What makes a person good?

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Cabby
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What makes a person good?

Post by Cabby » May 5th, 2010, 6:45 pm

What makes a person good?

This is an important question in my current WIP and it's something I've been thinking about and trying to define lately. (Or trying to have my character define) And I am curious what other people think.

Answering any/all of these questions would really help me.


What is your definition of a good person?
What is inner beauty?
Think of a person that you really like, that you think is a good person. Tell me about them. What qualities (good and bad) do they have? What makes them so good?
What kind of person do you aspire to be?
What character traits do you value in a person?
What characteristics would your ideal mate possess?
What characteristics would your ideal best friend possess?

All these questions are just for general info. You can tell me all about your favorite person without having to worry about me putting them in my novel.

Thank you so much!

Serzen
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Re: What makes a person good?

Post by Serzen » May 5th, 2010, 10:53 pm

Wow...Great topic. Dense, rich, full of controversy. Excellent.

What is your definition of a good person? To me, a good person is one who knows what is Right, and does it. They may not be obsessed with The Common Good, but they know what is Right in their own instance. Saving the life of a despot, for example, might not be good for his or her subjects, but COULD be the right thing to do; similarly, allowing the despot to die could be right, under given circumstances.

What is inner beauty? It is carriage, execution, comportment and deportment, grace, flawlessness. It is the ability to make your body move beautifully. I don't equate "inner beauty" with some form of redeeming mental qualities. I think that beauty has to do with physically observable things, that it is somatic. Intelligence can be attractive, sure, but it is not beautiful. I find beauty in images, or in images conjured. An individual with hideous disfigurement who nevertheless moves perfectly through some exhibition invokes great beauty; a reading of words done perfectly evokes beauty. At the risk of being labeled shallow, however, it takes more than smarts or "good character" to be beautiful. See above, comportment and deportment.

Think of a person...etc This person was composed, compassionate, kind, stern, fair, unbending, stubborn, stark. She was generous with hard-won knowledge, a willing teacher, quick to anger, quicker to forgive. She was sharp-tongued when necessary, demure more often. She hated bigotry, but was also hypocritical in that regard. She was prideful, and, even in humility, proud; confident. She was good because she did what was needful, regardless of whose need it was.

What kind of person do you aspire to be? My goal is to be the most honest person I can. I want people to admire me for my independence and my honesty. Fsck being A Good American™ or A Good Dad™ (or any other nationality/ethnicity/cultural norm), I want to be the best ME that I can be, to be ultimately, brutally honest with myself first and foremost. If I do that, I believe that I WILL be all else that society wants me to be, whether it likes it or not.

What character traits do you value in a person? Honesty, intelligence, a multi-layered sense of humor, the ability to appreciate the beauty of nature, the ability to be moved by conceptual beauty. Also, they must like my dog, and my dog must like them.

What characteristics would your ideal mate possess? Apart from my physical preferences, an innate understanding of sharing, of mutual compliance, the ability to understand and accept the things that make me me.

What characteristics would your ideal best friend possess? The ability to stay awake as long as me is right up near the top. The Reciprocal Fun Trait™ doesn't hurt either.

Interesting exercise. Hopefully this is useful; certainly, I don't mind a little navel gazing. I'll be interested to see what others have to say.

~Serzen
Il en est des livres comme du feu de nos foyers; on va prendre ce feu chez son voisin, on l’allume chez soi, on le communique à d’autres, et il appartient à tous. --Voltaire

daringnovelist
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Re: What makes a person good?

Post by daringnovelist » May 5th, 2010, 11:08 pm

I don't know, I guess for me it goes back to something pretty simple, which I think of as my motto: Be brave, be fair, do good work. When a character strives for any of these things, I am drawn to them. All three, of course, is a good soul, even if they don't succeed fully.

(Hmmm. This would be a good topic for a blog post as well as a discussion.)

Camille

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Scott
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Re: What makes a person good?

Post by Scott » May 6th, 2010, 8:31 am

I think the good in life that best connects in fiction is someone who honestly tries. That's why we need conflict. The concept of "good" in the abstract is, at best, subjective, but I think we can all recognize when someone attempts to rise above and work towards the light, even in the smallest of ways.

bcomet
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Re: What makes a person good?

Post by bcomet » May 6th, 2010, 12:36 pm

I think this is a very interesting question and one that can be asked and answered in countless ways.
So all the responses here will be of interest to me.

Some people think good is behavior, civilization, learned and practiced restraint, honesty, the ability to be kind, capacity for love, the courage to defend and rescue and or act when necessary, the desire to do no harm, the basic understanding of chopping wood and carrying water (before partying), taking care of the helpless, the weak, the young, the old, and their families and neighbors, animals, all living creatures and things, when needed, offering a hand or a shoulder, sharing, able to forgive.

Whereas, an evil person can be realized as selfish (in a bad or egotistical way) or distorted, or able to proceed without a conscience, or even deliberately cruel.

But these questions are more complicated than that too.

And, of course, warring religions and/or nations/ (etc.) think it's the other ones (that are not themselves). Difference=bad. Like=good. But humanity is trying (way too slowly) to progress from that model.

Also evolving, the gifted person who used to have their negative character traits overlooked because of their art, their talent, their fame, their money, their place in the hierarchy. It has, in history, been balanced, at times, by the simple humble person. But even when still glorified, we ask more (example Tiger Woods) of character for those who rise for their specialness. ("For everyone to whom much is given, of him shall much be required." -- Luke 12:48)

I think, in a novel, it comes in context. How does the character act, how is the character affected by events. How is the character challenged? How does the character fail to be good (or successful, etc.) and then learn or be molded by their mistakes? Victor Hugo is amazing at that.

What are the big questions? BIG. What are they in context, in a story arc is always interesting.
What is your definition of a good person?
What is inner beauty?
Think of a person that you really like, that you think is a good person. Tell me about them. What qualities (good and bad) do they have? What makes them so good?
What kind of person do you aspire to be?
What character traits do you value in a person?
What characteristics would your ideal mate possess?
What characteristics would your ideal best friend possess?

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wilderness
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Re: What makes a person good?

Post by wilderness » May 6th, 2010, 4:24 pm

What is your definition of a good person?

Someone who helps others, especially those in need, without any sort of agenda they are pushing. Someone who understands people from all walks of life.

What is inner beauty?

I think it can be a lot of things: intelligence, grace, compassion, kindness...

Think of a person that you really like, that you think is a good person. Tell me about them. What qualities (good and bad) do they have? What makes them so good?

Tough one. Most people I know are flawed. Most of the people I really think of as "good people" have jobs where they help people: the elderly, disabled children, etc. But these people are very intense and not really ones I'm good friends with. I admire them though.

What kind of person do you aspire to be?

Hmm, not sure! It changes a lot.

What character traits do you value in a person?

A sense of humor, fair-play, intelligence, and wit.

What characteristics would your ideal mate possess?

A sense of humor, fair-play, intelligence, and wit. But in a personal way I really connect with.

What characteristics would your ideal best friend possess?

A sense of humor, fair-play, intelligence, and wit. But in a personal way I really connect with.

I'm curious how this survey of yours affects your WIP!

Cabby
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Re: What makes a person good?

Post by Cabby » May 6th, 2010, 10:06 pm

Thanks guys for all the feedback so far! It's going to take me a while to digest all this and work my way around it and figure it all out, but you have been very helpful (and interesting) so far. Thank you!

BlancheKing
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Re: What makes a person good?

Post by BlancheKing » May 7th, 2010, 7:00 am

If you're writing a perfect-world-gone-horribly-wrong story, please excuse the following comments.

Forgive the pessimism, but gathering information in such a blunt way could result in idealism. Character flaws make stories. A good person is usually portrayed as doing something bad, and someone bad is portrayed recovering morally. Think of it from the classics point of view. Most Greek tragedies have wonderful heroes but all have some sort of issue. If Achilles was just downright invincible and Odysseus just went home, there would be no Illiad or Odyssey...

What is your definition of a good person?
* Nothing. If a man holds an armed robbery to collect money to buy medicine for his wife and happens to shoot at a cop, and a cop shoots and kills him. Who's the goody guy here?

What is inner beauty?
* Does it really matter? Despite what people call it, inner beauty connotes "second best", as in, not as good as outer beauty.

Think of a person that you really like, that you think is a good person. Tell me about them. What qualities (good and bad) do they have? What makes them so good?
* Someone compatible to your personality is generally considered a good person.

What kind of person do you aspire to be?
* None. With time people change.

What character traits do you value in a person?
* No matter which trait you use, someone somewhere will hate it... Go with generic traits, and you'll end up with a Mary Sue

What characteristics would your ideal mate possess?
* See above

What characteristics would your ideal best friend possess?
* See above
One manuscript, One dream, One stack of stamps that needs to be bought...
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polymath
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Re: What makes a person good?

Post by polymath » May 7th, 2010, 11:20 am

If what is meant by "good person" is a character suitable for narrative, a character invented for fiction or a factual person imaginatively depicted for creative nonfiction purposes, that person ought to be a highly evocative one for the sake of building audience rapport. The range of experienceable human emotions, the range of admirable and forgivably unbecoming traits, the range of personality and character expressions is so broad in any given community at large that any character type can be "good" for the purposes of narrative.

Audience rapport is one of the most influential facets I evaluate for whether a dramatic persona is a good one. I break audience rapport down into resonance and empathy-worthiness.

Resonance: an emerging larger-than-life character (an archetype, a personality paradigm representing an audience bracket's self-idealized persona) with traits and circumstances similar to or identifiable with by an audience of an idealized singular person representing a targeted audience bracket, perhaps best when the audience of one is the writer of the narrative in the first place. Writing is, after all is said and done, a glacially slow process of reading, in my considered opinion.

Empathy-worthiness: an admirable character with an insuperable dilemma evoking audience emotions. The character can be pitiable, like an orphan struggling to cope without benefit of parental guidance, can be strong yet fallible, self-serving but socially conscious, weak yet driven to overcome, and so on, ad infinitum.

Self-sacrificing characters are readily empathy worthy. They get involved in noble causes, even trivial, everyday noble causes. Something as simple as notifying a likeable customer she forgot her purse is empathy worthy. Not notifying an unlikeable customer? Well, fallibility is itself empathy worthy and resonant in fully-realized contexts. Notifying an unlikeable customer is supremely empathy worthy. Self-sacrificing characters don't easily compromise their principles. When they do compromise their principles, they do so being consciously or nonconsciously aware of the outcomes and consequences.

On the other hand, self-serving characters are not as readily empathy worthy. They nevertheless have a place in narratives. When the mighty fall, audiences take delight from laying low the practitioners of hubris, at least. Schadenfreude is a nonnormative but common type of contrary character resonance suitable for building audience rapport. Scandal appeals because of schadenfreude. Another empathy-worthy potential comes from self-serving characters whose behaviors and personalities are dynamically corrected--changed--in an unfolding narrative to suit a community's normative values and needs.

Villains, antiheroes, nemeses, and enemies have a central place in narratives as larger-than-life characters opposing protagonists and heroes. However, antagonists aren't necessarily evildoers. Antagonists can be self-sacrificing characters who favorably influence change in a protagonist, ie., an athlete's coach, a student's mentor, a boss, a pastor, a parent, a sibling, a friend, an actual or perceived subordinate. The central role of villains, antiheroes, nemeses, enemies, and antagonists in narratives is pressuring protagonists to change. Antagonism in dramatic arts terms is the causal forces of change that influence causation and tension, in other words, the third axis of plot movement. Whether a central character changes or resists change for good or ill drives tension when a resonant, empathy-worthy character matters to an audience.

Then there's sympathy for the devil. An empathy-worthy devil has uncompromising noble principles and purposes in spite of his villainy. The contexts of any means to an end, the ends justifying the means play central roles in sympathy-for-the-devil narratives. An agenda can be the most admirable, noble, desirable pursuit known to humankind, but the motives might be deviously self-serving and the means to get there might be the most vile process ever imagined, exquisite when the means to get to an end are depicted as a process of moral decline. The strength of sympathy-for-the-devil narratives is the power to arouse intimate audience emotions, especially from the secret thrills of vicariously rebelling against the restrictive normative values and mores of society. There are, however, still, taboo topics innappropriate for even sympathy-for-the-devil narratives.
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Mira
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Re: What makes a person good?

Post by Mira » May 7th, 2010, 12:14 pm

I think, in fiction, 'good' people make principled choices. When faced with temptation, conflict, adversity or doubt, they are guided by higher ideals rather than self-serving aims.

The principle may vary according to the story and the main tension. Good characters tend to represent one side of the conflict. It could be compassion vs. judgement; kindness vs. cruelty; perseverance vs. giving up; strength of character vs. compromising oneself; dedication vs. indifference, or others.

A good person can be a mentor or guide, and if so they represent the ideal the hero is striving for. They hold up the light that the hero follows as the hero weaves his or her way through the conflict.

If the hero is the 'good' person, then the reader follows the internal conflict as the hero tries to figure out and make the (usually) more difficult choice of following his or her principles.

Usually there is a mix of mentors/good hero. And, of course, you must have the opposite in the story to represent the other side. Someone who is morally lazy or downright evil, and is usually reaping rewards for being so. That sets up the conflict.

I don't know if any of this was helpful, but it was fun to think about. :)

GeeGee55
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Re: What makes a person good?

Post by GeeGee55 » May 10th, 2010, 6:30 pm

Interesting question and responses.

What is your definition of a good person?
Not sure I have a definition. I think over time my ideas about that question have changed. As a child to be good was to be obedient, to do as you were told, to behave correctly in public, to treat your siblings in a certain way. Some of the things I was taught about being good still hold true, but some don't. I think perhaps it has to do with the intention behind one's actions, the same act with a different intention can be good or bad depending upon who's doing it and why.
What is inner beauty?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For me beauty is kindness, generosity, acceptance of others' values/beliefs/
Think of a person that you really like, that you think is a good person. Tell me about them.
What qualities (good and bad) do they have? What makes them so good?
They try not to harm anyone. They are kind and giving of themselves. They listen without judgement. They show concern for their friends. They welcome others into their lives.
What kind of person do you aspire to be?
As above, plus one that uses my talents to the best of my ability.
What character traits do you value in a person?
Kindness, honesty, funloving, gentle
What characteristics would your ideal mate possess?
I don't think there is an ideal, there are only people you get along with or you don't I think the ideal mate for every person is differentWhat characteristics would your ideal best friend possess?

All these questions are just for general info. You can tell me all about your favorite person without having to worry about me putting them in my novel.

Thank you so much![/quote]

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