1. Morgan Stelbas
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    Morgan Stelbas Active Member

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    Developing Trust Issues in my MC

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Morgan Stelbas, Apr 23, 2016.

    I originally started my story with my MC being a thirteen year old orphan trying to find a safe place to live in a Dystopian world. In the beginning of her journey she has serious trust issues with the first person she meets who is actually trying to help her. I felt like I was forcing the trust issues on my character and it just didn't seem to work well. I tried flashbacks, but I am horrible at writing them correctly as they fall flat and don't evoke the emotions I'd like.

    So I've decided to go back and start her story earlier. Between the time her parent's died, and the time she found this friend, which is a gap of about 6 years. In these six years I establish what happened to her to create her trust issues.

    This resulted in two new chapters at the beginning, then I am now editing the rest to ensure I've woven in these two chapters when necessary. This creates two problems for me that I'm hoping to be helped with:

    1) Now my character is 7 years old to start, so I'm struggling with not making her language too mature for her age.

    2) Have I now wasted the readers time with these two chapters, since the characters in these two chapters are hardly mentioned again since they are out of the picture when she's older?
     
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  2. Malisky
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    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    Hello Morgan.

    About number 1 question I have nothing to add except... maybe try meeting a child near that age and see how she responds and acts if you have forgotten how 7 year old children think. If you have friends with children it should be easy because, as far as I know, children love to be the center of attention and don't have a problem sharing their views about anything. They use very simple language, they have very small vocabulary and sometimes their minds drift off in the middle of what they have been saying, which makes the conversation change direction to what they want to talk about. Their minds yet are not set upon specific thinking patterns yet, which makes their views very creative. It should be a fun talk. Go for it.

    Now number 2. Not at all. She is in these chapters and since you think that it's a good way of justifying her future behavior... why not? You set the rules. As long as you make it interesting, it should be fine.
     
  3. Morgan Stelbas
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    Morgan Stelbas Active Member

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    Thanks for your feedback @Malisky . I have friends and siblings with the kids. Some of them a little older than seven, some of them younger, so I'm trying to remember how my interactions went with the older kids a few years ago, lol.
    I'm just glad you agree that a flashback is not the way to go.
     
  4. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know—in your particular case—if you're wasting the reader's time or not. I won't comment on that, but...

    The type of situation you describe, showing what caused a character to behave in a particular way, is something Dwight V. Swain addresses in Techniques of the Selling Writer (Yes, I do go on and on about this book).

    I hope you'll want to read it for yourself, but in a nutshell, there is a concept Swain calls a Sequel. During this phase of a story (and there can be as many of these phases as you need sprinkled throughout) the character has just lived through a Scene that ended in a Disaster. (Note: I'm capitalizing and italicizing all terms Swain uses as labels for concepts.)

    Now starts the Sequel and the first thing the character does is React to the Disaster, then mull over the Dilemma they find themselves in. It's during that mulling over period that things such as past events are brought to the fore, perhaps even appearing as mini scenes, as the character comes to a Decision about their next Scene Goal.

    My explanation is very simplified and isn't meant to convey Swain's ideas well enough for use. Instead, I'm hoping to get you curious enough to go read his book so you'll get the full picture.

    It might save you having to back up so many years and keep the voice struggle (seven year old MC) to a few sentences appearing in a mini-scene during a flashback.
     
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  5. Morgan Stelbas
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    Morgan Stelbas Active Member

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    Thanks for the book suggestion. I'll take a look at it!
     
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  6. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Is there any reason why the readers must know exactly how she developed her trust issues? Seems to me that that could just be part of her character and the reasons for it would naturally leak in through her background being revealed. If you're a runaway orphan it would seem pretty natural and reasonable to assume she's probably a little cynical and not trusting of people, because her world would have been rather harsh and she'd have had to grow up fast. These are not things that need justifying, really, based on her basic background. So, why do we need to know or even see how she loses her trust in people generally?
     
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  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    It seems to me that you as the author need to know why this character has these trust issues, but the reader doesn't need to watch them develop. Writing those two chapters presumably had value for you, but I don't know that they need to actually end up in the book.
     
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  8. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    Why did you feel those issues didn't work initially? I mean, presumably we're talking about the same character with the same backstory here? So it all comes down to execution really.

    It doesn't take much to sell trust issues in a character like that; you definitely don't need to jump back in time to labor the point. Just back off a little on how you show her not trusting people. Show your character using jokes (or even flirtation) to deflect around talking about herself. Show her presenting a happy-go-lucky front to stop people wondering what else is going on. Most importantly when she feels someone push at her, show her pushing right back at them. A younger girl probably wouldn't get violent (unless she's forced to anyway) but she'd yell and cry and scream for help just to keep someone out of her business and play up to being vulnerable if it's in her interests to do so. That includes trying to con your helper by lying to him about her past if she thinks there is something in it for her to do it.

    Also, remember that the important part is trust. It's not like she just hates and fears all people. She just doesn't trust or open up easily. So if your guy is handing out food or clothes then she's not going to have a problem with that. She'll take free stuff, no problems. You don't have to trust someone to take their money. What she won't like is the guy who hands out the PB&J asking about her family. She'll be used enough to people asking to have answers ready; to keep people off her back by charm, and that'll extend to shouting for her friends to get this creep of her back.

    This comes together in almost everything your character says or does. The way she dresses, the way she walks, the company she keeps. It'll be in the voice she uses, almost certainly playing up to being small and young and helpless around people who might be convinced to give her things. It's not an act, as such, mostly people don't think explicitly about how to keep people out. But just by projecting a different person on the outside it makes people overlook you. Letting people feel they know you is a superb defense against them poking their nose in.

    If she's alone with your guy she'll keep her eyes on him. When they talk she will habitually lie to him and when called on it she won't feel bad about it. She'll probably enjoy talking to him, just talking generally as a normal person activity that she doesn't get to do much. She'll have some bunch of semi-secrets (or at least what normal people would consider significant) that she doesn't care if people know about her. She might wear her escape from the system as a point of pride for example. As they talk she'll quietly probe him about his life and why he gives a damn. She might ask him multiple times too, to see if he can keep a story straight. And in the meantime she'll tell him whatever she thinks he wants to hear. Eventually when they talk long enough she'll let herself let her guard down and tell him a little something and when she does do that it'll be a huge deal to her. It'll be a quiet, serious moment that seems like a new person.

    If you do this stuff right you won't even need to put it in narration. It's all in stage directions. She just acts in a way that sweats that she doesn't trust him. We'll hear her tell her life story five different ways and just like him we'll wonder if there's a germ of truth in there, or not at all. In a sense, by not trusting your other character she's not trusting the reader and we get invested in her because we want to see what's underneath.

    To pull it all together you just make her someone with enough charm to get away with it. If she's actually funny and engaging then we'll forgive (or won't notice) that she's a one way street too. Maybe that's how your guy gets pulled in. She's just engaging to talk to, even if she talks crap half the time. The talking is what matters to him; he'll win her trust in the end. And going that way makes it easy to flag up when things really do matter to her. When she's not laughing you should pay twice as much attention.

    I wrote a book built around broadly the same character type and it took a lot of work to get her to feel right but it's worth the effort to explore her without just telling the audience why she's like that straight up. Get people invested in her now not her past. She'd hate if you felt sorry for her, so don't write her with her hard luck story out there first and foremost. What makes these characters interesting is their ambiguity. It's slowly peeling back to the why. For my character the whole thrust of her character is that nothing happened to her. She had a normal happy every day middle class life but something about that just never made her happy. Her journey to needle drugs and attempting suicide was one she took very much by herself. She chose them. And of course that's not your character. But the point is that if we know that going in we don't care so much. It's just a fact. What's interesting is not knowing. We want to ask ourselves why this happy, normal girl ended up hiding behind heroin when she had everything going for her.

    Leave her ambiguous, at least to begin with. She'll tell us her story when she's ready.
     
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2016
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  9. Morgan Stelbas
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    Morgan Stelbas Active Member

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    Hi Mckkk,
    When you say "through her background being revealed", are you then suggesting flashbacks, as in they are revealed to the reader, or are you suggesting that they are revealed when my character reveals them to people she ends up trusting?
     
  10. Morgan Stelbas
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    Morgan Stelbas Active Member

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    Hi ChickenFreak,
    Thanks for your comment. The chapters did help me to understand my own character better, if that makes any sense. I just want to make sure I understand you. correctly. Are you suggesting that I merely go back to the original beginning and just focus on her interaction with this new friend, based on her past that only the author will ever know about?
     
  11. Morgan Stelbas
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    Morgan Stelbas Active Member

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    Hi Lost,
    I love these two sentences that you wrote above. It will definitely help me to write her better. I am hearing that the overall consensus here is to leave her past out of the story, but let it's effect on her shape her personality.
    Thanks so much for your comments!
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Mostly, yes. The original beginning might change, now that your understanding has presumably been expanded. And you could let parts of that background leak out if they seem appropriate. But there's no need to actually have the reader watch that background happen.
     
  13. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    Totally agree on this although I would add one thing.

    If you feel you can really benefit by writing out a bunch of her history; getting it clear in your head exactly what happened and when and why it's painful for her still; then you can totally write it all out. There's no problems with that at all. You just don't include it in the finished manuscript. It's certainly an optional thing but as a writer it can be helpful to take the time to write it out as it happened so that it feels 'alive'; so you're actually referring to something that really exists not just kinda hinting at nothing.

    That also helps for when things might leak back out of her because you'll know exactly how things happened before and thus what non-obvious things might put her on edge. Little things like the a particular song, a place, a taste; they could bring back something from her past that we probably wouldn't think about as writers unless we were calling back; we just wouldn't have a good enough grasp of the exact events and would instead plump for kinda boring and direct things that aren't especially satisfying. We'd be tempted to say something bad happened to her in relation to a pickled egg, so pickled eggs set her off. But in the real world trauma victims typically come to terms with the direct source of their trauma fairly well; at least they can brace themselves. It's little things like a song or the candy you were eating when it happened that can catch you totally off guard. Often trauma victims find themselves genuinely not knowing why certain things freak them out. So knowing what happened and letting them leak out in little ways can be a nice touch.

    We don't need to see or know why, we just need to see the results in action. Some little something she sees around this guy that makes her just clam up and shut down; or turn on the jets and be unexpectedly perky to try and not show something upset her.
     
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  14. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Neither, actually. I just mean that details will naturally get revealed during the course of the story. If it's important, then you could use flashbacks, yes, but first you have to decide if it is important. I'm suggesting it might not be.

    For example, if I were to get into a conversation with you on, say, my ideal holiday. I might say:

    "Well I'd love to go to Japan, but that won't be for a few years because I'm definitely not ready for another long-haul flight with a baby!"

    From that, you would be able to deduce the fact that: 1. I have a baby, and said baby is still pretty young, and 2. I've been on at least one long-haul flight with the baby before, and 3. I found flights with babies stressful.

    What I don't need to do is tell you the entire story of how I came to meet my husband, how/why/when we decided to have a baby, her birth, how/when/why we decided to go on a trip far away when the baby's so young. It might be interesting to know what made it so stressful on the flight that I wouldn't repeat the experience again (more psychological than actual - the baby was actually pretty peaceful) - this would be a judgement call on whether I would give more detail or not, if it were in the story. And it would depend on how relevant it is to the story and character development.

    If I wanted to give more detail, I might add a line, like:

    "Just imagine trying to make a baby bottle with one hand while trying to hold a wriggling baby in the other, with no space whatsoever to move!"
    (this is actually from a short flight, not the long-haul, haha)​

    Again, you don't need the exact story of how I did that, but you get the picture clearly enough. You don't need to read this:

    So I was on my way to visit my family in England. The baby was starting to feel like a tonne on my chest, and the strap of the nappy bag digging into my neck - but carrying it on one shoulder just meant it would slip off again and again - not worth it. I heaved a sigh and looked up at the message board for the flight gate I needed for Bristol. No gate number yet. Desperate to pass some time, I turned to the WH Smith behind me, its walls lined with the top 100 bestselling paperbacks. My eyes glazed over just running through the dozens of titles, none of which really jumped out at me, until I stopped at Danish Girl. I knew that title from a film trailer I'd seen. Leafing through the pages, I was soon absorbed into the 19th century Danish world in which Lily lived - and that was how I nearly missed my flight.

    I banged that out within minutes as well as a baby trying to grab my laptop, so don't judge the quality, all right? :p

    But what I mean is, that level of detail - an entire scene, entire chapter - is simply not necessary. I've revealed all that is interesting in my earlier one-line speech, and it comes out organically without the need to turn back in time or add chapters, because it's just part of my life/opinion/character. The paragraph I just wrote detailing exactly what happened at the airport is a bore, not interesting at all.

    So do you get what I mean? Yes, it's good to reveal a little of how your character ended up with trust issues, but the level of detail you need to reveal will vary depending on just how important it really is for the reader to know it exactly. I'm suggesting the reader does not need to know exactly. I'm suggesting the reason would be hinted at and slipped in within some of her other lines, from her point of view and narration, from her behaviour, and that exactly what happened to cause the trust issues may not need to be shown in all its detail.
     
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  15. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    Regarding making her sound her age, you could also try finding kids of similar ages on Youtube. Here's a few videos I found of kids around 7 years old:

    - a girl going to the park with her dog

    - a girl who survived falling down a well talks about her experience

    - an aspiring ballerina is losing the use of her legs due to an unknown condition

    - a girl who's a pro skateboarder

    - a bunch of Syrian orphans in an orphanage, including one little boy around 7 or so who saw his father killed in front of him
     
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  16. Morgan Stelbas
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    Morgan Stelbas Active Member

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    Those You Tube links are awesome! What a good idea! I check You Tube for everything else, I wonder why it didn't occur to me to check for seven year old speak!
    Thanks so much!
     
  17. Seraph751
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    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole...

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    I think that how your 7 yr old sounds would depend on her environment, if she lives in a rough place her vocab is going to be more grown-up/explicit. If she lives in a more prestigious area, then her verbiage will be more prim and proper. It depends on where she lives, what's going on around her, what she is exposed to etc. I think that trust issues start with the awareness that something is not right and then compounded by false words, misdeeds, etc.
     

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