1. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    How can I make my protagonist interesting?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ryan Elder, May 4, 2015.

    I have an idea for a thriller about a high school girl who becomes very lonely because she cannot get any guys and is a target for bullying or just not popular. Her loneliness and angst towards the opposite sex causes her to go crazy and take desperate measures., including murder.

    She is the antagonist though and the police detective, investigating the case, is the protagonist and it's told from his point of view for most of it. Halfway through the story, she ends up killing a close friend of the cop's and he wants revenge, and comes up with scheme, using her own weaknesses against her, to get it.

    However, before this happens and he has no reason to get revenge for the first half, I am not sure what approach to take to make this protagonist interesting. He should probably have a psychological and/or moral flaw that is within similar theme's to the villains, but does anybody have any ideas as to what that could be? Or some sort of personal drive or goal. How I can make him compelling for the first half, rather than just another run of the mill cop, assigned to a case?
     
  2. Masked Mole
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    Masked Mole Contributing Member

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    Here are some options I thought up. These are just my two cents worth.
    1. The detective still harbors anger against shallow females that he encountered in high school. (Reverse of the antagonist)
    2. The detective realizes that he was just like the people that drive her crazy. (He remembers bullying unpopular kids) This creates a sense of confusion, because he discovers that he's the "bad guy" too. That would be a cool moral issue to explore.
    3. The detective could be some sort of specialist in psychology or counseling, and that would provide a unique opportunity to get inside the antagonist's head. Maybe he could persuade the antagonist to stop killing at the end of the story.
    Hope that helps.
    MM
     
  3. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. I was thinking of the first 2 actually before. However, there is already another cop character on the case who has suffered similarly who has his own intentions towards the case. If I have two cops like that, I feel the characters may be too similar, or it could come off as repetitive. What do you think?

    I wasn't planning on the detective being psychology specialist though, and that would change a lot of the approach around though.

    A couple of friends (who have no writing experience though), read my story outline and they said I should make the secondary cop the main character, because his personal drive with the case is more interesting. I thought about it, but in order to have the ending I want, it could create a plothole though if I did that.

    One way to go may be to have two cops who suffer from the same flaw but is that repetitive?
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel that your antagonist is insufficiently motivated here. Simple adolescent angst isn't going to cause a person to "go crazy" and commit murder.

    Why should it be similar?

    The moral flaw that I already see in your character is his desire to get revenge, rather than follow the law that he is employed to protect. Is this belief that he is above law and society an ongoing thing for him?

    However, I think that the biggest issue is the antagonist, not the protagonist.
     
  5. Masked Mole
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    Masked Mole Contributing Member

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    Ryan Elder,
    I agree that if you have a similar character already, it would be repetitive.
    In a way, if the protagonist was a psychological expert it would be even more compelling. Then he would be able to analyze both the antagonist and his cop partner.
    I think an ending where the protagonist "talks down" the killer would be really fascinating. Again, just my opinion.
    Another thing I thought of is making the protagonist an outsider of sorts who never experienced conventional public school (for instance, he was homeschooled, sent off to boarding school, etc.). That way, this case would be especially demanding for him, because he wouldn't be used to thinking of education a certain way.
    OR you could have the cop be a parent of a child that goes to that high school. That would make the stakes even higher. I would enjoy reading a story like that.
    MM
     
  6. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. I don't know if I can have the protagonist be a parent because he is going to take revenge in the end, but if he's a parent, then he will not have as much drive for revenge, cause if he is caught and goes to jail, he leaves his kid behind, and he has to be all in for the last half pretty much.

    The cop, is not really his partner, but more like just another cop on the team of investigators. They do not spend a lot of time together actually, cause they are both busy in different areas of the case. Let's call him Cop B and the protagonist Cop A. Cop B, on his own time actually becomes romantically involved with the antagonist, because of his personal issues and feels connected with her. But he ends up being as as a result of his actions, tragedy strikes and someone is killed. Cop B then feels personally responsible and tries to make things right but ends up being killed himself. That's what causes Cop A to want revenge, and Cop A is unaware of Cop B's involvement with her, but finds out later.

    I was told by a couple of friends that I should make Cop B the main character, and have Cop A, and Cop B feels responsible and takes revenge. However, I do not really have a reason for Cop A to be killed though, so perhaps I should just stick to the original idea. What do you think?

    As far as the villain not being motivated enough, most movie serial killers do not have a lot of motivation for doing what they do. Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, and John Doe from Seven did not have that strong of motivation, they just had a lot of passion. I don't think my character is less motivated then them, or is she?
     
  7. Masked Mole
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    Masked Mole Contributing Member

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    Ryan,
    Wow. That's quite a story you have on your hands. It sounds like a real thriller.
    To me, it's not a huge deal if the protagonist is a fairly average police officer. Every story needs a "straight man", and you shouldn't be afraid if the main character is that way. In my opinion, the plot is definitely interesting enough that the protagonist doesn't have to be all that extraordinary. It might actually require a normal guy to balance things out.
    That's definitely enough motivation. I would suggest having her recall specific episodes of bullying/discouragement though (if you aren't already). That creates more sympathy and understanding in the reader.
    You could play also up the killer's influence on an everyday guy by making the protagonist kind of consumed by his revenge. Just a thought.
     
  8. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. How do you make a straight man interesting though for the first half? I was actually thinking of making him so that he was the opposite of the villain. Mr. popular with the opposite sex and this causes him to have some sort of revalation but I am not sure how this will make for an compelling character. Cause being Mr. popular is not exactly a flaw as compelling as the other cop though.
     
  9. Masked Mole
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    Masked Mole Contributing Member

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    Ryan,
    I actually think that works, in many ways. He would kind of struggle with understanding how Cop B ever became romantically involved with the killer. He would see the antagonist as some sort of "sorceress", if you get my drift. Since he isn't attracted to that kind of woman, he couldn't see how anyone would be.
    That also increases his disgust for her when he takes revenge, I guess.
    I agree that he isn't as inherently fascinating as the other characters, but not everyone can be the drama star. You have a really good story here, and I would read it if the main character was just an average Joe.
     
  10. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. However, if he feels that the antagonist is disgusting or revolting though, this could be a weakness, because then he does not empathize with the antagonist. This could cause the audience to think he taking his revenge in a shallow way perhaps?
     
  11. Masked Mole
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    Masked Mole Contributing Member

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    I agree that it shows a lack of empathy, but that's kinda what revenge is all about. Vengeance shows a complete lack of remorse.
    Making the antagonist that way is certainly a bold path, but I find it interesting. That way, everyone in the story has their own flaws. There's a killer, a sucker, and a vengeful cop. That sounds like an exciting read. Obviously, the direction is your choice in the end though. That's about the best I can do for now though. I hope I helped you find something good.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Quoted from wikipedia about Buffalo Bill:

    abandoned by his mother — an alcoholic prostitute
    traumatic childhood
    Billy was not born a criminal, but made one by years of systematic abuse


    It's harder to find information about John Doe on a quick Google run, but there are various mentions of child abuse in that case as well.

    I think that she is less motivated. "Child abuse" is a quick and sloppy reason, but it's one that makes more sense than, "unpopularity". A person's personality develops through childhood, and abuse can twist that development. For an otherwise normal girl to go "crazy" because boys don't like her in high school just isn't enough. Unpopularity and bullying can be a trigger, but there needs to be something more. Thousands, hundreds of thousands, of high school students are bullied, lonely, and rejected by the opposite sex. There has to be a reason why this one turned to murder.
     
  13. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    She's a high school student. She's a minor. I would really hope that that, rather than her level of popularity, would be the issue of concern about a relationship between her and the cop.

    Edited to add:

    However, Ryan, do I remember that you had other issues where you weren't sure why someone would reveal something, do something, you needed a blackmail source, etc.? Was that you?

    A relationship between a cop and a high school student sounds like a very likely way to get that cop fired and perhaps criminally charged. If his partner knows and doesn't report the situation, he could also be fired. There are a lot of secrets to keep in that situation. Those could explain lot of otherwise inexplicable behaviors. It makes both cops pretty strongly into bad guys, but bad guys have been protagonists plenty of times.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2015
  14. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. Yes that blackmail source was for a different idea, but I couldn't get that idea to hold together so I put off for now.

    I will work in some more reasons for her. I was told by one writer, that I should just have her be a mysterious character, and have it not explained, like some movie villains. But if that doesn't work, then I could work something more in. She doesn't even need to be in high school per say. Perhaps it would work better if she were older, cause she has had time to experience more rejection?

    For the protagonist though, I will have to still think of something to do with him for first half. Just because he can get women I still feel I need to something more, if I am to explore him as Mr. popular.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2015
  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's still not enough to make her insane. I'm getting a slightly offended-as-a-woman feeling here. Would you see a man easily going insane and becoming a murderer because women reject him? If so, at least you're being evenhanded. :) But I don't feel that either men or women are normally that unbalanced.

    What's the value of Mr. Popular again?

    Also, I added to my previous post.
     
  16. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. I answered your added question in the previous post, unless you added more, but I don't see any :). Well I thought that the protagonist being Mr. popular way before, would cause the villain to target him but as I went on the further create the story, it's really him who targets her more in the last half, so not sure if it does a lot of good now. I guess I can still use it maybe, just not sure how.
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel that the good and bad guys are getting muddled here. Your protagonist's partner targeted a vulnerable minor for a sexual relationship. That went bad and the partner died. So your protagonist wants revenge against the vulnerable minor.

    Yes, I know that the character I'm calling a vulnerable minor is the one that you're presumably calling a psychotic killer. However, taking advantage of a high school student is NOT making the dead friend look good.

    (Well, that's...interesting. The spell checker tried to correct "student" to "studnet." In what world is the second one the more common choice?)
     
  18. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. However, the protagonist is not aware of the relationship, and he thinks he would be avenging an innocent person.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    He's still trying to get revenge on a minor, though. If you want him to seem one step closer to neatly moral, you might be better off to make her an adult.
     
  20. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks, I will.
     
  21. Spencer Rose
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    It seems are though you've made up your mind regarding the high school girl, but something popped into my mind and I thought I'd share.

    Outcasts and "social rejects" are commonplace in the high school environment, these people tend to blend into the woodwork more than stand out, especially in larger schools. I'm not sure how "dark" you're willing to go, but my idea goes as follows.

    High school girl is raped by father/stepfather from a young age, repeatedly, she tells her mother but due to blind devotion and plain denial mother ignores these claims. Girl is left feeling hopeless and alone. Eventually, she confides this information to someone, perhaps her only real friend. Said "friend" spreads the rumor through school that high school girl sleeps with her dad. Instant rejection from her peers, cutting of all male attention, resulting in utter humiliation. Word of this reaches the school faculty, where cop A steps in to take over the investigation. The girl becomes enamored with him and him affections, but when he crosses the line and tries to take it "further" she snaps and kills him.

    I'm not a professional by any stretch of the imagination, but giving your villain a sympathetic background not only makes her more relatable, but more believable, and her extreme reactions more plausible.

    Just my lousy two cents. ;)
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2015
  22. animenagai
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    I like the general premise of the story! Here's a few suggestions:

    On the girl:

    I agree that high school angst is not enough, and there's also a moral issue here. Do you really want a female character who's crazy because guys didn't like her in school? That strongly suggests that her self worth revolves around being popular with boys. And she's just like this without any sort of trigger? That's kinda sexist and unrealistic. You need to replace her motivation with something bigger. Enter trauma. If you're worried that sexual abuse is too cliche for this, you can always change gears. I'm sure you're creative enough to find something.

    On the protagonist:

    Joseph Campbell has a list of roles your cast of characters should fill. One of these is the shadow -- a character who's almost the opposite to your main character. The shadow's job is to create a lot of conflict with the protagonist. In Harry Potter, it's Draco Malfoy/Voldemort. In Star Wars, it's Darth Vader. In Pride and Prejudice, it's Mr. Darcy. The way I see it, the shadow should be very different from the main character, but not so different that they can't relate with each other. He/she is often the character your protagonist is afraid of becoming. If the author wanted to, he/she would make the shadow say "we're not so different, you and I" and it'll work, cheese aside.

    So, you've got a female character who's killed someone and the story revolves around that point, right? Well, maybe she's the shadow then. So if you flip things around, your main character could be someone who's experienced similar trauma (loneliness, bullying, maybe even sexual assault), but dealt with things better than the girl.

    If you want, you can also make your protagonist's personal struggles the underlying theme of the piece. Campbell, Dwight Swain and other scholars of storytelling have claimed that a story should be about the main character and his/her inner journey. Why is Harry, Luke or Elizabeth the main characters of their story? Well, because their stories are essentially about their growth. Should your story do the same? Your call.

    I hope that was helpful. Food for thought :)
     
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  23. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. I didn't think that her becoming a killer out of loneliness and jealousy, was sexist. Because we have a male character, the cop, who is affectionate towards her and feels they are the same. So I didn't think it was sexist since there is a male character with similar problems to balance it out.

    However, I thought it might be best to make my main character the opposite of the villain and have him be Mr. popular with the opposite sex. This can also give the villain a sense of jealousy and make him a personal target for her as well, because of it.

    What is the difference between the shadow of a the protagonist, and the antagonist of the protagonist? Is the it the same thing usually?

    Also, I have been thinking of when to introduce the protagonist's flaw of being Mr. popular, to the audience. Should I introduce this really early on, or later, if it means that the pacing of the first act structure will better? I thought of a first act where most of it is very plot oriented at the start. The villain does her thing, and the cops go into action, investigating it, and trying to catch her, since they think she will do it again, since it's following a pattern. I have written a few drafts of the first act, and it starts off with the main character cop on his job, thrust into duty. I can introduce his love interest on around page 20, and him being Mr. popular by how he entices her immediately upon meeting. Or I can move that same scene to around page 26.

    Not sure if that makes much difference, but in the audiences eyes, is it the sooner I get to protagonist's flaw, the better? I could introduce it a lot sooner, it's just I feel if I concentrate on the murder case for the first 20 pages, then it starts off with a bang, with a lot of plot oriented scenes. It also just flows better, because the villains problem of loneliness and jealousy is established, before the protagonist being Mr. popular is. But I could start out with that seduction scene, introducing the love interest on page 20, or continue with the investigation and have more plot turns first, and wait till page 26 before moving onto the protagonist's flaw, or opposite of what the villain is. What do you think?
     
  24. MilesTro
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    I agree. The hero should be the opposite of the villain. Show him how typically popular he is, until he is faced with the conflict.
     
  25. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I suppose whether it's sexist depends on whether you would find it realistic for a boy or man to similarly become a killer due to a lack of female attention. Either way, I find it unrealistic that a person would lose their sanity simply due to insufficient attention from the opposite sex.
     

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