonians. Or he fights technology that can best him, it is one reason the authors came up with Kryptonite, the only reason it exists is to give human bad guys a fighting chance against Superman. Heck, quite often Superman is fighting himself! And sometimes he is fighting logistics: He cannot save Lois Lane and all the kids simultaneously, he must choose!

If you want to write this character, either make him the villain, so the genius kid confined to a wheelchair for life must defeat! Or give him some fatal flaws.

In Unbreakable, Bruce Willis is super strong and nearly invulnerable, but rather dim. Mister Glass, the villain, is incredibly fragile, but an evil genius that hides it very well.

John Wick is a frikkin' superman assassin, but in the beginning of the franchise, he is bested, and the bad guys intentionally kill his dog in front of him, stomping it to death. The dog was a present from his dead wife, the only person he ever loved. Then John comes out of retirement and goes and kills everyone, they have woken a sleeping giant.

If you want to learn to write a saleable story, you must learn to kick your hero in the face, repeatedly, and then stomp on them. Kill somebody they love. Kill their whole family. Make them mortally ashamed of hiding while the villain did that. Make them a drug addict. Show them being tricked and deceived, show them being betrayed by people they loved and trusted.

That is why readers sympathize with them; they risk their life, repeatedly, for somebody they love, or some ideal they love, or some personal code. It is not a victory if the hero never loses. It is just (yawn) exactly what we've expected from page one. There is no tension, the reader never doubts the hero will succeed, and thus there is no excitement.

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First thing's first, repeat the Qui-Gon Jinn mantra

There's always a bigger fish.

Essentially, given that it seems like you're writing a high school age character who is a good student and good student athlete. He might want to Be the Very Best, Like No One Ever Was... but it still took Ash 22 years to win his first Pokemon League.

And while he's the best in the school, that doesn't mean he's the best in the world. Perhaps in the big sports ball match against a rival school there's a new player who really turns their team around and our hero has to deal with someone beating him at his own game.

And our hero just isn't used to being the person who loses like this. And because of this, the rival starts to, as a friend of mine put it, live rent free in the hero's head. That is, the hero just cannot get over the rival and trying to prove himself better than the guy to the point that the rival is an obsession... and the rivalry isn't reciprocated.

Or perhaps all his hard work to reach this good reputation, he isn't the best with dealing with interpersonal problems. One thing I noted is that while you go on about his skill, reputation, and family connections, you never once addressed something critical to his character: Is he a good person in the eyes of others? Let's face it, teenagers are generally self-absorbed and are poor at empathy in general. Maybe it's not what he thinks he says, but rather how he says it that's the problem.

Another thing you can do to find personality flaws (and I love running my characters through this test) is to find the character's Myers-Brigg type. There are plenty of tests on the web, so first find one that is actually competent. Once you do, you want to do the test as you would answer it it about yourself. Read your results and what that means.

Next, after a little time away from the test, take the same test, but answer as your character would instead of your self. You do not have to get a different result, but if your character is a different person than you, you should get a different result. Personally, I tend to worry about a character who is my identical Myers-Brigg type (the reason is I really don't like to write "me". I've lived with myself for every single day of my life. I know how boring a character I am. For more specific reasons, my Myers-Brigg type is very rare AND most fictional characters who are associated with it tend to be villains... not a good start for my hero (that isn't to say that a hero with my type can't happen, but this specific type tends to be very good at strategic planning and tend to make relationships for mutual benefit... which fictional villains tend to be drawn too).

A Myers-Brigg test will results are not true for all people with those scores, but they do have some general understanding of knowing how people think and how they will react to certain situations (both social and career) and can help you develop personality flaws that will go hand in hand.

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Your character sounds great. Strong, rich, smart, well-liked. Basically untouchable. But here's the thing.

No one is invincible.

Everyone has a weakness, everyone has a fatal flaw, and no one can prepare for everything. The same applies to your character, and you as the author should know those flaws better than anyone else.

So ask yourself, "What could threaten my character? What could possibly defeat him?"

And then send that threat straight for him.

I'll classify threats into three categories: Situational, Rivals, or Personal Threats.

Situational

A situational threat is something completely outside the character's control.

In a realistic setting, it would be something like a freak earthquake, a storm, a disease, a war, an economic downturn, etc.

What is your character supposed to do if they get caught in the middle of an earthquake? Wealth, strength, and a good reputation won't stop them from dying should their house come collapsing down on them.

What if he comes down with a life-threatening illness, loses his wealth in a bad recession, or gets kicked out of the company because of a terrible scandal? Or all of the above! The scandal might not even necessarily be his fault, but a scam set up by a political rival or something. He could lose everything in an instant and it wouldn't even necessarily be his fault.

If this is a fantasy or sci-fi genre, something even more drastic than that could happen.

He could get teleported to another dimension and forced to fight a dragon or the incarnation of Death itself. How will he deal with that situation?

He'll have to learn, adapt, and grow. Learn new skills. Develop new relationships. He'll probably survive, and maybe even thrive in this new environment, but he'll have to change dramatically. For better or worse, he'll never be the same.

Rivals

A good main character needs one or more rivals. The rival doesn't need to be a person, it could be an idea, a whole group, or some sort of fantasy creature, but most MCs have some sort of opponent.

If this is a realistic story, the opponent could be a childhood bully, a rival CEO at another company, a scorned lover, a person sending our hero death threats, etc.

Any skill your character has another person could have twice as much of. Your character's a good fighter? Well, his rival is an ex-Marine who's seen live combat. Is your character smart? His rival's got a PhD in psychology, has a Nobel Prize, and he used to be the world chess champion. Is your character a rich billionaire? The rival's a trillionaire. To top it all off, everyone adores them!

If this is a fantasy story, your options for rivals are broader and the possibilities much scarier. Your rival could be a wizard, a demon, a warlord from another planet, a god, or an eldritch abomination that swallows whole worlds. Etc.

How long would your character last against Cthulu? He could blink and the fight would be over.

Unless your character's omnipotent, there's always someone who could be more powerful than them in terms of magic ability. Your character can warp reality, bend all space and time, and control the whole universe with a flick of their wrist. Puh-lease, those are rookie abilities. Their rival's an interdimensional Elder God from the Fiftieth Dimension. Good luck fighting that.

The best part is that you can have multiple rivals, making the challenge even more difficult for the MC with every new one you add.

Personal

Sometimes your character is their own worst enemy.

Self-destructive habits, selfishness, pride, arrogance, etc. Any of these things can be your character's downfall. Sometimes the character traits you think of as positive can be part of the character's downfall too.

He's at the top of the world. Great. It's lonely at the top.

He's smart. Fantastic. He overanalyzes everything he does. Obsessed with perfection. If things aren't perfect it makes him mad.

He's rich. Amazing. How many people ask him for money? Or became friends with him because he had money? Wouldn't you eventually get paranoid that everybody only wants something from you?

You say his main flaw is perfectionism.

Perfectionism is a very dangerous flaw. Arguably the most dangerous flaw a person can have. When you're a perfectionist, you're never satisfied with anything short of absolute perfection.

So you could have everything, but still not appreciate it because it doesn't match the exact image in your head. And once you get it, what then?

Do you sit in your perfect world for the rest of your life, or worry and worry until the slightest mistake could ruin it?

A flaw like that could eat a person up inside.

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