1. jeanne
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    jeanne Member

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    How to portray an emotionless character.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by jeanne, May 26, 2010.

    I’m writing a story but having a problem with main character. She’s supposed to have no emotion. Not calm but emotionless. No hatred, no anger, no joyfulness, no happiness, no nothing. She does things out of physical need only. It’s goal of the story. She should start so inhuman (Well…she’s not human) and learn to know love throughout the story. But it's hard to tell story from her side (like her background which is so important) without making her showing emotion she’s not supposed to have. Could you advise me how to tell story by having no emotion but neither boring.
     
  2. bigSQUISHY76
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    bigSQUISHY76 Member

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    More of a question for you. What perspective are you going to write in?

    V/R
    BS76
     
  3. Northern Phil
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    Northern Phil Active Member

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    I think you've just described a Vulcan.

    You should try and watch a bit of Star Trek sometime and see if Spock, Tuvok or one of the other Vulcan characters relates to your character.
     
  4. jeanne
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    jeanne Member

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    In limited third person. It has four main character which change to tell story every often. But for this one, she's not suppose to have emotion.
    Vulcan are cold. They overcome emotion bacause they think it's weakness which is actually an emotion (need of perfection) but I see my character as blank paper.
     
  5. Anonym
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    Anonym Contributing Member

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    Perhaps her inappropriate lack of emotion when 'telling' her story could be a poignant contrast. Describing something sad or something in an emotionless way doesn't make it much less sad i'd think, for example. It could even make it a bit more salient to the reader, as well as fleshing out her emotionlessness.
    Something like "I lived in the city before moving to the country. Then I went to public school. Then my dad died. Then I moved back to the city." Crappy example obviously, but maybe you get what I'm trying to say for a lack of context. Hope it helps
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, I was going to suggest Data as a model. Vulcans have emotions - they bury them, which is not at all the same. They are aware of emotion, but suppress it because of its raw power.

    What you are describing is more an innocence, a lack of experience with emotion.

    There are other stories and characters in the Trek universe you can draw upon. Rayna from the original Trek episode Requiem for Methuselah, Seven of Nine from Voyager, the androids in the original Trek story What Are Little Girls Made Of?, these are just a few that come to mind.

    There are many ways you can take this story, but I'd suggest keeping in mind that you don't get just one emotion. Emotions like love can only take context along with other emotions such as rage, fear, sadness, joy, and grief.
     
  7. bigSQUISHY76
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    bigSQUISHY76 Member

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    Re:

    Well one sugestion would refer back to Star trek, In one of the series there is an Android names Data. He starts out void of any emotion. It does change later on as he programs or learns emotions but I think it is a very good example.

    As far as any other referance I would guess think in terms of a robot. Logical which would lead back to the Vulcan in Star Trek. it really will depend on what you feel is an emotion, just an example: hunger is not an emotion although it may cause manny. Being cold physicaly is not an emotion , I see someone who is described as being cold to show little or no emotion. It is really up to you how far you want to push it.

    V/R

    BS
     
  8. jeanne
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    jeanne Member

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    Seemed like you guys see my character in term of robot. But actually she is emotionless in term of emotional disturbed person. Do you guys think describing things so straightforward like Anonym suggested boring? Like this
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If she is emotional disturbed, that's another thing entirely, and you'll need to do some moderately deep research in abnormal psychology. Start by researching the term flat affect, which is the clinical term for the symptom of inabilty to feel or show emotion. It is a symptom, though, and not by itself a diagnosis.
     
  10. Anonym
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    Anonym Contributing Member

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    Like i said, i personally think the disturbing contrast between the MC's lack of affect & of her emotion-invoking background could be poignant, regardless of how it is portrayed.

    But then again, she is emotionless, thus any descriptions would lack an emotional qualia i presume. If you're abandoning the subjectivity of emotion, I'd think it might be difficult to describe anything in any way other than matter-of-factly, as in straightforwardly. I mean, if I have no feelings or opinions about something, then it's just kinda there i guess. Which begs the question of why someone would muse over something they've no feelings over in the first place. Lol, i think i just reiterated your OP somewhat.

    Looking up flat affect & possibly schizoid personality disorder is a great idea, although if she's not human, I presume you'd not need to bother with a human explanation of her condition so much..? It'd be good fer ya either way I'm sure. Good luck [/rambling]
     
  11. Legacy1306
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    Legacy1306 Senior Member

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    I think I understand where you're coming from. Do you want to make it seem like its strange or unusual for her to be emotionless? (forced. Obviously the reader will find it strange) If so, you may want things like:
    ex. "Surprisingly, she shed no tears for her dead cat. She did not frown, she did not smile. It was as if she did not care at all." This description would give your character a negative connotation, something generally avoided in stories involving love. However, you could also present her like this:
    ex. "She did not particularly mind that her cat was dead. She certainly was not happy she was dead, but neither was she sad." That wouldn't give her a positive connotation, but she would seem less like an antagonist. I would think taking an approach that would make her seem more "impartial" rather than emotionless. It would have the same effect, but avoid making her seem like the antagonist. unless, of course that's what you're going for, in which case use the first example. I also suggest the disuse of contractions when in her perspective. It forces into the reader's mind (nice and subtle-like) that the character isn't quite on the same mental level (don't read that how it sounds, I mean it more like a spanish person learning english, not retarded)
    It makes a character seem more detached, more withdrawn from society. It is notably used, as the others pointed out, with Data and the Vulcans. No contractions there either.(although spock did use contractions occasionally)
     
  12. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    Reminds me a bit of Yuki from the Haruhi Suzumiya series. If your MC is a blank slate, she'll be analyzing everything the more human characters in your story do. Lots of thinking, very little feeling. I think it would be best to start writing this in first person, just so you can get a feel for her. Then, start the real thing and switch to third.
     
  13. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    Eargh, it depends on whose perspective this is supposed to be written from.

    I mean I know you said 3rd person, but even in 3rd person the narrative usually only gives the details of one person's thought pattern.

    I personally find that the "emotional husk of a tortured soul" character is a bit cliche, but if you're hell bent on it, try these:

    From her perspective - everything is described in detached, objective detail. You actually find this used whenever a normal character is dazed or semi-conscious.

    Or from another character's perspective observing this character's behaviour, allowing you to describe how unnerving it is seeing someone be so detached from reality.

    If you can find a copy of the Darkstalkers OVA, you might want to look into Anita - she's basically the same. Scarred history leading her to cast aside her emotions, rediscovers them after being taken in by a travelling monk.
     
  14. Eternity
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    Eternity Member

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    Show, Don't Tell

    Hey Jeanne (BTW your member name confuses me when paired with your gender sign... :p),

    I fully understand what you're trying to accomplish with your character. I think, if done carefully and well, the story will work, and not be boring. I think the trick could be, don't actually draw attention the fact that she's not feeling anything:

    She should have felt fear, but her eyes were blank and glassy. Tears should have been falling on pale cheeks, but instead she turned away and toed the ground as though all was normal.

    See, in this paragraph, you'd be telling the fact that she's emotionless. It could perhaps be re-written in a way of showing, instead:

    Miranda looked up. He stood over her, bulky, intimidating. She met his eyes, saw his chilling stare. Her unseeing gaze trailed over his body, looking first at his brawny shoulders, then at his chest, his arms, hands, hips, and legs. She looked away and toed the dirt beneath their feet. Silent, eyes vacant, she neither flinched nor smiled.

    Hope this helps?
     
  15. jeanne
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    jeanne Member

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    My account name! LOL. actually I wanted Jeanne de Orleans - my hero - but it's ways too long.

    Thank you you guys very much. I have some idea now. Actually I've tried writing some paragraphs in her perspective already.

    Thank.
     
  16. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeh. I was sure someone would beat me to that! It is, after all, quite logical.
     
  17. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    What you described reminds me a little of one of the main characters on Bones, Temperance Brennan. But to an extreme. I was thinking making her view everything in a very intellectual way. Not saying she has to be brilliant. Just that she is oh, logical isn't the word I want... rational! That's the word. Make her extremely rational is what I would suggest. Generally when people aren't overly emotional they are very rational about everything even way out there things.
     
  18. Lankin
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    Lankin Member

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    When I think "unemotional", American Psycho comes to mind.
    Data is of course also an example.
    I would personally try to talk to a specialist for mental illnesses or psychic disorders. They should give you some good advice how to portray this state of mind.
     
  19. K.S.A.
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    K.S.A. Member

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    Using the "Flat effect" is a very smart idea. It is often a symptom of someone with either depression or schizo. Since you've said that your character is emotionally disturbed, maybe she could develop a split personality wherein the "emotionless" personality dominates in order to repress her other personality's memories of her past. People with schizo usually have limited facial expressions and talk in a monotonous tone. Oh and by the way, most people who are thought to be "cold" are often described as such because of their lack of emotional display, not because they actually lack emotion (I've been called that at times so I understand). So, is your character devoid of all emotion (then the robot comparison may not be too far off) or does she not display any emotion?

    An example of a cold person would be Dr, Lecter since he doesn't show any emotion but is secretly ecstatic when he commits one of his crimes). Also, most "cool" characters in anime are "cold & emotionless". So, what or rather who is your character really like?
     
  20. jeanne
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    jeanne Member

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    She doesn't have Emotion. Not just doesn't display any. She doesn't have at all. She isn't actually human and treated inhumanly since birth (she was treated like circus freak). I would describe her naive to the extreame.

    monotonous tone is good advice though. I think describing that she said monotonous now and then would help me showing her emotionlessness better.
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You need to make up your mind. At first, people suggested models who lacked emotion due to teir alien nature (Vulcans, androids, etc). Then you said it was someone who is emotionally damaged, whish is another kettle of fish, and you received suggestions based on that. Now you are back to the original premise, adding that she was "treated like a circus freak."

    The latter point is irrelevant until se begins to discover emotion, and looks back on how she was treated. At that point, she MAY develop resentment or anger, or she may conclude that she WAS essentially a circus freak at the time.

    Please refer back to my original suggestion. These are characters who began life without emotion, and over time developed it to a varying degree. Never mind that most were artificial life forms. That is not relevant to what you want to accomplish.
     
  22. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Jeanne, understand that human beings do have emotions. Even quadrupeds have emotions, though humans may not be smart enough to recognize them. Regardless of whether they exhibit them or are even able to recognize or acknowledge them, hence the flat affect. (Do a little reading on it. Mental Health/Psychiatric info holds a wealth of ideas for writers!) In most cases, particularly in emotional abuse cases, the victim removes him/herself from the cause of their pain, emotions. They shut down the internal link to their feelings as a method of self-preservation. It can take a lot of work and a lot of years to even begin to bring the victim back to normal. Sometimes, that link can never be restored.

    Another consideration is a person who simply may not be able to show or express their emotions. But that, too, does not mean they do not feel their emotions, simply that others are not privvy to them.

    Even brain surgeons will tell you the most complex and not understood part of a living being is the brain. They've been trying to figure it out for centuries and still cannot tell you exactly how it works.
     
  23. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    I agree with everyone else. In traumatic events people have a remarkable ability to stuff, hide, or not deal with emotions, or block out the majority of an event. I can speak from experience and say that stuffing emotions and blocking things out, whether it be conscious or subconscious protection, affects you in other ways. It will assert itself in some other way in your life. If she is human she is going to have emotions even if they are buried deep or kept secret they are still there.

    If you want her to truly be emotionless then she'd have to be an alien or android. Those are the only ways it'd make any sense.
     
  24. jeanne
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    jeanne Member

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    Ok. I may be used the bad word. But what you said is exacltly what I want her to be. when I said she isn't feeling anything I mean a person with trumatic life with so messed up mind that can't feel anything; not a just a cold person who don't show much emotion in society standard. I just want to state that she lacks emotion to the extreame. That's all. My bad.
     
  25. Flyingfishphilosopy
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    Flyingfishphilosopy New Member

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    At the moment I'm dealing with a character wich I think is kind of simular to what your trying to do here, and on top of that, also in 3d person narrative.

    What helps for me is describing the person trough interaction. This wil always lead to (interesting) conflict because they with who he (or she in your case) interact will be surprised by your character. He does not react at all like they expect him to. Furthermore I tend to describe the character from another PoV. That way you can still describe emotions wich derive from the person interacting with the no-emoperson.

    You say you want your character to gradually start feeling emotions, that means the person wil have to be able to feel them, human or not, but not understand them. Probally caused because of problems during youth.
    Ex: He wondered what the sore feeling in his chest was, while he betrayed his compagnions.

    Hope this help a little, and goodluck!
     

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