Discussion: Being Too Independent?

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? 

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22 thoughts on “Discussion: Being Too Independent?

  1. Hi! I was recommended your blog by Kaja. 🙂

    I really hate when young, female MCs are portrayed as needing a guy to save them, but that doesn’t mean they should have to do everything on their own. There’s a huge difference between a character being completely dependent on someone else and a character being able to rely on friends and/or family to help him/her out. I completely agree about Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Their friendship is one of the best parts of the novels, and it makes Harry’s story believable. Yes, he may be the “Chosen One,” but as a result of his amazing support group, he never feels like a special snowflake. I wish more authors would remember the importance of friends.

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    • I’m so glad you found my blog (and so grateful to Kaja!). I agree! There isn’t just complete dependence, or complete independence. There is a whole spectrum between those two! I think their friendship is one of the best aspects too! It’s a true friendship, as they value each other’s strengths, and know the weaknesses but would help each other all the time. True friendships are so important, and should be portrayed far more often.

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  2. Agreed! I’ve never been a fan of the ‘one woman/man army’ sort of stories to begin with and adding in people that seem to be physically unable to ask for help? Yeah, a trend that I’m not liking. I think it would be nice to see a character like that and then because they didn’t ask for help something goes horribly wrong and they start to realize they can’t do everything on their own. I’ve always been much more of a fan of the ‘ensemble cast’ sort of books were everyone has a part to play and their strengths complement the others weaknesses, anyway.

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    • Me either! And I feel like it’s becoming quite the trend too. It’s good to make an independent character, but don’t go too far and make it unrealistic. I love books that have those casts or teams as well! That’s part of why I love heist stories too I believe, because they tend to feature thieving crews!

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  3. “You’ll fail and everybody will die.” –>I laughed when I read this. So true! 🙂 And I admire your optimism. 😉
    Yeah, I like it when characters are mostly self-sufficient (I dislike wilting flowers and maidens in distress) but every once in a while, everyone should come up against a challenge that is just too much for them. And having a good support system of either family or friends is crucial for a character’s success!

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  4. I agree with your post, and for this reason, I really like reading YA with strong female friendships. So many books feature a heroine alone among a sea of male characters, and if there is another female character in the novel, very often they are the heroine’s rival or need to be saved by her. Trials need not be taken alone! Supportive relationships make a story stronger in my eyes 🙂

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  5. I love independent characters, but I agree that if their too self-reliant, it can come across as highly improbable. I recently read a fantasy novel where the lead played her cards so close to her chest that even those closest to her had no idea what was going on until she revealed she had planned for such and such to happen. I found myself shaking my head at how unbelievable it was and it really didn’t add much to her as a capable character. You can be an independent person and still need help, they aren’t mutually exclusive. In my opinion, it makes you a better person to know you’re own strengths and weaknesses and it makes life a lot easier if you’re able to rely on other people when times get rough.

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  6. *slow claps* YES.

    I love it when characters are independent. It’s important you can manage to live your life on your own – to be able to do the basic things in life all by yourself. But at the same time, you can’t always do it all by yourself and there is nothing wrong with that either. Harry Potter is a great example. I love how J.K wrote all her characters in such a way that they play an important role in the story. Harry can do a lot on his own, but without the help of Hermione and Ron he definitely wouldn’t have come that far.

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  7. I agree with you completely! You can’t do everything on your own, so there is definitely such a thing as being too independent. However, I do think that in a lot of books with characters that are too independent, part of the lesson they learn concerns that need to do everything by themselves. Often they find out they DO need to ask for help or even simply accept it. If a character DOESN’T learn that, things feel a bit off to me!

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  8. I love your thought process, because it’s so true! While independence is cool and important, characters tend to be jacks of all trades these days. Yet, there is nothing wrong with asking for help, sometimes it is even the smart thing to do. Also, it helps develop side characters if they are an integral part of the journey and there to support the MC. As you said, no one can do everything and that should be reflected instead of making the characters unreal or setting them up to fail because they are too stubborn to ask for anyone else.

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