1. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    How can I get readers to not become fixated on minor characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ryan Elder, Sep 11, 2016.

    For my story, I find that when readers give me their opinion, they become too fixated or distracted by the minor characters sometimes, when the minor characters' behavior and actions are not as important or not as strong on the themes, of what the story is really about.

    For example, in my plot the villains are arrested and go to court, but they get off for lack of evidence, and the MC has to try again, and find another way to get them. But the readers keep on asking themselves, well why would the prosecutor take the case to court if surely didn't have enough evidence in the first place? He wouldn't do that, they felt... Things like that.

    But the prosecutor's behavior or actions is not that important to think so much about or explore. The only characters who's complexities are worth exploring are the major ones. Those are the character arcs that are part of the story's theme, and not some minor character, who is only there to support part of the plot, and that's all.

    So when it comes to writing, is there any approaches I can take to not have the reader so fixated on minor characters' complexities, when that's not what the story is about?
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2016
  2. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's not a character problem, that's a plot problem.

    If your readers are having that reaction, it's because it feels like you've just got the prosecutor there in order to do something stupid in order to move the plot along. They're finding it hard to believe in much the same way they'd find it hard to believe if the cops were struggling to find the bad guys' hideout, and a stranger walked into the station, gave them the address, left and was never seen again. Minor character, we don't need to care about his motivations. Except we clearly do, because without knowing those motivations, the story makes no sense.
     
  3. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks, that makes sense. Well I got my idea for this section of the story, partially from a true story. Here is an article on the true story:

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/02/25/alleged_rape_victim_arrested_to_force_her_to_cooperate_in_the_case_against.html

    In that case, the prosecutor is kind of similar to mine, where he legally forces the victim to testify in the case. However, why did this prosecutor do this in real life? I mean people told me in my story, 'why doesn't the prosecutor just use the victim's statement from before, instead of bringing her in, not knowing what she is going to say on the stand'?

    Why put a witness on the stand if you have no idea what she is going to say, and she is not cooperating, which is a bad sign, instead of using her statement from before? I mean maybe the real story has a plot hole in. So I find my prosecutor's motives to be similar to the one, in the true court case I was inspired by, but how can I make the motives from the article, clear to the reader, if the reader thinks that the risk, is not worth the potential, hopeful reward?
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2016
  4. NigeTheHat
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    NigeTheHat Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't entirely see how that story's relevant to how you described the prosecutor's actions. That's about a woman being arrested to force her into court so the case would have evidence. Your version's about the case getting dismissed for lack of evidence. Which is... basically the opposite, as far as I can tell.

    When your prosecutor's motivations are important, you've got to give the character enough screen time to show them. Or set them up earlier as the kind of character who does stupid shit like this, and then you can make the reader aware of their motivations as a conversation between other characters.
     
  5. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Well basically what I mean is, in my story, the woman not cooperating, is the lack of evidence.
     
  6. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'll try and give you a comparison.

    Let's say you need a reason why your MC absolutely must marry the female lead (even though he feels nothing for her). It would be like introducing a random character who threatens to kill themselves unless he agrees to marry her, and then expect your readers to simply accept this without asking questions.
     
  7. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Oh really, my prosecutor's motives are that random... Hmm, I will have to try to come up with a reason as to why he does this, without his motives being forced or unnatural then. If the prosecutor's decision is illogical, is there any way to write an illogical character so that the reader will accept him, not playing with a full deck, as oppose to his illogical behavior?
     
    Last edited: Sep 11, 2016
  8. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry, my example was a little extreme, but I was just trying illustrate things. Your prosecutor character is not as random as this, but what we're saying is that if you fix the illogicalities so that your readers have no reason to question his actions, then you solve the problem.
     
  9. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. But is okay for the reader to accept a character as illogical as long as it's okay? There are stories where characters make illogical decisions, even in real life crime stories. So is possible to write an illogical character, but one that is accepted?
     
  10. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends. An illogical character is not quite the same an an illogical action. And the problem here isn't so much illogicalities (even though I used the word) it's simply something that probably wouldn't happen in real life - which is why your readers become so hung up on the character. They want answers (from you, the writer, more than the character) as to why a prosecutor would take on a case knowing there's no evidence to support it.

    It's easily fixed by coming up with a reason which would get the case thrown out - something the prosecutor can't have known would crop up in court. If you do that, problem solved. The prosecutor took on the case in earnest, believing he could get a conviction, but then this 'thing' crops up and the case has to be thrown out.
     
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  11. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. I would like to do that but I cannot think of a reason as to why information would be withheld from the prosecutor until court. Why are the villains waiting so long to withhold exonerating evidence? They don't really have a reason to wait till court that I can think of. Therefore, is it better that I come up with a reason for the prosecutor to be over ambitious and over zealous, hoping he can get a reluctant witness to speak the truth on the stand, who refused to before?
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm going to say, just because I'm here, and not with any hope whatsoever that it will make a difference, that a plot that makes sense is better than an elaborate convoluted hand-waving reason for getting away with a plot that doesn't.
     
  13. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. Well I can try to rewrite the character then, so he tries his best to bring the case to court with what he has, but fails cause of over-ambition or over-zealousness as a motive, if that's better.
     
  14. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is what I was trying to say, and making my usual, over-elaborate hash of things.
     
  15. Malisky
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    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    I'm not very knowledgeable upon such stuff, but I would assume that he would bring her in for the "show". It's more convincing (psychologically) for the jury. It is more immediate and it affects the jury in a different way. If he was sure that she would testify her original story, he would probably want her there. If the victim seemed reluctant or afraid of testifying or appearing in court, then maybe he would chose not to bring her in. This is just my thinking though upon such a circumstance.
     
  16. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    When you say "the show", do you mean he would bring her in, but she would not be subject to cross-examination? Plus this is not a trial but a preliminary hearing, so would he bring her in at that point as well?
     
  17. Malisky
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    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    She would be subject of cross-examination but that's irrelevant. (I don't get your question).

    Part from an article I read:

    "In contrast to the first appearance, the preliminary hearing is adversarial. The prosecution has the burden to convince the magistrate that there is probable cause to believe that a crime was committed and that the defendant committed it. The prosecutor may present witnesses, physical and documentary evidence to satisfy this burden."

    So, I conclude that, yes, he would bring her in.

    Actually, I found this very helpful (in case you haven't stumbled upon it yet): http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Preliminary_Hearing.aspx

    It's elaborating upon the cause and process.
     
  18. Malisky
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    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    Oh. I might have rushed a bit in my previous conclusion. Wait!

    "In addition, the rules of evidence often do not apply, and in many states and the federal system, the use of hearsay is explicitly authorized. This means that the prosecution need not, and frequently will not, present the witnesses who will testify at trial, thereby limiting the value of the defendant's right of cross-examination. Evidence that was obtained illegally is also admissible at preliminary hearings in many jurisdictions. In its discretion, however, the court may require a showing that admissible evidence will be available at the time of trial."

    This is only about the preliminary. In trial (if I got that right) he will bring her in.

    As for another question you made in some other thread, I think this also covers it. He might be able, one way or another, to get a copy of the witnesses police statement, but he might not be able to use it in trial. In preliminary, yes. In trial, no. If that's why the defendants attorney had in mind (which makes no sense at all, anyways. I guess you had another thing in mind).
     
  19. Malisky
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    Malisky Fuzz Overdriver Contributor

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    But here is a reason a prosecutor might bring the witness to a pre.

    "Courts have generally concluded that because the defense has the opportunity to cross-examine the witness at the preliminary hearing, its ability to challenge the testimony is adequately protected. An additional benefit to the prosecution is the ability to "lock-in" a witness' story. If the prosecution is concerned that a witness has a poor memory or will feel pressured to alter her testimony prior to trial, placing the witness under oath and on the record at the preliminary hearing reduces the chances that the witness will later change her story."
     
  20. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks, but if the prosecution has not gotten a statement from the witness prior, cause she was being uncooperative, would he still use her at the preliminary hearing? The thing about my story is, I do not want to wait all the way till trial, cause that's too long away, and other subplots will have to be illogically put on hold until the trial is over therefore. That is why I wanted the case to be dismissed long before trial if that's possible.

    Well before I decide how long the case should go on for, perhaps the main female character in my story needs some changing, in order to determine the prosecutor's decisions.

    In my story, a gang is recruiting a new member and they give him a 'blood in'. It's a police term for when a new potential recruit, has to spill the blood of another person to prove their worth to the gang. However, the gang is cautious and they want to make sure that they are not recruiting a new member who will turn out to be an undercover cop, or someone who cannot be trusted, or something like that.

    So what they do with the new member, is that they have him shoot a tied up hostage, who has a hood over her head so she cannot identify anyone's faces. They are also all wearing gloves the entire time careful not to get any prints on the scene. However, the hostage is working with the gang and is just posing as a hostage. The gun that that the new recruit will be given is a fake prop gun, so no real weapon is used.

    However, a cop who is on patrol in an unmarked car, spotted something suspicious about the gang members, while they were on the way to the blood in, and discretely followed them. He sees that a kidnap victim may be killed so he busts in and rescues her. He manages to arrest one of them in the process and the rest get away with the gun, as he is busy saving the victim, and handcuffing the one.

    So later on, the kidnap victim tells the police that it her and the other guys were role playing, acting out some twisted fantasy of theirs, and that the cop was just being over-zealous.

    However, how long would she wait to tell the police this? She would not want to tell them immediately when the cop stumbles upon the blood in a frees her, because the other gang members do not want to be named by her, when she says it was all just roleplaying and no kidnapping actually occurred.

    Because since the others escaped, she does not know how the police chasing them will turn out at all. She also does't know much the police know about them. So she has to find out what is what first, before telling the police it was all roleplaying, and that she will not name her friends who got away.

    So how long would she wait after being rescued before she were to tell the police it was all roleplaying, and he sure that the lie would hold up? This will determine the prosecutor's actions I guess, based on what her actions would logically be.
     
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  21. Malisky
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    You cannot use a witness by force of course. She would have to agree to give a testimony. In case she didn't co-operate prior though (let's say at the "first appearance"), she could still be provided as witness to the preliminary (which takes place 10 or 20 days after the first appearance, depending on the suspects situation). I read that whether the court permits or not the defense to cross-examine the witness (again, if I got this right), depends on the jurisdiction. At some they do, at some they don't. Read the article. It explains it. Where does you story takes place? Which state? You should maybe research how the specific jurisdiction would treat this case.

    But in case that the prosecutor wanted to and could (the witness was willing to go) present the witness in the pre, there are many benefits as well in doing so, even if the witness got cross-examined.

    1) He could "lock" the testimony.
    2) He could build a better case in the trial (since he's got more time to prepare the witness) by seeing were the witnesses testimony is lacking.

    It's upon the prosecutors critical judgement, whether he decides if bringing the witness at pre will be an affirmative or a negative influence to his case of finding probable cause.

    "Locking" the testimony is only the odds though. It is not certain for an indictment. Remember that the pre's only target is to find probable cause so the case can go to trial. By the time of the trial, both sides have a considerable length of time to prepare accordingly.

    So, do you want the case to be dismissed from the pre phase? If yes, then make certain that they find no probable cause.
     
  22. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. But this is where the paradox lies, cause I was told by a couple of readers that the find that the prosecutor character makes no sense, cause why would a prosecutor bring a case to a preliminary hearing if there is no probable cause? That is the part, they do not understand, is why bring a case to a PH, without enough probable cause in the first place.

    I mean I thought there was enough evidence of probable cause, in my story based on the the scenario I described, but others are saying there isn't.

    I was also told that the court can force a witness to testify, with a subpoena.
     
  23. Malisky
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    First of: If his case was not about proving probable cause at the pre, then... what was he doing? Lol. What are we talking about for so long? The only reason for pre is probable cause. He might not have achieved into proving it, but that's the whole point, ain't it? Trying to prove it in order to move to trial. Otherwise, there is no trial. I'm confused... Did he, or did he not found a probable cause? If he didn't beforehand, then of course he wouldn't have been able to go to pre. He wouldn't choose to do so. He would only sabotage himself and his case! He would only end up losing credit.

    Next issue: Even with a subpoena the witness might very probably play dumb, if he is unwilling, and the prosecutor does not want that kind of witness by his side. He wants a witness that he can rely on. It's not good thinking to force a witness like that. How do you prove that a witness was indeed a witness? Let's say you got his footage on camera, so you know that he was a witness. How do you prove that the witness is lying when he responds that a) he didn't have the time to see, or b) he was too drunk (unreliable), or c) he was so much in a blur by the shock that he did not remember, or ... (fill in the gap). I'm not sure again when I say this, but subpoenas are supposed for investigation purposes mainly. Most people that are called for, do go to court as they should, because they have nothing to lose. It might be a drag, but it is required. Things change when the witness has something to lose though. A thing I found:

    "Some states (as is the case in Florida) require the subpoenaing party to first file a Notice of Intent to Serve Subpoena, or a Notice of Production from Non-Party ten days prior to issuing the subpoena, so that the other party may have ample time to file any objections."

    "Also, the party being subpoenaed has the right to object to the issuance of the subpoena, if it is for an improper purpose, such as subpoenaing records that have no relevance to the proceedings, or subpoenaing persons who would have no evidence to present, or subpoenaing records or testimony that is confidential or privileged."

    It is difficult to win a stubborn, unwilling witness. Except if you black-mail him. You have something on him and he wants to keep it dearly for himself. Then, he weighs the goods and the bads, and suddenly becomes willing. ;) (That's how they do it in the movies).

    Truth to be told, I don't know what's your story or your evidence for probable cause, or generally what is going on so this is difficult to answer. Can you debrief me? Just write down:
    1) what the case is about,
    2) what the suspect has done,
    3) how the witness is connected to the suspect and where she was on the time of the crime,
    4) why she changed her mind and
    5) what evidence the prosecutor has to build his case.

    I think that after this information I will be able to comprehend in depth the situation as to give a straight answer. I don't know who your readers are. In case they are professionally into criminal law, you should follow their lead and ask them more details.
     
  24. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. Here is my scenario from the quote before:

    So how long would she wait after being rescued before she were to tell the police it was all roleplaying, and he sure that the lie would hold up? This will determine the prosecutor's actions I guess, based on what her actions would logically be.Basically the woman and the cop who stumbled upon the scene are the two main witnesses the prosecution has, and other officers that arrived on the scene after, can be witnesses too. But they would not have seen the actual blood in. They just would have arrived after the fake victim was free, and the suspect is secured.

    Basically I would like the case to go as far as a preliminary hearing, or grand jury hearing, or maybe even a deposition, cause that means I can have more plot. For example, the gang begins to worry, and goes after the woman member, to silence her from talking, thinking that her lies will not hold together, and she will say something that could backfire on the gang, and get them caught. and I can build a good amount of plot from that.

    But readers tell me that this case would not go as far as a preliminary hearing or a grand jury, and that the prosecutor would drop it right away, and therefore the villains would get away and the story is done too soon. But is there any reason why the prosecutor would take it that far by any chance?
     
  25. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I offer you trail mix and chocolate as you go down this long lonely path.

    And I try hard not to follow.
     
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