Character Types: The “I Can Top That” Person

Hey SE Readers. Joan with you today. This is the second in a series of posts about character types. The ideas are taken from my personal observations of people or public knowledge of well-known people. You can click here to read the first of the series, The Attention Seeker.

I think we all know at least one person who fits the category of “I can top that.” No matter what you say, no matter what you’ve done, they have a story to top it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad, they one up you. As my friend Lisa once said, “If you’ve stuck a nail through your hand, they’ve stuck a railroad spike through theirs.”

You get the picture. Survived a life-threatening illness? They’ve done it twice. Been in a category four tornado? They’ve been through three category fives. Purchased a new car? They’ve bought a more expensive one.

Being around these types is often emotionally draining. Like the attention seeker, they are often insecure and need affirmation. The sad thing is a lot of people don’t pay attention to anything they say because of the endless drama. Even more, nobody wants to be around them.

How would you fit this type of person into a story? I wouldn’t want my protagonist to have this type of personality for fear of alienating readers. You want your readers to like your main characters, flaws and all, but this is a little extreme.

Create a minor (or supportive) character. If you want to redeem the person, have them do something to help your protagonist.

Once when I was on a flight to Tucson there was a woman in the seat behind me who talked endlessly. Before the plane left Dallas, she’d practically told her life story. The two people seated on the aisle with me also noticed. When the man looked in my direction, he didn’t have to say anything. I responded with, “No, she hasn’t come up for air.”

It was one time I was glad to be seated near the engine. The noise drowned out her voice once we took off.

I thought about that incident and later wrote a short story about a young woman whose seatmate was a talkative older woman. By the time they reached their destination, my protagonist discovered the person was simply lonely. They soon struck up a friendship.

While the lady on the Tucson flight wasn’t exactly the “I can top that” person, she certainly had a lot of “almost” unbelievable stories.

What would you do with this type of character? Have you ever written one? Please share in the comments.

53 thoughts on “Character Types: The “I Can Top That” Person

  1. Hi Joan, I can’t say I’ve ever met a person who always has stories to top other peoples, but I do know people who talk continuously about their maladies and health problems. I haven’t written about a person like this and can’t think of a book I’ve read where any of the characters have had this trait either. I shall think more about it though. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Character Types: The “I Can Top That” Person – MAD Production. Company.

  3. Another great post, Joan! A story with this type of character could be one that teaches empathy or focuses on helping one who is insecure find his/her place in the world. I can almost see it as a children’s story to teach values. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a great post, Joan. A character like this could be useful.

    I have eventually felt sad for the people I knew like this. Fortunately (for me) most of them were coworkers and I’m not stuck listening now. Running into these characters on planes and trains led me to buying noise-canceling headphones.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post, Joan and good example of that personality type. Though I do have empathy for them, they are draining. I always bring headphones and music on all plane trips now. I did write a charcter like this. I had to tone her down a bit since she needed to be redeemed later 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Love the series, Joan. I have met a lot of folks in the “I can top this” category. I’m sure those types would make a great character if, at some point, they were put down. This type of person, like the old lady, has to be insecure or lonely to be constantly feeling the need to top everyone. That type of character is meaty indeed. Thanks for the terrific post.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I too am enjoying this series, Joan. We all know that person that just has to be better, or more tragic. I used to work with two of them. The conversations at lunch were enough to make you scream. I haven’t written this character, but you are right, he/she could make for a colorful support character.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve never written this type of character, but I’ve known a few, including one I encountered not that long ago. He was maintenance tech, not only was he an “I can top that type” of person, but also one who was in love with himself. Listening to his stories sucked the life right out of me. It was an exhausting hour and a half to be around him. You’re right that these type of people would make good colorful support characters. Great post, Joan!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. While I have known folks with this type of character behavior, I’ve never written them into a story. It would be a challenge to do it in such a way that the readers didn’t get sick of them and stop reading. I think maybe little bits thrown in from a side character would be good, especially if it’s a character who can get brought down a notch or two. 🙂 Great series, Joan!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’ve not included a character like you’ve described, Joan, and doubt I ever will. For many years prior to COVID, I’ve worn a mask when flying. It offers protection from the coughing passenger and the one who needs to share his or her life story. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I haven’t written a character like this, but I’ve sure come across this type of person. I have to agree with Craig – it’s the kind of character I’d feed to the dragon. Or use as bait for the zombies while the likeable characters escape.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Your anecdote about the woman on the flight reminded me of the movie Airplane and the woman seated next to Ted who tried to kill herself because she didn’t want to hear his life story. The rest of your post reminded me of a lot of people in my real life who play “One-Upping the Joneses” with every conversation I have with them. You’re right; it’s exhausting.

    This would make a fascinating color character. This is turning into a fabulous series, Joan. Can’t wait for the next one.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Staci, if I’d had to listen to that woman all the way to Tucson, I probably would have wanted to kill myself. 🤣

      Sadly, I know several people who love to one up everyone. I am having fun with this series.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Don’t think I’ve ever written this type. Not sure I could without getting annoyed. I really hate this mentality because it comes out so often when a person is talking about how they’re suffering. So, there’s a disturbing callousness to it that rubs me the wrong way.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Charles, I agree that people like this are annoying (to say the least). I recall visiting my aunt and cousin one year. One day I asked their neighbor how she was doing, and I got her entire medical history! I’d only met the woman the day before. Not only that, I was a teenager at the time and this may sound callous, but I couldn’t have cared less. I never made the mistake of asking her that question again, and I’ve never forgotten that incident.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I’ll admit that I can overshare if someone asks me that question. It happens when I’m overly stressed and depressed because I can’t stop the rant. It’s like a dam bursts. I don’t do that to play one-upmanship though. It’s only when someone asks me how I’m doing and I decide to be honest.

        Liked by 2 people

  14. There’s a character like that in a book I’m reading right now. She’s great to hate, lols. I’ve met so many folks like this. They don’t just have the ‘t-shirt’ but the whole darn ‘wardrobe’. Great post, Joan, and some great people-watching! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I think, as you say here, that someone who spends their time boasting is doing so out of feelings of insecurity. As a character they can be someone who starts off as a major irritation or comedic character who can morph into someone who shows a side that is very moving. Lovely food for thought, Joan – thanks!

    Liked by 5 people

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