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Writing "light hearted" lead characters

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For some reason, when I find myself writing a male protagonist, I seem to default to the brooding, gritty kind of man that could easily find his place into a noir novel. Those characters are often shaped by something in their past, some mistake that they regret, or something in society that they deeply distrust. To be fair, I've been told that I write that kind of character well, in a believable way; so thumbs up for what might be an earned skill.

Yet, all my male characters can't sound the same. I want to be able to write more hopeful characters, light hearted characters, characters who can crack a joke and make the audience chuckle, characters that stay positive without sounding childish. It can't be raining all the time!

Yet, I'm at loss. I don't quite know where to begin. Part of me fears that "light hearted" will be instantly equated to "stupid, clueless" for the audience point of view.

In short:

How do you write believable, light-hearted characters?

P.S. First draft of this question was specifically about writing light hearted male characters, since at least in my case I have less trouble having a more diverse, emotionally wise, female cast. I didn't include it since it won't probably bey relevant to the answerers.

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2 answers

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Let me suggest that lightheartedness is not a character trait but a response to circumstance. Let me suggest that a lighthearted character is one who expects to get the things they desire, and that a heavyhearted character is one who does not expect to get the things they desire.

A man who goes courting expecting the lady to say yes, sets out about his task lighthearted.

A man who returns to his home expecting to find his family all dead, sets out upon his journey with a heavy heart.

It is true, of course, that some people seem to have a naturally sunny disposition, and that others seem naturally dour. Perhaps that is a psychological preset. Perhaps it is the expectation of life that have been formed in them by prior experience. So their character may condition whether they approach a project with the expectation of success or failure. But still, one can see their heaviness or lightness of heart as an expression of that expectation.

In other words, perhaps what you have to do to to create more lighthearted characters is to create a plot in which the protagonist fully expects to achieve their desire.

It won't be that easy, of course. The rain must fall sometime, or there will be no story. But if there is no story if the sun shines all the time, similarly there is no story if it rains all the time. There must be sunshine after rain. These things have always been the same. Why worry now?

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Makes sense: I never considered the question from the story's perspective. Thanks for the tip. Liquid 17 days ago

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I am often inspired by Hawkeye from M.A.S.H. - if you do not know this character, it is a talented doctor drafted into the Korean War who overcame difficulties with humor. But from time to time he has moments where even he cannot crack a joke and goes very serious, even dark.

For First, like Hawkeye has a strict line which turns him from comedian into gloomy man, so your character should have. That might be the first parameter for your character. Define for him "when is enough" and make it part of his story. For example, your character might keep picking on some side-character but when it comes to action he has respect for him and would not ever joke or pick on side-character's professional skills. Or simply your Hero's brother was kidnapped and never returned and Hero, while being wise-cracking detective, takes cases about children with utmost serious attitude.

Second tool, I like to use to write funny but mature characters, as Mark mentioned - reaction to circumstance. Your character might be simply a kind person and when seeing sad kid crying over dropped ice-cream he will do some close-up magic trick and pull a dollar from kid's ear and give it to him despite knowing that was his last dollar.

In summary

  • Set boundaries of your character - not everything is a laughing matter and each of us have different taste in humor (pick the niche of the jokes - Puns, dad jokes, anecdotal, lips, wise-cracks, wordplay...)

  • Putting your character in a position where he can cheer somebody up - and he succeeds

  • Bonus: Realize you are master of your universe and you make things happen. Put some banana peels on the ground to create those light-hearted moments and let the protagonist take it positively instead of gleaming on people who laughed and challenging perpetrator to duel seeking satisfaction

Edit:

Bonus 2 - Do not create jokes unless you are an experienced comedian. While from time to time you can succeed to make the reader chuckle, the safer way (in my opinion), is pick the joke up front and put the character in a situation where he can use it with full potential.

Bonus 3 - I wrote one character with a purpose to be super fun but instead he ends up being lame - I simply tried too hard and the jokes were forced and bad. My Beta-audience when they first met the character said "Dude that Hero2 is super cringy, you gotta change that". I made his badly written humor as part of his character and Beta-audience loved it. To quote: "I cannot wait what poop come from his mouth next time - it makes me laugh." My point is - even bad humor can be amusing.

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Some great practical ideas in your answer - thanks. Liquid 17 days ago

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