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  1. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    Motivating the protagonist

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by tcol4417, Jul 27, 2009.

    ***Short version of question below***

    So I've started working on a survival horror (zombies: I know, I know) but with world falling apart around the main character I've gotten stuck trying to think of a feasible motivation for him to do something other than curl up in a corner and cry.

    The typical cliche is that he has a lost wife/daughter/son/"bestest frend in tha hole woid wulrd" that he needs to go out and find and/or save the world while doing so but it's a scenario I'd rather avoid.

    Examples like the Resident Evil series where it's "survive and beat up the bad guys" are too shallow for a good book [/opinion] but I'm not entirely sure that a plot based entirely around the emotional developments that would take place in such an outlandish setting could be considered good either.

    ***

    Could a book about the human element surviving and evolving in a zombie apocalypse propel itself sufficiently? (e.g. Highschool of the Dead, but minus the missing parents).
     
  2. daturaonfire
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    daturaonfire Senior Member

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    If he's by himself, he could be motivated by sheer loneliness to go out looking for other survivors. Isolation for some people is more unbearable than the risk of death. Or his surrounding area runs out of food or clean water: he won't have much choice but to strike out looking for a new town. If you borrow from I Am Legend, and have the zombies spread by infection, he might get infected and go looking for a doctor for a cure. There are plenty of reasons, I'm sure. :-D
     
  3. OneMoreNameless
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    OneMoreNameless Contributing Member

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    If you set up the circumstances correctly, surviving can be enough of a motivator for a sufficiently determined character. A zombie fouls the water source during an attack -> Protagonist needs to move and find a new water source. Zombies rising around his house -> Protagonist needs to fight his way out. You can't get much of an epic plot out of one person surviving (unless, I guess, you make his personal survival symbolic of the human spirit and he ends up inspiring the masses to fight back etc.), but if the protagonist considers the survival of his family/friends/town as important as the survival of himself, then he needs to start taking greater measures merely to keep everyone alive.

    Or you could just write the protagonist as somebody who had previously loved traveling (/now can't believe the world has ended until he's seen all of it for himself) or was some kind of adrenaline junkie (/now kills zombies for the thrill, cue moral dilemmas and/or love interests). Maybe they knew the person responsible and are now determined to scour the world and ensure revenge has been exacted. And so on.
     
  4. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    In The Road, the protagonists are motivated simply by the goal of reaching the East coast. Like the old saying goes, its not the destination, its the journey that counts.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There could be rumors of a secure sanctuary with a colony of survivors, or a trail of hints that someone was working on a weapon/cure to end the plague of undead.

    Or it could be as simple as a stubborn refusal to lie down and die, despite all odds. However, I would personally find that kind of story somewhat pointless, unless he is soul-searching for a reason to continue. Without hope, without a goal, it would be a depressing story, no matter how good a platform for a philosophical exploration.
     
  6. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    Might it be a character trait, rather than a specific goal?

    Your character is a "survivor type." You might even go deep within his or her psyche... twenty five years ago, when he was a Boy Scout (Or in Vietnam? Operation Desert Storm?) they were trapped, and he watched his father (Commander?) go through (fill in your invented hell) and never gave up, and this event forever engrafted itself onto his soul and now, it would never be in his character to give up either...

    You don't even have to tell the reader the whole story of your character's past, as long as you know the whole story you can give just enough glimpses of who your character is and what his history is to make his grit and determination known to them.

    Whatever glimpse you choose to show of this past event, please, make it exciting, not an info dump. You can wait until later in the story to reveal the event, or, if you use the prologue method, give us just a glimpse and don't even show us the conclusion, he's in the battlefield (or a Boy Scout climbing a mountain, or whatever), there's an explosion, and... (switch to Chapter 1, 20 years later, when the zombies are taking over.)

    You can also combine things, of course -- have a "never give up" attitude as a character trait, in addition to a specific goal... but I think you should know your character's heart and mind, and let your character's inner self drive his motivation, rather than external events.

    If you still want a specific goal, that could really be anything... Cognito's colony of survivors, of course, The Road's "trying to get to the east coast," your detested "lost wife" (you could flip that: he could be searching for his lost enemy, in order to enact revenge, perhaps even the scientist whose experiment created this mess.)

    Then again, he could be searching for the secret message on the back of the Declaration of Independence, that reveals that Mary Magdaline's children knew about the Flux Capacitor, which, when put inside a Delorean makes time travel possible. If I'm being funny now, it's because I agree with the poster that said, it's not the destination, it's the journey that counts.
     
  7. sprirj
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    sprirj Contributing Member

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    What if the MC is motivated by the zombies movements, maybe its them that are making the journey.... something more than brains? :p And as he/she gets closer, the zombie packs get bigger, and things get riskier and more dangerous.
     
  8. Henry The Purple
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    Henry The Purple Active Member

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    I'm a fan of the Resident Evil series, so I get where you are coming from. Bear in mind that character development in the RE series is minimalistic, incompetent, and the motivations fueling the characters are farfetched and childishly implemented...not very inspiring, eh?

    The astounding (albeit horrific) aesthetics and environments in that game, on the other hand, drip with a bloody life of their own. Scary stuff...

    Anyway, what 'motivates' your character is up to you. You are the grand designer...it is up to you to find out what makes him/her tick. Just don't plague your character with an IQ below 50, an indifference to gore/death, and a tendency to start every moment of dialogue with ''Hi, my name is Claire and I'm looking for my brother, Mary Sue!''
     
  9. Three
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    Three Member

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    I really like OneMoreNameless's idea that he/she's an adrenaline junkie, actually. That might just me my attraction to unusual characters acting up again.

    Or... there could be just a few zombies to fight off, and you're character is struggling with insanity. It could be all in his head.

    Kudos on trying to avoid the colossal monolith of the zombie apocalypse mc cliche. It has devoured many, many stories only to regurgitate them as mediocre, a fate surely worse than death.
     
  10. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    How about someone he loves becomes a zombie. He about gives up until he hears about or thinks about a way to cure that person. In his quest to find or make the cure (this should be difficult) he slowly uncovers a conspiracy, one he never would think possible. Something about who made the zombies and why.

    Now, not only does he need to get the cure to save the person he loves, but he is compelled to expose the conspiracy.

    You could throw in a few subplot along the way that tie into the conspiracy.
     

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