How would I make a perfectionist Main Character likeable?

Question: So I have a main character who is a perfectionist. All he is focused on is bettering himself, which, in a way makes him selfish. However, he is brave, and is willing to take on any task. How do I make him be likeable and relatable?

Answer: Is he a bully who demands perfection from others? Or is he hardest on himself? Most people, perfectionist or not, are hardest on themselves. We can therefore empathize with someone who is putting himself through hell over his imperfections.

Does he think he is better than others? Or does he think he is inferior and all his striving for self-improvement has the goal of helping him to feel okay about himself?

Does his desire for perfection come from a dislike of others and a desire to set himself apart, or does he in fact care a lot about others and want to improve himself so that he can help others?

People tend to like underdogs, because just about everyone feels like an underdog. We dislike perfectionists when they are judgmental--looking down on people who don't meet their standards, because we empathize with the people who are being looked down on. But when a perfectionist means well, is a good person, but feels inadequate, we usually find them more likeable.

An obvious example (which I quote a lot because most people are familiar) is Hermione in the Harry Potter series. She is certainly a perfectionist, very hard on herself, but also cares a lot about her friends. Many teenage girls can relate to her because many teenage girls have plenty of their own self-doubts which they try to overcome by doing things right.

When someone is afraid (and fear is the basis of low self-esteem) they often want simple solutions. For instance, they think that if they follow certain rules and get everything right that will make things okay and they won't have to feel afraid. It usually doesn't work, because you can always find some little imperfection, and getting everything right doesn't actually solve the anxiety. The quest for perfection usually leads to greater anxiety.

Usually, a better solution is to recognize that you are safe despite your imperfections, that the threats you perceive aren't such a big deal, and to let go of anxiety, but people often don't see this. Nonetheless, as long as someone doesn't let their anxiety cause them to attack others, they can be likeable.

Comments for How would I make a perfectionist Main Character likeable?

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Apr 25, 2014
I havent fully decided, but i have an idea of how he should be.

Thanks for your answer, Glen!
I was thinking that he would be both hard on himself and hard on others, especially his younger brother. His younger brother doesnt feel as strongly as he does, so i'm thinking the audience will automatically empathize wih the younger brother. But, at the end of act 1, the younger brother dies, and the older one regrets acting that way to his brother, and that regret and desire for revenge essentially is what sends him on his adventure, which is the main story.

So basically would it work to have the audience root for one character, and then suddenly empathize with the character they used to dislike? And would they feel more empathy throughout the story if the character eventually came to terms with his over-perfections and regret mixed together.

But again i dont know exactly if that would work, and if it would be good enough to drive the whole story? Or would that be too confusing and unlikeable for the readers?

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