1. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    Breaking/bending stereotypes of dystopian agent characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by FireWater, Jun 17, 2016.

    Hi everyone,

    In dystopians or any other story that involves an ominous authority structure, there's typically one or a couple of characters that personify the bureaucrat side. Think characters like Effie Trinket from Hunger Games, or O'Brien from 1984.

    When these types of characters are female, they typically fall into a couple of tropes that I see across multiple stories. One "type" is the overly businesslike, gray-suit-wearing, cool and prim and proper type of person with a very flat or robotic or stiffly academic manner. Another common type is the Effie Trinket or Dolores Umbridge type -- someone who is excessively 'sweet' on the outside and outrageously frilly and pompous.

    The men equivalents tend to be even drabber and colder, with the Agent Smith type coming to mind right away.

    What are some fresh ways that you've seen "representative of dystopian government/agency" characters portrayed? I'm interested in seeing how people have been able to subvert the stereotypes or re-vamp the archetype entirely.

    In my story, one of them has an edgier and fiercer style and personality, and has a lot of snark and wit to go along with her dishing out the agenda. She's got the personality of Ramsay Bolton Lite -- she's power-driven and sadistic and genuinely gets a huge kick out of what she does. Her male counterpart is a really beefy, Hulk-like kind of guy who would have gone into professional wrestling or something if it existed in my story's world, but as it is, he's stuck serving as part of the propaganda police and getting his ego boost that way instead. (I'm not saying that professional wrestling is egotistical, of course. But that's what it would be for him.)

    What about you - for those writing stories with these types of characters, how do you make them stand out from the overdone cookie cutter profiles, and give them some fun quirks and deeper layers?
     
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  2. Mikmaxs
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    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    My problem with almost every Dystopia novel, movie, whatever, is that they never look like *actual* Dystopias.
    I mean, lets look at some of the roughest times in Communist Russia, or modern North Korea: Nobody subjugates a people by dividing them into tight-knit clubs and then reminding them how you're evil. They subjugate a people by keeping them focused on how the government is *Fantastic, *Incredible, and *Flawless. "If you do backbreaking labor a day, every day, you're a hero of the people." "Our leader is a philanthropic hero, and he also cured cancer and was the first man on the moon."

    *Perfection not garunteed. Results may vary.


    The same applies to people. Even if you're one of the priviledged ones, and you have extravagent taste, you're not going to by a colorful psychopath about it. You'll show off, you'll have flourish, but you won't defy all logic and reason just to show how naive and sheltered you are. Similarly, the drab-suit guy will still have a human side, some sympathy for someone, and he won't just be an emotionless robot, because people don't work that way.
     
  3. FireWater
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    FireWater Active Member

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    I totally agree, and that's part of what i was trying to get at. Making the characters on the government's side (especially the characters who represent the dystopian system itself) seem like actual realistic people, who seem genuine and interesting to read about, instead of cheesy and nonsensical exaggerated drones.
     
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  4. Mikmaxs
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    Mikmaxs Active Member

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    In that case, I'd just say write them like any other character. You don't write your characters as stereotypes first, you write them as people, so just treat them as people first and archetypes never.
     
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  5. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    The problem is that, when you try to humanize them, they often end up looking even more disconnected from humanity. Hitler loved his dog, but when we see the Bond villain stroking a white cat, he becomes even more menacing. Ditto for Hannibal Lecter listening to classical music and enjoying fine food.

    I think the best way of doing it is to show that they face job stresses the same as the rest of us. Think of the scene in Schindler's List where the Nazi commandant is telling Schindler about his problems with determining the right amount of barbed wire and concrete to keep the camp secure. The man is an absolute, irredeemable monster, but he's also an absolute, irredeemable monster with superiors who expect him to fulfill his responsibilities on time and within budget.

    Killian, the bad guy from the Schwarzenegger movie The Running Man, is another good example. He's running a game show that murders dissidents for entertainment every week, but he's also got problems with ratings and subordinates who can't do their jobs to the standard that he expects.

    If Dolores Umbridge had had to deal with a couple cases of alcohol poisoning and an unplanned pregnancy, she might have come off as less of a caricature.
     
  6. Auger
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    Auger Senior Member

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    I've made one of my bureaucrat characters a literal robot. Another is a man whose utopian vision is a society built on statistics and censorship of unimportant/non-factual information - it's basically eugenics but with culture rather than genetics.

    I never create them to embody dystopia, however. People usually don't create dystopias on purpose.
     
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  7. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Effie Trinket is actually more symbolic of people who voted for the Nazis, all the way to the corrupt Enabling Act, then finally realized they weren't supporting the side they thought when he killed a significant number of his own people. She believes in the Capitol, but not in the way Snow does. I'm not even a Hunger Games fan.
    Anyway, the key is as referenced before, write them as people. It doesn't matter whether they fall into a trend on doing something too much, as long as your version is good then it can't be blamed for a proliferance. If you want to go against trends, and try to do something more reversionary, what about a character who reluctantly agrees with the dystopian ideology for something specific, and goes through some major emotional and intellectual stress as they struggle with it. And the character can't stop because it's a dystopia, they will be a traitor. But again, any character concept regardless of stereotype is good as long as it's human. Doing an interesting trope that isn't as done does not guarantee good character. It's just more unusual.
    As for how to add more layers, think of a real person. If no-one else, your self. Think of all the different traits you have. Taste, what your typical emotions are, how they are expressed, how they affect you, what your beliefs are, your relationships, word choice and phraseology, mannerisms, common mistakes you make, anything. There's a lot there if you think about it. And as mentioned before, making characters go through more human experiences is a good way to make them feel real. It shows diversity in their life and shows different sides of them.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2016
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  8. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    I just watched a couple Schindler's List clips, and Amon Goeth is an even better model for a non-stereotypical villain than I remember. When he's first introduced, he's cold and he's got a cold. He struggles with the "light side of the Force" when Schindler almost convinces him that mercy is strength, also when he finds himself attracted to his Jewish slave maid, Helen, and he's overweight and smokes too many cigarettes at a time when that wasn't really considered a problem. He's also a completely reptilian killer, both at a distance and close up, who has absolutely zero regard for his victims.

    I know he's based on a real... person? and this sounds like I admire him. Only as a villain, and only because he's a fully-fleshed out character.
     
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  9. Moth
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    Moth Active Member

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    How about making it so that the person in favour of the dystopian regime is intelligent and rational? Someone who sees that things aren't perfect, but that they could be a lot worse off. Have them make sense, even if your protagonists disagree with them.

    Why is the country led by a dictator instead of someone elected by the people? - "Well, democracy only really works when the populace is well educated. Do you want to be ruled by the best liars and deceivers, or do you want to be led by people who know how to keep this broken nation from crumbling?"
    Why the need for a city-wide curfew every night? - "To keep citizens safe. There's no reason to be out that late - every job in the city ends at least an hour before lights-out. Anyone out past that time is obviously up to no good, or else why wouldn't they be doing whatever it is they need to do during the day? Simple, they want darkness to hide them. And why would they want that unless they were up to no good?"
    What about that family of three that got carted away last week, children included? - "If you cared to look into official statements, you'd know that the parents were rebels. Terrorist paraphernalia and weaponry was found in their house. Their child was taken into custody for his own safety. There's no telling how much years of rebel propaganda has warped that poor boy. Hopefully government counselors can undo the damage his parents did."

    You get the gist.

    If everyone fighting the regime is morally just, and everyone fighting for it is obviously 'evil', then everything becomes a little two-dimensional. Morally grey is the new black. Make your protagonist (or more importantly the reader) question which side is actually right and you'll know you've broken your stereotypes and added more depth to your world.
     
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  10. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    (Screams internally) :superagree::superagree::superagree::superagree::superagree::superagree::superagree::superagree::superagree::superagree::superagree::superagree::superagree:
     
  11. Vagrant Tale
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    Vagrant Tale Active Member

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    I'm not really an expert on this trope, but for me Rick Deckard in Blade Runner is a fresh view of the agent of dystopia, since he is a policeman that's specifically tasked to hunt and "retire" replicants on earth. He seems to have a lot of inner turmoil about his career, and is seen drinking throughout pretty much the entire film. I'm not sure if its guilt, fear, or a sadistic pleasure he gets out of killing them (thought he doesn't look happy about it). Maybe its the only thing he knows? In any case, I see a policeman as definitely an agent of authority, and a specialized policeman I think would very much qualify.
     
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  12. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like what the @Moth was getting at...

    Have your MC as an unreliable narrator, eccentric, homeless, mental health issues, spouts conspiracy type agenda - constantly...probably even his back end is a dog, can't remember which film that was, but always stuck in my mind that dog's body/man's head character, Dawn of the Dead, one of those films.

    First of all he rallies the dogs, then the people. Finally he showers, has a haircut, wears a suit, campaigns as a 'Leader with Paws.'

    As a reader we gradually tumble into his clutches, and breath that - initially smelt foul, eventually has a sweetness about it, like an unwashed body, that sweet smell has a powerful and political odour which we like. Maybe when he saves the world, afterwards he goes back to being mad - the way he always should have been - we think in last chapter, but our minds are manipulated by the scribe, of course.
     
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  13. halisme
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    halisme Contributing Member Contributor

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    In the Gaunt's Ghost series there's an inquisitor who's cheerful and takes everything in her stride.
     
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  14. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This reminds me of the German film The Lives of Others. Excellent film about East Germany - one of the Starsi police taps a playwright's flat and in the eavesdropping of the playwright's private life, the officer come to change his mind about the regime he once believed in. He starts out as one of the torturers/interviewers for prisoners, and ends up protecting the man the system was trying to take down.

    I need to watch that film again.
     
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  15. zoupskim
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    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

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    That series does an awesome job of showing the better side of the fascist, militant-church, death-cult humanity has become.
     

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