I thought about this question while I was reading Sacrificed (The Last Oracle #1) by Emily Wibberley. I talked a bit about it in my review of the novel, which you can find here. There is so much more I wanted to say on the topic though, so I decided to make a full discussion.
The basic question of this discussion is: Can a character be too independent?
Let me talk you through my thought process.
INDEPENDENCE IS IMPORTANT.
You will never see me denying this. I would definitely describe myself as an independent person. Throughout the week, I live on my own (well, I do have a roommate) and I enjoy the freedom it allows me. I love to cook for myself. To do the grocery shopping. To write out to-do-lists of what you actually have to get done during the week. I have a basic knowledge of repairing things, enough to mostly get by on my own when something breaks or stops working.
I think all of this is extremely important. You should be able to take care of yourself! And I have always been proud of my ability to do so. If you drop me in a different country, I’ll get by fine. I maybe won’t speak the language, but I’ll make myself understood. It’s a good quality to have. Being self-sufficient has always been an important aspect of my life.
I mainly read fantasy novels, and I have been noticing a trend in both fantasy, dystopian, paranormal and even contemporary books. Especially in YA. The main character is always described as fiercely independent. At first, I loved this. Imagine me reading on my couch, screaming: YES! YOU GOT THIS! And while I do admire a character who is able to defend themselves or achieve whatever it is they want to, I have a problem with characters who don’t or can’t seem to accept help from others.
IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO (BE ABLE TO) DO EVERYTHING.
This is a fact. No one is good at everything. It’s impossible. And that’s okay! That’s why we learn from others, why we ask for help.
The trend I have been noticing is that the main character feels the need to do everything themselves. They are the hero after all, aren’t they? So they should save the world ALL BY THEMSELVES! No.
You won’t be the smartest, fittest and strongest person in the room. Maybe you are really good at solving riddles, puzzles and seeing connections. Maybe you’re very good in combat or martial arts. Maybe you have the ability to stay calm under intense pressure. Maybe you are so charming you can talk people into pretty much anything. All those are qualities protagonists seem to have, especially in speculative fiction. But one person can’t be all of these! While you can be good at several things, it is pretty much impossible to be the best at all of them.
ASK FOR HELP.
This is my main point. It bothers me that authors sometimes seem to believe they have to make their main character do everything by themselves. Asking for someone’s help, especially when that person is better at the needed skill than you are, is not a flaw. It is a good quality. As we can’t do everything equally well, we should surround ourselves with others who complement us. Who can add something to the table. And when a certain problem falls in their area of expertise, we should feel free to ask for their help.
That is why I have always loved Harry, Ron and Hermione. We can all agree that Harry would not have survived his first year at Hogwarts without those two. Why? Because Hermione is incredibly smart, and loves to learn and read. She helps with logic, with knowledge. Ron’s loyalty and even his skill at chess helped Harry get to the Philosopher’s Stone. Harry always admitted that he wouldn’t have been able to do a third of the things he accomplished on his own. AND THAT’S OKAY!
SET YOUR CHARACTER UP FOR SUCCESS.
My point is that any character, and person, would fare so much better if they surrounded themselves with capable people, and accepted their help. No, you don’t need to save the world on your own. Also, you can’t. You’ll fail and everybody will die. Just because you were to proud to ask “how would you do this?” or “can you help me?”. Don’t try to be too independent. Don’t be stubborn and try to do everything on your own. Don’t make your characters do this.
What do you think? Can a character be too independent? Or is there no such thing?