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  1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    My protagonist has turned into a bigot.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Link the Writer, Aug 11, 2010.

    Yesterday I was bored and decided to have my French protagonist say just about every mean thing I could think up of that's directed to the British. I thought it would be hilarious because there was no way he'd actually say things like "Is the British flag really just an image of a wagon wheel?" or "The history of England gives me a painful migraine. At least French history is easier to actually study."

    About twenty insults later, I turned off the computer.

    This morning, I turned it back on and re-read the phrases again, only to realize that some of the nasty insults could actually fit with him and I began to see a nastier side of him, a bigot who thinks he's better than the British because he's French and would occasionally voice his low opinion to whomever he felt like ragging on.

    This...was not planned at all. I had planned for him to actually like them, even had a romance sub-plot going on and now he's turned into a major bigot.

    And I find him more interesting than before. No longer is he the one-dimensional "I love all I meet" guy. He actually has an arrogant air about him.

    Is this natural? Should I go ahead and let him be a bigot? Have your characters ever turned into something completely unexpected?
     
  2. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    :D There is no such thing as 'natural' way of developing a char. I say keep him as bigot, keep the romance sub-plot going, show how he changes from a bigot to a British liker
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    He turned into exactly what you made him to be. Remember how you got there:
    You set the parameters, and you wrote to them.

    The only surprise was because you got out of that mindset, and then looked back at what you had done.

    ...to an Anglophile.
     
  4. Aconite
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    Aconite Senior Member

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    I would ask two questions:

    1) Does the bigotry make the plot, as well as the character, more interesting or less?

    At the risk of dragging out the old cliche, all good characters have flaws. I'd personally find Mr. Frenchman's romance with a British woman more interesting with the bigotry complication, rather than less. Especially if, as you imply, he is hiding it and trying to put on airs of being egalitarian to all other countries. I think you would find the plot more interesting to write with that twist thrown in, too, but that's just a guess.

    2) Is there a way to make the bigotry 'justified' to the reader?

    The cliche way to do this is have the British burn down his family farm and shoot his dog. Don't do that. However, there are ways to make his bigotry justified, especially if you are writing historical fiction. From the Ancien Regime through the Napoleonic Era, especially, France was very much an island unto itself. The culture was very insular, which had some benefits and some (probably more obvious) disadvantages. During the French Revolution, Britain and most of Continental Europe were dead set against France; the country had practically no 'friends' at the time. You could use something like that, especially if he was raised and educated without much exposure to other countries' citizenry, as a justification for the bigotry so that he remains sympathetic despite his xenophobia.

    Provided you can answer those two questions with a 'yes,' I don't think you're making a mistake, if you'll pardon the broad generalization of my reply!
     
  5. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Good idea.

    I had also considered that maybe he's also somewhat of a coward, making these insults to British people he knows can't fight back against him. (He's small, somewhat weak, so maybe he has some sort of bully-syndrome deal where once he's firmly in charge, he exploits the crap out of it.)

    Of course, he does have likeable qualities that balances out the arrogant, bigoted behavior he has. I don't want to go so far into the "dark side" if you will that readers will simply not enjoy him anymore (Like Dr. Cox and family from Scrubs).

    And the irony of it all, he DOES have British friends, though technically they're Scotsmen whose country was taken over by the English, so he probably puts them in the "People oppressed by the English" catagory. :D He basically acts like a "father/mentor" to them, in his head. lol

    And thinking about his past, it would make perfect sense he'd have a low opinion of Great Britain as a whole. (Uh, would his being an orphan due to the British and being raised by the English who forces an English name on him be a cliche?)

    But still, why would a bigot want to fall in love with a woman/man belonging to the same group of people he/she hates so much?
     
  6. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why not let him tell you lol? He has developed as a bigot find out how far you can take it. My characters tell me about themselves all the time, have just discovered my fantastic big brother has haboured jealousy for years towards his little brother.
     
  7. Aconite
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    Aconite Senior Member

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    Depending on when your story is set, there's always religion. Maybe he's a Huguenot and has fallen in love with an English Protestant woman; maybe he's Catholic and has fallen in love with an English Catholic woman, who due to religious persecution from the 1550s through about 1700 can't practice her religion in England without it being either criminalized (earlier) or penalized (later). Maybe both are Jewish, who were not treated well in either England or France historically, but who were nonetheless a sizeable population in both countries--although with that, concerns of cultural identity may trump your character's bigotry rather handily.

    Aristocrats of all countries mingled together, owing to intermarriage between several royal families of different dynasties and eras. Maybe they're both aristocrats.

    If you want to go blue-collar, maybe they both work in the same trade. Maybe they're engaged in trade over the Channel--possibly illegal, which would IMO be a fun twist to the story.

    Just some ideas!
     
  8. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Well, he does live in a largely English town and the only French friend he has is old enough to be his mother, pratically, so he'd have good reasons to not like the British. They took his heritage, his culture away from him. Stripped him naked if you will and imposed their own culture and heritage onto him. The only thing he has that he can truly call his own is his French language, kept alive only due to his French friend (whom, btw, doesn't really like the British herself).

    That and the English caretaker he lives with hates the French for his own reasons, so we've got the makings of the perfect bigot. He may even consider himself supreme, that the French deserves more than what she's got. He could develop a sense of entitlement for himself and his people.

    EDIT: Another thing I was thinking of was how to make the readers offended by his comments rather than a simple "meh". Yes, the comment about the British flag being a wheel and English history=Migraine aren't particularly nice things to say in polite society, but I want readers to go: "Wow, that was low, Mister Frenchman. Low."
     
  9. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    Well, that's the beauty and unpredictability of love, you may find it where you least expect... don't worry it'll make your story all the more interesting.

    Good one. Consider also making him superficial bigot to keep up an image... wait... that gives me an idea.... he started off as a true bigot, falls in love with a British girl, and he is converted into an Anglophile (thanks Cogito), but had to keep up the image of a bigot in front of the Scotsman or whoever it is or, for whatever reason he might have.... this will be interesting imo.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Sometimes "romance" is a form of aggression. Domination. Many misogynists are incorrigible womanizers.
     
  11. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Type Alf Garnett into Youtube. It was a comedy series about a bigot that lasted for years in the UK and has his interactions with people of all colours and creeds.
     
  12. Aconite
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    Aconite Senior Member

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    Which English or English-influenced town? Historically, especially if the setting is within the UK of that time period, the likelihood of someone in that setting palling up with the other lone French person in town and choosing to develop a new identity, especially presuming he has been raised before adolescence in an English town, is less likely than is the possibility that he is inculcated in British ways and identifies as English, after a fashion. Forced assimilation, which is what you describe, is much more successful on an individual basis than you would think, however difficult it is to do to a group of individuals. It gets harder to brainwash someone like that the older the target is, but the chance of success still vastly outweighs the chance of failure.

    Barring a stronger setup, his strident French nationalism would tug at my suspension of disbelief too much, I'm afraid. And re. Washington the dog, as you mentioned before, be careful of including pro-American sentiments if we're talking post-American Revolution instead of circa, because the American Revolution bankrupted France and was one of the factors that led to the French Revolution: It was a popular cause to the aristocracy, but not to the lower or middle classes.

    As far as how to make the reader feel the sting of the insult, though? Sex. The French in that era regarded the English as rather 'workmanlike' romancers, if you catch my drift. Especially in that era, an insult along those lines will also be regarded as a low blow by just about anyone, French or English, who has some degree of social grace.
     
  13. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I forgot to mention the setting was in Colonial America circa the Revolution and he's a French kid living in a largely loyalist town. My bad. :redface:

    He basically came from a French colony, but in the Seven Years War, he was seperated from his parents and raised by the English who found him (and he was an infant when they found him).
     
  14. Lyssaur
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    Lyssaur Member

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    I'd say if it came out naturally then you should probably stick with it. Just because you made guidelines doesn't mean you have to follow them, especially when developing a character.
     
  15. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I once saw a documentary where a neo-nazi party leader happened to date an arabian girl.

    It's weird, but people are weird.
     
  16. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    Look, a lot of the time we're wrong about our own characters. If he works better as a British-hating bigot, maybe you should ask yourself, "Why shouldn't he be?" There are times when we writers start getting these nagging questions, and the best thing to do is try to answer them; if there's no answer, maybe your character needs to be seen in a new way. What's wrong with having an imperfect protagonist?

    In fact, your protagonist might be a more interesting character if he's biased against the British. There could be all manner of reasons why he has this bias, even if he lives in a largely British town. Maybe he blames them for some issue in his life, for example. A character with some negative traits thrown in is so much more interesting than a character who portrays virtue and understanding and kindness on every level--the former is intriguing, the latter is nauseating.

    And why wouldn't a Frenchman fall in love with a British woman, even if he didn't like the British? Romance doesn't always follow the way a person usually thinks. Outside of North America there are many negative stereotypes about Americans, but someone who holds those views might still have great respect for an individual American. And during the slave trade in the U.S., a surprising number of people in a white supremacist environment had children with African immigrants or freed slaves, despite the social taboos.

    You could also take that romance in a darker light, of course. I can tell that you wouldn't agree with this idea, but perhaps he purposefully goes after a British woman so that he can feel dominant over her and symbolically demonstrate his ideas of French supremacy over the British. However, that involves a whole new level of negative traits in your character, which you probably don't want to go with.
     

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