1. Gammer
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    Gammer Active Member

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    Is It Possible to be Too Cruel to Characters?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Gammer, Dec 10, 2011.

    I've been working on a fantasy story and in a later installment I plan to really put my MC through the ringer but I wonder if there is every a line with that.

    In the story the villain gets his hands on a special stone that will increase magical potential in humans. He wants to use it to create an army of super soldiers but doesn't want to risk his men so he tells his soldiers to abduct as many villagers as they are able for the experiments, including the MC's hometown along with his parents.

    When our hero hears of this he knocks down every door and window of any soldier who will give him information. When he finally gets there, and fights his way through the guards to his family, he finds them to be mindless berserkers and his only choice is to cut down his own parents and everyone he's ever grown up with in the village. He finds the guy who lead the experiments and defeats him in combat but as the man is begging for mercy, the MC just starts to butcher him in combination of rage and despair, breaking his own code of never striking down a defeated man asking for mercy, something in a previous story he chided one his companions for. So needless to say afterwards he's very devastated. And he's 16 at this point.

    I'm wondering if the above situation is too cruel to the character or just necessary development?
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    No, it is not possible. And what you've described is mild compared to what I've seen Joe Abercrombie do to characters.
     
  3. YoungCreature
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    YoungCreature Member

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    That's not cruel at all. I'll tell you what it is though: far-fetched. A sixteen year old boy defeating a whole town of super soldiers by himself?
     
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  4. Ubrechor
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    Ubrechor Active Member

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    Yes, you can do this to your characters if that's the way the story goes. There is no line you can draw for the mistreatment of your own characters, because they're YOUR characters and they're in YOUR story. You'll just have to realise that making things too dramatic/depressing/full of gore can - and will - lose you potential readers.
     
  5. ScreamsfromtheCrematory
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    ScreamsfromtheCrematory Member

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    Sliiiiiightly cliche at points but it opens up an immense amount of plot potential and ranks fairly standard on the author-being-a-meanie-to-his-OC's scale. You aren't doing this for the sake of it or to show off "look, I can write tryhard soulcrushingly depressing stuff in a pretentious overblown way!" There seems to be a strong potential for powerful plot emerging from this so no, you've only done right.
     
  6. Yuri Strike
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    Yuri Strike Member

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    No, this is what happens to a stereotypical JRPG protagonist.
     
  7. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Don't think yours really takes it too far but I think you CAN be too cruel to your characters. Don't be crueler to your characters than your story really requires. If you think there's no limit to the cruelty you can impose, you run the risk of really making your story unreadable. The level of cruelty should be appropriate for the story.
     
  8. WriterDude
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    WriterDude Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do you know Red Sonja? The woman who often travelled with a certian Conan? She became a badass heroine after her family was killed, her house burned down and she was raped. She was 17 at the time. So no, your story isn't all that bad. And come to think of it, if the others are mindless, how is that different from a regular zombie story?
     
  9. L a u r a
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    L a u r a Senior Member

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    I'm not sure what you mean by "necessary development," but I don't think it's possible to be too cruel to your characters. People want to read about heartbreak and terror; readers are mean to the protagonists by nature. In fact, there are workshops that help writers learn how to be mean to their MCs. Don't believe me? Google "be cruel to your characters" and see what pops up.

    What you described here is an intriguing plot, something that I would be interested in reading. I like the fantasy/sci-fi aspect, and the spiral to rage and despair for your MC sounds plausible. However, as somebody mentioned above, I'm not sure if he could wipe out an entire village by himself. You might want to do a bit more development for that part of the story.

    Good luck with your story! If I were you, I would start this while the excitement is still there. I'm not sure how you go about your writing process, but I know that I used to make these elaborate outlines before I would start my projects--which I would never follow, anyway. My suggestion, then, would be to just go for it. Grab your notebook, pen and munchies and get down to business. Don't worry about being too cruel...I think you'll be fine. :)
     
  10. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    I am not sure I follow.
    I write with a freedom of ease that has not bearing whatsover on my characters or me.
     
  11. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    in other words how is cruelty jusfitified at all let alon ewith own characters?
     
  12. ukuleleman
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    ukuleleman Member

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    There's no way you can be too cruel to your MC. He/she is the protagonist, that's the point of their existence. A huge factor however that does affect your story is how the MC reacts to the cruelty/adversity. It has to be believable and avoid cliche responses that might be out of character. Think of some popular MCs- Harry Potter, Frodo, Luke Skywalker, Joan of Arc (trying to throw in a female). Their lives were far from peachy but we adore the stories. Seeing them push past it and deal gives us inspiration to deal with our own life and its cruelty.
     
  13. Ettina
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    Ettina Active Member

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    If you're writing a kid's book, you don't want to be too cruel or you'll give them nightmares. Otherwise, go right ahead. Your story sounds very interesting - I'd love to watch an idealistic young hero get his ideals challenged.
     
  14. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    Theres no way you can be too cruel. You can only be harsh, but not too cruel. If it's how the story goes , it's how it goes.
     
  15. Anarchist_Apple84
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    Anarchist_Apple84 Senior Member

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    I don't think so, it depends on the overall story and your audience.

    Too much fantasy starts with the protagonist having his friends and/or family killed, and innumerable other horrible stuff happen to him before he realises he's the chosen one and kills everyone.

    I'd be more wary of cliches and how the story is panning out in general than worrying about how cruel you're being to your main character!
     
  16. ClusterChuck
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    ClusterChuck Senior Member

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    Have you seen a movie called 'stranger than fiction?' Very meta. It's about an tax auditor who's going through a midlife crisis. He starts hearing a narration in his head over what it is he's doing. Not all the time but sometimes. He chases down the voice to a british author who only writes really good fiction where the main characters die (after he spends half the movie finding out if his story is tragic or comic.) It turn out her new book she's been working is about a tax auditor going through a midlife crisis. She's finishing the second to last chapter and he shows up at her place and reality pretty much breaks down. Then she must decide to finish the novel as she wanted and kill him off for the good of the story which is her best so far, or write in his happy ending and make it not so good... Not to mention her wondering about the school teacher she's killed off, and the dentist, and the salesman...

    So just think about that next time youu have your MC tied to a stake in some psycho's basement with thier eyelids burnt off.
     
  17. Ellipse
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    Ellipse Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you are trying to tell the story of someone with morals, it might be too cruel. If you are trying to tell the story of someone trying to deal with the cruel things that happen in their life, it may fit in perfectly. It really depends on the story's perspective.

    The MC of my current story lost an arm and an eye in a sword fight, she lost her kingdom, her husband and children, all because a rival empress didn't like her. My MC isn't out for justice or to make things right in the world. She is mad with rage. She wants to burn the rival kingdom to the ground, dance on the corpse of the empress, revive her, then kill her again. My story is about revenge, plain and simple. There are no morals because she abandoned those a long time ago. :)
     
  18. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think authors can go overboard. But I think that can happen whether it's cruelty or romance or anything else. It's important to keep the levels appropriate for that particular story. It's like the difference between slasher films and Hitchcock. The levels of violence (shown and implied) are very different, but they're appropriate for the type of film (and the audience).

    In your particular story, I think (JMO) that the important thing would be the aftermath of your MCs actions - the more horrific his actions, the more his disgust/shame/etc., which, in kind of a bass-ackwards way, justifies the level of cruelty/violence.

    If that makes sense... :p
     
  19. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I agree with this 1,000,000 percent. +rep points to Y.C.

    There's no such thing as being too cruel to a character, although each individual reader will have their own threshold of what they think is over the top. I don't think it sounds that bad. However, how is this 16-year-old supposed to defeat a ton of super soldiers at that rate? I doubt he's the boss of them, and so even banging down their doors demanding info he's not authorized to would get him in some kind of trouble. He'd have to be sneaky.

    And the whole "a blinding white rage that gave him all the energy he needed to defeat all who stood in his way" thing just...doesn't work. I mean, I know there have been extreme cases where people have had a burst of adrenaline in an emergency situation (like the mother who lifted the car off her trapped child) but not like that.

    It does sound like a pivotal moment in your story for character development, though :)
     
  20. Clipsey
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    Clipsey New Member

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    I concur.

    It's very unbelievable.
    And it would leave you with one seriously screwed up kid.
     
  21. Gammer
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    Gammer Active Member

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    Probably should have mentioned earlier that he brings a small army of his friends/companions with him. And its mid-way through his hero career so he knows a few tricks already. The whole mission is unauthorized also so once they get back he gets in major trouble with the superiors.

    I thought it was too cruel because the MC is trying to be moral. He's surrounded by companions who do very questionable things and he doesn't want to be like them. He has a rather idealistic center and over the course of the story he replacest that with a more pragmatic view but he still has the idealistic center. But an event like this just seemed way too much to handle. I honsetly could not think of a way for him to bounce back from this. If anything he would be a depressed heap for the rest of the story. So I thought I should scale back the tragedy or just tone it down to something a bit more, manageable? I don't know.
     
  22. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    From what I'm getting is that we have a boy who's very uptight with his morals, always wanting to do the right thing until a time comes where he must do something so horrendous, so against everything he's ever stood for and it breaks him.

    For a good example of this, look at Looking For Group. I know it's a webcomic, not a book, but it follows the same gist. You have a MC who always insists on doing the right thing even though the other members of his party don't hold that value. Then, he's forced to do something he'd never thought he'd had to do. It's to save his and his party members' lives, but it's still against everything he's believed in.
     
  23. jonsnana
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    jonsnana Member

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    If you want to do something original find a way for him to suffer, deal with horror, but not give in and kill everyone. Sure it will leave villians that he will have to face at a later date. It will also upset his friends that think everything they don't understand should be killed on sight. It will also leave him facing the guilt of not killing those that are sure to kill others at another time, and trying to decide if his moral decision was based on morals or because it was his family. Like I said, you have a chance for a unique story. Can you be too cruel to your characters? Stop short of totality of slaughter of Attilla, the delight in the screams of the tormented of Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, and the savagery of several of our current tyrants and people will find it more realistic than the real guys. Write your story now while it is rolling around in your head! Clean it up later.
     
  24. TheComet
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    I think it depends on the personality of your MC. Is he the kind to get angry quickly? Is he someone that could kill people? Is he someone that has unstable emotional responses? If you answered "yes" to those questions, then I think it's fine if he butchers someone.

    On the other hand, maybe your character is very controlled and aware of his emotions, and could never kill a person. But on this one occasion he breaks his boundaries due to the strong feeling of revenge. That would be fine too as long as you have him cry and wheap afterwards, regretting his actions.

    Anything that makes sense and fits in to the overall story is acceptable. Or you could have another side character suddenly step forwards and kill him brutally, and the MC helplessly trying to stop him. Just some ideas :)

    TheComet
     
  25. Gammer
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    Gammer Active Member

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    I think I've figured out a middle ground. Rather than butchering his village, the MC meets up with his older brother who the MC always wanted to grow up to be, and finds out he's joined with the bad guys. Not only that but his brother points out that all the good the MC thinks he did has really caused as much harm and chaos as the bad guys the MC is fighting against. This calls into question the MC's moral code that he's so proud of and knocks him down in a major way without permanently traumatizing him.

    What do you guys think?
     

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