1. marshmellow
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    marshmellow New Member

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    Abusive protagonist

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by marshmellow, Oct 19, 2013.

    So I have this idea, but I'm not entirely sure how I want to go about writing it. I'm using a controlling relationship to illustrate concepts of non-attachment, or "learning to let go." The main character is abusive (not physically), and his abusive behavior is driven by the anxiety of losing his girlfriend. While his girlfriend has her share of flaws, the story is predominantly about him and what he learns from the relationship.

    I think that writing from first person POV would make his personality, motives, and development more clear. I want the protagonist to be relatable enough so that a reasonable person could understand his perspective and maybe even envision reacting the way the protagonist does. However, I'm not sure the reader would want to be put in the shoes of an abuser. Could I make him a relatable character despite him being abusive? Would it be easier to use third person POV?
     
  2. smerdyakov
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    smerdyakov Senior Member

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    I would say write it in the first person POV. It is more intimate than third person and a reader is more willing to believe a character in the first person than the third as you're relating the information first hand so to speak...Your character will be more relatable this way - or it will be easier to make them more relatable writing it that way. Make the character as nasty as they have to be; it's not what you write, it's how you write ;)
     
  3. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Reader's don't feel in the shoes of another because of the word "I", it just makes it seem more... believable and real.
    Such as Memoirs of a Geisha might feel like a biography to someone who doesn't realize it is a fictional story.

    If you write from the abuser, you'd have to write him convincingly and in a way that a non-abusive reader can relate.

    Abusers, typically the fear driven kind, react first. They stomp out whatever fear they can and only then reflect on it.
    Generally, they rationalize it upon reflection and often try to change their future actions but nearly always fail once the fear returns.
    They almost never realize they are acting out of fear and their reflective moments are more about justifying their actions and they go full circle.
    They do not see a way out and do not understand it enough to go toward a logical path such as communication, self-restraint, and growth.
    They are stuck and it consumes them.

    The major interest would be in how paranoia and how far they can stretch circumstances to feed the fear only to begin fearing it even more and eventually attacking it.
    A reader would be interest in how little sense their actions make compared to what their own decisions would be and would be fascinated to read how far it can escalate to what they might consider "the norm".
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    As stated by the above posters, the power of the 1st person POV is not so great that the reader feels ridden by the character in the way a person channeling a spirit is ridden.
     
  5. Malo Beto
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    Malo Beto Member

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    A Clockwork Orange's protagonist was a horrible person, and it was in first person. Look how successful that was. Just because reading something makes people feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it shouldn't be written. In fact thats even more reason to write it.
     
  6. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, you are not in his shoes if he tells you "the story of his life" :)
    The best thing about first person narration, for me, is the institution of unreliable narrator. Not only do you stop believing everything he says, but you also question his motives for story-telling, you make a step back and not attach and relate to his emotions etc. And this happens almost with every (good) furst person story.

    As others said, "first person pov" is not the same as "first person narration". For example, Mann's "Doctor Faustus" switches focus (and point-of-view) between the "main" story (about a third person) and the narrators story (from his viewpoint). The narrator may be present in his story, he may tell another character's atory, or his own story. We don't need to like him nor "feel" with him just because he tells us about his ordeals and suffering. "Lolita"is another fine example, where Humbert Humbert spends a lot of time trying to convince the reader that he was manipulated and seduced by Dolores.
     
  7. marshmellow
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    marshmellow New Member

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    Thanks for the advice. :)

    I'll definitely stick to first person. Now I just have to make him relatable and likeable enough that people will sympathize with him after he gets in a car chase with his girlfriend, crashes, and nearly gets himself killed. :p
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    They have to be interested in him. To some extent they have to identify with him or understand him. They don't necessarily have to sympathize with him.

    And I'm not sure that the reader has to envision reacting the way that the protagonist does. They need to find his reaction plausible, but that's different from ever considering doing the same thing themselves.

    For example, maybe your controlling character feels that his girlfriend is wearing immodest clothing at work, and that she would be better off wearing larger, looser, frumpier clothing. He argues the point of modesty, and she ignores him. So he tries to convince her that she looks fat and flabby and that people are laughing at her in the more stylish clothing. She's convinced, and starts to dress the way that he wants. Now he knows that humiliating her is a successful way to manipulate her, and he goes on to use the same strategy in other areas.

    I doubt that many readers are going to sympathize with that strategy, but they may find it fascinating, in a passing-a-car-wreck sort of way, and therefore they may keep on reading.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You could write it from the abuser's perspective in first person or in third. If you choose first person, you can also make use of the unreliable narrator - the narrator who shapes the telling to his or her advantage.

    Alternately, you could relate it from the perspective of the abused, in either first or third person. This allows you to show the dynamics of the abusive relationship, from the person who has surrendered to the relationship and who has been trained to take responsibility for every punishment inflicted upon him or her; who views the abuser as a stern but righteous steward who keeps him or her safe from the consequences of his or her failings.
     
  10. marshmellow
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    marshmellow New Member

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    True. I was fascinated by Alex the Large and Patrick Bateman even though I didn't sympathize with them. However, I want the protagonist's behavior to be subtle enough that a reasonable person could understand being in that position. I want them to ruminate on how it feels to lose someone because of poor decisions. And I think, if the protagonist is obviously abusive, they might dismiss it because they believe they would never put themselves in that position. On the other hand, maybe I'm over thinking it.

    I'd considered writing it from the perspective of the abused, but she disappears completely after the chase scene. A good part of his development occurs once he realizes she left, and it would be hard to show that from her perspective.
     
  11. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    First person is okay. If you can think how your character thinks and feels, it can be easily expressed through his own words. But you have to give him a unique voice for him to sound believable. Readers might think it is your own words controlling your character. He must sound like his own character to feel read.
     
  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I think you can do it. Look at Lolita. Nabokov makes Humbert engaging, even though he's a horrible person. And Ian Graham, in his book Monument, has a protagonist who is so bad you never like him or even relate to him in any way, but he still pulls it off (that one was in third person). It comes down to skill in engaging the reader more than anything.
     
  13. Street Hawk
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    Street Hawk New Member

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    I think the trick isn't so much to make the character easy to relate to as much as it is to make his actions and abusive behavior easier to relate to. Few people become physically or emotionally abusive, but everybody deals with feelings of powerlessness and wanting to retreat to somewhere where they can exert control over their environment. Behaviors like shoplifting or bullying can be the result of a poor home situation, or a man who reaches his limit professionally (or is laid off, etc.) may turn to alcoholism or domestic abuse in order to feel in control. Also, keep in mind that we all justify our bad behaviors to ourselves - racists don't perceive themselves to be racists, because they believe themselves to be in the right. Rapists use excuses such as "she dressed like she was asking for it" or "I paid for the night, I deserved to have sex with her."

    In your case, the seeds of his behavior are the very common experiences of self-doubt and of being unsure of his partner's thoughts and feelings. In his mind, losing her isn't a possibility - it's an inevitability. But he might feel that he's the right man for her, and he has to keep her in the relationship for her own good. All of his abusive behaviors should come back to that central, common theme we all experience at some point in our lives.
     
  14. Steinbeck101
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    Steinbeck101 Member

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    Keep it up.
     

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