1. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    how do I get this to feel real?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ettina, May 9, 2012.

    In one of my stories, the protagonist is a member of a race of elf-like beings who have power over moonlight and usually act as servants/bodyguards/healers to vampires. When he was a kid (about 8 in human terms) his parents died in a car accident, and this one vampire who was an associate of theirs took him in, and has been a pretty good parent ever since.

    At the start of the story, he's in his teens, and the vampire guy feeds on a guy who just happens to be best friends with a vampire slayer. The slayer comes after him and jabs a silver stake after him, he blocks and the stake goes into his eye. The protagonist pulls the stake out and rushes the vampire to another moonlighter to heal him, while the slayer, assuming the vampire is dead (you don't have to hit the heart if you use a silver weapon, any really serious wound could be fatal) runs off.

    The part I'm struggling with? The vampire gets brain damage (the stake went straight through his eye and took out some of his brain - by the way vampire physiology has a bunch of important differences from human, too much to get into now). At first they don't realize it, because he's so drained by the silver that he just spends most of his time sleeping. But when he starts to recover his strength, they discover that he's lost the ability to talk or write.

    I've got a reasonably good idea of how the protagonist will react long-term - he'll start hunting the slayer, avoiding his adoptive father so he doesn't have to deal with the disability, and then the other moonlighter will confront him on it and he'll start coming to terms with the way his adoptive father has changed - but I'm really struggling with how to show when he first finds out. (Right now the other moonlighter has figured it out and is going to tell him when he comes home.) I keep writing the scene and it keeps coming out fake. Should he rant and yell a bunch? Should he cry? Should he just sit there numbly, and then abruptly run out?
     
  2. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    This is a common problem with writers. We have point A and B already planned out but everything in between is up in the air.

    By reading your description I am a little confused with what is going on. I understand how the vampire becomes disabled and it is an interesting concept. In mainstream vampire stories they are revived after a feeding. I interpret your story as the vampire being human but needing blood to survive.

    Long term you have to write your ideas on paper line by line.
    1. He will start hunting the slayer. Why? To avenge his adoptive father? Is it a personal revenge? It is the only thing he feels has meaning to his life?
    2. Avoiding his adoptive father because of dealing with the disability. Is it a hardship? Does he feel that there is more to life than taking care of an elder? Does he feel imprisoned and wants to run away?
    3. Other Moonlighter. How did they meet? Is there a connection between the two of them by relationship, family, or past experience? Is he older or younger?

    There are questions you need to answer before you find an idea that would work.

    The other moonlighter could wonder why the protagonist is off on his own at a young age or question he lifestyle and what he is running from. The protagonist could avoid the conversation until the moonlighter speaks about his personal experiences.

    If he cries it is from guilt. Is the protagonist guilty of leaving his adoptive father? (Especially because he is his only family).
    Does the other moonlighter know the vampire personally or the protagonist's family?
    If he rants and yells why is he angry? Did the moonlighter agitate the protagonist?

    Sitting there numbly and running about is a childish way of dealing with problems. I would stray away from this because it is not a realistic thing. I could see the him crying, ranting in hysteria and running away afraid of his life or afraid of what he has done.

    What does the protagonist do to fix his relationship issues?
     
  3. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Well, you can go with any of the above and many other ways like anger, depression, and so on depending on how you want to built the mental toughness of your character. Think of it as a chance to make your character a rounded one because how a character faces personal tragedy is a window to a true side of his/her personality. A character who appears to be mentally tough most of the time may cry like a baby when faced with such tragedy, and a weak and quite character may be able to accept the tragedy pretty quickly showing signs of his mental toughness.

    In the ways you have listed, if the yelling and the crying is done in front of his adopted father it would suggest he is unable to cop with it. So, do that if that's what you want to go with the character's personality. At the opposite end, he might not show any such signs and just act normal in front of his adopted father which is his way of comforting his father. Of course he is sad and he may cry or even yell privately. You can also take a middle path, like he is holding his father's hands and tears are flowing, but he is calm and offering words of comfort.

    I said yelling is okay, but I have to include words of warning about it as well; DO NOT make it over dramatic. Don't use stilted dialogues like "God, why is this happening to my family!" Or, " Punish me instead of my father!"... Instead he may yell at the nurse/servant attending his father for some petty reasons like keeping the windows open.
     
  4. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    I am not sure what you are asking for, regarding the title of the post. I got lost in a little bit of your description. It seems to me, at first, you are asking whether or not the brain damage situation is real or you seem to be struggling to make the concept behind the consequence of the action real? Sure, a re-directed attack could stab the eye, and could cause brain damage but if you were trying to enhance the realness, wouldn't a blow to the head in a scuffle seem more logical? Or, as I read live's reply, are you trying to create a real reaction based on the transformation of the adoptive parent and his relationship to his step-son? In my opinion, the reaction should be focused on the relationship, and not exactly a reaction to the trauma his adoptive parent experienced.

    Personally, I am also not sure why the Prot would avoid his step-father, especially if he believes him to be his real father. Unconditional love between parents and their children dictates that your Prot would instinctually try to spend as much time with the parent or loved one as possible, to nurture and take care. If my dad suffered a traumatic injury, I would most certainly not avoid him. The pain would result from me feeling sympathy for my father, and the condition he is in. Live was definitely on point about the guilt though. IF your Prot does abandon the father, for lack of a better word, then he will logically feel guilty for doing so. He is now faced with the inner conflict between taking on the responsibility of caring for his parent, while also needing to avenge his father's attacker.

    Now, another thought, as I brainstorm this out, let us say your Prot goes out to hunt this slayer unaware of his father's trauma and state. On his return and upon finding out, the guilt could very well crush him, all at once, in an overwhelming display. If this is the case, heed Killbill's advice and stifle the dramatics. You do not want to over do it, and make it seem like you are trying too hard. Treading that path is surely the quickest way to cheapening its realness. Another path you could chose to walk, is one that involves him being unaware it is an adoptive parent, and when he finds out the person is not his father, he becomes angry and resentful, to compensate for the sadness of never knowing his real father.
     
  5. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your post was hard to follow, e.g. how can he rant if he can't speak? (and won't it be hard having a protagonist who can't speak or write at all?) Also, why would he avoid his adoptive father, I thought you said he was a good parent? (among other questions)
     
  6. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    OK, I'll try to make it clearer. Here is the main cast:

    Nertal - the protagonist, teenaged moonlighter, adoptive son of Abdul

    Abdul - vampire, adoptive father of Nertal, he gets stabbed by a slayer and gets brain damage

    Korik - the older moonlighter, friend of Abdul's and often helps him out with Nertal, now taking care of both of them in the aftermath of Nertal's injury

    I'm asking how to make Nertal react realistically to finding out that Abdul has lost the ability to speak.

    I'm planning to have him avoiding Abdul somewhat because he doesn't know how to communicate with Abdul and being reminded of Abdul's injury upsets him. He won't be completely apart from Abdul, just looking for excuses not to spend time with him. One of his excuses is trying to find the slayer and kill him, which is partly for revenge and partly practical because if the slayer realizes Abdul survived, he'll come finish the job.

    Right now, he's too young to take care of Abdul, so he's not trying to avoid a caregiving role. (He will, several years later, end up caring for Abdul - he and Abdul have a cameo in another story set ten years later.) Korik will be caring for both of them until Nertal reaches adulthood.

    He also feels guilty because he and Abdul argued a lot (normal teen stuff) and because when the slayer knocked on the door, Abdul (not knowing who it was) asked Nertal to get the door and Nertal refused.
     
  7. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    I think you're asking the wrong question.

    You shouldn't be looking at a recognized reality here, but rather what are the taboos and social mores in their world.

    For example, if I asked an elf what his favorite football team was, he probably wouldn't say 'The Green Bay Packers.' But he might say 'The Rainbow Bridge Succubi.' (Or whatever the plural of 'succubus' might be, I've never watched them play.)

    Maybe the first born elves always have to marry their sisters in a bizarre application of primogeniture. Maybe there are vegatarian vampires. It's a fantasy.
     
  8. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    It's set in our world, except there's a Masquerade. Besides, grief is similar across cultures - even great apes feel grief in a similar way to humans (Koko's reaction to the death of All Ball, for example).
     
  9. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    If there's a deep fantasy aspect, then the location becomes moot. There would still be mores within that group as with any other cloistered society.
     
  10. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    But how is this relevant? I want advice on realistic grieving, not on something highly culture-dependent.
     
  11. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    Honestly, I am sure you have grieved over something in the past. Authors sometimes draw from experience in order to create a realistic expression, to identify with the character and so the reader can relate. Look at how you dealt with things in the past. Grieving shows up in different forms, but the causes usually are always the same. Something happens that causes dramatic pain. Only you can decide how your character is going to react because you know them much, much better than we do.
     
  12. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    I re-read your OP again, and I got the same feeling as before. While you might have indeed felt the main initial thrust of the story was 'grieving,' I saw the tale spin within the confines of fantasy. In other words, the structure you described over-powered the emotional intent and the tale became more ethereal.

    That's not to say that the emotional content was rendered meaningless, but what I read was more the backstory than the tale you wanted to tell as the most important aspect.

    Let me give you an example. You first see Darth Vader walking through the smoke of an attack. Most people saw him as a super villain with a cold heart and a murderous intent. Two decades later we find that he is a broken hearted suitor grieving the loss of his true love.

    Now, the was the intent, to tell a story of redemption by first showing the character's deepest fall. But the trappings of that initial scene completely disguised the the real emotional underpinnings.

    You wanted to show sadness, I saw elves.
     
  13. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    I can understand this. Many people avoid facing the music which they know is inevitable but they don't have the courage to accept it. The lack of courage may be intrinsic nature of the person (some people are just born that way) or, it may be temporary because things happened too suddenly and he just needed some time to come to terms with events. The later case seems to fit your protag's actions because he returned back to take care of Abdul. This brings us to another layer you can add to your protag's character development later in the story- his guilt for not being there for Abdul from the beginning.
     
  14. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I understand a little more. Like Tourist, I saw mostly the fantasy angle and couldn't see that grieving was the main focus.

    Actually, although grieving is a universal (human) state, in fact, it is dealt with quite differently in various cultures, e.g in some cultures it is taboo to mention a dead person's name. Where I live, people feel it is best to remove all reminders of a dead person, like clothes, and they also get rid of things like football trophies if someone is disabled in a traffic accident. In the UK, people seem to do the opposite, with memory boxes, etc.

    So, basically, I think you need to decide: are you going to have an oriental, acceptance-don't-question-fate type reaction, or an extravagant reaction to grief, or whatever. Given that your characters are not human, I personally think it would be interesting to have social pressures on the character to behave in a manner that is normal to their society, but a little strange and a-typical for an American or western European person. Vampire stories with characters behaving exactly like Americans at high school bore the pants off me (naming no names).

    I also recommend that there is some way the MC can communicate, or I think it will be too hard to convey interaction--it will be too much inner dialogue etc. Maybe the MC could recover very slightly as the story goes on--it is better to have an aim for the character to progress towards, as well, i.e. being able to take a place in society again eventually. After an accident like you describe, the brain does sometimes regain some function, in fact, as far as I remember from various articles I've read. You can look up articles on people who have regained function after being lobotomised at a young age, if you like.

    But it's up to you.
     
  15. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Hmmm. I wonder if you could do both, just flip initial paragraphs or chapters. Let me explain.

    I took journalism courses in high school. We were taught to make the important events into a 'reverse pyramid.' The lead sentence and paragraph were the thrust of the article, but with each supporting paragraph used to expand the story of lesser necessity.

    The reason was that it was important to do the reporting, and for placement reasons, the story might have to be pruned down. They would just chop off the last paragrah, they did not re-write the story. They were under a deadline.

    Maybe that technique would work here. The opening of the story tells of the grief. It pulls the reader in with a powerful emotion to which they can identify. The tale then segues into information about the confines of the place, where it happens and why.

    And then, oh yes, they're elves. Would that work?
     
  16. MissRis
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    MissRis Contributing Member

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    Based on your OP -- I would imagine he would do all of these things. In psychology there are 7 stages of grief: 1) shock, 2) denial, 3) anger, 4) guilt, 5) sorrow/depression, 6) acceptance, and 7) engaging life.

    These don't just apply to death, but physical sickness, divorce, or whatever. The first stage shock can be in a number of situations. For example, when I found out my grandfather died suddenly (we were close) I was actually getting engagement photos down with my (now) husband. My mom called my cell and I actually collapsed and my husband had to carry me to the car. I couldn't stop crying. Some people might react more numbly -- just shocked (my mom did that). She didn't cry, ever.

    The rest of what you have described (the long term plan) he moves across the rest of the stages -- he hunts the slayer (anger), avoids the father (denial), etc.
     
  17. Luna13
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    Luna13 Active Member

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    If the protagonist is avoiding the vampire because of his disability, then chances are he will feel somewhat guilty for abandoning him when he is most needed.

    For the scene when he finds out, I would do a moment or two of shocked disbelief, and then have him try to argue it: "no, it can't be," stuff like that. Then eventually he accepts it and begins to cry.
     
  18. Gonissa
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    Gonissa Contributing Member

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    It sounds like the dude would be too busy helping his dad to go on a revenge spree.
     
  19. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    I thought I'd already made this clear, but...

    It's not the MC who has the disability. It's his adoptive father.
     
  20. smackrabbits
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    smackrabbits New Member

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    Have you thought about looking up some documentaries dealing with disabilities and coping with the changes they cause? I can't think of any absolutely relevant ones off the top of my head, but Louis Theroux did one on dementia fairly recently which could perhaps help? Just a thought, but there's sure to be something relevent out there which might help you out. Inspiration is everywhere maaaaaaan.
     
  21. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    @ Ettina:
    Quote
    Nertal - the protagonist, teenaged moonlighter, adoptive son of Abdul
    Abdul - vampire, adoptive father of Nertal, he gets stabbed by a slayer and gets brain damage
    Korik - the older moonlighter, friend of Abdul's and often helps him out with Nertal, now taking care of both of them in the aftermath of Nertal's injury
    I'm asking how to make Nertal react realistically to finding out that Abdul has lost the ability to speak.

    Not, your notes weren't very clear. I thought 'Nertal's injury' meant the brain damage. And slightly weird names all of two syllables don't make things any better. I just missed out on the 'Abdul' bit.
     
  22. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I recommend you establishing the behaviors of people in the world you've created. how things work and how people react. if they react as we normally do, then the next best thing would be for you to evaluate how deep of a connection the protagonist had with his adoptive father as well as the type of person the protagonist is. Is he emotional? Is he serious? Is he reserved? Did he have a strong emotional bond with the father or was it moreso "thanks for taking me in the way you have."
     
  23. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm afraid I took a big detour right from the start with the 'making it believable' issue. And that is the "... race of elf-like beings who have power over moonlight". I immediately began to wonder to what extent they had power over the moon and, if they could bend the light, or, essentially control the moon's effect on the planet. If so, how does that work if, say, one of these people wants to control it to one extent or effect but another chooses to cause some other effect? Isn't there a major conflict here?
    As far as your character's loss is concerned, I think Miss Riz has pretty much got that nailed down for you. A loss of abilities, particularly any of the senses, will be felt like a loss of life. In fact, a piece of that character's life HAS been lost and he will respond accordingly. And how long it takes him to move through each step of this grieving process is going to be unique to him alone.
     

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