The Self-Righteous Character: Earning All the Eye-Rolling!

This is going to be another post that depends heavily on personal limits, standards, and perceptions.  A person may be self-righteous to one group while totally acceptable by another.  So, I’m going to try to avoid specifics here.  It’ll be a general overview of the character throughout the week.  Now, what is this type?

These are characters that act morally superior to others whether their ideals are unfounded or not.  They can be very judgmental, egotistical, and occasionally narcissistic towards the rest of the cast.  Many times, you will find this associated with religious paths, but that’s basically low-hanging fruit.  Nobility too.  The truth is that anyone can be used as a self-righteous character if they are written that way.  For example, a character who grew up poor can act this way because they feel they have suffered so much that their world view is the only true one.  People might have more sympathy for them or agree with them, but the self-righteousness is there.

As you can see, this is typically defined as a ‘negative’ trait because it’s demonstrated with a high level of smugness.  They don’t listen to opposing views or change their opinions unless they are rocked entirely to the core.  Most times, an author will have these characters either break, grow through great suffering, or turn traitor.  This sounds like what you can do with any character, but the difference here is that nearly everything revolves around this self-righteous path.  If you write one with it at a low level then you can develop a different arc, but this attitude taking up the forefront is something that needs to be handled.  A lesser version could be them targeting one specific character as inferior and developing the friendship instead of having them anger everyone.

Within the group dynamic, these characters cause tension and it can be a challenge to make them gel.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it can help everyone grow, but readers are quick to turn off to the self-righteous figures.  We don’t like being judged and have a limit on how much we can view others being judged.  Oddest thing is that people are able to do the deed more often than they view it or are subjected to it.  This makes me wonder if we turn on these characters so quickly because we either see ourselves or recognize a negative force in our lives when they act out.  It’s a psychological layer that makes the use of such a character even more difficult.

Personally, I get annoyed by the self-righteous characters.  They push my buttons far too quickly, so I have a hard time writing them.  My instinct is to make them suffer and shed this trait soon after they appear.  This ruins the characters and can jeopardize the entire story, so I only use them when I know they will work.

So, what do you think of this character?  How about in real life?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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30 Responses to The Self-Righteous Character: Earning All the Eye-Rolling!

  1. I like the idea of this character. Don’t think I’ve particularly written one before. They could almost substitute for the true antagonist in a trilogy setting. That probably means a turncoat of some kind, but it can work. Get through book one, then he joins the crew to face the true evil. This character has a lot of potential, because there is automatically tension. Reminds me of all those mean girl characters to a degree, but not quite.

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  2. Well, I know this character personally as we were married, and he has never changed one bit. My chief antagonist in Angel book is this character, and he only gets worse in time. That is my only book with this type of character. Aside from that, this type of character/person would work in certain fantasy genres that are so adaptable to most anything in a fantasy setting that could turn on the character. Example: Look at the character of “Regina” in the TV series “Once Upon A Time”. She went from pure evil, hate and being narcissistic to learning how to really love and care for others, not just herself, but for all the people in all the different realms.

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  3. I think it was Jung who observed that the things that bother us in others are the same things we don’t wish to admit we, too, do. In that light, it’s no wonder we have little time for self-centered or self-righteous people 🙂

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  4. L. Marie says:

    In the Legend of Korra series, some of the villains were the self-righteous type. And in the Cadfael mystery series (written by Ellis Peters and adapted for ITV (starring Derek Jacobi), Cadfael’s nemesis is a self-righteous monk named Brother Jerome. I’m working on a character who is like Brother Jerome. These characters are good for testing the resolve of the main character. They are irritating but good for conflict.

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  5. We all hate self-righteous people so maybe done right a self-righteous character may be an excellent villain.

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  6. All good thoughts. I could see the party rogue constantly heckling this character, a self-righteous figure screwing up the quest results (maybe through messing up verbal negotiations), or (as you said) being the villain.

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  7. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this great post from Charles Yallowitz’s blog on the topic of The Self-Righteous Character: Earning All the Eye-Rolling!

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  8. I like the idea of this type of character as an antagonist. We can pull examples from the news of those that think they are doing all the right things but are, in reality, causing divisiveness and harming others through their righteousness. Great post.

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  9. I think people do view self-righteous people as antagonists, because they are often seen as telling people what to do, how they should be living their lives, etc. Whether it’s an overbearing parent or a prying activist, nobody likes to be told what to do.

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