1. Dagolas
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    Dagolas Banned

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    Motivation for Character to become better

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Dagolas, Jun 17, 2014.

    I'm trying to create this character who is a cold and apathetic hitman, but then gradually turns into a more empathetic, "nicer" person.

    I'm trying to find a motivation for him to change this way, but really can't. Any advice?
     
  2. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You probably need to dig into why he's a cold, apathetic person. If he was born that way, and is a psychopath, he won't become more empathetic or any nicer. He might learn to pretend to be these things, but he won't actually change.

    If his coldness is in reaction to something bad that happened to him, however, then there is certainly possibility for change. He'll probably need to go through some major event that brings it home to him how he's been behaving—or breaks through any pain or trauma he's holding inside. I suppose he could do a slow turn-around, but that might not be such good story material.
     
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  3. Dagolas
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    Dagolas Banned

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    He wasn't treated very nicely growing up and had to quit school early. He then joined the army to get some cash but bailed when he got shot: then he got roped up into the world of Contract Killing. By now he's a professional one.
     
  4. Dagolas
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    Dagolas Banned

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    He wasn't treated very nicely growing up and had to quit school early. He then joined the army to get some cash but bailed when he got shot: then he got roped up into the world of Contract Killing. By now he's a professional one.
     
  5. Chesster
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    Chesster Member

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    It seems as though the character has tripped over on several occasions during his teen to early adult life. I know it may come across as too obvious but a love interest will always soften a hard character or an unlikely friendship.
    I saw a film once, where the main character was riddled with awful traits. He was aggressive, a drunk and didn't have much care for his own well being. A young boy lives opposite and his mother is hitched to a hoodlum who goes everywhere with his prize pitbull. The young boy is the only person to somehow break the main character with early morning friendly greetings and such. One day the pitbull badly bites the boys face and leaves him heavily bandaged. The drunk catches the boy on his way home resembling a mummy, wrapped in bandages, and he instantly goes around to the boys house, takes the pitbull and proceeds in cutting the dogs head off and sits and waits on an armchair on his front lawn for the hoodlum to come looking for his prized dog.
    I know the above story seems extreme, but the main character really is a lost cause up until that point. Then you realise, that his affection for the boy is greater than what is visible on the outside.
    So I would say maybe look down a similar route. Maybe your character witnesses a teenager going through the same tribulations as he did, and he proceeds in taking the boy under his wing?
     
  6. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
     
  7. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    This.

    The character is not a born killer. He quietly struggles with his actions. Dulling his moral senses in order to become calloused enough to deal with the daily grind is his hardest accomplishment in life, but he is not completely numb to the killing. Every little pool of blood and brain matter he sees through his scope gives him a little pit in his stomach and a feeling of tension in his face and chest (signs of a blood pressure spike), but he ignores it.

    Then he starts to have nightmares about being brutally murdered. In some of them, he is shot just like he was shot in the army. When he is awake, he sometimes feels anxious about nothing in particular. Then one day, he has a panic attack.

    Because he is so dedicated to his job, and because he cannot afford to have a panic attack on duty, he overcomes his hesitance and he sees a psychiatrist. At first, he is only willing to talk about his time in the army and his immediate symptoms. The psychiatrist prescribes one drug, then another, and then another, but none of them seem to work. Eventually, the psychiatrist picks up on the fact that there is more to the patient's life than what the patient lets on. After the psychiatrist recites his vows of confidentiality and has his life threatened (maybe) if he ever reveals the patient's secrets, the patient finally confides that he is a hitman.

    The psychiatrist, being dedicated solely to his patients, continues to help. Furthermore, this admission is a huge load off the hitman's chest. The psychiatrist recommends cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and they begin the therapy.

    Although the hitman has no particular inner demons or trauma that result in him being calloused enough to kill people, he is a thoroughly messed up person due to all the subtle attitude changes that he has forced himself to go through. He has a horrifying outlook on life, and he does not value his own humanity at all. Through the course of CBT, he tries new things (even things as simple as controlling his breathing) that do not seem like they should change the way he thinks, but he nonetheless begins to think in different ways. All those little changes clear up his mind. And when he is free to think without the baggage that he has built up over the years, he rediscovers the person who he was as a child. The emotional callouses gradually break down, but his disgust with killing does not.

    He actually becomes a better killer due to his heightened control over his mind and body, but after many more killings, he becomes more and more discontent with the job. He quietly resigns and moves on with his life.

    This is the most mature and thoughtful way to develop the character that I can think of. It is actually an amalgam of several characters from some extremely successful and acclaimed TV shows, so this concept is proven to work in a story. And it is influenced by my personal experience with CBT.

    Just remember to avoid the cliché that plagues stories with psychiatrists: a character has some inner demon hidden deep within his psyche, and it only takes a few conversations with a perceptive person who asks the right questions in order for the inner demon to come to the surface, and suddenly everything is alright. That is not how psychiatry works (especially CBT), and it misses important opportunities to dig really deep into the character's psyche.

    Instead, show CBT for what it really is: not a way to reveal inner demons, but a way to control symptoms. Portray the character's clarity of thought as a result of heightened control over his thought processes.
     
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  8. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Being a proficient cold blooded killer required a specific set of character traits, including intense dedication and devotion to the necessary skills, not simply a traumatised childhood. Motivation might cause him to abandon his career, but it is unlikely to truly change him into a "nicer" person. The only thing that might do that is a trauma so great that it shatters his world view, and for someone so focused, unemotional, and accustomed to death, it is hard to imagine any trauma great enough. Even an accident that crippled him would more likely make him bitter and angry rather than nice. The "meeting a cute child who changes him overnight" plot simply doesn't happen unless he was ready to retire anyway.
     
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  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Guilt/awakening
    Attachment to a victim he then kills (or doesn't)
    A child that reminds him of himself at that age that he kills the parents of
    A crying toddler trying to wake its assasinated mother up
    While I agree with @jannert that in real life a typical contract killer has psychological defects that result in them having no empathy and an event doesn't change that, here you are talking about fiction, the readers may not notice. But you do have to make it credible and when a bad guy becomes a good guy, the reader can't hate the character too much.
     
  10. John Krone
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    John Krone New Member

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    One of his hits, turns bad. A bystander is hit and nearly killed. Or a mark is taken down and only afterwards he realizes a child will now be left behind without a parent. Before the hit, he was told the victim had no kids.

    Or friend of his winds up being related to someone he takes out, and now the hit man knows he killed his friends friend.

    In the short: A hit gone wrong could turn him on a dime. Recall the James Bond recent flic where he was about to retire because he found love?

    Something must go deep into the heart.
    John Krone
     
  11. archerfenris
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    archerfenris Active Member

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    I face a similar issue with one of my characters. He was once a soldier, fighting in a war with a religious-military organization. The organization carried out atrocities that he helped commit. There is a single event that triggers his epiphany, which is the death of his last remaining brother (all four of his brothers die in the war), but that isn't really what changes him. All the death and destruction was harming him because in reality it wasn't who he was. It isn't until after his last brother is killed that he realizes he was only fighting in the military because it's what his family did. He wanted to be like his older brothers. Once he realizes this he leaves the military and joins the priesthood to make up for what he's done.

    When everyone around you has a tendency to say "it's okay to do this," a lot of times, even if you don't agree, you think you do.
     
  12. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    Watch "Leon" aka "The Professional". It tackles this beautifully and effectively.
     
  13. Lewdog
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    Lewdog Come ova here and give me kisses! Supporter Contributor

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    Emotional collateral damage. He could kill someone only to find out they had their kid with them that saw the whole thing. Most hitmen have a set of ethics that they won't kill women or children. Don't ask me how I know that. :whistle:
     
  14. NanashiNoProfile
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    Maybe he isn't the only hitman around.

    Day to day work involves him receiving the name of targets, and he follows the client's instructions to off the target. They are just a name, nothing more to him. The simple cashing of cheques.

    He gets one client who seems incredibly intense and impatient - they want their mark killed now. The hitman sets up on a rooftop opposite his prey. Zooming in on the view through the scope of his rifle, he is surprised to see that the hit is not alone. They don't appear to know that they have company. The other man in room grabs the shoulder of the one marked for death and spins her around. She seems to recognise her plight and falls to her knees, begging silently with her clasped hands.

    The hitman adjusts his sight slightly and fires. The intruder drops. The hitman returns his crosshairs to the target and looks straight at her. Mascara streaming down her face in black smears. He takes his finger from the trigger. She isn't just a target, a number, a cheque. This is how every target must feel, if only for the smallest of moments before they are silenced forever. This is a human.
     
  15. Pandemonia
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    I was thinking the same thing. Which is why I wouldn't write anything involving kids - been done before (thinking the hit man killing his target only now having to take custody of the victim's baby etc.) too many times.

    One thing that might trigger an ethical about-face might be some kind of existential epiphany. Nothing like "finding Jesus" or anything (also cliched) but almost a reversal, if you will. People with difficult childhoods can end up being susceptible to radical ideologies and extreme beliefs. If your character subscribe to one then he may believe that his actions are actually in service to a greater cause. If he can begin to question the ideology driving his actions it may lead to some kind of breakthrough.

    Of course this may be a bit more intellectualized than you might be thinking of going.
     

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