1. Amai
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    Amai Member

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    How do I make my emotionless protagonist interesting?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Amai, Jan 18, 2014.

    Okay, so my main protagonist is a genetically modified soldier.
    He was born on a planet that was basically a giant scientific research facility. His father stole and stored the latest combat technology into him just before he died and did not atatch him to the system.
    But when the protagonist finds this out he is too deeply in love with a girl to care about the fact that the world around him was an illusion, he just wanted to stay safe with her.
    She wants him to use his strength to help the people of neon. And when a security bot manages to track him down she gets killed in the crossfire which makes him determined to live up to her wish.

    Basically from there he saves neon then goes on into my fictional universe to complete more obligational tasks.
    but he has no drive, after seeing the love of his life die before his eyes as well as killing the amount of people he'd killed he doesn't show his emotions at all.

    I want people to be able to like my character but also be able to keep his "pokerface" element. So that later on in the story when he finds his drive and he pushes his body and his sanity to the edge to achieve it that there's a noticeable difference.
     
  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Let's do a bit of brainstorming here.

    First off ...I presume that he showed emotion before his girlfriend was killed? That the love he had for her was obvious? I'm not sure if what you've said about what happened to her is backstory, or is it part of the ongoing story? In other words, does your story begin with the period where he's not showing emotion?

    If we have already been 'with' this character while he's been in love, then had to endure watching the love of his life die, then he will already have our total sympathy, and ...depending on how you've depicted him, of course ...we will already like him. In fact, we'll not only understand his withdrawal and pain, but we'll be rooting for him to heal.

    I presume that he has just sublimated his agony, and is going through the motions of doing what he's expected to do? That he's not actually emotionless? It's the fact that he's been genetically modified that confuses me a bit. Is there some aspect to his modification that would allow him to voluntarily over-ride his emotions, or would make them actually shut down?

    If not, then we would see him as a human being, with all the capabilities of love and emotion that we all have.

    Are you writing this from your character's point of view? Or is he being 'seen' through somebody else's eyes? A mixture of the two might help. You could let us into his heart, and delve as deeply as you wish; at the same time, another character will see what he's like on the outside, and draw conclusions which might be either right or wrong.

    Can you give us a bit more detail, not about the plot, but about how you intend to write this? Specifically the point-of-view characters you plan to use, and also how much of what you've told us is backstory, and how much is 'real time' story? In other words, where does your Chapter One begin? What's happening in it?

    This sounds like it has tons of potential, by the way. I am personally drawn to characters who suffer deep pain because of personal loss and/or regret, but keep it hidden and 'soldier' on. This is a very compelling story situation, since we all want this person to heal and find a new source of happiness, or at least something that encourages acceptance of their unfortunate past, and allows them to move on with the rest of their lives.
     
  3. Amai
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    oh yeah, I never thought about the fact that people would see the before and after.

    The part about the genetic modifications is that it turns out later that the "advanced modifications" his father stole actually meant that it sacrificed the space most often used for lessening trauma in favor of enhanced reflex capabilities. meaning he feels everything. (which isn't revealed till much later)

    The story starts with him as a kid of about 8 years old and he's having flashbacks of his father's death. He's in the underground portion of the planet that functions as a place to raise the children as well as test them to see what sort of guinea pig they'll be when they reach full adult age.
    This gives me a chance to introduce the lover and other relationships that feature later in the story.

    The point of view changes definitely from him to another character who comes in much later on.
    But I haven't decided whether to change it in the meantime after his traumatic experience from Leuc's point of view to more of the point of view of leuc's combat visor, or to the point of view of one of his companions. (But it's just hard to choose one companion that stands out from the six of them)

    Besides that, there are a lot of different points of view which I haven't quite figured out how to manage.
    There are parts from a group of characters before him as well as the segments featuring the Antagonist's childhood, life and perspective.
    But that's some other complicated stuff I'll need to figure out somewhere down the track

    So basically people are supposed to think that Leuc has just gone stone cold, doesn't feel a thing and is just a completely unbreakable machine. While still showing with minor actions that there's still a person in there somewhere.

    And I'm sorry I was really vague, the only part that was backstory was the part about his father, the rest is real time.
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2014
  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Right, there are a couple of ways I can think of to approach this.

    First of all, have you written any of it yet? If you haven't, I think you need to start doing actual writing, not just planning.

    However, the good news is, you don't need to start at the beginning at all. In fact, since you're not sure how to portray this character yet, I would start WITH the character doing something, so you can get into the flow of how to write him.

    Pick a scene that you think will happen somewhere after the trauma occurs. It can be any scene, but it needs to involve Leuc and another character. In this scene, Leuc is behaving as if he has no feelings.

    Now if it's written from his point of view, he will probably KNOW he has feelings, but he is either hiding them from others while feeling them strongly himself, or he is having to constantly block them even from himself, otherwise he risks breaking down in public.

    Little things might threaten this block. He might see something that reminds him either of his lover herself, or of the moment she died. He'll need to keep strong control, and come up with some way to return his brain to neutral. We've all been there, haven't we? Something reminds us of something upsetting or sad, but we're 'in company' and can't let our feelings show. How do we accomplish this?

    If he is simply hiding his feelings from others instead, but allowing himself to feel them, his control will be different. It will be a conscious effort to present a mask to the world. Therefore, instead of blocking feelings (by thinking of something else, or whatever he might do to take his mind off them) he will instead concentrate on the way he's behaving in front of other people.

    Either way, he will occasionally slip up.

    It's up to you, the writer, whether he notices he's slipped or not. If he does notice, he'll be taking extra care afterwards to not slip up again—as well as trying to divert attention from whatever he's just said or done that reveals he has feelings.

    By the way, I didn't ask ...would anyone punish him or would he suffer any social or political consequences if he does slip up? Or is this just a private thing he's doing, blocking pain?

    Okay, the other thing you can do (and you can do both, if you write two scenes back-to-back) is write this scene from the point of view of somebody who is with him during the scene's action. What does Leuc say or do, that leads this other person to believe he has no feelings ...OR ...leads them to notice Leuc has slipped up, and has revealed feelings after all?

    And what impact does this slipup have on the other character? Is this character Leuc's friend, who is glad to realise there is indeed a 'human' underneath that mask of indifference? Or maybe it's somebody who is less of a friend? Somebody who might profit from knowing that Leuc is a lot more vulnerable than he'd like to appear?

    Do keep in mind that you have to keep a consistent point of view during any given scene. You can't jump back and forth. If you're in Leuc's POV, you will only see and feel what he is seeing and feeling. Same applies to the other person, if he's the POV character watching Leuc. This other person can guess at Leuc's state of mind, depending on Leuc's behavior, but he won't KNOW it for sure. You can never be sure what somebody else is thinking. You can only guess, based on what you know of them, and what they say and do.

    By this, I mean you can't have the POV character watching Leuc, and thinking something like: Leuc felt upset. Leuc might LOOK like he's upset—and it's a good idea to show us what Leuc does that leads the other character to this conclusion (Leuc's cheeks flushed and he turned away) rather than tell us (Leuc looked upset)—but the other character won't be inside Leuc's head, so he won't know Leuc's state of mind for sure. He can only guess by what he sees.

    To visualise this scene for yourself to write, put yourself in Leuc's shoes (boots, whatever!) If you were numb with grief, or grieving but wanting to hide your grief from others, how would you behave?

    Keep in mind that old adage: still waters run deep. This implies that people who feel emotions very strongly generally do NOT show them very often, or exhibit them to the world. These people have a lot to lose, and they know it. It's the shallow people, people who don't feel deeply, who tend to make a lot of noise—mainly because they don't care who knows, because nothing really matters all that much, and they can't really be hurt by other people's opinions. It's like the difference between a deep lake of emotion and a babbling, shallow stream that doesn't hide much.

    Anyway, the thing to do that will focus this aspect of your story is to WRITE part of it. See what happens. See how you feel about this character, and what you think is the easiest way to portray what you want the readers to absorb. Don't worry if the scene is out of chronological order, or even if you end up scrapping it. It's just to get a feel for your character and how to portray his state of mind. Give it a go.

    ............

    By the way, I have no idea what you mean: "...Leuc's point of view to more of the point of view of leuc's combat visor." If, by combat visor, you mean a high tech helmet with doo-dads attached, this can't be a point of view character, can it? Any more than a mirror can be a point of view character.
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2014
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  5. Amai
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    He's mainly not showing any emotion's because
    1. He doesn't want to put anyone he cares about in danger by hinting to the fact that he cares
    2. He feels he can't afford to have those who follow him realize he has flaws
    3. He see's and contributes to momentous amounts of death and destruction and doesn't know how to cope with it.

    And he is also taking a drug called Neuro-Plast which is injected directly into his brain and mimics neural pathways to block off area's that hinder and open up area's that increase performance. (This was less of a conscious choice and more something administered without his knowledge) So this allows him to keep it together, but doesn't make the pain any easier.

    And yeah, when I write I try to visualize everything from the person who's point of view it is. Though I've often managed to confuse people with what sometimes becomes and extreme tunnel vision.

    As for the effect on the other person, mostly it's just his close friends and companions who see this side of him on occasion. (If it's not a friend he'll either be too busy being cautious or too busy trying not to die) But since it doesn't happen often because he's usually too busy being the big tough boss, his companions usually just stand back and try not to mess with the moment.

    And the visor thing is just a concept I was playing with. Because he has an artificial intelligence inside his suit who was originally designed to keep track of his status. But after leuc having disabled that function, is basically another one of his companions who annoys him by stating the obvious in dangerous circumstances.

    I did a bit of writing as well. I tried doing a situation with him and the antagonist and then a situation where he shows he still cares. I'd post it in here but it might take up too much space. Though I suppose I could try attaching it to a post if anybody would actually want to see it?
     
  6. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    The answer is in point of view. Who cares that others in the story see him as emotionless? That's external. But internally, like everyone, he's reacting. His decision to suppress displays of emotion are an emotional choice. He's going to like things, be satisfied with things, fear others, etc. So in his POV he's anything but emotionless. And if we're in his POV as against yours, hearing you talk about him as an external observer, we know his emotions because you, by forcing the reader to make the same decisions, based on the situation as he sees it, will cause emotional interest in what's going to happen as a result of the protagonist's choices and expectations.

    To see how much POV influences how a reader sees the emotional part of the story you might check this article.
     
  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks for more explanation. And yes, of course, we'd like to see what you've written.

    However, I noticed you just joined yesterday. You need to have been a member of this forum for at least two weeks, and have done at least two reasonably lengthy critiques of OTHER people's work in the Workshop section, and have made at least 20 posts before you can post your own work for critique. Make sure you read the Important Information section in the submenu at the top of the window, so you don't get off on the wrong foot here!

    Looking forward to seeing what you've written, in two weeks' time?
     
  8. Amai
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    Amai Member

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    Thanks for the POV tips, I never really thought it was that much of a big deal as long as the story got told.

    And sorry, I didn't read the information. I assumed it was simply covering things like insulting other members and being polite and all that. Though I suppose I do sort of do this quite a lot. charge ahead without thinking too much (if at all). I'll go read all the rules now so I don't accidentally trip over another one before someone can advise me against it >_<
     
  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, fear not. Lots and lots of people start off on the forum, wanting to post their work right away. The mods and Daniel are working on a way to make the 'rules' for new members easier to spot.

    See what you can do about critiquing a few other people's work in the Workshop. It's where you make the best connections on the forum, and if you practice spotting what bits of other people's writing needs work, it will certainly help you with your own. You'll need to do two of these critiques for every item of your own that you post, so you might as well explore around, see what draws your eye.

    Good luck, and have fun!
     
  10. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Some great brainstorming here from @jannert, and @JayG makes a good point too. His reaction was much the same as my own.

    I'm curious about the reveal of his genetic 'enhancement.' You say he is aware of the modification when in the relationship, but doesn't care what's going on around him until his love dies.

    At this point is he fully aware of precisely how the modification affects him? (Losing the ability to ease trauma in order to boost other more soldierly qualities. That's quite the contradiction in practice... I love it.)

    I have a condition that affects my brain chemistry. I'm very aware of how it affects me. Drive is something my brain can't always muster, but being aware that this is the case, I choose to refute what my my brain is telling me, and force myself, otherwise I would constantly fail to live up to my potential. But, that said, I've had years of practice. Maybe that poker face you speak of is the equivalent of when I don a a 'mask.' I do it mostly for the comfort and convenience of others, perhaps fearing what they would think if they could really see what's going on. My normal behaviour might be perceived as erratic also, so I am well practiced at assuming a more neutral position and sticking to it. But, yes... like @jannert says, I slip up and I'm not always aware until I see recognition of the fact in the faces of those around me.

    Whenever he 'slips' and inadvertently gives away the fact there is more going on under the surface than meets the eye, whose POV would we be seeing that from...his, one of his companions, or a mixture of both?

    I think what I'm getting at is, over time, surely he would be aware to some degree of how he has been affected? Perhaps, the realisation that not only is he keeping a low profile in regards to what is going on with Neon because he just wants to be with his love, but also because he fears the possible trauma he might inflict on himself? And, if we are getting a good POV from him, we should have a reasonable idea what what's going on. So that makes me feel that the reveal as to just how severely he has been affected, should be more for the other characters benefits than his.

    If it were me writing this, (and I'll admit to being a bit envious, I rather like the idea) I would beef up one of his companions and use him/her as an alternative POV—have them be unaware, convinced to start with that he is stone cold, but express their opinion on his 'slips' through their POV, that make him/her start to doubt. You could play this any number of ways, depending on that characters disposition. A loyal sort would keep his secret, but would internally, and externally empathise and support him. An antagonist character could use it against him, leading to a nice bit of conflict.

    If for example, you want a happy resolution and perhaps him finding love again, a female companion would be just the ticket. We could see how their relationship grows as she is the only one who is truly aware of what he is going through. If you want mucho conflict, perhaps a companion who is envious, who starts to twig on that he can use the protags state of mind to advance his/her own ends. So many possibilities.

    Another thing to consider is given how the modifications work, as time passes, he would have a harder job keeping it all together. In the short term, it would produce a staggeringly able soldier, long term... he would come off as being utterly shell shocked, and I doubt there's much he could do to hide it. The effects of trauma can be cumulative, in much the same way the interactions of certain drugs are and, given the modification, it would be far more apparent and happen sooner rather than later.

    There is so much you could do with this. Like Jan, I'm looking forward to reading an excerpt. :D
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2014
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  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I like these ideas a lot. In fact, I am envious too—wish I was writing this. You've got the basis for a very deep and engaging story here - one that will work on a personal level, as well as whatever 'worldview' level you're creating.
     
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  12. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    My thoughts exactly. There's so much potential here. And if I may comment, Jan, (going back to brainstorming thread I've just left) I doubt I'd have been able to compose that reply if it wasn't for your influence. You've really helped me expand the way I look at things.
     
  13. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Awww ...fangs...
     
  14. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    I think the interest lies in the tine alone or whe. Je can let his defences down and we see how his actions effect him. His anger and saddness unleashed. No one else knows so he is still the hard poker face character. To care for a character we have to be emotionally invested. We need to understand him. After all it his emotions (although twisted) that got him there.
     
  15. maidahla
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    maidahla Active Member

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    What makes him insecure? In other words: vulnerable. I seriously love your story idea. It's ADORABLE.

    back to mc: He has something in common with his readers? Like a pumping heart capable of emotion? He's in love.. why? Is she hot? She likes him or not? Why does he not want to kill himself when he had the chance... genetic modification sounds like a pain.

    lol. You're so cuuuute.
     
  16. Amai
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    @obsidian_cicatrix
    Well the main problem about using one of the companions as a main POV is the fact that they all sort of compliment each other.
    So like, in Orphan (Which is the name of their group of six) there's;

    Hope - The ex assassin, and her partner Ora - an ex military medic.
    Lerix - A 14yo kid with deadly accuracy, his father figure Bull - Basically a walking tank.
    Emma - the technician, who has a thing for Leuc - The Ace/boss

    Besides the main group there's really only the pilot Darren, but that would sort of hinder the depth of the situation since he never really leaves his ship.

    I think I might switch between the companion's POV and try to use J.I.T.'s (The artificial intelligence in Leuc's suit) POV if I can in place of Leuc's. But there are some places where Leuc's POV will be necessary. (Even though Emma is into Leuc it doesn't work out)

    And the thing with the shellshock is that it really only comes in when he starts to ease himself off of the neuro-plast.
    The main thing about Leuc is he has an immense will, but little drive to speak of.
    Leuc is aware of everything that's going on around and inside him but he just chooses to keep it to himself.
    Which would kinda ruin the realization that he's not as modified as everyone believes he is which is why I'm hoping to avoid using his POV unless absolutely necessary.

    @SuperVenom
    Yeah he does lash out on occasion when the stakes are high enough, and without the smallest bit of regret because he's usually too busy focusing on the outcome.
    Also one thing I've noticed when I try to write him is that he's more a man of action. so while one person is going on a monologue he's either found an exit and swiftly used it, or he's planning his next move.

    @maidahla
    The things that make him vulnerable are;
    His friends,
    His People (The Neonites),
    (There's one main thing, it's major but it's a bit of a spoiler. I've avoided telling it quite a few times so far but it would help make sense of it as well. I just wanna know if anyone minds me telling this major spoiler?)
    And innocent people dying because of him (mainly when he feels it should've been him instead).

    One thing he has in common with people is that he is one thing, but he wants to be another. Leuc loves music and along his journeys he comes across a group of gypsies and falls in love with one of the women. But then the gypsies get attacked by men looking for Leuc so he leaves behind that chapter and the woman that he loved out of fear he'd bring the same fate to her and her people.

    Basically Leuc wants peace, but can't see it as a logical possibility.

    Him and Staria were childhood friends and then they met again when they were older and one thing just led to another.

    As for killing himself;
    At first he just wants to fulfill his dead lover's wish.
    Then once Neon was liberated he wanted to find out who his father was
    ...
    ...and then there's that spoiler again...
     
  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    To return to your original post for one last comment. You wanted to know how to make readers 'like' your character Leuc. The pokerface element you refer to will be how other CHARACTERS see him. We, the readers, need to see him as he actually is, if we're going to like him.

    The only way to do this, in my personal opinion, is to let us into his thoughts and feelings ...before and after the 'incident' of his lover's death ...by using his POV. If readers don't know how his background has affected him, and only see him through the eyes of his companions— behaving like a heartless machine all the time—we are NOT going to like him.

    I wouldn't make this into as big an obstacle as I think you may be doing. It's your task, as a writer, to make this inner/outer conflict work. But we, the readers, DO need to know the conflict exists.

    Good luck, and have fun ...and WRITE it!
     
  18. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Something that occurred to me, on reading your reply to my last post, is that for only having written a small portion, you seem very certain of several elements, but yet when it comes to the protagonist, you had to ask how to make him likeable. Perhaps your subconscious is trying to tell you something. ;)

    Like @jannert, I think you are creating obstacles for yourself. There's a terrific premise here already and I worry that you are unnecessarily complicating things.

    The one thing that never ceases to amaze me is how, very often, elements of a story need to be tinkered with and changed. When it comes to the alternate POV, you have told us who is in the group, but told us like it was set in stone. If an alternate POV is useful to you, simply change one of the existing characters, or even develop another to suit your needs.

    If you don't give me a window into Leuc's world, I will feel emotionally apart from him and as he's the main character, I honestly think it would be a mistake.

    This is going way off subject, but I'm trying to find an example to illustrate what I mean, and the only thing in my head right now relates to a video game I recently played.

    In the video game Dishonored, the player plays a character called Corvo Attano. He's the dead Empresses bodyguard, falsely accused of her murder, who joins a bunch of 'loyalists' in order to put her daughter on the throne. We never get a internal POV from him, only what he sees and hears. He is, for all intent and purposes, emotionally mute. During the course of the game he finds the assassin who murdered her, bests him, and then is given the choice whether he should spare him, or exact revenge.

    Then came the dlc. Instead of playing the character Corvo, the player instead takes control of the assassin, Daud, and follows his actions directly after having slain the Empress. On talking to other gamers, despite knowing that this character Daud killed the Empress, and having been through the main part of the game seeing him as the enemy, many were surprised to find their sympathy lay with him and not Corvo. I've kinda got to ask myself why. I think the answer is obvious. Daud had a voice, we knew what he was thinking, so even though we knew he had committed a heinous act, we knew why, and we knew of his regret.

    I felt emotionally closer to Daud than Corvo. I felt more for the villain of the piece than for the 'hero.' I really wish the developers had given Corvo a voice.

    And... it seems I am not alone in that. Having fielded feedback from gamers, Arkane, the developers, admit the biggest mistake they made with the game was leaving the gamer emotionally cold when it came to Corvo. They themselves cited the lack of internal POV from Corvo as the explanation for this. As it stood, the game was amazing but that one simple change would have made it even better.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2014
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  19. maidahla
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    maidahla Active Member

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    wow. you're so prepared. glad you have ideas. He loves music!!!!!!!! Yay! I like your protag more already.

    @above poster: always bothers me when people psychoanalyze me. But I do that to myself (as best I can) so I think you're cool.
     
  20. Amai
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    Firstly the thing I was going for with the POV was that it follows his main companions through the small bit of their story leading up to their meeting him. So even though Leuc is the main protagonist he isn't the only one.
    And the thing about the fact that everything else seems to be set in stone is because I've mainly only worked on the rest of the story because I didn't want to mess up my main character.

    ~Spoiler~




    My Idea was to have him as normal before hand as well as a little rash. So you can get to understand that he's not just a cold killer inside.
    But after the death of his gf he shut's down.
    His technique and combat skills improve as well as his "poker face" but he still slips up every now and then so people can see a piece of the young leuc in there in glimpses. But then

    (and here's the spoiler)

    When leuc has almost given up entirely he finds out that when his girlfriend died she was pregnant.
    And that The Board (The five men in control of neon) kept the body alive long enough to give birth to the child. which was now in the deepest reaches of underground neon.
    But by that time she was about 14 years old and had been through extensive modification (Cyborg level modification).
    Leuc takes her from them and from there Leuc goes from having no drive, to going to extreme limits both physically and morally to keep her out of harms way.
    But, being the daughter of one of the most wanted people in the galaxy makes her a prime target. Then the POV changes from instead of just being Leuc's companions, to also adding Leuc and Ell's (the daughter) POV's to the mix.

    Also I think it's going to be a while before I can find it in myself to critique someone's work. It's not that I'm too lazy or don't want to, I've just never been good at seeing details in most people's work since when I read I just get immersed in it and see nothing but the big picture and the odd spelling mistake.
    So I think I'm gonna at least go get the 20 posts done.
     
  21. maidahla
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    maidahla Active Member

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    "It's not that I'm too lazy or don't want to, I've just never been good at seeing details in most people's work since when I read I just get immersed"


    Wow. I can relate to that. A lot. Nice way to put it: uninteresting words by professional griefers.

    edit: sorry that makes no sense. wtvr. :love:
     
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  22. yanlins
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    yanlins Member

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    You could try reading Ender's Game, if you haven't. Ender is a really fascinating character: he represses his outward emotions due to his duties and rank, but inside you really have this really intricate ethical turmoil when he questions his own actions and decisions.
     
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  23. Amai
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    Amai Member

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    Sorry, I hadn't visited this thread in ages so I didn't see the last few posts.
    Yeah, thanks hopefully I'll get round to reading that at some stage. I'll put it on my 'to read' list at least.

    And the reason I came back to the thread; Apparently I have "insufficient privileges to post" a thread in the workshop which made me come to the realization that I probably had to get to 20 posts and THEN do two critiques on other people's work in the workshop. Because my critiques were longer than most (seems to be a bad habit of mine) and I was being as friendly as I could. Hopefully I'll get around to doing another two critiques another day, but I give up for now.
     

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