1. Yvanung
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    Yvanung New Member

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    How would I convey the despair of a female grad student?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Yvanung, Dec 1, 2015.

    First, I have a rough idea of what my female lead would look like, although physical appearance would be inconsequential to the plot or to character development at best. She ruled out chemistry as a major due to a failed question in a chemistry final in high school, of which she will have a flashback after her tenure as a PhD student at Columbia is over. That, despite soft condensed matter being really close to chemistry in a lot of respects, and that it might be best not to go in-depth about how soft CM is similar to chemistry.

    I would like to say that I have a rather elaborate character history in mind for my female lead, which comprises the following elements, all of which will be touched upon, if only briefly (in chronological order):

    Pre-grad school:

    - Swears an oath that she will not attend grad school in her home country as a protest measure (alongside a few characters whose roles are inconsequential except for one who will resurface after her tenure at Columbia is over)
    - Applies to foreign physics grad programs with a ~3.9 (her undergrad having A+s worth 4.3)
    - Settles into soft condensed matter as a research area
    - Gets into Georgetown (and commits to Georgetown on April 15)
    - Gets into Columbia off the waitlist

    PhD (Columbia):

    - Implicitly treats her PhD as a six-year-long study abroad
    - Gets a course waiver for the first graduate-level quantum mechanics
    - Signs the Faustian deal
    - Gets all As for her first year in grad school
    - Explicitly treats her remaining time as a study abroad
    - "Masters out" of Columbia

    0L:

    - Finds some work as a substitute teacher
    - Gets a 173 on the LSAT
    - Decides against returning to Columbia, this time for law school, due to insufficient financial aid (half-tuition scholarship)
    - Decides against law school altogether

    The trick is that one major plot point would involve making the Faustian deal of perfect grades in coursework for the rest of her life (however, that does not extend to standardized tests) in exchange of which she loses all ability to do research at some still-undecided point of her PhD program and decides to move on after fulfilling all the requirements of a terminal MA. She signs the deal out of despair in the coursework (and my character is probably impulsive)... and she makes no attempt at breaking her contract; in fact, the main condition is that the deal would hold for as long as she would not try to earn a research-based degree after "mastering out" of Columbia or stay in the PhD program for the start of year 3.

    I know that the most unrealistic part would be that she got into Columbia for her physics PhD off the waitlist a mere week before the semester starts (a real-world version of that character with the exact same pre-grad school fate would attend Georgetown instead, because getting a new I-20 and a new SEVIS record on such short notice, let alone graduate housing at Columbia, would be impossible) Then again, I probably know better than many what the actual rigors of scientific research are like, or the process of grad school applications.

    But how would I convey the student's despair leading up to the signature of the Faustian contract? Have her get stuck in some QFT problems (or some other advanced physics problem that I could otherwise solve)?
     
  2. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    The bigger questions are who wrote her letters of recommendation and how many drafts did she go through before finalizing her statement of purpose!
     
  3. Yvanung
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    Yvanung New Member

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    I must admit that you have a point; however, she did not display any sign that would indicate any inability to perform research as an undergraduate. In fact, while she may not have had a paper as an undergraduate, she still managed to do some work towards some soft condensed matter research project to the extent that she showed some promise as a soft condensed matter physicist.

    Given the above information and undergrad GPA, I am kind of struggling between making her an experimentalist or a theorist; on the one hand, it is entirely possible for an experimentalist to get waitlisted at Columbia with a high-700s or low-800s on the physics GRE, but an experimentalist is less likely to lust for grades once in grad school, on the other hand, a high-700s or low-800s on the PGRE would render virtually impossible a waitlist for at Columbia for theoretical CM even though an aspiring theorist would be more likely to lust for grades once in grad school. That, knowing Columbia and Georgetown both do both experimental and theoretical soft CM.

    So I want the signature of the contract to signal a fall from grace for the main character, rather than (or perhaps on top of) an inadequacy on the character's part or on the recommenders' parts.
     
  4. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Bump her subject score up to 960 and have her go to Cal Tech. Bada bing, bada boom.
     
  5. norafluff
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    norafluff New Member

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    Having hit mental roadblocks in my studies recently myself, the idea that it is a psychological block due to a medium-level failure (not without consequences but not irreparable) would fit well with your plot. My experience with scientific research is minimal since I am in literature and creative writing programs. However, I know that some schools have journals that publish work by undergraduate and graduate students. PhD programs look for research experience and grades, correct? So perhaps she is somewhat mediocre on one of those counts. Or she believes she is, so she does not perform as well as she might be able too. At her "fall from grace" moment, which may be the mental block I spoke about before, she would show her true feelings about herself, that she only believes she will accomplish her goals with such a deal, not on her own merit.
     
  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you want the majority of readers to get into this story and accept that she actually makes a deal with the devil (I'm still looking for some way that this is a figure of speech, but you seem to be using it literally?) I think you're going to need to focus less on the academic details and more on the emotional ones.

    Why is doing well in her classes so important to her? Why does she have that drive? Is it from fear of failure, and if so, where does that fear come from? Does she feel she's been discriminated against and is driven to prove that people from her group can excel? Is her drive more personal, perhaps as a way to live up to an overachieving family?

    There are a lot of different ways you can go, obviously, but I really think you need to focus on the heart of the character, not the details of her academic career.
     
  7. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    To me, it doesn't sound like there is enough motivation for her to sign away her soul for a few exam results. I think I'd need to see more about her psychology or that she doesn't realise what she is doing for me to believe that she'd go that far for exam results. I would expect someone would have to be offered becoming a world class scientist before I could imagine them selling their soul. Or, the pact could be accidental. E.g., in the way that Sarah in the film Labyrinth, wishes that the goblins would come and take her half-brother away.
     
  8. Yvanung
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    Yvanung New Member

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    She didn't *quite* sign away her soul, just a skill; she could sign away said skill because of a failure in the lab that was entirely hers during the first summer... as a result of said failure she could, she feels that she will become an ineffectual researcher at best, and hence signing away her research skills. Then she truly became an ineffectual researcher.

    However, I have no choice then but to make her a would-be soft condensed matter experimentalist.

    Yet I feel that her impulsiveness is best conveyed through the academic details... she seems to have had a prior history of making major decisions on a whim, like ruling out an undergrad major based on one high school final test item and such. She is also rather decisive, too.

    Impulsiveness is probably insufficient to explain why she signed away her research skills... but she somehow planned for the possibility that a non-research career could ask for future coursework.
     
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  9. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    I see. I'm used to a Faustian pact involving trading away the soul. As Faust did. The exchange is more plausible; she's thinking about the here and now rather than the future.
     
  10. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Impulsiveness may be the reason, but then WHY is she so impulsive?
     
  11. Yvanung
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    Yvanung New Member

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    Let's say that she also became less impulsive after she left Columbia...
     
  12. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Who cares about her impulsiveness? Tell me more about her analytical writing score on the GRE and whether she got a 168, 169, or 17o on the quantitative section.
     
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  13. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am really confused. In grad school, grades don't really matter anymore. You need to maintain some minimum GPA to be able to TA, and you have to pass some courses, usually in the first year or two, but people go to grad school to do research and a thesis, not to take classes. Sure, theorists do tend to do better in their required course, but that's more the symptom than the cause. No one's going to sell their soul in SCIENCE for good grades! Law school? Med school? Yeah, sure.

    A better Faustian deal would be to ask for miracle data, something worthy of Science or maybe even approaching Nobel Prize level. The possible repercussions of this would be endless. Maybe she can't repeat the data. Maybe the laws of physics have somehow been breached. Maybe other scientists want to murder her. It would be a great commentary about modern research, as the drive to get results is a real issue today.

    I'm just having fun, of course. I think I see where you're going with this, I'm just not sure good grades is a good enough motivator if scientific research is the goal. I would say maybe make it med school, then have her drift to law school and so on. The grades basically mean nothing because she never developed critical thinking. She's just a monkey who studies 24/7 and doesn't understand anything. Eventually she winds up in business.
     
  14. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    Like, what exactly do you mean by "Faustinian contract"? A contract that is a poor bargain for the MC? Or
    the literal pact with the devil?

    As for the rest, dissatisfaction with the chosen major of study - though she might be either proficient or
    average on results - is enough reason to be f*cked.
     
  15. Yvanung
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    Yvanung New Member

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    A pact with the devil, whereby the devil sold the MC perfect grades for the rest of her life (regardless of field; whatever "perfect grades" mean to the devil, on the other hand, is a little ambiguous, knowing he will at least make a goodwill attempt to fulfill the contract; the only thing that is made clear is that it does not extend to perfect scores on standardized tests) at the cost of the MC's research skills, rather than her soul.

    Even selling away one's research skills is a poor bargain; that forced her to prematurely terminate her tenure as a graduate student at Columbia almost immediately after she was done with the coursework.

    Again she did NOT sell her soul; however I admit that you have a point. But as it is intended now, she gave up on research in the aftermath of the deal. Then again, to the devil, selling away critical thinking is only partially included as a part of selling away one's research skills.

    Now I have an idea. The devil offered her a choice between the following: miracle results (plus the world-class career as a scientist that would ensue) in exchange for her soul or perfect grades for the rest of her life in exchange for her research skills. She deemed the latter the lesser of the two evils because she feels it is easier to live with in the long run and, of course, it makes it easier to move away from research, even though she knew she still needed to do some effort on her side either way.

    She ruled out med school after "mastering out" of Columbia because she knew research will bite her in the ass at the residency stage, and she settles on notarial law (her home country is a civil law jurisdiction where notarial law is an actual area of legal practice, whose practitioners, notaries, actually form a separate profession from lawyers) forgoing the glamour of working for major law firms.
     
  16. wellthatsnice
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    wellthatsnice Active Member

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    After reading your first post in this thread, i have to say that i think the problem is that you are talking about events and classifying them as "Character Development". These are all things that are happening to your character, but none of them give me any idea of the type of person your character is. You just listed out plot events.

    Everything you have listed is very clinical. I feel like im reading a the brainstorms of a person who is attempting to put together a masters thesis, not tell a compelling story.

    Also, why would the Devil want to make this deal? In your current setup he is getting absolutely nothing of value. The devil has taken away her research shills? Muwhahaha. That is the most boring devil character ever written. The Devil is such a colorful character, his/her deals are always an elaborate way to corrupt a good person and take control of their soul or elevate his/her own position. What does the ability to be a great lab partner do for the devil?
     
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  17. Yvanung
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    Yvanung New Member

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    OK, I knew I had a plot outline almost completed, but I felt that a plot with little character development would be rather boring... especially since I knew I was a little challenged in that department.

    But you have a point: perhaps I should flesh out the devil involved too. There could be a number of reasons why the devil could be interested in something other than a soul in a person, but the one I would think about most would be because the Pandemonian government (i.e. Lucifer, Satan, Mephistopheles, Belphegor, Behemoth, Belzebuth et al.) realized that they actually needed something other than souls from the living; high-level skills being an item of urgent need for hell according to Pandemonium. Building on that, however, would probably needlessly entangle my writing, knowing how I would write.
     
  18. Hwaigon
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    Hwaigon Contributing Member Reviewer

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    If you're dealing with the Faustinian devil and bargain and devil in general terms he's associated with, the winning of souls should be his prime objective. The MC, then , WOULD get excellent marks, success in whatnot field and fame and fortune in return for -and exclusively for- their soul.

    Which is the case of real-life people anyway. So I think your devil's reasoning is a bit off (ambiguity in excellent grades) but it's just my opinion.
     
  19. Yvanung
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    Yvanung New Member

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    But in today's hell, souls are a dime a dozen; because the MC asks for something whose scope is much more limited than with most other people that sign pacts with the devil, it makes sense for the devil to asks for something much more limited from her as well. What the devil would do with her ability to conduct original research is another topic for another thread, though.
     
  20. wellthatsnice
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    wellthatsnice Active Member

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    I guess my main question here is, "What are the stakes in this?" I mean this is one of your big driving force for the plot of your story and its not really something that is going to hold a reader. The devil took her ability to do research. I mean, thats a shame and maybe im just a jaded ass, but who cares? Why is this a story that a reader would want to immerse themselves in?

    If you are just writing this for your own entertainment, then by all means plug away. If the idea is that this is eventually going to be something for other people to read though, whats the hook? Why would i select this over reading a different story? What about this story is going to drive me to stay up late because i have to know whats going to happen?

    I don't know, maybe its just me and im missing something here.
     
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  21. Yvanung
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    Yvanung New Member

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    My new plan will focus more on the side of the devil; the former MC, who signed a pact with the devil for perfect grades at the price of less than her soul (and still will do so under the new plan, but her involvement will contain far less academic details than under the original plan), is now just the first victim of Belzebuth (the new MC) whose scheme requires him and his demonic acolytes signing truckloads of such pacts at the cost of "less than a soul" to their signatories in an attempt to wrest control of hell away from Lucifer/Satan.

    Belzebuth is malevolent all right, but his evil plan aimed at defeating Lucifer/Satan required outfitting a war machine or otherwise rebuilding the infernal economy, and that cannot be achieved with souls alone.
     

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