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  1. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    back story wound

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by John Bender, Aug 24, 2010.

    Hello everybody. I’m looking for input on my protagonist’s back story wound (or rather event) and my antagonist’s motivation.

    My protagonist is a 17 year old high school boy who feels like he’s living a B-movie life. He’s a working class guy who basically has to make do with second best, with knock-off and fake. From the stuff he eats and wears to his education (Community College at the best): second-quality all around. He feels kind of cheated of premium quality, of the ´real good thing` to a point where he even messes in school because he feels like even his future holds only second best. And I’m looking for a reason in his past that explains why he’s feeling like that and why he’s particularly aware of it. I know that in reality being constantly short of money may be reason enough but I would like to have a plug for it, something that makes it easier to comprehend without being too traumatic.

    I’m also looking for good motivation to give his antagonist. The showdown between protagonist and antagonist is going to be a motorbike race over 500 dollars. So far the antagonist is a rich and rather arrogant kid who’s got only top quality in all he has. If I keep this money can’t be his motivation. I’m looking for a motivation that matches the ´not wanting second best` idea without it having to be money.

    Any ideas?

    Please feel free to ask if you need further explanation.

    Thank you
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Could they have gone to the same school? Antagonist is jealous of protagonist (maybe he is better looking or brighter than he thinks), antagonist and his group make protagonist's life a misery at school.

    I think the antagonists arrogance is the means to getting him to enter the race. Needs to be his only motivation its a bit of fun for him.
     
  3. TristanThorn
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    TristanThorn New Member

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    Could they be related? Cousins maybe? (but not close) Maybe the antagonist is living with and supported by the protagonists un wanting family. But he gets left out of everything and has to settle for 2nd best compared to the protagonist who gets everything he wants whether or not it effects the protagonist (including the best bike/ riding training). Kind of like Harry potter and Dudley situation. So there’s the added edge of getting one over on the parents as well as the protagonists. And including what Elgaisma wrote ;-) Sorry thats all i have, good luck dude.
     
  4. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    @ Elgaisma

    Thank you for your input. I have a lot of basic plotline developed already so:


    Could they have gone to the same school?

    They are currently going to the same school.

    Antagonist is jealous of protagonist...

    They don't even really know each other. Not much to be jealous about...

    I think the antagonists arrogance...

    I don't quite get what you mean by ´the arrogance is the means`. Do you mean the reason or what? ´Fun` is not enough as an antagonist's background motivation. He's got to be serious, something's got to be driving him, or else he could just drop his goal as soon as things get tough. He needs to be persistent and eager to reach his goal (aka. keep the protagonist from reaching his) or else he's simply a useless antagonist (which is supposed to be the force working against the protagonist. And ´force` says something doesn't it?).

    @ Thor

    Thank you too. I acutally gave the Harry Potter - Dudley constellation a thought a few days ago. So far the two guys are not supposed to be related and what I don't really like about it anyways is that it's terribly stereotype. but it might be kind of a rough basic idea of the underprivileged kid versus the spoilt brat...

    But what could motivate the spoilt brat to drive the race? He doesn't need the money, so what does he need? Why does he need (and I mean really need) to win?

    Please input further if you want, your first ideas were pretty good.

    Thank you again!
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Arrogance in a teenager/young man is tied up with their pride, a dare or something like that would be enough. I know if I wanted to get my brothers or their friends to do anything I would dare them to do it.

    If I am being sneaky with my husband I make things a comptetition, thats how I ended up writing a novel, he had writers block so I sat down one night and instead of doodling wrote a story. Within a couple of days his writers block had disappeared and he had started writing again:)

    Thy don't really have to be close for the antagonist to be jealous maybe he was beaten in a test etc

    With the protagonist I actually think again the fact he is teenage male is enough to explain some of his feelings.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Why do you need a reason for your protagonist's insecurity? Accept it as part of his personality. He can triumph over his nature without knowing the roots of it, roots which are probably complex.

    Most people live their entirel lives not knowing the reasons behind everfy mood or trait.

    Back story is unnecessary, and can flatten a character's depth. Stick to telling the story.
     
  7. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Ego, to impress a girl, a bet, car/racing passion, .... 99 percent of amateurs who take part in such race doesn't do it just for money, even the ones who are poor. Also he might be a rich boy neglected by his parents (may be parents fights), racing and winning was his escape or even a way of releasing his anger towards his parents.

    The girl he secretly likes begin dating a rich guy whom he knows he can't match?? May be that's too cliché, but enough to make him feel the misery of being a poor teenager.

    Edit: Forgot to mention earlier..... what is the rich boy, who can get whatever he wants, doing in a community school/college with the poor kids? You got to have an explanation for that.
     
  8. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    @ Elgaisma

    You definitely have a point with the pride and dare and competition. And a race (or bet or whatever) is a dare and a competition in itself . But the thing is, the antagonist’s motivation should kind of be related to the protagonist’s. It should not be random. So if the protagonist’s motivation revolves around wanting the money to get himself ´first choice`, the antagonist’s motivation should somehow be related with that.
    To give you a better idea of what I mean I copy you a bit of what my protagonist says when he utters his wish (dramatic goal):

    “God, in your infinite wisdom you have chosen to make my life a B-movie. A knock-off. A cheap copy of the real thing…Can you get me the real thing, Fairy Godmother? Just for once in my life, the real thing?”

    The antagonist is supposed to be not only the protagonist’s opposing force but also kind of his Janus-face. The other side of the coin. Kind of a reflection of the antagonist’s ´dark sides`. So he has to be related to him in terms of motivation and the way he tries to achieve his goals. I don’t think just pride is close enough to ´second best` or ´real thing` (although I might have to change the latter for a more fitting term, but I hope you get the overall idea).

    If not, google the song ´second hand rose`, somebody mentioned it to me after I described my protagonist and although it’s not just ´second hand` for him it come pretty close to how he sees himself and life.

    And yes, probably being teenage is enough for quite a number of his feelings. But ´being teenage` is a very vague, undefined status that includes about a thousand wishes and motivations. And that’s not ideal if you want your character to be somehow coherent and compelling towards a specific goal he has in a specific story.

    Please keep sharing your ideas, this exchange is very helpful!

    @ Cogito

    I disagree.

    I need a reason for my protagonist’s behaviour (and insecurity) because if I don’t know the reason I don’t know his personality. He can triumph over his nature without HIM knowing the roots of it but not without ME (the author) knowing the roots of it. If I don’t know why he’s doing stuff – especially the stuff that is essential for the main plot – I don’t know who he is. And if I don’t know who he is he’ll become inconsistent, incoherent, implausible. That may to a certain extent be ok for a Borderliner or a bipolar person but even then I (the author) have to know that they are borderline or bipolar or they’ll just end up random and badly developed.

    The crucial point is that a story is NOT life. It is the reduction to a certain aspect in a certain period of a certain character’s life. And again: not the character has to know what’s driving him. The author has!

    I think back story is very necessary if you don’t want to end up with an erratic, undefinden character.

    @ Manav
    Ego, the girl and racing passion don’t really match the protagonist. But the neglected part is worth giving a thought. It’s supposed to be something that makes him feel like he could never go for second best too. Like he has to have (or be???) first choice in everything or else…his parents don’t see him…? Really worth giving a though…
    “What is the rich boy, who can get whatever he wants, doing in a community school/college with the poor kids? You got to have an explanation for that.”
    I don’t have one. It’s not like the rich kid is, like, super rich or the poor kid is super poor. One just gets pretty much everything in terms of designer jeans and the cool bike and all that and the other has to make do with second quality (or no name) jeans and an old pimped bike…stuff like that. Kind of like in the ´Breakfast Club` where you also had the ´rich` Chick and the working class bad boy at one school…They didn’t have an explanation, why do I need one? (serious question!)
     
  9. razcox
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    razcox Member

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    I dont know why but reading about both characters makes me think of the 1st season of one tree hill (please dont hate me i know its not the best show but i cant help it i love it! Blame the nice looking men :) ) Or rather the 1st episode. With them there was a girl and family issues all mixed up with male pride.

    Anyway rambling aside. Rejection in anyform can often make our situation seem worse then it really is and act as a catalyst for change. Mix this in with the normal teenage male strutting/pride and it would be enough to make them over aware of the negative aspects of their life. Maybe it was for a job/apprenticeship that was going to be his way out after school, a letter of rejection may have been sent which the character could carry round as a reminder of his failure . . .
     
  10. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    @ razcox

    lovely dog ;-)))

    Thank you for your reply. Good input, I'll definitely give it a thought!
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Back on topic please. This kind of conversation is better taken to Visitor Messages.
     
  12. Gingerbiscuit
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    Gingerbiscuit Senior Member

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    I'm actually writing something very similar myself, my protagonist coming from a rather modest background and finding it very hard to find his place in the world.
    People's prejudices and attitudes towards him eventually shape the person who he becomes later in life. By gradually developing the character I am able to go into a great deal of depth into how society itself shapes the people that live within it. (I just hope the finished product is a lot more engaging than I've just made it sound)

    I think you're fine not to have a specific event that affects your MC as the hardship, isolation and inequity that he will have no doubt had to endure would be plenty for the reader to understand why the MC feels the way he does.

    As for the Antagonist and his motivation, he is a human being. And all the dental floss in the world will not hide the fact that we are little more than a blink of the cosmic eye away from clubbing Mammoths and living in caves. With that in mind, we can assume that this guy has had it all, the best toys as a kid, the first quad-bike on the street and of course he would get all the girls. Surely this alpha male would not want to be shown up in front of his peers. I would have thought that pure masculine pride would be the motivation for both of them
     
  13. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    @ Gingerbiscuit (Yummy!) + et al.

    If you feel like it, tell me more about your character!

    I might be fine without a specific event but as for now I would like to have one. Or probably not even an event but a specific reason. I am planning on this scene where the protagonist has lost it all and his goal seems as unreachable as never before. According to the ancient concept of the hero’s journey this it the abyss, rock bottom, the dark night of the soul, the protagonist’s actual or symbolic death. Or, in less melodramatic words: The point where he utterly screwed it.

    In my story this point is supposed to be a fight with his father in which I want the protagonist to say something that is on one hand the deeper reason for his feeling of only getting (being?) second best and on the other hand something that reflects the teenage egoism he’s driven by.
    To be a bit more specific: I’m thinking of letting him nastily lay the blame on somebody who hasn’t really deserved it. But still kind of IS the reason…like, probably a younger sibling who’s being kind of preferred? It’s pretty tricky to find the right constellation and proportion…

    However, this part of the story is crucial. Whatever I chose for it is going to loom in everything that happens before and it will directly influence the hero’s inner change (transformation) and the way he approaches and wins his final duel with his main antagonist.

    Antagonist:

    ´this guy has had it all` is my current approach too. I’m just not sure about ´pride`. As I said, I have a lot of ´second best` aspects in what I wrote so far and if I keep them (which I intend to) I need an antagonist motivation that matches the ´best` - ´second best` idea. I thought he might have a father who not only gets him ´just the best` but also demands ´just the best`.
    Again, more specific: What if antagonist has been pressured right from the cradle to be a champion on the bike? I googled and there are parents (mostly Dads, I guess) who perch their boys on wheels as soon as they can stand. And have them drive races and stuff. What if Dad wants his boy to be a winner? And coming in second is simply not acceptable?

    What do you guys think of that?
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I think that our opinion means nothing if it is based on a capsule summary. That isn't what makes a character good or weak. It all comes down to the writing.
     
  15. John Bender
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    @ Cogito

    Would you please explain to me what a ´capsule summary` is supposed to be? And why you keep telling people that what they are looking and asking for is not right and that the way they are looking and asking for it is not right either?

    And will you please let me decide what I need for my characters and what makes them good or not?
     
  16. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    His beloved uncle died because he couldn't afford an operation. This made the poor kid start thinking about why people's lots in life are different.

    The rich kid knows that the poor kid is more talented and hard-working than himself. He knows he's got everything in life for free, and deep down he feels like he doesn't deserve it. He is actually more jealous of the poor kid than the poor kid is of him. But he can never admit it; that's why he's acting so arrogant. The race gives him an opportunity to prove to himself that he's just as good as the poor kid.
     
  17. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    I'm just having the feeling that it might help if I rephrased my initial question: I'm looking for a reason (and please don't tell me I don't need one because I WANT one) for a teenage boy to feel he's getting the ´second best`, the ´knock-off` version of life. This reason has to be lying in his past (in relation to the of the plot) and I guess for my story it should be something that avoids an actual guilty part in terms of somebody being really neglecting or abusive or anything. I want it to be something that in a rage can be pinned on somebody (probably the father or a sibling) but isn’t actually their fault. I was thinking of dad having lost money in the economy crises or a disabled younger sibling…something that changed the financial situation and the future prospects for the worse and has an obvious ´originator` but no ´guilty part`.

    Any ideas other than the ones I suggested?
     
  18. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    @ islander

    good input, thank you! I'm gonna give it a thought!
     
  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You asked for advice. If you don't like it, don't use it. But a character summary is not the character. Stories are written by writers, not by committee, and you are asking for an opinion on a character, and how he fits in the story, by such a description.

    Let you decide? I'm encouraging you to decide!

    Instead of worrying how people like the idea, write the story in a way that gives them reason to accept it. You do NOT need permission or validation. Just write.
     
  20. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am writing about a seventeen year old boy he doesn't find out a lot of what is wrong with his family in this novel. There are more revelations in the next one.

    Mine is a fantasy and they are a royal family so I can get away with more but maybe you will get ideas lol:

    His older twin brother and sister were fathered by someone other than their father
    His father has been abusing his brother physically for years
    His sister is manipulative and hates her little brother for what she sees as killing their mother, their father always takes the sister's part.
    The sister murders her father
    His brother abdicates so he can live with his boyfriend.

    He also discovers his brother's boyfriend was fathered by a 500 year old man and a sparrow called Maggie May lol:) but I doubt that would work in your story.

    Now I am at the end of my novel and preparing a synopsis for publication I am glad I paid attention to the plot and character summaries as in the UK what will sell my novel to a top flight agent or the publisher is most likely to be a 1 A4 page plot summary or less at least one wants only two paragraphs. Because of posts like this I now have a good idea what needs highlighting. If I don't get that A4 page right they won't read the rest.
     
  21. John Bender
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    John Bender Banned

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    @ Elgaisma

    Wow, that sounds highly dramatic! It’s a shame it isn’t advisable to swap each other’s scripts. It might be very interesting to see what you guys are doing. But thanks to generations of plagiarists we’d rather not…

    I too thought about the ´stepchild` approach and about being neglected or discriminated…in a Cindarella, or, like some other poster suggested, Harry Potter kind of way. Basically that would work and match the overall idea but the problem I’m having with that is that my story is very down to earth and rather easygoing so everything ´melodramatic` or seriously traumatic is simply too much. My character is a cheeky little brat who basically cares about getting what he wants. His story is more amusing than tragic. So what I need for him is something that does the balancing act between letting the reader understand his feeling of being underprivileged but still lets him come across quite of selfish when he actually gets to the heart of it.

    Like, the disabled sibling approach: If my protagonist had lived a solid middle class life with a good chance to go to university until said sibling was born and since then everything changed and all the money went to the other child and his rehabs and stuff and protagonist even had to get a crap part-time job and stuff you probably might understand why he feels like he lost a lot and his life is second best ever since. But it’s still pretty rude when in a fight he says ´It’s all this cripple’s fault! He ruined my life!”

    Know what I mean?

    Oh, and I know exactly what you mean by this synopsis thing! I haven’t published (or even finished) any novels yet but I’ve done two short scripts and I had a bit of training in script writing and dramaturgy. And one of the first things they tell you is ´tell your plot in one sentence`. I used to fail miserably on that one but it’s much better for my current idea. I’m still not quite as focussed as I should be but well…one step after the other…

    When it comes to your one page summary I guess what really counts is your outer plotline.
    Like: What does your protagonist have to achieve throughout the story and who (or what) is keeping him from achieving it? (Basically who is your protagonist, what is his dramatic goal and who’s his antagonist)
    I guess it’s important not to get embogged in tons of explanations and stuff. That might come across confusing and tiresome.

    By the way – the one-liner for ´Some like it hot` is ´Two Jazz Musicians have to disguise as women to escape the Mafia`. Crisp, isn’t it? If you have a sentence like this to summarise your plot, you’re off the hook.

    But don’t worry, many don’t and especially for novels this crisp structure isn’t all that vital. It just makes things a lot easier…

    @ everybody else

    Thank you again for your interesting input. A lot of it was (and hopefully will be) very inspiring and kicked off quite some thoughts on my part. Please continue to contribute.
     

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