1. RainbowWarrior
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    RainbowWarrior Member

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    How mean can I be to my main character?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by RainbowWarrior, Jun 6, 2013.

    I'm turning into an evil god of the world I created. 8/

    I've given my main character a really horrible past that was erased from her memory. She spent the first few years of her life in a safe haven, but unfortunately it became unsafe when she got to about 3-5 years old, so her mum (who was also on the run from my secondary antagonist) had to take her away to try and put her with her father for a few years until things calmed down. But the antagonist ends up finding out that there's something really weird about the child, and she wants to study her to try and turn her into a weapon. So the mum gets killed and the child captured. The child is subjected to some experiments, but the antagonist's scientists declare that there's nothing strange about her. So they wipe her memory, dump her in an orphanage, and tell the caretakers that her mum was some uncaring druggie who overdosed and died(or some story like that, I haven't planned it yet).

    Before I go any further, I am putting some of myself into my main character, so I can really get inside her head and describe some nasty experiences of my own in full detail. Like me, she got bullied all the time at school, so she spent many years alone. Sometimes, memories of her past leak through into her dreams or at random times of the day, making her look like a 'freak' at school, so she's treated as an outcast. She manages to make a couple of friends outside of school, but that's it. The orphanage staff are constantly trying to make her 'normal', and in doing so they say nasty things and try to drag her spirit down, but she doesn't give in. :rolleyes:

    The book begins when she's 15, and one day she hears a noise or see's something that reminds her of her past (bullet noise, probably), and then loads of memories flood into her head, making her freak out a bit.

    ^All of this is just the first few chapters of book 1!

    And if this wasn't bad enough, later on in the series I have planned for her to get captured by the secondary antagonist, and then she gets tortured. :D

    There's lots of deaths that she has to get over. She has to learn how to survive in the wild, meaning she has to hunt(I really enjoyed writing that scene).

    At one point she has to fight the darkness within her. Literally. She has to go on a spirit journey into the soul after she finds out that some dark demonic essence is bonded to her soul, and she has to get rid of it before it turns her into a killing machine. She also has lots of nightmares thanks to the dark essence.

    In the last book she has turned into a hardened badass, who isn't afraid to unleash her powers onto anyone who threatens her friends.

    Did I also mention that she gets stabbed? Don't worry, she survives it! Weakens her a bit, though...



    So, what do you guys think? :)
    Is this the key to a good story, or am I some psycho who enjoys seeing others in pain?
     
  2. sanco
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    sanco Contributing Member

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    You bloody sadist, how could you.

    No, conflict, obstacles and challenges are all important elements in a story.
     
  3. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yup, so unless you make it all weirdly gratuitous or victimize the MC too heavily (you know, pour random crap on her even though she just merely exists and then she does nothing to fight the odds or better her situation), I don't think you come off a psycho :p
     
  4. Macaberz
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    Macaberz Pay it forward Contributor

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    Oh I love this question. I have been thinking about it alot myself. The most important thing, I think, is that you shouldn't hold back in fear of coming across as a psycho (and trust me you aren't). If you want to write about someone who gets their fingernails pulled out one by one, then by all means, do it. Don't be afraid of how it'll be interpreted, you can always adjust later. Anyway, below are some more thoughts of mine, now this is of course merely my opinion and I am by no means an expert on the matter:

    As long as you provide strong enough reasons as to why these terrible things are happening to her, I don't see the issue. Pointless, senseless torturing of an MC would be somewhat sadistic, but if you can explain through circumstances and the foul nature of the antagonist(s) why certain horrific events are bestowed upon her, then it's perfectly valid to write all the suffering. Personally, I would recommend caution. It's very easy to fall into a trap of melodrama where just one horrific thing after the other happens. Most, not all, readers enjoy an active MC, so I would advise you to have her work actively against the evils that are bestowed upon her. If she's just sitting around and letting it all happen, then that will be far less interesting to read. I think the key to believable suffering is a stark contrast. I think having your MC swing around between states of happiness and absolute horror will give far more impact to both. If she's going to be dreadful all the time it will get dreadful for the reader to read as well.
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Sometimes this kind of psychosis does generate results. Did you see Björk's one and only film, Dancer in the Dark? It's disturbing to a degree that left me in need of therapy afterwards, but it also melds a kind of poetry (Pagan Poetry? ;)) as regards her perspective of what is happening to her.
     
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  6. Phecda
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    Phecda New Member

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    Be as mean as you want. That's it. That is, of course, linking up to all the other factors of storytelling. So, just be as mean as you want with your characters.
     
  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    The only advice I would add is to make sure you don't pile so much on her that it resembles the opening scene of "Raiders of the Lost Ark", which was meant to be something of a send up.
     
  8. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Hmm, stuff I've put my characters through (in one story or another)... well, they've been:

    -beaten
    -stabbed
    -shot
    -tortured
    -raped
    -molested
    -disemboweled
    -dismembered
    -killed

    At one point I was hesitant about doing all that, but since the things are tied to the stories (plot, character building, what have you), I can't really take them out either, so I decided that as long as the miseries your characters have to endure have some point other than victimization and it's not gratuitous, it's okay to drag them through hell and back. However, I believe the scars should show, be they physical or mental, because nobody goes through such hardships without changing/evolving in the process at least to some extent.
     
  9. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    Fantastic advice here! I find myself thrilled once again to be part of this community. :)

    Don't ever worry about throwing too much abuse at your character. Just make sure there's good reason for it. I love abusing my characters because it tests their will and their character and it forces them to adapt, to grow. Abuse should be a catalyst, whether for plot or character. I can actually gauge how much I like my characters by how mean I am to them. :D

    Never pull your punches because you worry about the reception. Just be true to your story and your characters.
     
  10. ProsonicLive
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    ProsonicLive Senior Member

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    This topic actually transcends writing because we, as a species, have not found a uniform set of criteria that is above a human's ability to adapt. A great example is Viktor E. Frankl (1905-1997) In his book "Man's search for meaning" (1946) He says "When we cannot change a situation, we are forced to change ourselves" which says a lot coming from this man. He also said "at the end of my life I only wish to be worth my sufferings" Which essentially meant that the way he looked at it was his suffering was so great, if it taught him nothing, it was for nothing. I know a lot of this seems non-related to lit. But as long as your character drew something from it. (good or evil) It has meaning.
     
  11. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    This has everything to do with literature. Good writers should be constantly dealing with psychology and the human condition. If something applies to people in general, it should apply to writing. Shouldn't we be creating people, places, and scenarios that could pass as real?
     
  12. stanislav
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    stanislav Member

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    I have two things to say. Firstly, when come to violence, I would like to read about things that surprises. Those are usually new things. If you really have to do it, make it being funny. Horror is a sort of fun.
    Second, turning some attention to the MC mom and dad might help. You could elaborate both characters a bit and that way offer some pretext for the MC weirdness which seems to be the key point of your story.
     
  13. SuperVenom
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    SuperVenom Contributing Member

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    the only thing I would be weary about is making sure it doesn't become too vicious that if becomes too uncomfortable to read. I understand that it's at., a story etc. and if your writing for yourself that's ok but remember that you will want others to read it. I'm not saying don't to it, but make sure there there is a light, no matter how small at the end of the tunnel. We the reader want to know we are going somewhere
     
  14. Audiomeleska
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    Audiomeleska New Member

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    In Immediate Fiction, Jerry Cleaver says that you need to exercise sadistic license on your main characters. Things need to keep getting worse for them until the end, where they may or may not get better. If your characters are happy, you're either setting them up for another hit or you're boring the reader.

    He also uses the example of Cinderella. Things are bad for her the whole time, except for a little bit at the ball, and then it ends with and they lived happily ever after.

    As long as the "hurt" is applicable to the story, I don't think there's a boundary.
     
  15. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    RainBow Warrior: be as mean as you want to your main character but don't go overboard.
     
  16. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I refuse to watch it because I'd cry myself blind.
     
  17. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, I'd have to disagree. Sure, a solid 'no' to gratuitious, pointless violence wankery from me as well, but I want my readers to feel things when they read my (and KaTrian's) writing. If it's a sex scene that's supposed to be erotic, I want the reader to get aroused. If it's a scene of brutal violence, I want the reader to feel disgusted, even scared (because real violence is disgusting and scary). If it's a tearjerker, I want the reader to feel sad. And so on and so forth, you get the picture. To me, it would be a failure if a reader plowed through one of our stories without feeling a thing (whatever that feeling/those feelings may be).

    ETA: Dancer in the Dark was one of the most emotionally brutal movies I've seen. It was great.
     
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  18. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Quoted for truthiness. There is value in discomfort. We feel it every day. We see it on the news. It happens. The world is an ugly place, and people do do pointlessly hideous things to one another. If you are writing an uncomfortable subject, something ugly, and you sanitize it to a PG13 gruel, then you've shortchanged the story and you took no risk as a writer. What happens to Björks character in that film is disgusting and there is no redemption, no last minute reprieve where she lives happily ever after or you see the nobility in her last minutes of life. It's brutal to the point of pornographic and her last minutes are shaming to watch. It is gratuitous. And against the gratuitous pornography that serves as a base coat of color for the canvas, the film paints another story completely.
     
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  19. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Discomfort. Good word.

    You do want to put your characters through mucha mierda, but you don't want to make your readers so uncomfortable that they can't bear to read about it. So damage them severely, put them in body casts or five year comas. But famming their testicles into a wood chipper might be a bit much.
     
  20. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Another way to look at it is that if someone can't bear to read, e.g. what I've written, s/he simply isn't my target audience. For instance, although it's not my thing, even splatter has its fans.
     
  21. SilverWolf0101
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    SilverWolf0101 Active Member

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    Personally, I'm horribly sadistic and narcissistic to a lot of my characters. I put them through a living hell in more ways then one.
    I try not to worry about how other people will view the abuse my characters go through. Any abuse they suffer from is for a reason, and it helps shape who they are and who they become. Yes, sometimes what they go through is horribly brutal and graphic and probably shouldn't be picked up by anyone with the faint of heart, but what they go through isn't pointless at all. I don't have my characters suffering just for the sake of making them suffer. It's for a reason, and I believe that is the most important element to making a brutal story successful. If you're going to hurt your characters, then make sure it's for a reason, and make sure they show some kind of sign as to how that cruelty affected them.
    For example, in one of my stories, I have a female werewolf character that went through all kinds of hell. When she was a child her father tortured, beat, starved, and several other things that turned her into a very vicious child, so much in fact that she nearly killed her father in a very animalistic way, and then for years she was unable to connect to other people, and just found herself digging deeper and deeper into the seclusion her father had started. She did manage to get over her childhood (to some extent), but she has issues trusting people, she still comes across as being feral, and no one can usually get close to her. After a very long time though, she makes her way into becoming a bodyguard, which isn't an easy struggle/road for a female werewolf in ancient times. It came with a lot of emotional and sometimes physical abuse to achieve that point. Instead of letting it break her though, she took it in, and she became stronger and better than anyone who gave her any crap.

    Being brutal to your characters kind of comes with being an author. We can't create realistic characters if we don't throw everything we can at them to see how they come out in the end. If we sit there and make their lives absolutely perfect without any trouble at all, then we're not going to have a very believable character, and reader's will turn away from what we've wrote.
    Go ahead, be brutal. Besides, I've been paying attention, and suddenly, the world is into reading some of the worst of humanity. Look at the surviving brother of the Boston Bombing, he's got a fan club that worships him and believes that he has done nothing wrong and wants him out of prison. Humans are humans, and what we want changes every day.
     
  22. Man in the Box
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    Man in the Box Active Member

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    I like to put my characters through hell, it's what makes them grow. But I'm more fond of psychological terror rather than physical abuse.
     
  23. GriffinGarcon
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    GriffinGarcon Member

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    RainbowWarrior,

    It is not what you can do to your character, but what audience you're planning to deliver it to. Is it R-rated? Is it PG-13? So, this is where you start. You outline your target audience, and then write in accordance with the rules of that particular rating for that given audience.

    I started out writing about a boy who was so badly hurt in his childhood, that he grew up to become a feared serial murderer in medieval times (imagine that). Then i thought - wait a minute, the R-rating is going to turn away millions of people from the book and a possible movie. So i re-wrote everything to be PG-13.

    So, i guess, here is the answer. Or, for example, my dear favorite Ken Follett writes horrible R-rated books (although very artistic), but his movies are somewhat more PG-13 with some intense, albeit not graphic scenes. The dude sure knows his business. You can follow the suit. His suit, or any other that fits you and feels like a realistic possibility to become popular.
     
  24. Bellhammon
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    Bellhammon New Member

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    You can rape, maul, and even kill her. Of course, killing her would require a transition to third-person/someone else if in 1st person, or possibly her ghost looking at the aftereffects of her death. However, if the book just seems like a downward spiral, I personally would lose interest. Rather than reading about her life being ruined, I would like to read about her struggle to maintain. If these traumatic incidents happened without seeming forced and the story maintained a flow, I would be in awe.
     
  25. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    To OP: it's also important to write what you want and like. If you go out of your way to please a certain imagined target audience, it can ruin your story. Always hold on to your vision, and if it's good, the vision and your story, people will find it. American Psycho has sold a lot, it's been made to a film, it will be made into a musical, yet a lot of ugly things happen in that novel, no holds barred. However, judging by most of the comments in this thread, you're not alone in your "sadistic quest", so at least you haven't been discouraged :D


    To each their own, but to me this feels like watering down a serial killer story :confused:
     

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