1. Deven

    Deven New Member

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    Forgiving the Sociopath?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Deven, Jan 2, 2017.

    I'm at a crossroads with an animated story plot that I essentially have completed. A major theme in my story is redemption and I'm trying to accompany it with forgiveness, which brings me to my major issue:

    I'm dealing with a primary antagonist so manipulative and utterly devoid of morals, that he briefly succeeds in extorting the protagonist by threatening to drive their already-depressed best friend into suicide, using very personal information he acquired after hacking their computer. He unrepentantly enjoys every second of his scheme and only seems to regret the fact that he's eventually outsmarted and arrested. Not once does he display a single positive or selfless trait and he'd probably this all again if he could.

    The depressed young teen, while emotionally shaken and agreeing with the legal punishment, boldly makes a stand to not aggressively demonize and mock our now-defeated antagonist like his protagonist friend does. Instead, he pities him for being so inexplicably depraved and broken, maybe even going as far as to use the f-word: "forgive".

    I worry that such an action is inherently seen as naive, foolish and unbelievably heavyhanded of a message by most audiences, but maybe I'm wrong on this.

    Has mercy for the so-called "irredeemable" ever ruined an otherwise good story for you?
     
  2. Seren

    Seren Writeaholic

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    Sometimes characters forgiving the antagonist does ruin things, especially when the antagonist is not particularly likeable. I don't think I would personally feel any sympathy for your antagonist unless there was more of a reason for me to aside from him simply being a sociopath. Because he is a sociopath, I don't think the fact that he is a sociopath would bother him, so I wouldn't feel sorry for him for being one. However, as long as your character just forgives him, and that forgiveness doesn't lead to something stupid like helping him to escape prison/his legal punishment, I think it would be fine. What annoys me is when stupid Character A forgives Character B for, I don't know, attempting to kill them say, and puts themselves in a position where Character B can (and does) do it again.
     
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  3. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm having trouble with "boldly makes a stand..." Why is this bold? Will there be consequences for not mocking the antagonist? It's a level of apparent editorializing that makes me worry that your story may too obviously editorialize.

    I'm also not clear on how this is mercy. The antagonist will still be prosecuted, and the antagonist presumably doesn't care if he's forgiven or not. So I don't see it as mercy.

    In general, the forgiveness isn't inherently a problem, but I fear that you may be painting it brightly and aiming spotlights at it, and that that is likely to be a problem.
     
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  4. Deven

    Deven New Member

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    Oh, I HAAAAAAATE THAT. Don't worry, I'll never write a character that stupid unless it's some kind of ridiculous satire.


    Fair questions and observations! Should help somewhat if I go a little more in depth on these characters:
    (These aren't their actual names, but close. Fortunately, I'm not THAT much of a corny hack. :))

    The protagonist, "Rod", was once a jerk with a bitter, aggressive mean streak. He used to do some bad, but not quite criminal things, until he paid for it in a big way and saw the light. He soon befriended an equally lonely, but very timid and depressed kid named Chester who could never hurt a fly. Chester views Rod as the perfect role model - a paragon of virtue, confidence and intelligence. He never questions him and would follow him anywhere. Rod recognizes this and has gone to great lengths to hide his checkered past as a result.

    Even though we're dealing with a disgustingly cruel, defeated antagonist, the idea of Rod, his hero, dehumanizing, berating and mocking anyone else is absolutely devastating for Chester. Disapproving and putting a stop to this is actually a pretty big step for the character and for his friendship.

    Should've elaborated a little more on the antagonist as well. He probably would do it all again, he wouldn't outwardly express any gratitude or remorse at being forgiven, but knowing this scheme was the worst thing he's ever done to anyone, he'll absolutely be caught off-guard by it. Putting just the slightest hint of ambiguity in his reaction is enough for me. That moment is the last we'll ever see of him.

    With that, hopefully I come off as a little less of the blatant message-pusher that I admittedly still really am. ;)
     
  5. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    How do you plan to show Chester's forgiveness? How much time will be spent on it? In whose POV will we be when it's being shown? etc.

    In other words - there are ways to make this work, and ways to make it not work, just like most things in writing. I think you're going to have to give it a try and see how it goes.
     
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  6. making tracks

    making tracks Active Member

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    Hi, I'm new here so sorry if this isn't quite the right response!
    I think forgiveness can be very interesting because it can become quite complex. Deciding to forgive someone and actually being able to forgive them and stop feeling that resentment are often separate things. Does your character want to forgive the sociopath to help himself move on and let go of the feelings the sociopath stirred in him, or is it to make a point to Rod and the antagonist that people should still try to be 'good' in the face of such antagonism? Is it possible that Chester will make a point of acting as though he has forgiven the antagonist, but internally still harbouring some hatred, or is his character one that really will be able to forgive? I also like what you said about the antagonist being caught off guard by forgiveness. Has he done so much that he hasn't been forgiven for that he has convinced himself he doesn't care about forgiveness, or as a sociopath, does he genuinely not care? In turn, how would it affect Chester to go out of his way to forgive someone if they actually don't care either way whether he forgives them or not? Does he need someone to acknowledge that he has 'done good' by forgiving him, or is the forgiveness enough? So I think there are ways you can make the idea of forgiveness interesting or ambiguous enough that it doesn't come across as just heavy handed.
    Hope this helps!
     
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  7. Deven

    Deven New Member

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    If people believe it, I feel it can aid the overall plot, but I wouldn't spend a ton of time on it. Most likely, it would be Chester standing up to Rod by getting in between the two during the heat of the moment and pleading for him to stop. Shortly after, it would be one of various things Rod and Chester reflect upon during a final heart-to-heart about where their friendship stands following the entire main ordeal of the plot. I'm tempted, but hesitant to pull the trigger on having Chester directly face the defeated antagonist and verbally express his forgiveness, but I know in his heart, he'd absolutely mean it. He struggles with self-confidence, but he's a very innocent and compassionate kid who knows he's no longer in any danger. The furthest I might go is have them communicate non-verbally, with Chester's look of sadness and pity possibly being met with a brief look of perplexed awe from the antagonist, rather than total apathy. I'm not sure if that makes him a poor "sociopath", though.

    This story is meant to be an animation, so the kind of POV I believe you're referring to doesn't come into play, unless I'm mistaken. Thanks for this though! Story writing is very new to me and it helps a lot to know that it's not inherently a terrible idea to even attempt having a character express something like this.

    Chester is not doing this to help himself or to intentionally make a point to Rod. Threats and harassment deeply scare and upset him, but he doesn't hold resentment towards others because it's really just not how he's wired. If someone wrongs him, he's inclined to either A: feel like HE must've done something wrong to deserve that poor treatment, or B: ponder what awful thing must've happened to this person to fill them with such negativity and lack of concern for others, hoping that something can help them to learn (or re-learn) compassion. From the beginning of their friendship, Rod has been helping him to overcome the "A".

    This actually didn't cross my mind until now, but, whether the antagonist cares or not, Chester's forgiveness of him would still have a major impact upon Rod. Not only is Chester becoming a stronger, more independent person by standing against Rod's hatred -- Rod would also no longer have to feel the extreme pressure of being a "flawless" role model who needs to hide all of his past and present negative attributes.

    Thanks so much for this. All of you, really. It's helping me to focus more on things I've subconsciously known about these characters, but have never sufficiently tried to express within the story.
     
  8. Bill Chester

    Bill Chester Active Member

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    The defining characteristic of the sociopath is that he doesn’t have a conscience. He doesn’t feel guilt or remorse.

    Have you looked at The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout? You can read the introduction on the Look Inside on Amazon.

    I would consider forgiving a sociopath as unnecessary as forgiving a machine that has physically harmed you.

    Chester will be harmed by Rod. He will need to recover and might need professional help. Rather than forgive Rod, he should understand what Rod is and get him out of his life completely.

    Have you heard this one: What’s the best way to deal with a sociopath? Run away.
     
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  9. Deven

    Deven New Member

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    Hee heeee. Gettin' the names mixed up there. I haven't actually given the antagonist's name. Rod is the PROtagonist and he's a lovely person who would do anything to help and protect Chester. They're each other's only friend. The sociopathic character in this story is absolutely NOT a friend to either.

    I will look at The Sociopath Next Door, though. Thanks!
     
  10. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Nope. This would have me switching the channel on your cartoon--it's that wildly unrealistic, so it would communicate as pure preaching.

    Also, does it really make your point? If you're advocating forgiveness for the sake of forgiveness, then providing a reward in this way--and the idea that someone like this would ever "understand" even to this tiny degree is a huge reward--seems counter to that point.
     
  11. Seren

    Seren Writeaholic

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    Unless he's BBC's Sherlock Holmes, of course. (If we ignore how technical we're going to be with the term "sociopath".) ;)

    Which actually brings about the point that sociopaths can be likeable characters and can be forgiven. Occasionally. Though of course, your sociopath is the antagonist.

    Edit: Though I suppose likeable sociopaths are not clinically sociopaths, actually. Ah, I'm conflicted. I think I just wrote a load of nonsense.
     
  12. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    No, I think a big part of the danger of sociopaths/psychopaths is that they CAN be really charming and likeable, at least on the surface. Once you get to know them, less so, but apparently a significant number are really charismatic.
     
  13. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    It would only take me out of the story if it was contradictory to everything else I knew about the character. If they're a humble, religious, forgiving person, I would expect it. If they spent the whole book as a slave to their emotions, I would not expect forgiveness.

    You're describing a character who's so manipulative and unemphatic that they talk someone into killing themselves? Dr. Lector convinced Miggs to swallow his own tongue as a punishment for throwing semen at Clarice. Is that the kind of character you are looking to forgive? Lector was a likable guy unless you offended him.
     
  14. Seren

    Seren Writeaholic

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    Oh, yeah, that's true. I sort of forgot about that part.
     
  15. Bill Chester

    Bill Chester Active Member

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    Don't forget that part about not having a conscience. Normal people are so imbued in their conscience that they aren't even aware of it. Imagine living without a conscience. What would the people around you be to you? Merely animals to manipulate. What manipulates them? Fear, charisma, rewards, love, all sorts of things they react to that you can use to your advantage.
     
  16. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    You might want to read this article. There is a difference between a psychopath and a sociopath. In general, a psychopath is born; a sociopath is a product of a dysfunctional or traumatic upbringing. Psychopaths are very controlled and have no conscience. When they do something bad, they plan it carefully, and make sure they don't get caught. They are very manipulative, but are able to hold responsible jobs and can mix in society quite well. Sociopaths, on the other hand, are usually filled with rage, can be unpredictible, struggle to fit in to normal society and often do spontaneous things that harm themselves as well as others. They are capable of having a conscience and knowing right from wrong. They can also form close attachments to people or causes they love.

    It would probably be a good idea to study this topic a bit. It may well give you some ideas you might not otherwise have had. It's probably easier to 'forgive' a sociopath, because it's possible to see how this person became one. A psychopath, on the other hand, isn't necessarily the product of a bad childhood or experience. In fact, many of them come from perfectly normal households. So when they do horrible things, it's harder to forgive them.

    http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/02/12/differences-between-a-psychopath-vs-sociopath/
     
  17. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    It does depend on your sources, somewhat - some experts consider sociopaths and psychopaths to be the same thing, and the DSVM doesn't acknowledge either diagnosis, so there really isn't a reliable authority for what the words mean.
     
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  18. Bill Chester

    Bill Chester Active Member

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    This would fall under the description of psychopath the article. I've never heard of sociopathy described as a conduct disorder. The article seems to describe two separate, distinct pathologies.
     
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  19. Seren

    Seren Writeaholic

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    To my understanding, most psychologists consider psychopathy and sociopathy to be the same disorder with the sort of differences in behaviour as has been mentioned. The term sociopath was coined after psychopath to refer to a psychopath that had become one through social influences rather than biologically being that way - hence why a lot of psychologists consider the two terms to be variations of the same disorder. That's according to my memory of articles I've read, anyway.
     
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  20. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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    I don't know if this is appropriate for your audience, but you could be talking about "forgiveness as closure". It's very complex to explain but I found this simplified version:

    You can do some more research on this.
     
  21. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    I'm curious, @Deven, what you would do with an animated story to get it animated. Once upon a time my cousin and I came up with a cartoon series about a rock band and wrote like 10 episode scripts, did a bunch of drawings, and recorded some of their songs. We even tried to animate some shorts in Flash, but that was an embarrassing, abject failure. What will you be doing with it? How would you begin to get it animated? We tried to hook up with some animators and animation studios but it never came together.
     

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