Narcissism in Today's Fiction?

3.2K 118 65

Gather round children. It's controversial topic time!

Today's controversy: Has society become more narcissistic, and is that narcissism reflected in today's fiction?

When people criticize our generation, sometimes the phrase "selfie culture" gets thrown around. It encapsulates the theory that we are more self-absorbed than previous generations, evidenced by the incessant selfies. Some argue that humans have always been narcissistic, but it's the advent of new technology that allows us to more prominently and publicly display that narcissism. Others argue that selfies have encouraged narcissism, while others say selfies are a symptom of increasing self-centeredness in our society, not a cause.

We can argue that point to the moon and back and go in circles until the end of time, but how does this affect trends in literature? (I'm talking TRENDS, so obviously there are numerous exceptions).

(Also, what I'm presenting are various arguments I've come across. It was a thought-provoking topic, and I was like: I gotta share this with my how-to readers!! Please don't shoot the messenger.)

A frequent criticism in novel reviews lately is "I can't identify with your protagonist." If the reader wants to enjoy the story, they need to be able to identify with and relate to the protagonist, and if they don't, it's obviously a fault of the author for creating unsympathetic/unrelatable characters.

Well, then. Do you think this is a result of our generation's narcissism and self-centeredness? Do we really NEED to identify with a character to enjoy hearing their story?

I got into a long discussion with some fellow writers a while back on what exactly made Twilight such a success. One point that was brought up was that Bella was incredibly flat and underdeveloped as a character (I will never advocate flat character, for the record). Because Bella had almost no personality and was "plain" and ordinary, almost any reader could immediately put themselves in her shoes. And then she's got two hot supernatural guys fighting for her love. Who doesn't want that? The reader could feel like they WERE her. Isn't that a goal for writers-to immerse the reader in their character's head and make us feel like we're in the story?

But is this a good thing or a bad thing? Obviously, you don't want a flat character, but it may allow you to reach a wider audience. On the other hand, the fact that readers will only read your story if they feel like the protagonist is their mirror image-could that be our inflated egos poking through?

Possibly, as a result of social media, selfies, etc, we might be encouraged to believe the world revolves around us, so if we read a story, we want to read about someone LIKE US. (Recall the chapter on diversity. Writers write characters like them because that's what they know. Most writers are white, which is why there are way more white protagonists than any other race/ethnicity.) Readers and writers seem to be less willing to explore foreign minds, and thus the underlying reason for reading/writing has become self-centered. The ever-common phrase: "wish fulfillment" comes to mind. (Please remember, I'm simply relaying arguments I've heard. They aren't necessarily what I believe or advocate.)

One article said:

"It's undoubtedly one of the pleasures of reading, when we are young, to come across characters who feel as we do. Oliver Twist hungry and having to ask for more - why, that was exactly what I wanted to do after every school lunch. Jane Eyre orphaned and demeaned, blamed for crimes she hasn't committed - who ever went through childhood without suffering in that way. But it's no less a pleasure - and as our experience of reading deepens, it should be a still greater pleasure - to meet characters who are not mirror images of us at all, whose feelings we might not immediately sympathise with or even recognise, whose views of the world confront ours and perhaps, if it's a truly challenging book we're reading, laugh everything we believe to scorn."

(I think most of the article is a load of crap, but I found that one bit interesting. The full article is at and linked to in the External Link)

Could this be correlated with the increasingly popular trend of first person present tense writing? Does that type of writing highlight an evolution of society to be more self-centered, and is it something we as authors should try to change? First person writing-that wasn't a common thing 100 years ago. It's only gained such fury in the recent decades. Same goes for deep third pov. They definitely put our reader in the MC's head, but is that a sign of narcissim or is it evidence that writers are trying to get readers to identify more deeply with a broader spectrum of personalities and characters? That brings me back to the previous point: do readers really need to identify with and relate to the MC in some way in order to enjoy the story? (Finally, here's my view! No, a character doesn't need to be relatable/sympathetic. They just have to be interesting.)

Remember my chapters on villains and making them identifiable in some way too. Is that a result of our generation becoming more narcissistic? Must we see ourselves in characters in order to find them interesting? Will we only care about another human being if we see ourselves in them? Why is it difficult for us to care about a character who shares nothing in common with us?

So what do you think? Has society as a whole become more narcissistic, and is that narcissism reflected in today's fiction? Do you find yourself unable to enjoy a story if you can't see yourself as the MC? Why? Share your thoughts in the comments! (Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. It's purely opinion and perspective, and everyone's will be different.)

Yuffie's Writing How-To'sWhere stories live. Discover now