1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    How do you properly balance a bitter MC?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Link the Writer, Mar 13, 2012.

    The main character of a Noire-setting I'm working on is a bitter, angry, disgruntled diner owner. To put it short, he hates himself, hates the world, and when he screws up, he mercilessly lambasts himself depending on how big the screw up is. He's also an acoholic, and if you interrupt him during his nightly drinking, he'll yell at you.

    The reason he's like this is because of his sucky childhood living on a farm out west. His sister contracted polio and became paralyzed from the waist down; eventually she died of a sickness a few years later. His elder brother left the family because he didn't want to have to deal with a messed up farm and crippled sibling, leaving the care of said farm and sibling in the hands of Charles Wilkins (MC's name) and his parents.

    Then his parents loose the farm shortly after the sister's death. They moved back east to Alabama where they tried to eek out a living in a family-run diner. In the year 1945, Wilkins is the sole owner of the diner after the deaths of his parents a few decades earlier.

    My problem is that while there are ample enough evidence to show why he's so angry at life, isn't that going to eventually wear out the readers? They'll likely end up saying, "Yeah, I get it, your life really sucks! Please get over it!!" Don't get me wrong, 99% of the story is just him solving the mystery (while not being too overly enthusiastic about it), and the 1% are brief paragraphs of angst that we don't see that often. Still, I just wonder if reading about a not-very-happy, stoic MC would wear the reader down. Surely there should be some spots of joy, right? Some...improvement on his part? If he's just like he was when he first started, then wouldn't that leave the readers empty?

    Thoughts??
     
  2. Phoenix Hikari
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    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

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    I don't think there's anything wrong with him being the way he is, but he has to have something that makes him happy or something he's attached to otherwise he'll be a boring character who wears down the reader with his own self-obsessed-sadness. What drive shim to live? What makes him want to solve the mystery (I'm not sure what mystery it is)? He should have a goal, something to look after or forward to even if he's bitter and angry.

    If he doesn't have things like these then he won't come out as believable. Also, make sure he changes during the progress of the story, if he stays the way he is then the story will have more or less no meaning. His character should develop.

    You see, even if life is bitter, a human being has no right to curse his existence. Show that to the reader, let them see and learn something from this character.
     
  3. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I see. So...give him something that has him smile with joy, something he can live for every day, even if it's only one thing.

    Maybe he could be attached to a certain library as...maybe a favorite uncle of his (who had long since passed) used to read and had nurtured a love of reading into Wilkins when he grew up?

    That, as well as Friday nights, as that's the day his friends arrive to have their little get-together with beer, etc and talk about how their week had been.
     
  4. Phoenix Hikari
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    Phoenix Hikari Contributing Member

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    May be, if these kind of hobbies seem to interest your character. He's going to be a tough character to define, write about and develop. My current MC is so similar to him if not worse. -.-

    So I understand your struggle but I'm sure it's going to be a fun struggle, more like an adventure. :)
     
  5. CheddarCheese
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    CheddarCheese Contributing Member

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    Hi Link,

    I think that the 1% should be small enough to avoid annoying the reader too much. The real problem, in my opinion, comes from the fact that your character may not change at all throughout the entire story. I always like character development, and the actual development, no matter how small, can be crucial to your character. If the book ended with the MC being the same old guy he was before (even after undergoing the plot of the book), I'd be skeptical, and somewhat disappointed.

    This does not mean you should make him a big bundle of joyous sunshine by the end of the book, it just means that your character shouldn't be the same as he was at the beginning. Maybe he'll find some sort of peace, or maybe he'll be a little bit less bitter. Maybe he'll actually end up worse than he was before?

    Just my two cents. Good luck!
     
  6. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    ^ Didn't think of that. I thought character development was supposed to help your character get BETTER, not worse.
     
  7. CheddarCheese
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    CheddarCheese Contributing Member

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    I always feel that character development is not dictated by how happy/joyous the character ends up; rather how interesting/fascinating he ends up. Your character could end up even more bitter about himself, yet he still would have undergone character development in my definition.

    I think I've read quite a few books where the character's situation and attitude gets from bad to worse, and never actually improves, yet they are quite different from what they were at the beginning.
     
  8. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    Of course - development is really just another word for 'change'. He could start off angry and bitter, an alcoholic, misanthropic loner who pushes everyone away, and end up sad, lonely and unfulfilled at how he has wasted his life, but at least he realises that being angry and bitter has been a waste of his life. Maybe that gives some sense of hope for improvement, maybe it just makes it worse, but it shows he has come to a new understanding of himself.
     
  9. Afion
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    Afion Senior Member

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    Make sure he's not too angry and bitter. Otherwise he'd probably end up commiting suicide before the end of the book
     
  10. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    He does consider scenarios where he kills himself off in various ways.

    ...I'm about to enter territory I know nothing about, aren't I? A bitter man who considers various ways he can off himself. Is it possible he could still hold onto that last shred of hope that tells him, "No. I will not do it today. My friends. I stay alive for the friends I meet every Friday. I need to stay alive"? Then, he slowly finds himself finding love again, finding himself caring for a stray dog, etc, thus he gives himself more and more reasons why he has to stay alive?

    "For their sake, not mine"?
     
  11. GeorgiaB
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    My MC is a bitter teenager who is holding some grudges for past events, and while she does not have a lifetime of regrets like Charles, I can relate to your dilemma. I wondered how I could make her more likable, not only for a potential reader, but mostly for me. And as I was writing, she grew into this character who looked apathetic and stoic on the outside, but her internal dialogue has a wry wit and some pretty funny observations about what's happening around her. At least, I saw glimpses of this.... I have a lot of revision to do! And she does change a lot by the end of the novel, mostly by realizing she can take command of much of her life, rather than letting it run her over.

    As a reader it would become draining to read about a depressed, grouchy man with no redeeming qualities. You have to give him something. Maybe a good quality from the past that he has lost or given up? This could come up in his memories, showing that he was once a good son, or boyfriend, or something along those lines.

    Is he super smart? (it's a mystery?) I might enjoy reading about a grump if he's a genius.

    It also seems to me if you have created him, and continue to write him, he is interesting to YOU. That says a lot.

    Georgia
     
  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    ^ He is pretty smart and clever under that bitter exterior. Every so often, he'd give a quick smile and a chuckle, but it'd be subtle. He encourages his employees by giving them a pat on the back and a "Damn good" mutter if they did something to his satisfaction. He tends to have snarky, sarcastic comments that seem funny to him, but may not be funny to others.

    I'm not sure exactly what the mystery is going to be, though.

    At first, the mystery was going to be about how he discovers an orphaned street urchin who had escaped a really nasty orphanage. The boy claims that he witnessed the matron of the place committing murder, he's the only witness, and is afraid she'd come after him. In fact, he KNOWS she's coming after him and wants to hide. He picked the diner, since he figured he could somehow be protected from her, as well as being able to get free food. In fact, Wilkins actually finds the boy pilfering some corn from the storage.

    The problem with that was that...well...this is the 1940s, so there would be laws preventing Wilkins from letting the homeless kid hide in his diner while he went to bring the woman to justice. He would be required by law to find that orphanage and send the boy back, regardless of how badly the boy says otherwise. That as well as calling the police and letting them handle it. He knows how the laws work, and he does not want to mess with them.

    And...well...yeah. There's likely two big-ass plotholes right there; and I have no idea how to resolve them. I'll figure it out sooner or later.

    But as for his personality? I think I know what to do with him now. Thanks for the responses, everyone! 8D
     
  13. Nakhti
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    Maybe the kid is just homeless and witnessed a murder, not necessarily at an orphanage, but being committed by a high profile person who has the resources and motive to want to hush it up - then again, that just reeks of cliche. Sorry, I don't know how to advise you since murder mysteries aren't my thing (although where's the mystery if we already know who did it? When you know who the killer is and the story is about uncovering the evidence and motive to prove it, that's a crime novel or police procedural, not a mystery).
     
  14. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Yeah, that's why I was considering tossing that plot idea out to figure out a new one.

    My basic issue with the kid is that it wouldn't be Wilkins' legal decision to say, "Hey, homeless kid...how about you do some work around the diner in exchange for food and a place to stay? Then, as you continue to work in my diner and do good, I slowly start to see you as my son. Nope, absolutely nothing wrong or creepy about that!"

    At any rate, regardless of the mystery, if he met a homeless kid in the streets, he'd be legally bound by law to get the kid to the authorities where they could take care of him.

    So...yeah, that idea's likely gonna be chucked out. Instead of a kid, he finds a stray dog. That's better, I think. Makes more sense and is not as creepy.
     
  15. DaVinci
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    DaVinci Banned

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    Medication?
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Somehow, "smile with joy" strikes me as too sweet and endearing. :) I picture him as enjoying straightforward pleasures - looking forward to the Friday corned beef hash special at his favorite diner, filling out the New York Times crossword puzzle while griping about the quality of the clues, budgeting to get drunk on twenty-year-old scotch instead of his usual cheap stuff once a month, things like that.

    Edited to add: You may want to reconsider the alcoholism. It seems like the part that a writer unfamiliar with the subject could most easily get wrong.

    ChickenFreak
     

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