1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Coward, or True Neutral?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Link the Writer, Dec 5, 2015.

    Of late, there's been a theme I've noticed cropping up in my stories specifically my historical pieces. You know how a hero does the right thing and will (on some occasions) will gladly throw away their own lives to defend what they know is right? Or the anti-hero will do the right thing through...questionable means? Well most of my main characters are none of these and it shows quite brilliantly in my historical piece set during the American Civil War. One of my characters, Andrew, is from a slave-holding family and lives in Alabama, in the middle of the CSA. He doesn't pick a side, wants nothing to do with what either side wants. He sympathizes with the slaves and wants them freed, but outside treating them with kindness and not owning slaves of his own, he does nothing. He doesn't join any abolitionist group, doesn't do anything of the sort. He's also falling in love with an immigrant woman and both plan to start a new life out west. It also helps that his brother is secretly a Union spy. If he gets caught, all kinds of hell will descend on them.

    To summarize, he tells my heroine: "If you want to go get yourself and your family killed for some abolitionist crusade in the heart of the Confederacy, be my guest. I would like to survive for the sake of myself and my own family. Use your damned brains, girl. If guns are pointed at you and your family, you sure as shit aren't going to be lasting very long if you play the noble hero, now are you? Want an example of heroes? Look at John Brown and Nate Turner. I wonder where they are now?"

    In short, he (and several other characters across my stories) believe that while being a good person should be encouraged, if the stakes are high and speaking out against a perceived injustice would land him and his family in trouble, he uses his 'damned brains' and decides it's better to look for himself and his family.

    Is this an example of a cowardly character, or a True Neutral character? Don't get me wrong, if he saw a black child getting beaten by his/her master, he'd step in and chase the guy off with a threat. He's just not going to be forming his own personal 'La Resistance'. He'll help when he can, but if it's getting to be too much, he'll quickly back off and cease. Especially if he's getting death threats from pro-Confederate individuals.

    What are your thoughts on him? Is he a cowardly man or a guy just trying to survive in a really bad situation?
     
  2. wellthatsnice
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    wellthatsnice Active Member

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    its the example of a real character. This is how most people are in real life. "yes sure it would be nice if we could change XX, but im not going to put my livelihood at risk for it."

    This is how you get German people in WW2 that were never Nazi's, didn't want the Jews to be murdered, yet completely turned a blind eye to eveything because the country just got out of the worst economic depression in it history and everything was going great for them.

    This is how today we have people that look at video of Syrian Refugee's and go "thats so sad" but also rant against letting refugees into their own country because they are worried about economic drain and potential for terrorists to use it as cover.

    The one thing i will say is that normal people's lack of action makes them very hard characters to base a book around, since in general they don't do anything. This makes them extremely boring to read about. That is why most books and movies are about men/women of action.
     
  3. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Yeah, he just seems representative of a likely common mentality then. His criticism could be seen as disbelief or frustration rather than judgment of her literal intelligence or values.
     
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  4. Adenosine Triphosphate
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    Adenosine Triphosphate Old Scratch Contributor

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    Most people are scared to put themselves in danger, most people hesitate to engage in violence against the existing social order, and most people prioritize the welfare of their friends and family members over that of complete strangers. Extreme bravery is more a trait of antisocials and particularly zealous moral activists than something that appears frequently among the general population.
     
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  5. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    That's good to hear. :D I was hoping he'd sound like a real character. What's interesting about him, to me anyway, is that despite his ‘I'm not going to change xyz if that means myself and my family are put at risk’ mentality, he is willing to help the heroine in any way he can. She's younger, more of an idealist and wants to model herself after her own father who had gone off to fight for the Union so he acts as a sort of anchor, making sure she doesn't do anything too rash that will get herself and her friends killed.

    Interestingly enough, it's partially both: he's frustrated with the state of the country and feels she's looking too much into the future rather than focusing her attention on the here and now. What's presently going on.

    That's pretty much his belief in a nutshell. :D Anyone who puts their lives on the line for the sake of strangers over friends and family are foolish, selfish, anti-social zealots. He actually blames John Brown, saying it was men like him and Nate Turner that started the Civil War and now innocent people are going to get killed. He fears she'll become such a victim.
     
  6. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sounds like he's pretty realistic, that's what. It's just self-preservation.

    To give a lower-key but real example of myself. You know when gay marriage was still in the process of being legalised, and there were all these equality signs popping up on Facebook as people's profile pictures? I didn't put one up as mine. Why? Because majority of my FB friends are conservative Christians and I could just see what sort of comments and concerned private messages I was gonna get by doing something like that. I wasn't even gonna die for this - I was only anticipating some discomfort. (I did between then and now occasionally post pro-gay stuff, because of which I did indeed get the much-anticipated concerned messages from a few friends)

    So if you take my very small example - now imagine if it's your life at stake. Most people would act the way you've described your MC, to be honest. I know I would.

    It's why those who've risked their lives for the Jews during WWII are hailed as heroes - because they are. Because most people could not and would not do that.
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2015
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  7. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    1) This sounds like a fantastic description of a True Neutral character. Go for it.

    2) Even if the character is more cowardly than the description makes him seem, that still wouldn't make him an uninteresting protagonist. Go for it ;)
     
  8. Adenosine Triphosphate
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    Adenosine Triphosphate Old Scratch Contributor

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    Fear, self-preservation, and sensitivity go hand-in-hand. Most people are nowhere near as comfortable with violence as even heroic fictional characters, partly for selfish reasons and partly because they find it difficult to harm other human beings. The ability to act without inhibition requires a level of recklessness and aggression that runs counter to some very basic moral restraints, even when it can be justified from a pragmatic perspective. There are people in real life with that ability, but they aren't necessarily the most honorable or balanced sort.

    For me, the two examples that spring quickest to mind are people with antisocial personality disorder, who feel little or no empathy for others, and extreme nationalists, who care far too much about their own race/religion/country and far too little for anyone else. Indeed, both archetypes appear frequently among the ranks of fictional villains, where their bravery and ruthlessness give them the ability to terrorize more restrained characters. In a sense, it could be considered a mark of superiority, a leap in functioning that occupies the same realm as extreme intelligence and physical fortitude. But fear serves a purpose, and a fair number of antisocials destroy themselves from a combination of excessive self-confidence and poor impulse control (the personality type can present rather like an evil version of ADHD), while the most extreme ideological fanatics (think ISIL) will literally sacrifice their lives to further their group's cause.
     
  9. Robert Musil
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    Robert Musil Contributing Member

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    I agree with the other posters here that this sounds like a good idea for a character. Wanting to do the right thing vs. actually going out and doing it is a classic dilemma, one that I've always found particularly interesting.

    It sounds to me though that, as you've described him here he doesn't have much of an arc--he sort of knows where he stands but doesn't question himself at all. Which is fine, but I think it would be even more interesting to show him struggling, even internally--really make the reader feel that he has both of these impulses (self-preservation and strong moral sense to do the right thing) and that they are constantly in conflict. I'm not saying that he has to Learn a Lesson or Grow as a Person or whatever, but I'd just rather see his neutrality/cowardice play out as more than a shrug of the shoulders and "Oh well, nothing I can do."
     
  10. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Interesting. I suppose it would be much more fitting (and exciting) for him to figure out how to do the right thing while not painting a metaphorical bullseye on himself, his friends, and family.
     
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  11. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is an example of a reluctant hero, one who doesn't get involved until there's something personal at stake. Literature is littered with them.

    And all that standing back and watching and using his brains is perfect for the first act of your story. At the first turning point, that's where something happens that brings in a personal stake for him.

    Second act is him making all the wrong decisions/moves toward solving his personal problem.

    Third act is when he gets on the right track, but has to really work hard at it to get it done.

    Hope this helps.
     
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  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    All these responses are giving me a lot to think on for this character, to the point where I now am seriously considering making him the protagonist instead. :D

    With some thought, I can come up with a way where he's in a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation. If he doesn't act, his hopeful future is at stake. If he does, then it could still happen, but at a greater consequence.
     
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  13. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    ... I'd actually thought he was already :D
     
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  14. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Well, he is now! :D
     
  15. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    He's a normal person. I think most people (myself included) are cowards, so I would definitely say he is a coward. Also, self interested, which is also normal. It's very realistic and I think you should go with it.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have you watched McCullough's The Civil War? I rewatched the whole thing recently, and would recommend it if you haven't. I don't actually know which way it would push you on this question, I just recommend it anyway, for a level of emotional, individual-ordinary-folks detail.
     
  17. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I've never seen it, no. Thank you for bringing this to attention. :D I'll look for it and watch it with interest.
     
  18. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    Very rooster from true grit... along for the ride
     
  19. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    What makes a story interesting is the journey and how it changes them.... having a main character remaining the same through doesn't offer much in the way of development .... it would be refreshing to see a change in his views via plot points and situations. And ask why is he indifferent. I supose it rests on how important he is to the plot. Is he a main character or backgroud
     
  20. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    He's the protagonist, and I'm currently writing out the arc for him as he goes from mild indifference and "Just keep me out of it" to taking a stand. He's growing more and more compelling to me by the day.
     
  21. Dearhart
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    The main danger of using a "cowardly" or passive character is sticking true to their character. You say that he would intervene for someone directly but if the aggressor gave a threat of his own what would he do? There is also the problem of inaction; if he won't take action what prompts the story to be compelling?
     
  22. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Interesting conundrum.

    Taking the hypothetical scenario where he punches out the master beating a slave boy: what would he do when the man gets up and spits out, "I'm gonna get my boys and we're gonna make your mama regret it!" or something to that effect. If the MC kills him then and there, welp he's a murderer and in deep, deep shit regardless if he's able to hide the body. It's going to be on his conscience, eating away at him.

    <scribbles down notes> This is quite interesting. All sorts of problems I can create for him and see how he acts. :D
     
  23. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    Agreed, this character works better as a Background character if they remain at a status quo
     

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