1. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    The problem with "a charmed life" for the lead character.

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by The Tourist, Mar 29, 2012.

    I suppose my problem is quite common. The central portion of any story is wending your main character's life through interesting times. The problem I'm facing is getting past the problem of making his life look "charmed," or as if the game was rigged.

    You can have ancillary characters, stand by the side of the lead, go through the same crisis, and wind up as dead as a doornail. In many stories, the hero is unscathed.

    Clearly, in a novel about the cruel randomness of war, you could depict incoming fire to kill a supporting character leaving the lead untouched and horrified. In fact, a cannon shot did that exact thing in the movie "The Patriot."

    But for me it's kind of a "been there, done that." And I don't see where a story told from the standpoint of an ensemble cast playing 'who lives who dies' is the answer, either. That's the plot of "Alien."

    I have a specific lead, in a specific time, accomplishing a specific goal. Your heart won't go out to him if the world is on fire and yet in the next scene there's not even a hint of a scorch mark on his jacket.

    How do you infer he's not a 'ringer'?
     
  2. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    If your character is standing in the middle of the battfield surrounded by a halo of carnage and destruction that hasn't come within 3 feet of him, then yes, this might look a little odd. To get around the impression that he is a) immortal or b) the author's cherished creation he can't bear to harm, you need to make him take a share in the consequences. At the moment your ancillary characters are reaping them for him like a plague of really bad luck - I think after a while, people would start to avoid him as the kiss of death ;)

    So your MC has to cop some damage at some point. What's wrong with giving him some wounds or emotional problems? Why are you so reluctant to rough him up a little?

    p.s 'infer' means to deduce or conclude by reasoning - I think you mean 'imply' ;)
     
  3. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    That happens, in fact, I make it a point. He does suffer pain, both physical and emotional. That's central to where he 'lives' in the plot. The issue I'm facing is that much of the story involves what we know is stiff shoulder from an old injury that must never be fully explained and a non-heroic condition of PTSD.

    Due to a full slate of life, friendships, love, having his heroes revealed as frauds and yes, a few gunshots, my overall arc looks pretty unsurvivable. I'm having trouble with crossing a line--or not getting too near it to make him look invincible..
     
  4. Protar
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    Protar Active Member

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    Why not actually kill off a major character?
     
  5. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I look at it this way - the story is about someone who lived to tell the story. It's not that he is "charmed" it's just that he is there. There has to be a way for someone to survive, someone always survives in real life too. As long as you are writing about a realistic person, yeah he'll be more lucky than his dead comerade but he'll be a hella more unlucky then, I don't know, some aristocrat child who grew up in mansions and was travelling the world for fun, as his daddy sold guns to both warring sides. Everything is relative.
     
  6. Tinker
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    Tinker New Member

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    I completely agree. In addition, I would like to point out that even though a character lives through seemingly impossible odds, it doesn't make us like them any less if its done right. If the character is flung from an airplane at 60000 feet without a parachute, and shot in the chest on the way down, then lands on a trampoline and walks to the hospital to treat his flesh wound I'm putting the book down and never opening it again. But if he has the luck (good or bad depending on your viewpoint) to survive a bombing, the bunker collapsing, and three days buried under rubble before he is pulled, broken and delirious, from the ruins I'm probably going to read the next chapter to find out how he handles his new life.
     
  7. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Thanks for the help, guys. My concern comes about +1/3 into the story where the lead changes not only his job, but his philosophy, his alligance to the flag he serves and finally almost loses it all for an impossible love.

    I take this course over one line I find that even applies to my personal development, that is, "He who he loveth, he burnish."

    It even filters down to our usual axioms and adages like, "All good things come to he who waits," or "Paying your dues." Even many video games rely on the concept of a 'quest' to obtain some prize.

    And so you run the dilemma of eliminating the lead with the fodder because no one could survive, or setting the bar so low it sounds like just another fun weekend. I have to break the poor putz down, short of killing him. If you saw Charleton Heston climb out from under a rock before he meets the herdsmen, that's the way I want you to view my lead character.
     
  8. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think one of two things is happening here. (Or both, perhaps.)

    Firstly, you may have set the stakes too high. If you're looking at your story and thinking "there's no way this guy could survive all that," it might be that you've dumped too much in your MC's lap for him to realistically handle. Good writing can allow you to stretch the odds a little, but there's still a breaking point at which you have to take a step back, look at what's happening in the story, and ask yourself "have I gone too far?" If that's the case, just tone it down a little. Less epic battles, less bullets flying, less carnage. Don't make it laughably easy, but bring it back into the realm of reality.

    Secondly, maybe your MC is just too weak or ill-equipped for what you've thrown at him. If you don't want to crank down the chaos, you can crank up your MC. Even the traditional quest format often involves the MC getting the tools he needs to face seemingly impossible odds. The level of opposition he faces at the end would be nigh-impossible to survive at the beginning, because he is growing as he continues the journey. Heroes often pick up new tools, people, and knowledge on their way to their goal. With each new resource your hero gathers, the end goal becomes less impossible to attain.

    (Just be mindful these tools/abilities/allies don't come across as cheap plot devices. Put some thought into them, and don't just pull a "magic bullet" out of nowhere.)
     
  9. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    AnonyMouse, without revealing too much, the 'quest' that I have set him on doesn't really involve him. It eludes to being a cog in a plan much bigger than himself. If he is to succeed, he is not only going to have to push himself, but also to stretch foregone conclusions.

    In other words, let me teach you Bulgarian zen while I lash you with a rug beater.

    Like I said earlier, it is not going to be a happy ending. I just want the plunge to have a ring of believability. The toll it takes has to make the reader wince, but believe it is in the realm of possibilities. It is a problem to gauge.
     
  10. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    AnonyMouse put it extremely well; what to do when you've made the odds too impossibly stacked against your hero's survival? Crank up the hero or lower the odds.

    I really like the idea of the hero developing skills (mental or physical) throughout the story that enable him to cope with progressively more challenging odds, and the video game analogy works well. You have to play the entire level and pick up the right tools/skills/powers before you face the end level gatekeeper. If you cheat and skip to the end, you're toast ;)

    I read a historical novel recently where the MC went through just about every trial and hardship imaginable. His only talent seemed to be his ability to kill people, which enabled him to emerge virtually unscathed from every single certain death situation, whether he was fighting off 20 thugs in the street or fighting on the losing side in battle. After about the 20th miraculous escape from danger, or bad situation inexplicably turning to his advantage, I began to lose sympathy, and interest. Heroes like that are boring, because there's no tension, no suspense - you know they will always come out ok.

    Conversely, I read another book by this author where the whole way through we were faced with the possibility that the hero might, or even probably would, die. I couldn't stop turning the page right til the end, always wondering if this would be the moment, hoping it wouldn't happen...

    I was actually susprised when he finally DID die, as I had been starting to think the author was going to chicken out. But OMG, that was a great character, and a thrilling read :D
     
  11. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    My character does die, the reader knows it early. Hopefully finally knowing why and finding it was "a beautiful death" will satisfy the reader. My fear is that there will be a hard and fast dichotomy between the younger and the older readers. However, with no money on the table from a publisher it doesn't seem like much of a concern now. BTW, you should read the epilogue...it's already written in my head. Maybe I should write that this afternoon.
     
  12. Nakhti
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    Nakhti Banned

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    That would certainly be helpful if you'd like me to read it :D

    From reading your other post I think I can imagine what the epilogue will be like, and I wonder whether your entire book could be just a vehicle for that epilogue - i.e. the character's salvation. Do you consider this the most important part of the novel? Because an epilogue, by definition, is an anticlimax...
     
  13. Good Apollo
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    Good Apollo New Member

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    Considering you're writing a war story, I don't think you're talking about a charmed life at all. A lot of soldiers in WWII, including my own grandfather, served on the frontlines for extended periods of time, and returned home with stories of hundreds of people dying around them. War doesn't put an expiration date on you. People live and people die - it's all fate, luck, and good tactics.

    He may very well survive or just become wounded.
     

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