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  1. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Developing a Tyrannical News Editor - opinions needed

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Commandante Lemming, May 8, 2014.

    I'm working on a media/political drama, and while my writing group has largely been giving me positive feedback on the plot, there have been some questions about whether my villain could exist in real life. The character is very well developed as I've had her as a concept for close to a decade (I developed the storyline in college but picked it back up this year) - and her character traits are very central to the storyline. However, a reviewer who I respect has insisted that a person with these traits could never, ever rise to the position in which I have installed her. I would appreciate both second opinions and advice on making the character more readable.

    So, here is the description:

    Priscilla Davis is the editor in chief of a major cable news network. She has near-total control of all on-air content, and uses her position to heavily influence the political point of view aired on her channel. She is known for being extremely intimidating, having built her journalistic career specializing in blistering interviews where she ripped the bark off of prominent politicians. She became so popular and effective that she was able to successfully demand her editorial position as part of a contract negotiation, threatening to defect to another network unless she was given control. She maintains power not through producing good content, but with the threats against the people who own the network. While calm and collected on the outside, she secretly harbors a deep-seeded rage at anyone who disagrees with her, and routinely uses closed-door meetings to vent her anger at the reporters who work under her - often screaming and engaging in obscenity-laced tirades.

    Her use of verbal abuse and intimidation is so severe that several reporters under her (some national celebrities) live in fear of her retaliation, and at least one has become alcoholic to cope with the stress. She purposefully peppers her dialogue with obscenities as a way of intimidating both subordinates and interview subjects (she calls it "softening them up".)

    Having been raised in a devout Catholic family, she deeply resents her father, who was not abusive per se, but highly discouraged her career ambitions and lavished praise on her sister who became a homemaker. This led her to embrace atheism, radical feminism, and militant leftism as a reaction - to the point where she has become viciously bigoted against Catholics and religion in general. She enforces this rigid view on the network - often deriding those who fail to toe her line as "anti-journalistic" and "not telling the truth". She also routinely makes obscene remarks assuming that all priests a pedophiles and comparing nuns to prostitutes.

    The issue I ran into was that I was told by a respected reviewer (whose son works at a major news agency) that a news editor can only achieve such high status by bringing the best out in their employees. Hence, it is impossible and unbelievable for me to have such a vicious and unstable person in this role. (After I read a scene where the villain tries to "crack" my heroine-reporter by yelling at her, beating her with a newspaper, threatening to end her career, and calling her a "c***" and a "whore").

    I want this villain to believable and readable, but at the same time I don't want to violate the character by making her calmer or less vulgar. She needs to be borderline-violent and mentally ill for my plot to work. And while I actually am offended by the level of foul language she spews, I know that she feels that she needs that language as a crutch - and whenever I just "let her talk" she curses out.

    So, suggestions welcome. Apologies for the length of post and hope it was coherent.
     
  2. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    What stands out to me is the company's profit. If her lack of quality of work is putting off viewers, she would have no leverage and would be laid off. I'm not extremely knowledgeable in the specific area, but I can't imagine any amount of leverage that would allow her to show material that would decrease the audience against the wishes of the higher-ups.

    The whole "need to bring out the best" bit seems eye-roll worthy to me, but maybe other posters will know more.
     
  3. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Reporters who give scathing interviews don't usually get the opportunity to have more interviews, or much of a career for that matter. Few would bother talking to someone on camera if it will just make them look bad. Tough questions are asked all the time, and usually to the backs of the politicians' heads as they get into their car or the elevator. The political views on her network would possibly be realized by the majority, and dismissed as bias. An example would be what many people think of Fox news...

    As for how she treats her employees: Chef Ramsay did the same to his workers in the restaurant biz, apparently. Not saying that I approve, or that it even worked out well for him, but maybe something to research.

    Edited to add to the second paragraph: One of my managers is like that. I work in a bakery chain, and we go through staff like napkins-- largely because it's a demanding job, but also because she makes her employees cry at times. It's hard to complain, though, because our store is top-rated regionally.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I find it unrealistic that this person would rise to such a high position. My first thoughts are:

    - Maybe she's a very wealthy woman who owns the network (that is, owns enough stock to control it) rather than working for it?
    - Maybe she reached that position through actual merit, then went through a major personality change? That would probably involve dealing with mental illness or brain damage, but the character you describe is surely mentally ill anyway.

    Keep in mind that the over-the-top situations that you describe would be likely to lead to civil and possibly even criminal liability for both the character and the network. I think that however much you may dislike it, you're going to need to make her more subtle.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    doesn't seem so odd... sounds like fox news, to me....................

    [btw, have a mod delete the duped thread... i just posted there, before i realized there were two]
     
  6. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    The channel's editorial viewpoint is actually based on the RT network. Seems on the up and up with a few eccentric positions - but crazy on the inside and near the end it morphs into something propagandistic, scandalous, and detached from reality.
     
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  7. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    RT ISN'T SATIRE??????

    JK. But yeah, that was the example I was thinking of almost to the T.
     
  8. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Just curious - have you done any research on who does what, holds editorial control, subject to what limits, imposed by whom? I'd be interested to know what sources you used because of an idea I'm mulling (not anything like yours, btw).
     
  9. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I haven't done that sort of deep research and I'm sure I'm ridiculously oversimplifying things right now. I have interned in one small newsroom environment and worked with online media on several occasions, so I have some of that to draw from. But never anything on the scale of a national cable channel.
     
  10. 33percent
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    33percent Member

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    Oh yes she can, is she attractive; seductive, manipulative? you mentioned she is borderline violent sounds like a borderline personality disorder. My suggestion she can take the role as being a girl from the Mad Men tv show for example. Who says politics, sex doesn't mix in the work place. She could obtain her position of power not by job title but getting involved in multiple of affairs with very powerful men who she interviews on TV with or who have alot to lose such holding positions as the CEO's, politicians, generals etc.

    Then the higher ups have no choice to deal with her regardless of her crazy dominant personality. You also mentioned she is 'radical feminism' which she could portray being a alpha female. She could be hungry for power, money as the story goes on, everything spirals out of control, too many affairs, drugs, sex, parties (Wolf on wallstreet) then end game she get's caught.

    I've met very few women who were very good manipulating men to the point all their bills where paid. There is General Petraeus scandal, it was a female journalist who ruined his career. Some might be offended by my suggestion but it's reality, it happens ALL the time. Just take reality and put your own sprinkles on it, make the magic happen.
     
  11. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hmmm. I can't involve her in affairs seeing as she hates men, the idea of romance, and emotional attachment in general (I think she has some sort of narcissistic disorder that disables her empathy function - but then again I have a planned redemption so she can't be a total psychopath). The entire point of her character is that she hates religion, but that she takes it so far that she conducts herself like a fanatical religious fundamentalist in her adherence to the dogma of her own ideology. She doesn't drink, she doesn't do drugs , she doesn't date, and she's very judgmental of those who do. She's essentially a secular monastic/ascetic.

    My thought is that she generally produces a good product, talks a good game to her higher ups, and generally doesn't bother her underlings unless she sees them as a threat - in which case she psychologically abuses them until they crack and threatens to blacklist them from future career opportunities if they ever resign or file complaints. I'm working in a new character to show that she doesn't do this to everyone - my main character is assigned mostly to political stories and suffers a ton of abuse, but her roomate is the network's fashion blogger and celebrity red-carpet girl, and she thinks all the complaints are overblown because she gets treated so nicely.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It occurs to me that this, too, is likely to be career-limiting for her, especially if she's in the United States. I know that the highly religious think that television networks are horribly anti-religion, but I can assure you that as an agnostic/atheist, I see the television networks as pretty pro-religion. Someone who is openly and publicly anti-religion is not likely to reach the level of power that you describe, and she's not likely to have a whole lot of loyal viewers.
     
  13. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Please don't make her an agnostic/atheist who's pretty much a Nazi about their beliefs

    Example: the professor in the new movie "God's Not Dead"


    Please don't make this character like him. Don't give unreligious people bad names.
     
  14. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    "Please don't make this character like him. Don't give unreligious people bad names."

    There are going to be plenty of other perfectly well adjusted non-religious characters in the storyline. This one is meant to be notable for ridiculous level of cognitive dissonance between what she practices and what she preaches. Unfortunately there are a lot of people like that in the world - of many creeds. In the end, they give no one but themselves a bad name because they end up on an island, rejected by even the people they thought of as their allies (exactly my plan for Priscilla - a radical feminist academic who she regards as her role model is going to reject her and say she went off the deep end.)
     
  15. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    "Someone who is openly and publicly anti-religion is not likely to reach the level of power that you describe, and she's not likely to have a whole lot of loyal viewers."

    The story is set a few decades in the future so I can mess with that a little. I think the TV-media in this world has been reduced to this lady vs. FoxNews - both bad options but if you don't like Fox you watch WorldWide or vice versa. And I don't think she's going to be "loud and proud" on the air - more like she manipulates who gets interviewed in order to make it look like "the public at large" think something different than what actual public opinion is. I have one scene written where she gets frustrated covering the election of the pope when they can't find any protesters in St. Peter's Square to interview because in her mind there should be throngs of people criticizing the church and she can't get her head around the fact that that's not reality.

    Disclaimer: I'm actually not Catholic - the point of the story is to explore the idea of subjective truth vs. objective truth. Is the real truth what's in front of you, or is the "real truth" your opinion on what the fact represent.
     
  16. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Okay, I can live with that. As long as there are other less extreme people like her, I can deal with it.
     
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  17. CatFace
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    CatFace Member

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    I started off thinking, 'no, that does not sound unrealistic at all, quite the opposite'.... I have not seen it from the inside, but it's no secret that people do often rise to the top because they are domineering and ruthless, and it's conceivable that someone in a very powerful position could indeed get away with shouting and swearing at people when it suits them.

    The thing is though, I don't think this character sounds believable because she has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I feel as though someone would only get away with this behaviour if they were, perhaps, very charming most of the time, and only showed their nasty side when they needed to. You did say that your character seems 'calm and collected' on the outside, but if I was creating such a character I would go further and make her charismatic, and able to come across as likeable when she needs to be liked, but with this very dark side that could seem even more intimidating if she's not just this hateful person all of the time. But this might be too much of a deviation from the character you've envisaged.

    And/or, if she was very good at what she does, perhaps it would be more believable that she would behave absolutely however she liked, because far as the network is concerned she's pulling in the viewers and the money therefore she's untouchable... but then you've said that she does not maintain her power by producing good content....

    I don't know though, because this is just a plot summary of course. Perhaps you will find a way of portraying your character convincingly.
     
  18. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    I get that she needs some redeeming qualities. Trying to figure out what they are. I do think she has a talent for breaking stories first and generates a lot of "scalps" in that she has a knack for finding or creating scandal that force people to resign from office. That and she has a weird magnetism in that she's so cold all the time - not a nice person but comes across a having gravitas. But open to suggestions on humanizing her. I kind of want her to be Joffrey Baratheon-level evil, but she still needs to be somewhat believable
     
  19. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well she has no religion and she's cold and emotionless.

    You made this woman an impenetrable fortress....
     
  20. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was able to buy it up until the point where you said she was majorly anti-religion. Her power was based on her popularity, and in the U.S., that would never fly. It's very hard to get a leftist version of Fox News -- the far left is more divided than the right, and the right would never, ever tune into such a channel. If it were actually anti-religious, not only would the religious shun it, but people sympathetic to the religious people wouldn't watch it, either, and even plenty of people on the left would refuse to watch it if they perceived it as so disrespectful.
     
  21. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    On the anti-religion part, let her be like that but don't let it influence her and her work.
     
  22. 33percent
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    33percent Member

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    If I was reading your story I would be asking myself questions of her character, and personality you want won't work in the type job enviroment. She needs to have people skills, a positive role something to keep her around. If she hates men is there a reason why, and in what way? is she at least still attracted to men or is it women?

    A narcissistic personality will fit the perfect role of her having affairs with other men, ruining their lives gives her more of a drug like euphoria. Believing it or not there was a female who had herps she would give it to any guy who had sexual relations with her, and tattoo their names on her arm. Give a good background stroy why she hates them maybe her ex boyfriend cheated on her or she believing women has more of a superior role.

    Anything can be believable just matter how you sell it, people want to escape reality. If you want Joffrey type of evil; female version, he is the son of incest parents(Brother & Sister). What makes him so interesting in the story, is everyone f****in HATED his guts, and wanted him to die painfully.

    You can do the same with your MC, make the reader hate her so much that makes the reader have no choice to turn the page. Which gives a solid background story why Joffrey carries many personality disorder traits. Something has to give why she has so much hate for men, religion etc.. fuels her, like she has some secret agenda.
     

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