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  1. Luke Daniels

    Luke Daniels New Member

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    Help on my Character Arc

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Luke Daniels, Mar 17, 2019.

    Hello all! I just need some quick advice on a character arc. Here's what I have so far.

    My main character is an FBI agent who is placed on a case to track down the murderer of an informant interested in providing information on organized crime. His major weakness is his desire to gain the approval of others as a form of self validation, specifically through his boss. This weakness presents itself fully when he is taken off the case by his boss, who instead gives the case to his rival. Going to confront him in his first true assertive act of the story, he accidentally kills his rival in a fit of rage and covers up the murder to protect himself. He elects to pursue the case through any means, including illegal ones, in an attempt to prove his worth both to himself and his boss. Along the way, he grows in confidence as he takes increasingly assertive acts, eventually overcoming his need for approval and gaining a new perspective on just who he is.

    Of course, this isn't the entirety of the story, but really the central conflict. I suppose the question I pose to all of you is regarding the nature of his arc. Does it seem consistent and is it a believable story change? Also, if the arc is lacking in any way, what arc would you give my protagonist that explains why he would kill his fellow agent and pursue the case?
    If you need any more context, feel free to let me know and I can provide.

    Thanks!
     
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  2. Reece

    Reece Member

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    He sounds a bit like a psychopath so far. Is the reader supposed to dislike him?
     
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  3. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    The most hard core character weakness people say that the weakness should be something that is in direct opposition to the central action of the story, and that he should overcome it around the climax of the story. So if you want the most bang from it, you'd want him to have to do something to win that is ordinarily impossible for a guy seeking validation from others.

    As it is now, you have a guy gaining self confidence and no longer needing other people for validation, despite accidentally killing someone, which would be devastating for any normal person in real life.
     
  4. XRD_author

    XRD_author Member Supporter

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    Well, he could be zealously pursuing the case that the other agent, who he killed, had been pursuing ...
    in an attempt to frame the perps there for killing the agent.

    "Bob was getting too close," MainCharacter said, "so they killed him. I didn't like Bob much, but he was a fellow FBI agent, damn it! We can't let them get away with it." Even if they didn't actually do it.
     
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  5. Luke Daniels

    Luke Daniels New Member

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    More along the lines of a sympathetic villain protagonist. Picture Lou Bloom from Nightcrawler or Patrick Bateman from American Psycho.

    The way I picture the story unfolding is a bit like a Greek tragedy. This fatal flaw the protagonist possesses leads him down an increasingly dark path until it eventually consumes him. He starts off as a good person with simple flawed logic, but through increasing immoral actions, his flawed logic becomes damning and his ultimate downfall. He overcomes the need for outside approval, but only after venturing deep down a dark path, leaving the question of whether or not it is a character improvement remain up in the air. To him at least, he recognizes the disaster his quest for validation led to towards and regrets not letting go of it sooner.

    Thanks for your input!
     
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  6. Luke Daniels

    Luke Daniels New Member

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    That's a well put point. Going off of another comment, perhaps he does quite read like a psychopath, so why not lean into that? How does this work for you?

    Pursing the case is an effort to gain approval from his boss and to prove his ultimate worth to not only the FBI, but himself as well. At the climax of the story, having shed the need for this outside approval, he recognizes catching the killer was not worth the price of his immoral deeds. In the end, he is forced to fix the mistakes he's caused in a pure act of selflessness. To his character at the beginning, selflessness would be unheard of, as he would look for whatever benefit he could gleam from it. To this changed character, who doesn't need that approval anymore, he is willing to make a sacrifice in order to fix what he's done, disregarding how anyone may feel about him for it.

    Let me know what you think and thank you!
     
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  7. Reece

    Reece Member

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    Oh okay I see where you are going with this. It sounds quite interesting actually. When you say that confronting his rival is his first act of assertiveness, does that mean he is normally quite passive? He is attempting to become more assertive to correct this perceived flaw? He goes out in an attempt to challenge himself and become more assertive and ends up killing his rival? People frequently confuse assertiveness with aggression, so that would work. I like the idea of him continually trying to make better choices and become a better person but just fucking it up grandly and becoming worse and worse. You say he overcomes the need for outside approval. He regrets not letting go of it sooner. I am curious, is he replacing that need with something else but not seeing it as such? Like he is replacing his need for external validation with a need to feed his ego and feel better about himself for making the 'right' choices?
     
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  8. Luke Daniels

    Luke Daniels New Member

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    Essentially, you've got it. We're heading into spoiler territory here, so I hope you don't mind :)

    The protagonist is usually very passive, as since he garters self worth through external means, he doesn't want to upset anyone through his assertiveness. However, his rival taking the case forces his hand, and though he tries to back out at the last moment, he confronts his rival for it nonetheless and accidentally ends up killing him. Looking at the situation as how it would harm him most, he covers up the murder in an attempt to save himself. After he and his partner are assigned to the case in the absence of his rival, he decides to pursue the case and take any steps necessary to solve it, even illegal ones. All this he does to prove his worth to his boss and to himself, as he feels succeeding in this will justify the murder. As he pursues the case from both inside and outside the law, he gradually is forced to become more assertive to compensate, slowly letting go of this need for others to approve of his actions until, at the end when he is close to catching the killer, he realizes he doesn't need the approval of others at all anymore. However, his actions eventually catch up with him and his partner is put in mortal danger as a result. At this point, he realizes what he's done and how his quest to help himself ended up harming the person he cared about most. However, his character change is necessary, as he is now prepared to make a selfless sacrifice, rescuing his partner, but dying in the process. This selfless act would be impossible for him at the beginning of the story, as he looked inward and did only what would benefit himself and what others would like. Now, he doesn't have to care what others think and can simply act.

    As you mentioned, he is trying to reconcile his evil deed with what he believes to be good acts, though the process by which he goes about those acts is morally skewed.

    However, in writing this, a new thought came to mind. Perhaps his weakness isn't the need for external validation, but excessive pride? His drive to prove himself isn't coming from a place of a lack of confidence, but overconfidence. In this way, he believes himself to be superior to others and simply wants them to recognize it themselves and acknowledge it. His character desire would be the same (Approval), but the motivation behind that desire, instead of a lack of internal self confidence, is actually from a prideful place (Arrogance). In this way, his character arc could serve him some humble pie and have him realize he's not what he believes himself to be and learn to put others first, reflected in his final selfless act to save his partner.

    Just a thought. Let me know what you think!
     
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  9. Reece

    Reece Member

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    I like that actually. I think that it would give the finale more oomph. Perhaps there was someone in his past who hurt him, someone he ended up despising. Maybe it was his dad or something, and he was the opposite of prideful. Living his life that way ended up with MC's mom dying or something, and so he wants to be the exact opposite of this person. In this effort, he is driven by his pride and desire to be better than this other individual, but in the end he realizes he has become what he loathed the most? Sorry just chucking stuff out there because you have me thinking now.
     
  10. Luke Daniels

    Luke Daniels New Member

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    No No chuck away. I like where this is going.

    So from what I can tell, there are three main actions in the story which require a deep look at character motivation and desire: the murder of his rival, his need to solve the case alone, and his sacrifice to save his partner. From this perspective, I believe the prideful angle might work. Correct me if I'm wrong going forward.

    In the murder of his rival, he is fueled by a desire for others to recognize his strengths. Being passed up for the case and instead having it reassigned is a slap in the face to him, as he feels he was deserving of it. Going to confront his rival, he accidentally kills him as his emotions take hold and he loses control. He covers up the murder because he is looking out for the number one person in his mind: himself. Despite his self centered and egotistical nature, he is still devastated by the murder as he believed himself to be a moral person, yet he was able to cover it up so easily.
    In his desire to solve the case alone by any means necessary, he is fueled by both intrinsic and extrinsic means. Extrinsically, he hopes to solve a high profile case and gain the praise of his boss. This follows with the thread of pride and for him always needing to be the best. Intrinsically, he wants to regain the feeling toward himself that he feels he lost when he murdered his rival. He wants to prove he is still a moral person (Perhaps reflecting some element of his past) and that he is still good. This desire too can stem from a place of pride, as he is prideful of his work as an FBI agent, thinking in a "holier than thou" mindset. Solving the case could bring him peace and allow him to put the murder behind him. However, throughout the story and through his morally skewed actions outside of the law, he begins to recognize the pain needing to be on the top not only causes him, but those around him as well who are forced to play second fiddle to himself. He gradually begins to release his prideful nature as he recognizes his own weakness and faults, specifically how his quest to prove his worth has led him to disregard morals entirely.
    In his final act of self sacrifice, he has grown beyond the pride which bound him at the beginning of the story. He now recognizes the pain needing to be at the top caused him and how seeking the praise of others sent him down a path of evil. In his self sacrifice, he has now let go of his weakness, and though he dies a villain, having put his partner in this situation through faults of his own, he has emerged from the story a better person than when he went in. In that way, he is a redeemed character, even though his actions were morally questionable at best.

    Now as a question for you, how do you think he could go about this realization? I have the endpoints, but as far as actions that could lead him to recognize his prideful nature, I'm drawing a blank.

    Thanks for all your help!
     
  11. Reece

    Reece Member

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    Hmm... He is prideful because he wants to be seen as the best, but perhaps he realizes that his idea of 'the best' is shallow and wrong. I think you are going to need another character to help him realize this. Maybe it has to do with his rival. Perhaps he meets their family after the death or something and gets to know the rival from a different perspective. Perhaps he is put in a position where he can juxtapose his motivations with those of his rival and realize that he has been entirely shallow and self-serving. While he has been trying to be the best for the recognition or just for the sake of being the best and having the people in his world view him as the best, he learns that his rival was not trying to be the best. His rival wanted to help people. His rival wanted to stop bad people from doing bad things. All of his good intentions were what led him to being the best. MC killed this person who was truly good and really everything that he actually wants to be but has gone about it entirely incorrectly. I hope that makes sense. It's hard for me to write exactly what I'm thinking right now.
     
  12. captain kate

    captain kate Active Member

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    Questions to ask yourself in dealing with a character arc. Where is your character now? Where will they be at the end of the story? What will happen to them along that road? If you can answer those questions, you will have your arc down pat. They're the main three things to ask oneself as a writer when making an arc.

    Example, here's the one I'm working on. I'm going to hide her job/reason for existing to protect my story.

    Where is my character now? 14 yo girl, orphaned, outcast, looking for a way out of the orphanage. Given an offer that she takes without even thinking about it.

    Where will she be at the end? The last of her kind (what her role is in my novel), she is at peace. Her pain and negative thoughts due to her past are gone. Instead of running, now she's willing to fight, to protect those who are important to her. To protect the planet, one person at a time.

    That's the beginning and that's the ending. Everything in between is your plot. And I have a lot in there to make the change at the end. If you can answer those two questions first, then you can get your middle part of work just fine.
     
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  13. XRD_author

    XRD_author Member Supporter

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    Good advice.

    In my story, the series MC kind of dies part way into the first book, and although she's present throughout, her story doesn't truly being until about 25K words in. So I need to adapt your advice a little, and I do. As a result, the MC isn't actually the protagonist in the first 25K words; she becomes it as she gains agency over the course of the series.
     
  14. Luke Daniels

    Luke Daniels New Member

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    What about his partner? His partner could want to solve the case just as much as he does, but for altruistic reasons. Seeing his partner do this could hold a mirror up to his own deficiencies and make his final decision to sacrifice himself all the more impactful.
     
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  15. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Senior Member

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    It's a bit unrealistic. Killing 'in a fit of rage' is not considered self defence. How does he expect to get away with this and how does this make him someone we can trust and follow? But then there have been many thrillers and crime novels with far-fetched plots. Patricia Cromwell's book series more than jumped the shark in my opinion.

    But here is a site that might help you. Maybe you should consider a "negative story arc" for this guy. When you want to write this arc, your characters goal, motivation and psyche need to be strong. We need to understand why he does what he does.

    https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/write-character-arcs/
     
  16. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    I’m 100% sure you can fly into a rage in a self defense situation. That’s what rage is for. If someone puts your back to the wall and you get mad, you might escape through them.
     
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  17. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Senior Member

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    But I don't know if the Law would consider that. Something to do with "intent to harm"? You go for that person with attack in mind. I can't remember now, I did learn it years ago.
    The man slaughter charges change also if a weapon is used. Self-defence can be a tricky one. But since he's going to cover it up it doesn't matter anyway.

    A man in my country surprised a burglar raiding his home. The burglar attacked him, he just went into fight or flight and the man attacked back. There was a struggle. The man picked up a knife and knifed the burglar. The man did 15 years with no parole. There was an up roar about it. The man was just defending himself. But since he picked up a weapon "with intent" then used that weapon - the Law system, eh.

    Also there was Anthony Edward Martin. 3 years without parole for shooting a robber.
     
  18. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    In the United States, anger doesn’t usually factor in to the law unless it motivates you to say something incriminating. Self defense legally requires that the attacker has the capacity, opportunity, and intent to harm you, and that attempting to escape puts you in harms way. The situation making you angry, scared, or offended doesn’t matter, so long as you know how to articulate your position to the police.

    I’m not a lawyer, so don’t shoot anyone based on my opinion.

    Of course lots of other laws and social factors play in to make it more or less just.

    Sometimes anger can cause a defender to become an attacker, like you lash out in self defense, then follow it up with a 12 piece combo and ground and pound.
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2019
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  19. captain kate

    captain kate Active Member

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    Well, her first 4-5 were strictly about crimes in Richmond, Va and Williamsburg, Va. Ties that Binds was about the unsolved Colonial Parkway murders. The strangler one was Timothy "The Southside Strangler" Spencer who was first convicted by DNA. He also killed one of my aunt's friends too. So that's where they came from...
     
  20. Reece

    Reece Member

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    I like where you are going with this.
     

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