1. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    Hidden Motives in a POV Character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Arathald, Mar 11, 2011.

    I have a character in my story who I was hoping to use as the point of view for several scenes/chapters. The issue I'm having is that this character has hidden motivations that I don't want to reveal to the readers yet, and I'm trying to figure out the best way of handling this. Showing things from his POV, but suppressing certain thoughts seems disingenuous, and worse, I feel like I would have to lie about some of his thoughts to perpetuate the illusion of his character.

    One possible answer I have come up with is to redesign those scenes to use the point of view of another character who is already physically present in most or all of these scenes, but I think that writing it all from her point of view will make developing his personality much more difficult. Any insight or examples you can provide would be very much appreciated.
     
  2. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    It's quite a challenge indeed and for being able to help concretely I would need more details about the story. In a generic context, you might use a technique such as reflective thinking, e.g. a thought where the POV says to him/herself "Should I tell them about A?" For example, if you say "Should I tell Anna what happened in Paris?" You build a lot of suspense and don't need to tell it straight away what happened there what's relevant to Anna, most probably. It's kind of foreshadowing then; you can use this to several extents (showing a tiny bit, or showing a lot).
    HTH
     
  3. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    Ok, details then:

    It's a sci-fi(ish) novel, set in a future dystopia; the central idea is that the protagonist is trying to find the truth about an event that happened in his childhood, which starts with a journey of introspective self-discovery (the novel opens with him in jail, so a lot of the story and the action happens in flash-backs).

    A parallel storyline shows a retired professor -- the character in question -- who has found a method of communicating with the protagonist, and eventually helps him escape. I want the reader to initially think that the professor has only the best intentions in mind, but as the story goes on, it's revealed that he has other, not-so-respectable motives for assisting the protagonist, and that he's not quite of the moral and ethical standing that he at first appears to be. His assistant is the other character who is often with him, and she begins as a relatively minor character, but becomes important later on in the story.
     
  4. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are a number of different ways to do this. You might want to drop a few clues here and there as to the character's real motives, so long as they're cleverly disguised. But based on the information you've given, I'd say that the real challenge will be getting your reader to trust this professor in the first place. There's something inherently suspicious about trying to break the protagonist out of prison at all -- your reader is bound to be looking for clues that the professor is untrustworthy all along.

    How I would handle this: Show a side of the professor that is especially sympathetic and heart-warming. And it can't be a ruse -- it has to be something he couldn't fake. He nurses wild animals back to health. He's trying to earn enough money for his mom to have an important operation. Something genuinely sweet and heart-warming that will win us over early on. Play on the emotional aspect, but don't overdo it. Make it real, and make it poignant. You can make this heartwarming aspect central to his thoughts, which will help to explain why you haven't mentioned his darker intentions yet. Something fundamental about his character believes that his actions are good. Then it will be even more powerful when we learn of his deceit -- sometimes people do bad things with the best of intentions.

    That's what I would do, anyway.
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Another idea might be to have the professor aware of the reader and author - have it like he kept it secret from you. Maybe break the fourth wall a little places have him talk to you.
     
  6. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    I like Sidewinder's strategy. In addition, you can make the Professor's actions justified and logical from HIS point of view, which becomes clear only later. He can rescue the P from jail for something that looks normal to everyone, yet has a deeper diabolical objective (which the reader finds out later, of c).
    I think it is not necessarily a problem that the Prof has a hidden intent that the reader spots, as long as it isn't necessarily negative. After all, the Prof must have some incentive to rescue the P from jail. He could seek a publication (publishing is a main driver for scientists), for instance, which fuels a self-interest, yet is not THE self-interest you will show the readers later.
    HTH
     
  7. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    Hmm... I do like this approach, though it looks like I'll have to rework his motives a bit. To clarify, the protagonist was unjustly jailed by a corrupt branch of the government, so that already provides at least a surface motivation for the professor, as well as justifying his actions to the readers.

    Based on this feedback, I think I'm going to play this from two different perspectives. I'll develop the professor's character in scenes that are rather emotionally neutral to him, as far as his hidden motivations are concerned, and allow the reader to make his or her own assumptions as to the professors actual motives. In scenes that the professor might have an emotional reaction that would give away his motivations, I can use his assistant as the POV character to effectively mask his emotions, while still driving the subplot forward.
     
  8. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why are you so eager to hide it completely that he has a hidden motive? A hint of a hidden motive is a major suspense bonus and one I'd play on keeping alive. The reader cannot know whether that motive is malign or not, and will likely never guess what that motive is, but they'll be trying hard!

    If a hidden motive appears out of the blue, say, the MC's grandmother who loves cats and bakes cookies all of the sudden reveals herself to be a mass-murderer, well... Most readers feel a bit cheated.
     
  9. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    I don't want to hide that he has a hidden motivation, at least not completely, but I was afraid that his emotional responses to certain events would give away the nature of the motive too early.
     
  10. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder Contributing Member Contributor

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    What makes this device work isn't the emotion we see in the character, but the emotion evoked in the reader. Melt your reader's heart by showing a tender side to the character. He can be a rock and a bit of a mystery, so long as we see that he's doing all this for dear old Mom. Some such thing anyway. Post some more details if you want. I'd love to help you figure this one out.
     
  11. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    I'm working on developing the plot right now, so I'm still in the process of deciding on and discovering things about even the overarching structure of the story.

    The protagonist watched his parents get dragged away by an unknown agency (government or corporate, I'm not sure yet), and he doesn't know why, though he suspects that some of his actions may be the cause (which isn't actually the case). This scene is in the first chapter, coming immediately after the hook.

    Back in the present, I introduce the professor, Gerald (he doesn't have a last name yet, and I only decided on a first name in the past 25 minutes; I had to change his name when I realized his motives weren't pure, as I had previously named him after someone). Gerald's plotline follows him and his assistant, Sara, as they try to free Jacob from his imprisonment. Jacob is very important (for as-of-yet unclear reasons), and the agency that imprisoned him, as well as the one that captured him, are both vying for power, and he is they key to it.

    Sara thinks she is joining Gerald as a freedom fighter, and that is the illusion he keeps for a while, but later, it is revealed that Gerald is being coerced by the agency that took Jacob's parents (and by coerced, I mean that they threatened him, and possible someone close to him -- his motives aren't entirely bad, but he's lacking in moral fiber, and was rather too willing to work for the agency). When this is revealed, Sara joins Jacob in his mission to discover what happened to his parents, and the truth of that reveals a larger issue that they work together to solve... and I'm sure you can imagine where I'm going from there.

    So, after writing that out, Gerard's motivations are much clearer to me, and I see how I can twist them to fit my story without lying to my readers (he *does* genuinely want to get Jacob out of jail). Perhaps I can give the general feeling that Gerard is helping Jacob "for his family", which readers will take to mean for the greater good, or for the survival of humanity or something noble like that, when the actual meaning of it is more base?
     
  12. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    Could you give the protagonist having participated in a sci experiment conducted by the Professor? The Agency could have been the secret funding body. It might be that his ancestors are key for their DNA structure that give the sci experiment a special twist, not yet fully understood by the professor. Oh well, you are the writer, not me ;-)
     
  13. MindscrewMin
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    MindscrewMin New Member

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    I'd recommend reading Unwind by Neal Shushterman, if you haven't. In it, the Admiral is used as a PoV character for several scenes, but not until his second-to-last appearance do we learn the true motive behind his running the Graveyard.

    I'd go with hinting, as others have said--don't ever go too in-depth about his motives at first, but reveal flashes of emotion--triumph when his plans work out the way he wants, et cetera.
     
  14. Smoke
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    Smoke Contributing Member

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    It sounds like you can pull off parallel motives. Motive A looks like motive B enough that the reader can't tell the difference.
     
  15. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder Contributing Member Contributor

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    So it sounds like you've got a lot of things to figure out:

    (1)"An unknown agency (government or corporate, I'm not sure yet)"

    This is central to everything that happens in your story, and you need to define it clearly. The whole plot revolves around this agency and you can't just treat it as incidental. Figure this out before anything, and then your characters' motivations will be more easy to peg down. Figuring this out will help you know what the story is about, and why you're writing it in the first place.

    (2) Jacob is very important (for as-of-yet unclear reasons)

    Unclear to you, or unclear at this point in the story? The thing that makes Jacob important probably plays a lot into Gerald's motivations, correct?

    (3) Gerald is being coerced by the agency that took Jacob's parents (and by coerced, I mean that they threatened him, and possible someone close to him -- his motives aren't entirely bad, but he's lacking in moral fiber, and was rather too willing to work for the agency).

    So is Gerald ultimately a weasel? He appeared to be a freedom fighter but it turns out he's weak and double-crossing? That's cool, but I'd like to encourage you to give him a bit of depth too. Don't vilify him to the point that his disappointing qualities just characterize him as unlikeable. If he has some sympathetic qualities, then the surprise of his betrayal becomes more interesting to the reader.

    (4) Perhaps I can give the general feeling that Gerard is helping Jacob "for his family"

    I don't think I've accurately explained what I mean by "heart-melting." It doesn't have to do with Gerald's motivations. Don't feel like you have to explain too much about why Gerald is doing what he's doing. You can expect people to take you on your word about it so long as you demonstrate a strongly sympathetic aspect in the character's nature. So for example, sometime during the escape, you could have the group run into a bunch of guards tormenting a little dog. It turns out that Gerald loves animals so much he can't bear to stand by and watch. He has to risk his life to stop the animal's suffering. That's just one example of what you could do to melt the audience's heart and cause them to trust Gerald.

    Keep at it. Let us know how it progresses.
     
  16. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    This is kind of similar to what I was thinking, though with different details. First a little background on the main groups in the story:

    The Agency -- A private organization interested only in gaining power. It's controlled by a single person (another important character), and he and it are explicitly malevolent.

    A2 (for distinction right now, this name will change) -- Another private organization whose initial goal was to gain power to use to help mankind. They have since been corrupted. They are controlled by a committee, and are ostensibly benevolent, and even have good popular support, but in reality, have become just as power-hungry as The Agency.

    The Freedom Fighters -- A group that recognizes that neither The Agency nor A2 can be allowed to gain the power that they are looking for. This group is decentralized (gurus rather than explicit leaders) and truly dedicated to the good of mankind. Their ultimate goal is to prevent The Agency and A2 from succeeding in their plans.


    The protagonist isn't jailed by the government, but by A2 (the government is weak, but not overbearing or malicious; it just can't control these groups). The professor works for The Agency because they are compelling him to by holding his wife, so this gives him a general feeling of dislike for The Agency, with can play very well into misdirection.

    The Agency and A2 both want the protagonist, as he is the key to immense power (the plot involving this will be the most sci-fi thing, and I think will also end up crossing the border into fantasy); neither group has figured out exactly how to use him to unlock it yet, which is why A2 was holding him for so long. The Agency wants him for their own, which is why the professor was compelled to assist him in breaking out (the professor is the only one who can communicate with him, via a device he invented, and helping him from the inside is a lot more practical than sending in a strike force).

    For the protagonist to unlock the great power, he must do so willingly, so The Agency doesn't capture him, but relies on the professor to trick him into helping them unknowingly. (A2's tactic, and why they were willing to jail him, is revealed later -- this isn't the place to discuss it, since it has very little impact on the professor's character). When it is revealed that the professor is working for the Agency, his assistant and the protagonist escape and find one of the gurus of the Freedom Fighters... This puts us about 1/3 of the way through, and past where I need to hide the professor's motives.

    Added it to my list. I have a lot of reading to do. :D

    Right. If you read what I wrote above, the professor has a genuine reason to dislike The Agency, though he is working with them. Not only does this give some nice conflict, but it now makes it rather easy for someone, even inside his head, to misread his ultimate intentions.


    Thanks for the help, everyone. If you're interested in helping me sort out the rest of the plot, I'll probably be posting about that in the appropriate place sometime soon, but I believe I've got the character development issue all sorted out.

    Edit:
    Sidewinder, you posted while I was writing, so I'll add in a response to you here.
    I completely agree that points 1, 2, and 3 were very unclear and underdeveloped. I'm still working out some details of my plot.
    1 - Resolved, per my summary above.
    2 - Partially resolved. I need to work out the specifics of how he is the key to this power, which will likely be the most complex part of my plot. If I can't think of anything compelling and not entirely too cheesy, I might leave this part unfinished in my design and try to write through a couple hundred pages and see if anything comes up naturally. I know enough about it to determine how it would impact Gerald's motivations, though the specifics of even that might be a bit hazy.
    3 - He is by no means a pure evil character. I would say that he's good at heart, just easily coerced and untrustworthy.
    4 - I'll keep this in mind. Knowing Gerald's character, I'm sure he'll find a way to display genuine sympathy for someone at some point. I'm going to leave this up to him, and not worry about making it a plot point (though if it becomes significant enough, I'll just change my plan around to accommodate it).
     
  17. Sidewinder
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    Sidewinder Contributing Member Contributor

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    Lots and lots and lots of stuff to figure out here, and if I were you I'd try to work with fewer elements. Especially the stuff about the Agency and A2 seems unclear and a bit dizzying. The problem with this type of science fiction story is that it presumes a lot of intrigue before laying out what the intrigue is all about. The idea of an Agency solely interested in power isn't very original, and I think you would solve a lot of your problems if you could spell out more specifically what type of evil this Agency embodies. Or if I were doing it, I'd just get rid of the Agency altogether and make the conflict character based instead of intrigue based. That's your discretion. Anyway, once you solidify your themes a bit more, I think you'll have an easier time figuring out how the characters work.
     
  18. Arathald
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    Arathald Contributing Member

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    Continuing the discussion here, since this is now more about plot than character.
     

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