1. Eldritch
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    Eldritch Member

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    Main Character Development

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Eldritch, Apr 14, 2011.

    I am working on characterizing the main character of my fantasy novel, and I have two questions.

    He is first introduced when he kills a deer and I need to make the reader able to empathize with his situation. He doesn't like killing, but realizes that the people of his village need to eat.

    The setting is established a few paragraphs before he shows up, and the deer described in such a way that the reader likes and identifies with him. Then, an arrow is fired into the clearing, kills him, and the MC enters.

    Once he confirms that the deer is dead, he kneels at it's side and says, "I'm sorry. Through your death, more life will continue."

    Here are my questions:

    1.) what more can I have him do to help the readers like my MC. Those who have read it up to this point have said they cannot relate to him because he kills the deer that they like.

    2.) Does what my MC says to the deer sound cliche? I thought that it sort of came off that way, but am unsure how else to convey what he is feeling.
     
  2. Daggers
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    Daggers Member

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    Why not right in a scenario where he returns to the village and the people praise him for feeding them?
     
  3. Eldritch
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    That WOULD work, if his entire village wasn't destroyed while he was out.

    Also, his disgust at his "murder" of other living things plagues him throughout the story, albeit not right away, due to grief over his village.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    What he says does come off as rather cliched to me, and also rather hypocritical. It sounds like he expects the deer's spirit to say, "Oh, well, that's all right then; please, feel free to kill my whole family." I'd like the character better if his remark was something more offhand, like, "Sorry, pal; the kids are hungry."

    Also, is there any special reason why you need to stack the deck against your character by making the readers like and identify with the deer? I'm not altogether sure if the readers are angry at the character, or if perhaps they're angry at _you_ for setting them up with a "character" (the deer) that you almost immediately snatch away. But you're not there, so that anger gets directed at your character.

    In fact, I rather like the idea of the apology being the first line of the book:

    "Sorry, girl; the kids are hungry."

    Joe stared at the body of the doe for a moment, jaw set, then shrugged and picked up his skinning knife. "Hope you didn't have a fawn. I'd have gone for a buck if I could, but, well, I didn't see one. Frankly--sorry, hon--if I'd seen a fawn first, I'd still have fired. If it's my kids versus your kids, my kids win."

    He knelt, wincing as he made the first cut through the deer's fur and skin. He couldn't quite manage to sustain the conversation after that, and further apologies seemed rather beside the point.


    But that's just me.

    ChickenFreak
     
  5. clockwise
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    Like Chickenfreak mentioned, I'm wondering if it's necessary for the reader to really like the deer if it's just going to die a few paragraphs into the story? If it is, you might have to adjust the way the scene is described - if you've got the perfect forest scene with the innocent deer running around, and suddenly your MC comes in and ruins it, then even if he has a good reason for doing it, the readers are already automatically thinking "jerk". Maybe show him beforehand trembling while he's holding the bow and arrow, going pale at the sight of the dead deer, etc. What he's saying right now fits the situation for someone who respects other life while respecting the necessity of hunting, but from someone who truly doesn't like killing, it'd be good if he could show a little more emotion. Or not emotion, but something to convey that on the inside, he's really affected by what happened.
     
  6. Eldritch
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    Chickenfreak,

    I agree with you. Your dialogue certainly has a different impact. The only problem is, my character wouldn't be nearly so gruff. Nevertheless, I see your point.

    Also, my main reason for the readers liking the deer is so that they see what the MC sees. HE likes the deer. He only kills it because he has no other choice, and I want them to feel the same devastation at it's death that the MC feels.

    I think that some of the dislike toward my character is alleviated by the fact that the buck is in the clearing with a pregnant doe. The MC chooses to shoot the buck, and allows the mate to run off. (I also made a point of the buck and doe's affection for one another, so his death is a double whammy).

    The outrage at his death is supposed to be there because, frankly, the situation sucks. I just need to figure out how to keep the anger from being directed toward my character and just directed to the situation in general.

    Ex:

    not:

    "why did that bastard do that?!?"

    More like:

    "why did he HAVE to do that?"
    Or
    "it sucks that he had to do that,"
     
  7. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Don't be afraid to give your narrative through the main character. If the MC is just a prop being pushed around the stage, nobody is going to understand him, empathize with his situation, or honestly care what happens. But, if you give your story through the character's eyes, so the reader is privy to what he's experiencing, thinking, feeling, we'll at least understand the character.

    The beauty of this is that even if the reader doesn't 'like' your main character, through this empathy we'll connect with the character still. If we're firmly established in the character's perspective, and the character feels (not gives cheesy dialog, but FEELS) remorse, you can then make the reader feel that remorse, and your problem is solved.

    It's all in the internal reactions of a character that gives meaning to the events and even settings in a story. If you don't get in that deep, your story really has no chance of being anything but a sympathetic exercise, which means your story is sunk if the reader happens to not 'like' your main character, for whatever reason.

    Much of the power of fiction is delivered through building empathy through a character, as even if we don't like the character, we may still feel connected or at least just be captivated by a depiction of someone unlike us, or even just keep reading to get insight into a monster.

    And in general, having cheesy talk-to-themselves dialog to stand in for real emotion or thought from a character is a bad movie trope that simply doesn't need to be done in fiction. In fiction, your main advantage is you can get into the psyche of a character directly, so why wouldn't you?

    edit: oh, and trying to build sympathy for a deer is silly, and attempting to put a band-aid on something that seems a more significant problem (the bandage you need, I think, may be what I outline above)

    And remember, your story isn't about killing a deer or a place, I hope, so imo your story should open with focus on the MC, not trying to establish setting (which is meaningless, imo, without a character to give meaning to a setting through interaction) and not trying to build a likeable deer (unless the deer IS the MC, ala Bambi, lol).
     
  8. AxleMAshcraft
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    Some might call this cliche but if you write it in the correct way it works.
    Almost puking. I mean. If you didn't want to kill something and you killed it and it's blood was all over you, you might want to puke.
    Not being able to look at the corpse/remorse.
    One or both of those plus the hunger eating at his inside.
    I don't really agree with whoever said not to have readers empathize with the deer. I really like doing things like this in my writing. Think of it this way: Do firefighters, who work so hard to save so many people, always make it out alive? No. Sometimes everything doesn't end up so happy lucky as people want them to turn out. Its totally up to you, and considering that this is fantasy the whole "the real world isn't perfect" thing might not apply.
    I don't mean to start any petty internet battles about killing deer...Just playing devils advocate.
     
  9. clockwise
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    I don't think we (me and whoever else said not to have empathy for the deer) mean that nothing bad should happen in the story, or at least not to characters that the reader likes... that wasn't how I meant it, anyway. I'm just assuming from what I know of the story that the deer isn't really a main point, so why spend all that time getting the reader to like it when that time could be spent on the MC? Not that you couldn't spend time on getting readers to like the deer, but if you do it's almost always going to reflect badly on the MC when he kills it. Unless you spend lots of time building up sympathy for the MC... but then we might be getting to the issue of "When is this book finally going to start?" xD.
     
  10. Nkaujsuab
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    Nkaujsuab New Member

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    I agree with popsicledeath. I see what you're trying to do with the whole "seeing the forest as the MC does," but if that's really what you're going for then just DO it. Really get into his head. Describe what he's seeing and feeling and hearing the way he would interpret it. Is the sun bright and warm, or sharp and hot? Is the grass cool and green, or sharp and yellowing? Are the deer calm and graceful, or wary and vulnerable? Or maybe the forest is a combination of all these things. Word choice is really useful and effective tool.

    You can also reveal a lot about the character through his actions. He really doesn't want to do what he has to do, so there are going to be signs. Even the smallest things like how he doesn't twitch or tremble when he kills the deer, in order to make it quick and painless. Or he could pause for just a second before picking up the deer carcass to bring back home.

    If you show us this world that is so beautiful, but the MC has to ruin it, then show us some signs of his reluctance and we'll definitely feel for him. (Because who hasn't had to do something they REALLY didn't want to?)
     
  11. Eldritch
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    Here is my solution to the problem thus far. Let me know if you guys think it makes him easier to relate to. Chickenfreak, I used a bit of the example you gave me. If you aren't okay with this, let me know and I will remove it.


    The sun had just risen in the forest, and birds sang their sweet melodies to one another from the branches. Dew glistened from the leaves and set a glasslike sheen to the forest floor, which shimmered like millions of small diamonds. A buck and his mate grazed in a clearing amidst the gentle morning light that filtered through the canopy. The two often came to this clearing to graze, ensuring that they would be strong enough to support the children the doe would soon bear. After the fawns were born, they would still return here. Perhaps it would be a safe place to raise the young ones. It seemed as good as any.

    Eldritch Swiftfoot, looked on in silence from his perch in a nearby tree. He nocked an arrow in his bow and drew the string, taking aim.

    The deer grazed inches apart, each enjoying the comfort of the other’s warmth. Though men were often unable to understand, Eldritch knew animals could feel emotion for one another as well. The buck stepped forward to nibble on a thicker patch of grasses as his mate watched. He looked back, and their eyes met.

    He hesitated for a moment. The deer were innocent and had done nothing to deserve their fate. But he was left with no choice.

    Eldritch released the bowstring.

    The arrow whistled through the air, screeching like a banshee, and buried itself in the buck’s side, piercing his heart. He remained balanced for a fraction of a second before his legs buckled. The doe jumped and bolted from the clearing, hurtling through the tree line and out of sight.

    For a moment, the forest was still. Then a Eldritch dropped from the concealed heights of his tree. His green hunting cloak was the color of the leaves and camouflaged him well. His hood was thrown back as he fell, revealing his delicate elven features. He stood at almost six feet, with long brown hair and sharp, amber eyes. The burn scars on the backs of his hands were the single flaw in his appearance. Eldritch Swiftfoot slung his bow over his shoulder and entered the clearing.

    Eldritch approached the deer at a stride, and by the time he reached it, the forest had come alive again. Eldritch kneeled at the animal’s side and confirmed that he was dead. He hadn’t suffered. Nothing like small miracles.

    He ran his hand along the animal’s fur. “Sorry,” he said, “The people of my village have to eat. It was you or your mate, and she was about to have fawns.”

    He pulled out his knife and grimaced as he made the first cut through the deer’s skin. He couldn’t manage more conversation after that, and further apologies seemed rather beside the point.

    After he finished his task, Eldritch secured the buck and began to drag him back to Windswept, his village. The deer wasn’t light, but Eldritch’s well-muscled body accomplished the task with little difficulty.

    He did not have much taste for killing, but due to his skills, the villagers did not starve--- quite the contrary. They often went to bed with their stomachs full. And hunting gave him an excuse to come out into the forests and lose himself in this tranquil wonderland.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    No problem with using my bit there.

    I like the character better than I liked him with your first sample apology to the deer, but I find myself wondering if perhaps you are too protective of him - the line "He did not have much taste for killing, but due to his skills, the villagers did not starve..." sounds like an excuse for him.

    As I see it, he doesn't like killing, but he chooses to kill. If the villagers are that well-fed, then he's killing more than he absolutely has to. That's a character imperfection, and rather than trying to defend him from that judgement, you might be better off accepting it: Your character, at this time of his life, is not behaving entirely in accordance with his principles. To some extent, he's doing what's convenient, and what makes him happy (escaping from the village and getting time in the forest) rather than doing what he thinks is right.

    And everybody does that. So rather than using your narrative voice to explain and to excuse him, you might want to step back and just paint the picture, and let the reader judge him.

    ChickenFreak
     
  13. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the monologue sounds a little cheesy, not quite like what someone would say in real life.

    How about he prays for the deer's soul in the afterlife and shows his respect, without trying to make excuses?
     
  14. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I second this! ^
     
  15. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Keep in mind that I'm of a relatively new school (it seems) that believes everything should be relentlessly delivering the experience of a character, as that's how empathy is build, context is given, and meaning created. From this perspective, that opening isn't written in a way that is very empathetic to the character you're trying to build empathy for. You want the reader to understand what Eldritch is feeling, his motivation for doing what he has to do, the complexity of emotion in his doing it. Even the setting, you want the reader to know what these trees and this grass means to THIS person (your character should feel like a person, not just a character).

    How it's written now, it would be nearly as effective had you just summarized 'a guy in the woods kills a deer that didn't deserve to die and has feelings.' You have a situation, but without that empathy it's just information.

    Here, I'll quickly replicate an actual fiction lesson from a critically acclaimed author (aren't you all so lucky, lol) that demonstrates what I'm talking about and how to create a connected, empathetic experience:

    People die every day.

    That sucks, but who cares, right? What's my point?

    Okay, now imagine you're reading a newspaper article about a crash on the highway where both of a 7 year old girl's parents died. Now it starts feeling more real, right? You're reading about something that actually happened, you can't shrug it off so easily. Ah, but unfortunately, bad things happen every day, and after a few minutes the story just becomes more bad news we hear all the time. There's a recognition that it's tragic, but nothing too lasting. This is the realm of proficient fiction, but nothing too great. We're told about a series of events, they garner a bit of sympathy perhaps, but we move on.

    Ah, but the newspaper article had a picture! Yeah, that's gonna be a bit more lasting. And let's pretend it's a picture that probably wouldn't actually be shown in a newspaper, and depicts the 'real' scene a bit better: The car smashed up, a pool of blood coming out from under a sheet covering some mass, a 7 year old girl in the hands of a police officer crying, looking back at the sheeted mass. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and that kind of thing is going to stick with you, right? And, as the other saying goes, good fiction often creates images and pictures, right? Yes, it does.

    Now, the next step, and yes there is one, is what I believe makes for great fiction (we all want to be great writers, right, not just good?). For great fiction, I want you to imagine what it must feel like to be that little girl? You can still smell the rubber in the air from the tires screeching during the accident. You can feel the rough, starched uniform of the police officer holding you scratching your cheek as you look back at the blood. You know what it means, that your mommy will never wake up, you already tried before the police officers arrived. And even though you know this you don't want the police officer to take you away from your mommy. You don't know where they're taking you, you don't know if you're in trouble or all this was somehow your fault. All you know is your mommy won't wake up, that she won't ever wake up again, but you still don't want to leave her side.

    That's what you have to do in good fiction. You have to connect the reader to the experience of the MC in the story. Not just paint a picture (which can be good, but not great writing), and certainly not just inform the reader of events and meanings. You have to create the experience. So when your MC releases that bow string, the reader also knows it's going to kill that deer. So the reader understands they don't want to kill the deer (they being the MC AND the reader, as it's a shared experience), but they also understand it's something they have to do or people will go hungry.

    And yeah, it's hard to do. But you won't even get into the ballpark of a connected, empathetic experience unless you at least attempt to get inside the head and senses of the main character. And yes, even fantasy or commercial fiction or any 'but what about' examples one must do this, especially in the contemporary marketplace, if one expects to find success (hell, the only props I give Twilight is that it was pretty good at creating a connected experience, it's just I found the experience I was being connected to shallow and banal).

    To successfully do this, a manuscript needs to cut through all the exterior stuff about elven features and grimacing (instead you have to create the feeling of being an elf and deliver the thought/feeling/experience that caused the grimmace). As well, a manuscript needs to be free from melodrama (different from genuine drama, which is good), so no, the arrow didn't screech like a banshee, as that just isn't true, first of all, and isn't at all informing the reader of the experience of listening to an arrow fly toward your target. And even elves rarely launch into heart-felt monologues and speak to their fallen prey; instead, a manuscript must bring alive the thoughts and feelings and experiences that make a character feel the things behind that mini monologue.

    What I do is literally go through every single sentence of a manuscript and ask myself what from the examples above am I doing. Am I clumsily rushing out information like a news report? Am I creating a picture, which is good, but not great? Or am I bringing the absolute unrelenting truth of a character's experiences alive on the page?

    I won't give a review of the excerpt listed, but if you go through and answer these questions honestly, then I think you'll find I wouldn't have to give a review anyhow, as trying to capture the truth of a moment ends up fixing all sorts of other little things we like to obsess over.
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I agree with those who've said the statement to the deer is cheesy.

    Also, given the setting of most Fantasy novels, I can't imagine any fantasy reader disliking an MC because the MC kills a deer. Hunting behavior is commonplace in those settings. I think the responses you've received from your readers along these lines are out of the ordinary.

    If it is really a problem, I suppose you could ask why it is necessary to describe the deer in such a way as to establish an empathy between the reader and the animal. Does it serve a purpose in the story?

    EDIT: I see you've answered this last bit in the thread. So if they're viewing it through the MC's eyes and seeing/feeling the same thing, then I don't see a problem unless you are not successfully putting the reader in the MC's head. If you are doing that successfully, there should be no need for the statement to the deer or any other artifice to let the reader know the MC is sorry, because they should already know it.
     
  17. Brandonriederer
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    The best way to make the protagonist likable to a reader is obviously giving the character likable traits! Think of yourself for a second, and you meet someone that you can connect with, what is it about them that creates that feeling? Being sympathetic is always a good trait for a protagonist. This principle can also work for your antagonist (What makes you really dislike a person).

    Readers also like to read about characters who are stuck in exotic positions. No one likes to read about a character who does normal, run-of-the-mill things and lives a plain life. Its BORING! So when you write, try to throw him in an exotic position of some sort. This also can help you build up a subplot.

    Lastly, a MC needs to be exaggerated. Emotionally and physically, they must meet some sort of extreme. Like a hero for example, very strong and athletic but may have a serious emotionally drawback such as rage. Or the other way around, a young boy, small and weak but is incredibly intelligent.

    The MC must also be exaggerated when dealing with the problems they encounter throughout the story. For example, if the "MC's returns to his tribe that is burnt to the ground and finds his father lying lifeless around the ashes of his home, while the embers were still glowing, and he simply kneels by his side as tears begin to roll down his flushed face." Okay, the MC is obviously sad but let's try this instead... "MC's returns to his tribe that is burnt to the ground and finds his father lying lifeless around the ashes of his home, while the embers were still glowing, and he rushes to his side and kneels before him as tears began to gush from his eyes as his mind flashed through thoughts reminiscing his life memories with his father and how much he was going to miss the warming touch that his father's genuine smile would radiate like a white aura." Okay, so with the help of a little bit of exaggeration, now the reader not only see's that the MC is in distress but they also understand something deeper; that is that the MC had a special connection with his father.

    I hope this helps and good luck writing!
     
  18. YoungCreature
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    I think that is a great introduction to a story. Beautiful deer in a meadow. A couple paragraphs of the serene surroundings. Leafs gently rustle in the wind. The sun is shying behind the treetops, turning the sky a soft, lovely red. In the distance, a few birds chirp. The buck raises his head slightly at the sound of a distant twig snapping. Before he knows what happens, a sharp pain surges through his chest. The gentle memories fade from his mind as he topples to the ground with a soft thud.

    I love it, I don't understand why people wouldn't. It's life. It's true. Put the cheesy dialogue aside. Maybe have him bend over the deer and give a moment of silence as he prays to the goddess of nature or some ****.
     
  19. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Because the actual story doesn't seem to be about anything you mentioned?

    Sure, it was nice, decently written, kinda neat, etc, but in the end it just didn't feel really relevant to the story the writer seems to want to be writing.
     
  20. Froggy
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    Ok, apart from killing bambi :p

    I get the impression that you are telling us he is sorry, not showing or making us feel.

    How old is he? How long has he been hunting? If he hates it so much, how come he is so good at it? What is his motivation? Surely there are other hunters?

    I understand he is to be a character that respects life.
    But an apology seems a bit too contrived.

    There was a similar scene in one of the earths children books. Jandalar kills a deer and asks its spirit to convey their thanks to the earth mother for providing them with sustenance. - He shows gratefulness and respect for its life.

    Believing in spirits after all is a way to cope with death.
    Living in a society where hunting is the norm, there would be a belief system helping them justify and cope.

    I think it would be better to make a show of great reverence for the life he has taken, instead of an apology. If he were truly so sorry, he wouldn't keep on doing it. He'd turn into the greatest potato farmer, or something, to feed his people...

    Depending on his belief system, he could feel a kinship to the deer, calling him 'brother' or 'cousin'...
    Doing this, though, you have to keep away from making it sound contrived - what he says may not be personal expression, but ritual, or both...("Thank you brother, for you bring life to my people." - I was going to say something like 'you will be part of my tribe' but then i thought that might justify cannibalism too... oops)
     
  21. YoungCreature
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    How is it not? Apparently, the MC deals with the issue of taking life throughout the novel. He does not like it but understand that it is necessary for the survival of his village. It relates directly to the story. It throws the reader off track for a moment; Unaware where they are being taken and then bringing them to a violent confrontation with the MC and the main story. It is a scene that can be brought up multiple times throughout the novel as the MC deals with the problems of taking life and the issues caused by taking life in the past.

    Also, people don't have to like your MC, especially at first. It is something that will grow throughout the story. Nobody is an angel. And everyone has demons of the past that they have to cope with.
     
  22. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Any given scene can be told through various different characters, and ends up telling different stories. The story being told, as is, in the excerpt given is really the deer's story. As expressed, readers identified with the deer, and then had a bad reaction to the MC, because the deer's story was being told, ended in a tragedy, and that tragedy begins the MC's story, but on a sour note.

    Also keep in mind stories aren't about events, but about people (most successful one's anyway). As you mention, people don't have to like a MC, but a story will have a hard time keeping the reader engaged if the reader doesn't at least understand the MC. How can we understand the MC when it's not even his story being told to start that MC's own story?

    That's why, if you read back through my responses, I don't suggest cutting that entire scene, but instead re-telling it through the MC's perspective, so it becomes the MC's story. This is especially important if you're trying to keep a reader reading a story about an unsympathetic character. You can't just trust the reader will eventually end up liking them (sympathy is a weak narrative vehicle). The empathy for the MC is what creates the connection that causes a reader to be engaged. Even if they don't like a character, they still recognize that character as human, and authentic, and want to see what happens to them. It's very hard to build empathy for a character when introduced in the way we have here, where the MC's story isn't even starting out their own story, lol.
     
  23. Eldritch
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    Popsicle, I took your advice and retold it from the perspective of the MC. Thank you. I feel it works much better now.

    I don't have the time to type it all out atm, but I will post it tomorrow afternoon if you like.
     

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