?

What might convince you to use your skill to help a movement that's totally against your principles?

  1. They'll kill me if I don't.

    1 vote(s)
    16.7%
  2. They'll kill someone I love if I don't.

    4 vote(s)
    66.7%
  3. The evil movement is about to win anyway.

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  4. I can influence them for good from the inside.

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  5. I can sabotage them from the inside.

    4 vote(s)
    66.7%
  6. The leader has promised me unlimited scope and fame for my skill if I work for him.

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  7. I wouldn't actually be pulling the trigger, so what they do wouldn't be my fault.

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  8. Nothing whatsoever; what's taking that damn executioner so long?

    1 vote(s)
    16.7%
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hiccup in a Character Arc

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Catrin Lewis, Mar 29, 2015.

    WARNING: LONG POST:

    So here I am, thinking I've got my first novel finished, barring a little poking and prodding here and there. But yesterday I realized I have a motivation issue with my male protagonist, right where he goes through his deepest psychological crisis.

    I'll describe the situation, then you can tell me if you think his dilemma makes sense. Better still, please, if you can, project yourself into it and tell me what you'd do under the circumstances.

    OK. He's a youngish man in his mid-30s, with an area of expertise. He's very good at this particular skill: he knows he is, everyone in his city knows he is. Other than his girlfriend (who works with him in the same profession), there's nothing he loves better than exercising this skill. He lives for it and dreams of the day when he'll have a wider scope to exercise it, and accrue the fame that will come with his accomplishment.

    But! he has an arch-antagonist who is a wannabe psychopathic warlord/terrorist leader/dictator type. Said villain is implementing careful plans to bring society to its knees and remake it according to his convictions. To this end, he has for the past 25 years pinpointed men of skill and expertise (including my MMC) whose help he needs to bring in his new order.

    The AA has the MMC (and incidentally, his girlfriend/associate, the FMC) abducted and brought to his remote training base. There he gives the MMC an ultimatum: Work for me, or die.

    Now, "Work for me" includes the MMC being in charge of everything under the his area of expertise. He'd have unlimited scope to exercise his skill and the fame that would come with it--- everything he's always dreamed of! It would not entail his participation in any overt act of war or terrorism; he'd "only" be asked to do behind-the-scenes planning and to oversee the structuring of the AA's new society.

    "Work for me" would also include saving the life of the MMC's girlfriend. It would also, oh yeah, include conniving at ethnic cleansing and wholesale racial/religious group murder. :eek:

    "Or die" means being summarily put to death.

    At the outset my MMC gives the AA a flat-out No. But that's before he understands the AA's position of strength. Over the course of his captivity he comes to realize the AA's power in terms of men and weaponry (including a functioning suitcase nuke, with more in progress, which the AA plans to use very soon). He learns how many unsolved crimes can be laid to the account of the AA. He finds out how far the AA has come in infiltrating ordinary law enforcement, not to mention the minds and hearts of ordinary citizens. He discovers how skillful the AA's spy network is, and to his horror he learns that the AA has dug up a damning bit of dirt on him from his early adulthood, which he will ruin him with even if he changes his mind and lets him go. The AA escalates the death threat to possible death by torture, with the MMC's beloved girlfriend to suffer and die first.

    The MMC has no chance of escape, by dint of his fists or by his wits. He has no reason to disbelieve the AA's threats: he's already seen him execute a follower for failing to carry out his duty. Conversely, another of the AA's blackmailed men of expertise has told him that the AA keeps his "good" promises "once you've passed probation."

    So we bring him to the final audience with the AA, where there will be no going back from whatever he decides. Both he and his girlfriend the FMC have to decide, as the AA in a fit of "generosity" has given her the same choice, too.

    The MMC is a decent guy (under ordinary circumstances), but no cardboard hero who'll spout "death before dishonor!" like a faucet being turned on. He has some military experience, but it was brief and long ago. He does not believe in life after death, so he can't say, "Fine, you're sending me to a better place; come, Death, and welcome." For him, this life is all there is and he does not want to die.

    He is, however, a man who can still think under pressure. He doesn't go blank and piss his pants like a little girl.

    Here's the question(s) (at last! :p):
    1) As he struggles over what choice to make, how attractive do you think he'd find the offer of "free rein" and the fulfillment of all his professional dreams?
    2) How much strength would he give to the fact that he'd be committing treason against the government he previously swore to protect and defend?
    3) Which would weigh more heavily: That his agreement would mean possible death to people he knows and likes, or that his refusal would mean certain death to the woman he loves?
    Now suppose the woman, from her own convictions, tells the AA she's not working for him, no way, no how, and the AA "mercifully" grants the MMC the chance to convince her (in private) to change her mind. And suppose he's unsuccessful and the guard takes her away to be killed. The MMC is now left alone (with the clock ticking) to make his final decision.

    4) Will the offer of unlimited scope in his field of expertise have any attraction now?
    5) Or might he contemplate "pretending" to work for the AA until he can get revenge for his girlfriend's death?
    6) Or think he might hamper the evil effort to derail it and so protect the targeted minorities?

    7) Or . . . would the idea of participating in such a movement be so vile he wouldn't consider any of these and start yelling for the executioner to come get him, too?​
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2015
  2. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Can your MMC use his skills to sabotage AA's project and this way save a lot of people?

    If he helps AA, but AA is defeated by some other people, your MMC will be executed, right? So he's fucked.
    If he helps AA, AA will use him only as long as he's useful... so sooner or later he'll be fucked.

    I can't believe a decent guy would choose his career over what sounds like genocide. He might choose his girlfriend, if that's how the chips fell, but if I were him, and I wasn't a coward or a sociopath, I'd try to work from within to fuck up AA's plans, try to get the word out to police or National Guard or whoever that this asshole has to be arrested pronto, or try to find a way to capture him.

    Does your FMC have any useful skills? Maybe your plot requires them? You could make her really good with guns or something, and she'll incapacitate the AA (or kill him, although incapacitating and arresting him would be the best option) and she and MMC save the day.
     
  3. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    @KaTrian, thanks for weighing in on this:

    Discarding that option will definitely be a crisis for him, but he's going to do it. I just am not sure how much of a struggle I should make it out to be.

    I'll have him at least consider the undercover sabotage route. As for the FMC and her relevant skill/gift, she does have a surprising one, but it's something way other than knowledge of guns. She's so ignorant on that subject she can hardly tell a shotgun from a rifle, let alone an AK-47 from an M16. :geek:

    To revive a 1980s term, we're talking a couple of yuppies. So whatever they do will depend on brains and moral courage, not training or brawn.
     
  4. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    1) Not very - assuming he's so committed to his ideals that he can submerge personal ambition in service to them. If not, then you've painted him wrong because the "Death before dishonor!" crowd is usually able to do this, even if they're highly ambitious. Actually in that case, highly ambitious people in such movements see martyrdom as a source of immortality - which puts in in line with their ambition.

    2) Normally not much...BUT people do really messed up things under pressure, and death of a loved one is the ULTIMATE pressure. If you want to see something like this (granted with personal freedom as a motivator), look at the computer hacker in the third season of "House of Cards". *SPOILER* - in that case you have a hacker who's been forced to work for the FBI instead of being thrown in jail, this tortures him, and when someone offers to get him out of that situation, he goes to some pretty absurd (actually I'd say evil) lengths to get what he wants.

    3) Definitely the death of a loved one. No question. This is a much bigger deal than death to self AND the threat of death to friends. That by itself will make most normal people do ANYTHING - especially if he's forced to watch the girlfriend tortured and can't do anything. Assuming he's not superhuman or a total jerk - at that point he's going to crack.
     
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  5. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    4) Hell no.
    5) Only after she's dead. At that point it's a matter of what he views as the most effective revenge. Before she's dead, the only motivation is to prevent her from dying. Full stop.
    6) See above
    7) That depends on how much will to live he has.
     
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  6. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Commandante Lemming, thank you for this:

    The profession in question is architecture, and I'd been worried that I hadn't built up his ambition in the field enough over the course of the novel. I've shown him living for it, but it's always him sacrificing his time, his health, and his income (he'll work for half price if it means having the time to do the job right) to it, not him sacrificing his human principles or other people. He's zealous for excellent, life-enhancing design, not ambitious for himself. For him, "fame" is always a means towards getting more work to do, not an end in itself.

    So your comment fits in with how I've painted him already, and makes me believe my worries are groundless.
     
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  7. RachHP
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    RachHP Contributing Member

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    While reading, I'd reached the same conclusion as @KaTrian ie: I would probably consent, but try to bring it down from the inside (even if that meant my/my GF's death - if I could stop him, it would be worth it).

    As for the Q's:
    1) Although I don't empathise particularly, it sounds like he'll be VERY attracted to the offer and that will fuel his struggle with the decision.
    2) I wouldn't think this would be a huge deal. If he's not a zealot, then obviously he'll feel bad about it but I don't think it's a 'deal breaker'. Also, his work is far more important - that's where his true loyalty lies, so he'll act according to that (to my mind, anyway).
    3) I think the death of people he knows would feel like an impossible choice, but sending his beloved to death would BE an impossible choice. He literally couldn't bring himself to do it, so it's not something he can logically process - if that makes sense?
    "Now suppose the woman, from her own convictions, tells the AA she's not working for him, no way, no how, and the AA "mercifully" grants the MMC the chance to convince her (in private) to change her mind. And suppose he's unsuccessful and the guard takes her away to be killed. The MMC is now left alone (with the clock ticking) to make his final decision."

    4) It would definitely be muted, but the extent to which would depend on how/why she wasn't convinced. If they discovered their love wasn't as great as they thought it was, maybe he'd be more free to choose his work. If their love was still true, but she just couldn't do it, then I think she'd replace work as his ultimate ambition/idol and he would be more reluctant to go on and attain his 'dream'.
    5) He doesn't sound like the kind of guy who is driven to grand acts of revenge. I think his head is screwed on, so he would make the best decision but wouldn't be emotionally overwrought and driven to do something foolish. He might still end up doing it, but it would be a rational choice.
    6) I think he should do this anyway, to be honest.
    7) Again, he doesn't seem like the over-romantic, emotionally-driven type. I wouldn't respect him for throwing himself on the sword because his GF went to her death. A more satisfying choice would be working from the inside to bring everything down, which ultimately kills him too and he thinks of his GF as he dies ('I hope I made you proud' kind of moment).

    The plot sounds amazing, by the way, and congrats on finishing!
     

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