1. DLL333
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    DLL333 Member

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    Need a Little Help Delving and Defining A Character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by DLL333, Jul 22, 2013.

    Trying to get a story off the ground that I hope will turn into a series of novels, but I'm going to let it happen organically and see. It's a "people uniting against a tyrannical government in the near future" inspired by Occupy Wall Street, Anonymous... basically an underground movement that recruits angry, disgruntled capable people and starts to gain traction in exposing the system, primarily focusing on a small "cell" or group of people from different walks of life, and each person with a different personal motivation. The story will begin much like our day to day lives our here, but as time goes on, things like Martial law will be implemented, intentional outbreaks of disease, the group becoming wanted terrorists, etc... so the streets will eventually become deserted and dangerous and they'll resort to living in hiding together... I'm drawing up a blueprint for my main protagonist and I just need a little organization and streamlining because he feels kind of convoluted. Here is what I have:

    CURTIS EDWARDS – Ex-military. Joined military after high school because he wasn’t sure what to do with his life, always feared uncertainty and paving his own way, so he found he really liked being told what to do; it made life easy. After the military, he tried for years to try and fit in a niche of society, but could never quite do it. Had lots of interests, was smart, but a bit of a loner and kind of antisocial, though he developed the ability to hide it and pretend otherwise extremely well. Anything interesting he tried to turn into a career became dull, boring. 30 years old, with a wife and infant son.
    His complexities lie in the eventual realization that his disdain and bitterness toward the system aren’t rooted in selflessness and the altruism to want to help all people, but the fact that he’s such a mental/psychological nomad and can’t be happy and successful in his own life. He takes on the world’s problems because he can’t solve his own. His son becomes his motivation, as a sort of "moral anchor" in that he's the first real genuine emotion/love Curtis has experienced, and he doesn't have to pretend his way through one aspect of his life. He doesn’t want his son to inherit the world we live in with all its problems and grow up to be the same person he turned out to be. Other characters eventually question his commitment to “the cause” because they aren't sure whether it’s him acting out some kind of personal, bitter vendetta or whether he really believes he’s fighting for the greater good.
    He's athletic, capable, former infantry... (I was thinking about bringing in something like a death wish).. he would always put himself in harms way, at times being so low that "searching for meaning in life" turned into "I can't find it, I have no purpose in life except to sacrifice myself for what I hope is the greater good."



    So I have a bit of sociopathy in there as a result of being antisocial and having to sort of pretend his way through life, fearing uncertainty and kind of secretly terrified to live life "on his own"; he hides his shortcomings and his unhappiness, even to himself, until he eventually can't anymore. Taking on the world's problems because he can't solve his own... can't remember what this complex is called. Not a Messiah complex, but something else. I wanted to give this character a lot of complexity that people can relate to with, you know, being unhappy day to day, looking for meaning in life but being unable to find it because they're not quite sure what they're looking for, but I don't want to have his personality and motivation all over the map like I'm moving him through the story in arbitrary directions... any thoughts/criticism/advice?
     
  2. huntsman40
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    huntsman40 Active Member

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    My first thought is why someone that is a loner would join the military. It’s one job you are nearly certain to never be left on your own. So I'm not sure I'd like him to be a "doesn't play well with others" character coming from that background. Would also be less likely he would look to marry and have a family as well.

    There is nothing wrong with making your character have many layers, as long as they make sense of course. I would focus on his motivation being for his child and not having direction with his life since leaving the military. This gives him two reasons to join a fight against a fascist government and of course the skills to be useful.

    I would drop the loner/antisocial/sociopath aspect unless you have very good reason to use it, as it might seem a little odd to some readers given his background in a career that is very social generally. Military people are often very tight knit - closer than family in a lot of cases. If something happened to him in the military to make him like this then fair enough, but otherwise not sure antisocial is the best route, and can make character interactions tough.
     
  3. DLL333
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    DLL333 Member

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    Hmm. Ok, thanks for responding, that's a good idea. I just wanted to have him deal with a conflict regarding his real motivations for joining and participating in the movement. The whole realization of "Putting the world's problems on his shoulders because he can't solve his own." His son is his moral anchor, but he's also a cause of conflicting emotions (genuine altruism to help his son vs. blaming and combating the system because he can't figure out his niche or how to succeed in life) the whole antisocial/loner aspect I suppose is a bit erroneous and unnecessary. I still maintain that he joined the military because it made life easy. Both child-raising and being a key player in this organization is an incredible amount of pressure he's just not used to.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In general, I don't believe in character summaries; I think that characters form when you put the barest shell onstage. But all the same:

    > After the military,

    Why is there an "after" - why did he leave? When he didn't like the ex-military world, why didn't he sign back up?

    > 30 years old, with a wife and infant son.

    If he's an antisocial loner, why did he get married?

    > His complexities lie in the eventual realization

    Are you saying that he realizes this, or the readers do?

    > His son becomes his motivation, as a sort of "moral anchor" in
    > that he's the first real genuine emotion/love Curtis has experienced,

    Again, why did he get married, then? The wife seems to exist purely as an accessory to provide the motivation of the son. Who is she? Why did she marry him, why did she choose to have a child with him, why does she stay with him?

    In fact, I think that I'm finding the wife to be possibly the more interesting viewpoint character.
     
  5. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Similar to Chicken's advice, I think you need to spend some time with your character by writing some scenes with him to determine what his relationships are like. These aren't scenes that will necessarily go in your story -- they're just for you. Can you write the scene of when he first met his wife? What was it about her that led him to want to marry her? You said several times that his son is his moral compass and the most important thing to him -- more so than his wife? Did she get pregnant unexpectedly early in their relationship and he felt he had to marry her? What is this relationship like? I think you need to know exactly what his relationship is with his wife, even if you don't put that in the story. It will help you understand him -- his views toward women, family, love, etc.

    Also, write a scene where he's coming home from work. Does he expect his wife and son to be there? How does he feel about that? Is he excited or is he dreading it? Does the reality of when he gets home meet his expectation -- does his wife kiss him on the cheek and serve him chicken or is the baby screaming his head off and the wife is exhausted and he has potato chips for dinner after she yells at him? What happens the rest of that evening?
     
  6. randomme1
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    randomme1 Member

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    ^^Chicagoliz's advice, couldn't have said it better if I tried.

    Just to repeat what other's have said, I think the loner bit doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I understand the son as his only motivation, I understand why he joined the military, and I understand his predicament after getting out of the military. You might need a reason for why he couldn't join back up though. Did he receive an injury that doesn't necessarily affect his skill in a fight but would make the military kick him out? (like being deaf in one ear, research other injuries if this would fit your protag). Was he dishonorably discharged? I have a few ex-military buds who are actually going through this after military life, but that's because they are not able to join back up, otherwise they would.

    I like his motives. Making the world better for his son is a plus. Taking the world's problems on so that he doesn't have to confront his is awesome as well. If the rest of his, resitance group, is fanatical and their motives are more patriotic and passionate, there's definetely the chance for mistrust.

    And if he must be a loner, then i would suggest taking his wife out of the equation. If it were me, I would make it so that she left him with the kid or she died, something like that. Not a lot of women would stick around someone who is like him, let alone stay married to the guy.
     
  7. DLL333
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    DLL333 Member

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    Thanks guys, it's good to get some outside perspective. I'm thinking about doing away with the wife (she left him or something), and an issue (possibly psychological) prevents him from joining back up... perhaps after he gets out of military, he hits bottom and his wife leaves him (though I want to keep the son in the equation, and I don't know why she'd leave their son with him, I'd have to work that out).. and maybe further on down the line, re-introducing the wife into the resistance group after Curtis perhaps has another love interest.. that would make for an interesting conflict, particularly with the wife reacting to another woman being a mother-figure to her son.

    Well the whole "mistrust" thing is a conflict within the resistance group that I wanted from the beginning... in the beginning, Curtis's motives seem selfless enough, but the group realizes that he's hiding and repressing a lot of bitterness towards himself and blaming the system for his own problems... thus, the mistrust comes from the group believing he really doesn't care about the cause, only exploiting a cop-out for his own failed life and psychological problems. This leaves Curtis with nowhere to hide (the group dosen't trust him, the Government's after him, etc.) he has no choice but to deal with all the pretending he's been doing throughout his life. Perhaps this doesn't mean he's a sociopath or has malicious intent, but views it as "It's how I get by in life."
     
  8. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    [MENTION=14896]ChickenFreak and [MENTION=38553]chicagoliz[/MENTION] both gave good advice. I'm only going to add what I think lies behind it (or at least, what lies behind it for me).

    The reason I don't like to assume too much about characters before I've started writing the story is that the events of the story change the characters, just as characters shape the story. The more you assume about your MC's past before you start, the more you hem yourself in as to what he might do and how he might react to new situations. In my one attempt at a dystopian novel (which I set aside for a variety of reasons), I knew almost nothing about my MC when I started, other than he was on a deserted road and had reason to fear the authorities. As I wrote his present, I began to fill in the blanks about his past. As I look over my completed works as well as my current project, I find it is much the same. Of course, that doesn't mean that it all comes out nice and neat and clean - there will always be a lot of editing and restructuring to do.

    But this iterative process is, I think, the best way to approach the task of developing a story, if only because new ideas are always occurring to you (or should be, anyway) as you write.

    Hope this helps.
     
  9. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    DLL333: I have a thought I would like to share Maybe Curtis's wife and child died and something that is really bad in this world contributed to their death's and Curtis want's to change the world so that other people's families won't have to experience the same bad thing that killed his own family.
     
  10. DLL333
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    DLL333 Member

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    Hmm.. that's interesting too.. thanks for the input!
     

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