1. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    Establishing a character's personality when the plot begins wth a traumatic event

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by mashers, Jun 12, 2016.

    My novel starts with a character being given a terminal diagnosis. This clearly affects his behaviour from that point on. The problem I'm having is with establishing his personality when everything the reader knows about him occurs exactly at the point the diagnosis is given. The character is intended to be pretty unlikeable at the start - a male chauvinist, who changes his attitude to women and people in general throughout the course of the book due to his experiences and also the influence of a female mentor character. However, this leaves me with two problems.
    1. Establishing that the character's personality is this way when the plot begins at a life-changing event. I considered having him interject thoughts which reflected his personality throughout, which would allow the reader insight into his character without digressing significantly from the plot. However, it seems unrealistic that he would be having such thoughts in light of his current situation. I thought perhaps he would become even more misanthropic having been told he is going to die, but again I don't feel it's realistic for him to respond that way.
    2. I don't want the reader to feel sympathy for him, but for this to grow as his personality changes throughout the book. I realise it may take time for the reader to identify with the character so initial sympathy is not guaranteed immediately, but a particularly empathetic reader might. I don't want the character's plight to overshadow the reader's perception of him as, initially, an unlikeable character.

    I'd appreciate any insights :)
     
  2. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    Your inciting incident makes me think of Breaking Bad so if you haven't seen that, you might want to check out at least the first season for some thoughts/inspiration (the mc goes through a different sort of change; I'm not saying your story is like the show, just the one detail reminded me of it).

    The thing is that he's not going to change immediately. He's still the same person and his less pleasant behaviors are habitual to him, so even though he's suffering he's likely to keep being unpleasant. You should have plenty of opportunities to show him being a dick, basically, if he really is that much of a dick. And people who know him will treat him accordingly, and be surprised when he begins to change his ways. Other characters' reactions might be your best tool for establishing that he's always been this way / how weird it is for him to act differently.
     
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  3. mashers
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    mashers Senior Member

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    Thanks @izzybot! I did watch the first few episodes of Breaking Bad but didn't really get into it. If I remember rightly, there was some buildup to, and context around, the inciting event. I will re-watch though and see what I can draw from it. Thanks for the suggestion! As for him not changing immediately, I would have thought such a significant event would cause some kind of immediate change, but I see what you mean about habitual patterns of behaviour. I will also be sure to consider the actions towards him of people who already know him and the assumptions they will make about him. Thanks again! :)
     
  4. Mumble Bee
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    Mumble Bee The writer formerly known as Chained. Contributor

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    I could easily see there being an immediate effect if one of the guiding laws of his reality were to change.
    Lets say he wakes up every day planning for his future. Finding out that there is no 'future' would be the same as finding out there was no gravity.

    Why should he go to work to build up cash reserves for a retirement he'll never experience?
    Why go to the gym and train a body that won't be around in three months?
    Who cares what anyone thinks, whats stopping him from breaking every law now that the consequences are limited?
     
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  5. Buttered Toast
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    Buttered Toast Active Member

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    This is deep!
    I have a life changing event at the start of my story but nothing like this and I was having problems about how to show emotions as my main character is very shy and sheltered from the world- so How would he react a similar situation?
    I like what Chained said, I agree your character will have to show how horrible he is even more, a bit like the 'Beast' out of 'Beauty and the a Beast' he was angry and frustrated at what had happened to him, that's how your character might feel, pushing everyone away.
     
  6. Diane Elgin
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    Diane Elgin Member

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    As Izzybot pointed out, not only will your character not change immediately but if their life has been one defined by the selfish abuse of others then the world around him will reflect that. It takes people a long time to change and even longer for them to adjust to other people's changes, especially when they're so used to them behaving in an opposite way. If you want to show how impending death has altered your character, create a social setting that reflects his lifestyle choices and have it be another obstacle in his road to redemption.
     

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