I have this thing about selfless characters.
You know the ones. The holier than thou, too good for this sinful earth kind of guys. You can tell them, “Hey, I’ve signed you up for this extremely high pressure quest that’ll probably kill you and definitely involve some maiming” and they’ll just ask, “When do I start?” They never seemed concerned with their own well-being, righteously striving for the greater good.
I read/watch these characters and call bs. I’m sure there are gloriously selfless people out there. But most humans are selfish creatures at least part of the time. We’re programmed to look out for ourselves, and it’s perfectly ok not to have suicidal grandiose impulses. For example, if I was about to turn into a vessel for some monster creature, I’d probably at least pause and consider the pros and cons before chucking myself into a volcano. But I digress.
The point is, characters are supposed to be real people. Relatable people. And that’s why most of my characters start out looking out for number one. Some of them are pretty much normal, while others are shockingly self-centered. It takes them a lot of time before they start doing things for other people, and I feel that it’s more realistic that way.
For example, a supporting MC in my newest project (tentatively titled Starborn after three changes – I seem to have a thing for S’s) starts out as a total jerk. The novel serves as a bit of a private joke about typical fantasy clichés, and I did my best to flip around a lot of the things you’d expect. This character is a subversion of the typical noble knight/warrior who lives by a code of honor and whatever whatever. Instead, he’s a thief buried waist deep in the criminal underground who isn’t averse to bending a few rules – or breaking them. He spends a good chunk of the book lying to and manipulating the main character (who’s supposed to be his best friend). Nice. Interestingly enough, he has his reasons – ones that seem ironically noble on the surface but are really motivated by self-preservation. When he finally straightens out (or becomes marginally less crooked, at least), it’s after a lot of time and development. People don’t change right away, even if they seem to. (Yep. He’s going to be a lot of fun to write.)
Maybe other people like the heroic archetype, and I’m just a curmudgeon with jade colored glasses. Either way, you’re unlikely to find any perfect self-sacrificing hero types around me. Just a lot of complaining, selfish real people who finally get up the guts to do what they have to do before it’s too late. Having that development and making that decision to completely change their character, to me, makes them even more heroic.