1. Sapphire at Dawn
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    Sapphire at Dawn Member

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    Is this believable?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Sapphire at Dawn, Jun 20, 2016.

    I'm not sure if this should go in characters or plot, but I'm sticking it here as it's to do with characters. Someone move it if they feel it's more appropriate elsewhere.

    Basically, I'd like to know if others think this is a believable reaction from a character. My MC has a secret she's keeping from everyone. She's moved to a new village in order to hide the secret better and makes friends with a girl who lives there called Martha.

    The MC is seen delivering a threatening letter, and because she is only seen from behind and wearing Martha's bonnet (that she gave to the MC after hers was ruined), the person assumes it is Martha who has done it and tells her father. He gets very angry and withdraws his permission for her to marry her sweetheart as well as some other stuff. Martha realises that my MC must have been the one who delivered the letter and in turn gets angry. She's discovered the MC's secret and proceeds to tell the MC's love interest.

    Do you think it sounds believable that a person could react in this way? After all, it's not the MC's fault that she was wearing the bonnet, or that she was seen and the person mistook her for Martha. Would it be logical to blame the MC in this situation?
     
  2. Craisin
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    Craisin New Member

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    Depends on Martha's personality traits - she'd have to be a walkover to just let it pass.
     
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  3. MichaelP
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    MichaelP Active Member

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    I agree that it depends on Martha's personality. That she would do something so vindictive so easily is itself telling of what sort of human being she is.
     
  4. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    How old is she? It's pretty believable if she's fairly young and emotionally immature. But yeah, echoing the others in that it depends on who she is, even if she's older. If we've seen her being petty, vindictive, quick to anger or jump to conclusions, then yeah, it'd seem like something she'd do. If she's normally more thoughtful and reasonable, then it would seem out of character. Like you said, it's not MC's fault; it was just an assumption that someone else made, and that she had no control over. If Martha has a longer fuse, she'd realize that.

    On the other hand, I think it also depends on what your MC's secret is. Even if Martha cooled down and was willing to forgive the mistake, if the secret is something quite incriminating that made her feel differently about the MC, she might still reach the same conclusion with a different emotional state. Something else to think about.
     
  5. Sapphire at Dawn
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    Sapphire at Dawn Member

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    Thank you for your replies, you're all confirming what I'm thinking. This plot point is giving me so much trouble I'm nearly tearing my hair out. Martha isn't meant to be nasty or vindictive. I want her to be the one to betray the MC's secret because it has more dramatic impact, but I'm really struggling to come up with reasons why she does it because she's kind and gentle, if a bit of a rough country bumpkin. She's sixteen or seventeen and the MC is nineteen.

    The story is set in 1830, and the MC's secret is that her son is illegitimate, while she's pretending that she's a young widow to save her reputation. I was going to have Martha discover the secret but not reveal it until later. Because she's a country girl, she's more accepting of illegitimacy and so to her it's not such a huge deal, but she sees why the MC is lying about it (the MC is the daughter of a middle-class merchant to whom illegitimacy is a big deal). She keeps the secret because of their friendship, but then something happens that makes her betray it. And that's where I keep getting stuck because everything I come up with hits massive great big walls.
     
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  6. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    How about ratcheting up the pressure on Martha? Have her love interest casually/unwittingly profess a fondness for the MC in conversation to which Martha can't help but be jealous and see a threat. Then behave out of character because of that. Invoking the 'green-eyed monster'.
     
  7. Son Gon
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    Son Gon Member

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    I personally dislike misunderstandings even they happen a lot in real life. Conflict seems more natural when people are forced to act on their feelings rather than do it by mistake.
     
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  8. Romana
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    Romana Member

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    So you want the main conflict to be between Martha and the MC?
    Unless Martha was really really terrible and neither of them had any other friends, I want to say that she wouldn't go straight to the love interest. She would probably approach the MC and ask for help gaining back her father's trust, and in an argument, Martha could accidentally blurt out the MC's secret (speaking from personal experience, this really happens, in both arguments and casual conversation). Gossip passes around, the love interest finds out...
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My issue isn't just with Martha's reaction, but with what I see as a very convoluted sequence of events for creating the misunderstanding. I struggle to believe in the events.

    Edited to add: Does Martha have to reveal the secret maliciously? Could she instead reveal it to someone that she thinks will somehow help your MC with the situation, but she misjudged that someone?
     
  10. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    Your MC is caught mailing a threatening letter while wearing a bonnet the whole town associates with another girl. And then lets Martha take all the blame. Even though up until this point Martha has been the village angel.

    I see a few issues.

    First, your MC should feel responsible. While she may not have realized the consequence of wearing the bonnet, she still wore it while committing a crime. It's not her fault she was wrongly identified, but it was still her choice to wear the bonnet. She committed the crime. She is not blameless.

    Second, if Martha is open minded about illegitimacy because she is a country girl then presumably this open mindedness is a shared attitude between country folk. There's no reason for Martha not to reassure your MC of this once she learns the nature of her secret.

    Third, the idea that everyone would turn on Martha, even after hearing her explanation as to how her bonnet ended up on someone else's head, is frustrating. It's not implausible, just very convenient. Her explanation, and I am presuming she tries to offer an explanation in her defence, is entirely plausible and for the people who love her most in the world not to accept it is ludicrous and depressing.

    If Martha decides not to explain what happened to her bonnet, out of a sense of loyalty to your MC, it makes no sense then that she would then go and reveal her secret to hurt her. She is either fiercely loyal, or petty and vindictive.

    What might be more dramatic is for your MC to watch Martha's life fall apart just to keep her secret safe and have your MC struggle with the guilt. But then, I feel that my second point makes the whole situation a case of convenience for the sake of plot.

    edited: Also, depending on the content of the threatening letter, it may not even make any sense that it came from Martha. Why would she be threatening that particular person? What possible reason could she have to threaten anyone?
     
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  11. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Sapphire at Dawn, what strikes me is that a) the MC, whom Martha presumably trusted, was delivering a threatening letter; b) Martha's reputation was damaged due to being mistaken for the one delivering it; and c) Martha's life's hopes are now dashed because her father is punishing her for this by banning her marriage to her sweetheart. She'd be pretty wimpy and immature if she weren't upset!

    The question you have to ask yourself as the author is, would she immediately think, "Mary Catherine [MC, lol] is the reason I'm separated from my love; I'm going to separate her from hers"? Apparently she's smart enough to figure out the letter-bearer must have been Mary Catherine, and if she's a nice, trusting, innocent sort of girl, her first concern, I'd say, would be to make out that there'd been some kind of mistake, that there was no threatening letter at all, or the witness identified the wrong bonnet, or Mary Catherine's errand was totally innocent, and so on . . . She'd feel sad and hurt at the very idea that her bosom friend would do such a thing, and not want to believe it. Then, if MC boldly admits the whole thing and insists that whoever it was deserved to be threatened, etc., then the whole thing can degenerate into an angry shouting match with Martha yelling that it'd serve MC right if everyone knew her secret.

    I rather like @Romana's suggestion that all this is overheard, and that's how the secret gets out. Everyone had servants in those days, and the maid-of-all-work (who might or might not like Mary Catherine) could very well be listening at the door.

    One other thing, though: Why does Martha's dad punish her by sending away her lover? The offense of the letter seems to have nothing to do with her marital hopes, and if it was a good match, why would Papa want to jeopardize that? The punishment seems arbitrary and vindictive on his part, not to mention turning him into a cardboard parental tyrant. Seems to me it would make more sense if the lover (or his family) decided for himself that he didn't want to marry a girl who'd go around delivering threatening letters.

    BTW, do you get the idea I don't find your MC very sympathetic? But maybe that was your intention.

    EDIT: Just read @hawls' contribution. Yeah, to all of that. What might make your plot still work is if your MC is known to be of a higher class than the farmers of the village, and her suitor is of a higher class, too, whose family would be scandalized at the idea of their son marrying a Fallen Woman. A lot depends on whom you want to create the most difficulty for.

    It's also worth pointing out that getting started early on the baby-making was winked at--- on the condition that the couple got themselves married as soon as possible. Single women boldly cranking out babies with no husband in sight, not so much.
     
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2016
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  12. Son Gon
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    Son Gon Member

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    You're right, it sounds like it's happening for the sake of happening from what i can tell, but there may be some set up that we don't see
     
  13. Sapphire at Dawn
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    Sapphire at Dawn Member

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    Thank you all so much for your replies, they've been really helpful. To be honest, everyone is confirming what I was thinking in the first place.

    I like this idea, I may use it in some sort of way.

    I struggled as well :(

    Again, that's a possible idea. I have quite a limited cast of characters and nobody really fits this bill. I'm wary of inventing someone new just to have them do this, but I will see if I can tweak someone else's character.

    The MC is seen by one person, who delights in telling the person who can do the most damage. She is not a nice woman. The MC has no idea she's been seen until after Martha reveals her secret.

    Some people would still hold it against her. The MC has to look for work and she'd find getting a job difficult if it was known that her child was illegitimate. Tess in Tess of the d'Urbervilles is still called a whore after her 'incident'.

    That's what I'm struggling with. Sigh.

    To be honest, it was the worst thing I could think of doing to Martha that might make her snap. Her father is appointed a special constable to deal with the riots that are spreading through southern England at this time. To have his daughter associated with those riots (there were lots of letters sent to farmers and parsons during these uprisings threatening to break machinery, fire barns etc. This is the type of thing that the MC is delivering) is the ultimate humiliation for him. So he retaliates in a way that will punish her the hardest.

    The MC's love interests is the ringleader of the uprising in their local area. She's delivering the letter with his approval.

    This is dealt with in the novel and I hope she's more sympathetic in there. The riots and uprisings of 1830 were a protest by agricultural labourers against low wages and intolerable conditions. I've read some first hand accounts about the starvation that was common at the time due to low wages and the high price of wheat, and it's horrific, heartbreaking stuff. Farmers, determined to keep their profits as high as they were during the wars at the beginning of the century, keep wages deliberately low. There are other factors as well, but the result was a major revolt among the rural poor. The MC becomes part of these uprisings because of what she sees and comes to understand about rural life, and the letter she delivers is to a farmer being targeted by the rioters. She's not a nasty person sending a letter because she bears a grudge, she's fighting for a cause. I hope that makes her seem a little more sympathetic.

    Thank you all once again for taking time to reply.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    The reason I like my idea (aside from it being my idea :)) is that it seems in line with Martha's personality to do something kind but naive. Even if you have to twist a few events, you don't have to twist a character. The original concept, IMO, twists events in at least two areas, plus twists a character.
     
  15. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Does Martha have any reason to assume that the MC's wearing her bonnet was deliberate to sabotage her, as oppose to an accident?
     
  16. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Does this have something to do with the Swing Riots and the enclosure laws? The scenario you explain causes your idea to make more sense; to me, at least.

    Maybe you could strengthen the father's motivation for breaking off Martha's engagement by having him suspect or charge (truly or not) that her beau is sympathetic to the radicals. Dammit, she's going to remain under his authority until she learns not to shame her parents with such obnoxious connections!

    I wouldn't worry about about keeping your cast of characters limited. Treat your characters like real people who have family and friends and employees and relations within their community. Use whomever would likely be living in such an environment at that time. Again, a gossipy, eavesdropping servant might very well fit the bill for the one who spills the beans about the child's status.
     
  17. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    Let me ask you a question...

    Have you ever witnessed similar behaviour IRL? Therein lies the answer to all your questions.
     
  18. Sapphire at Dawn
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    Sapphire at Dawn Member

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    It does, yes. I've researched what happened in my area during the riots and most of the events in my novel actually happened. The MC is also based on a person I found on the 1841 census in my village, as are a couple of other characters. I'm just spinning a story around them and bringing them back a few years.

    It's not essential that Martha's engagement is called off, I just needed something to make her snap. I've re-hashed the idea and now all Martha gets is a major ticking off and perhaps a box around the ears. When she goes to confront the MC, she is overheard. The secret gets to the love interest, but it is not maliciously betrayed by Martha.
     
  19. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, yes, the all-purpose ear-boxing--- which had nothing to do with cardboard cartons. Such a stimulus for the ear trumpet industry.
     
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2016
  20. Sapphire at Dawn
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    Sapphire at Dawn Member

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    Haha! To be honest, it felt a little nicer than saying he wallops her a couple of times...
     
  21. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, definitely more in keeping with your time period and the social status of the family involved. But nice? Not at all. Check out this article, as well as this blog post.

    In fact, if Martha's ears were still ringing from having them boxed, she might speak more loudly to the MC than she usually would, and be more likely to be overheard. Plus she might feel especially shamed by receiving that punishment, which was generally doled out to small children and servants. And if her father did it to her in front of any of the servants . . . ooh, that could really ratchet up the drama.
     
  22. Holoman
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    Holoman Member

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    It's believable but takes a big leap and needs some intermediate steps.

    The first thing I would expect would be for Martha to confront the MC about it. That would have to turn pretty sour and give her a good reason to be so spiteful to the MC. I think you would be hard pressed to find a reason without the MC doing something bad which will turn the reader against her.

    Maybe you could make it appear to Martha like the MC had the chance to correct Martha's father but chose not to. Then I think Martha would be legitimately furious with Martha for betraying her and wouldn't necessarily talk to her before revealing her secret. Or perhaps have Martha see the MC and her love interest together and Martha thinks it was all a big plan from the MC to steal her man. That would make Martha's response more believable.
     

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