7 Tips to Writing the Self-Righteous

This is going to be a challenge.  Giving tips on a character type that I really don’t get along with?  Strap in your popcorn and let’s see where this wild ride takes us.  All tips are spontaneous with the minimal amount of thought . . . Also, fueled by sleep deprivation even though I got a full night of sleep prior to this.  Whatever.

  1. Give the character something to be self-righteous about.  This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often a character is made to be a pompous jerk simply for the tension.  Much of being self-righteous deals with a social or moral path that they are confident about.  It’s about judging others by this and trying to convert them.  If there isn’t a clear, stable system fueling the character then it falls flatter than a piece of paper.
  2. To give the character some longevity, do NOT make this their only trait.  Maybe they’re a nice person and helpful, but they get on these rants at times.  Perhaps they only have an issue with one character.  If all they are is an asshole then nobody is going to like them and you risk harming the overall story.  Readers may wonder why the other heroes keep associating with this character too.
  3. If they are targeting a specific character with their self-righteousness then you should give a deeper explanation.  It can come out gradually or said bluntly, but you need to explain why everyone else gets better treatment.  You need to have the target react as well because just ignoring it won’t create the proper tension.  Again, you would simply have an asshole being an asshole with no opportunity for growth.
  4. Self-righteous villains are fun and can go over the top.  Still, you need to reign them in at times to prevent them from going goofy.  This morality that they are preaching is taken seriously by them, so you need to demonstrate this.  Regardless of you finding them ridiculous, you need them to have some level of seriousness if they are to be seen as a real threat.  Of course, you can ignore this if the entire concept is a spoof on something.
  5. Religious self-righteousness is really easy to do and incredibly common.  Do it if you want to, but people are more surprised when the priest isn’t trying to convert every goblin to his way of thinking.
  6. Eventually, you will have to decide on what will happen to this character.  It’s very difficult and kind of improbable that they will retain all of their self-righteousness by the end of the story.  I’m not saying a full change of beliefs, but an alteration can show growth.  Otherwise, people wonder why they went on the adventure in the first place because they haven’t changed.  This is another reason why you shouldn’t make this their only trait too.
  7. Keep them consistent.  If seeing someone eating boiled eggs instead of scrambles sets them off then they need to do that every time.  Not to the point of it becoming old, but enough to remind the audience that they have this sense of egg superiority.  Yeah, not my best analogy, but you get the point.  I think.  Just make sure their code doesn’t change simply because you want to have some arguments.  These characters should have a bigger purpose than tension factories.

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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22 Responses to 7 Tips to Writing the Self-Righteous

  1. This is a great post. I know you had fun with it, but it’s great advice for all characters and not just the self-righteous ones. Consistency, a reason for why they are the way they are, and a bit of growth is always appropriate.

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  2. L. Marie says:

    Great tips! Consistency is everything as you said, unless you want to point out that the character is secretly hypocritical.

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    • What if they’re not hypocritical? These characters can live exactly by their code and expect others to do the same. 😁

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      • L. Marie says:

        No I meant unless you the author want to point out the character is hypocritical for a plot reason. Like someone who claims to be vegan for the perks of being in this select group and comes across as pompous, but is caught eating meat. Or someone who criticizes those who harm animals but had a moral weakness of some kind.

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      • Okay. I did notice how people assume these characters are hypocrites. That twist has been done so much in fiction and reality that it’s more of a shock when they’re not.

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  3. missimontana says:

    Good tips. I like the point of allowing the character to grow, otherwise they are just an annoying distraction to the story.

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  4. Excellent tips, Charles. I like to see the self-righteous hit the skids. Nothing like a Rev, Swaggert down and out. tear-filled confession to make the heart feel warm.

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  5. Reblogged this on Author Don Massenzio and commented:
    Check out this great post from the Legends of Windemere blog with 7 Tips to Writing the Self-Righteous

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  6. I like your idea that self-righteousness is a trail that can fuel growth. Either positive or negative growth. Someone who starts out heroic, but naively idealistic (and thus self-righteous) might be forced by events to broaden their experience. They can still be heroic and hold their ideals, but maybe accept more alternative ideas.

    You also could have someone start out as a friend and supporter, but they turn out to be more self-righteous than they seemed. If the protagonist doesn’t hold to that character’s viewpoint, then their behavior toward the protagonist might change. So the protagonist could be hurt or angry when someone they though was on their side gets snarky or seems to turn against them.

    It depends how complicated the author wants to get with it, I suppose.

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  7. Reblogged this on Loleta Abi Author & Book Blogger and commented:
    Great post, Charles!

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