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Rational Main Characters

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JeffS
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As a wannabe writer I've been kicking around the idea of a rational, and rationally moral, main character. I'm not sure such a character would be very interesting. Yes, John Galt was interesting, but he wasn't really a main character. We didn't get to see his day-to-day life, and he only really showed up when things needed explaining. Howard Roark was a main character, but he also wasn't really driving the story. Rand used the pathos and irrationality of the other characters to explicate Roark; we never really got to see inside Roark.

The main characters we find interesting are the ones who have some sort of problem they need to sort out, and the more interesting problems are problems of the psyche. I'm under the impression that a rational, and rationally moral character wouldn't have any psychological problems. They'd have already been through their issues, would've come to rational conclusions, and would be certainly self-assured enough to handle any problem quite easily. It's the inner turmoil that's interesting, but this character, by definition, would seem to lack any inner turmoil. The most interesting characters are flawed, but what flaws would you give a rational one?

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I think a better question you should ask yourself is why you want to create a perfectly rational, moral main character. What are you trying to accomplish? What story is he a part of? What is his background? His profession?

You can't start writing with floating abstractions like "rational" and "moral".

To answer your question, look at all of Rand's protagonists (with the exception of John Galt). They're all rational but they all have personal problems or mistaken ideas that cause conflict in their respective stories. John Galt is Rand's least compelling character precisely because of his lack of conflict. The best characters have both internal and external conflicts that grow organically from one another, which in turn shape the larger plot.

Also, a lot of Objectivists that want to be writers fall into the trap of creating characters that end up being clones of Roark, Galt, or Dagny. The protagonist of your story doesn't have to be an "Objectivist Hero" to be a compelling character.

Writing should be personal. Create something that's important to you and you'll find your writing problems have a way of working themselves out.

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A good plot story has to have conflict. The problem with perfectly rational characters is that they are unconflicted. That's a great way to live your life but, because it causes things to work out so well, it tends to make a poor story.

The way Ayn Rand allowed her perfectly rational characters to have conflict was by having them be attracted to less rational people. As a result, they often had to choose between their own rationality and their friendships and romances. Howard Roark was attracted to Dominique Francon, but he could not give in to her ideas. John Galt's ideas led him along a course of action that would destroy Dagny Taggart's railroad even though he cared about her very much.

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Great responses, everyone! Thanks for replying. Many of you answered the questions/points of others the same way I would've, so I'll just add a little.

I think a better question you should ask yourself is why you want to create a perfectly rational, moral main character.

Jill had a good answer: Because there's not a lot of stories about people living their lives right. If there's a lot of rational fictional characters out there, I haven't read about them. I would like to.

I think you should first ask yourself why you find a person fighting internal battles more interesting than external ones.

Well, that's a good point. But a character fighting only external battles, never questioning himself, his beliefs, his motivations, or who lacks some psychological baggage would tend to be a bit one-dimensional, I would think. However, I suppose there's no reason why he/she couldn't have these questions - as long as he/she addressed them. That opens things up a bit.

Also, a lot of Objectivists that want to be writers fall into the trap of creating characters that end up being clones of Roark, Galt, or Dagny. The protagonist of your story doesn't have to be an "Objectivist Hero" to be a compelling character.

Yes, everytime I flesh this character out, he/she either starts looking like Roark, a robot, or a never-conflicted Spock. However, I do want him/her to be a compelling Objectivist character. I only use the term "Objectivist" to describe the character's philosophy as we understand the term; I don't mean to write Objectivist literature. But I do want to show that an Objectivist can be heroic.

Think more along the lines of a writer like Heinlein, who tacked deep philosophical issues while writing exciting science fiction, like Starship Troopers.

I like Heinlein, but his characters are conflicted. I don't necessarily want to tackle deep philosophical issues, I just want to follow a rational man through his exciting life. "He woke at six and ate a balanced breakfast. Went to work at a rewarding and fulfilling job. Came home to the woman he loved and the family he valued. Ate a sensible dinner, and went to bed at eight." Doesn't make for good reading.

The way Ayn Rand allowed her perfectly rational characters to have conflict was by having them be attracted to less rational people. As a result, they often had to choose between their own rationality and their friendships and romances. Howard Roark was attracted to Dominique Francon, but he could not give in to her ideas. John Galt's ideas led him along a course of action that would destroy Dagny Taggart's railroad even though he cared about her very much.

Yea, I think this is like TheEgoist's point. I wonder what Galt's life was like while he was working on the railroad. I wonder what Ragnar's life is like on the high seas. We get to see a lot of Francisco's life, but only because he appeared to be acting irrationally and seemed to have deep psychological issues. When we see him as he really is, he's sitting on the floor of his hotel suite studying engineering plans. I wonder what everyone's life was like once they reached Galt's Gulch. You certainly couldn't have a story about that! Ruthlessly rational individuals trading voluntarily with each other?!

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I wonder what everyone's life was like once they reached Galt's Gulch. You certainly couldn't have a story about that! Ruthlessly rational individuals trading voluntarily with each other?!

And why not? I'm certain Kay would have something interesting to say about new plays she acted in, and I'm sure there would be interesting discussions afterward about those plays. There were two young children in the Gulch - they must have questions with answers to discover. How did Dagny's new railroad go? How did two individuals vie with each other to produce the best quality services to their neighbors? Maybe they ended up collaborating instead. And it honestly wouldn't surprise me if, even with all of Galt's caution, one or two individuals made it there with a faulty premise or two intact. The points of conflict in such a story wouldn't be apocalyptic, but a conflict does not need to be major to be interesting. Would it be a violation of intellectual property to write such a story (using Rand's characters)? Now I'm thinking about trying it myself...

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If your story must have a perfectly rational hero with few or little internal conflicts, then look for other ways to make him interesting. Simple things like eccentricities, hobbies, or or a way of speaking can add flavor to a boring character. Being rational does not mean you abandon personality. Everyone has their own sense-of-life, their own interests, and their own little qwerks. Find a few that make your character interesting to read about.

Also, if your main character is somewhat boring, try adding lots of other characters that are not perfectly rational, and who have their own conflicts, many of which perhaps with your main character.

Edited by Sarrisan
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Everyone in this thread needs to read The Art of Fiction before they post anything more, because Ayn Rand devotes quite a lot of time to explaining how to construct a plot and WHY a plot consists of the elements that it does. The short version is that to have a plot, you have to have a *conflict*. If you only have a conflict between people, it's not a drama, it is a melodrama. The suspense is basically kicked down to the level of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers where the only question is how big of a Zord they're going to need before they beat the bad guy. Conflicts within a person create real drama.

You don't have to have a hero with psychological problems in order for them to be interesting or compelling, you just have to put them into a situation where they have two important values but must choose one.

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Sometimes the rationality is implicit and not stated. The 1950's "space shows" and most of all, Space Patrol, had an implicit and often explicit pro-science, pro-reason attitude and, especially, sense of life. This kind of thing led me to refer to science fiction as the ultimate in Romantic fiction. One of the more notable aspects of Buzz Corry was that he used his brains and his fists and knew when to do which.

While these shows were not eplicitly philosophical, being half-hour sci-fi adventures. There is a brilliant moral soliloquay in "The Hate Machine of Planet X' that has Buzz thinking his way past the effect of a villain's device while he is flying his ship back to Space Patrol HQ on the man-made planet, Terra. It is a brilliantl piece because it never decends into either maudlin platitudes or altruism, stated with conviction and shows hoe loyalty to the good can be the factor that turns the trick. It ain't Galt's speech but it's damn good for its time and place.

The heroes in these shows were the guardians of utopias based on science and less explicitly reason.

Peter Merlin of NASA is the son of Jan Merlin who played Roger Manning of TOM CORBETT: SPACE CADET.

Ed Kemmer, the real force behind Space Patrol was often surprised at how much his work affected some of the persons who worked in the US space program.

and there's

http://spacepatrol.us/spc.html

While it was mostly reflected in their actions, and this was 7 years befor Objectivism, there was an inherent rationality to these characters. in fact, God is only mentioned once in the 100+ Sapce Patrol episodes I have on VHS. as part of "God bless", and only hinted at by the existence of a "Bother John" in one episode of the hundred radio episodes I have.

Ed Kemmer as Buzz Corry, won a poll for the all time greatest Spaceman in the early part of this decade at

http://bmonster.com

I think the way to present a rational character is by his action. If you make it too much in the dialog, it's preachy. Rand said you should never "write for a cause" and to avoid prosyletizing.

For me, these shows; especially Space Patrol, segue'd almost seamlessly to Objectivism with only minor contradictions such as the notion that criminal tendencies were a medical matter, but this only served to reinforce the ideas that good was the normal state of being. Also Space Patrol dealt with the emerging super-criminal/subversive who, in our time would be considered a madman. (this being in the postwar decade and the end of the Stalin Era in Russia).

I can readily envision Objectivism being the dominant philosphy of the United Planets of the Solar System in the thirtieth century. In fact, I can't imagine how it would not be. This is why, when I came to understand Objectivism enough to pass judgement on it, I did not say "This is for me!"; I said "This IS me! This will power men to the stars." It was as if this was custom designed for me. The fit was absolutely perfect.

Another thing about these 1950's shows was that there was seldom, if ever, presented a conflict of reason and emotion , unlike Star Trek where that was a continuing theme with Kirk in the middle trying to sort it out. In fact, the source of personality was specifically the mind. This was demostrated whenever a person was "robottized" in some way by some villain's device/ The machine. drug or process took away his/her mind and they became emotionally flat. implying that the two were integrated.

Edited by Space Patroller
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