WARNING: LONG POST: So here I am, thinking I've got my first novel finished, barring a little poking and prodding here and there. But yesterday I realized I have a motivation issue with my male protagonist, right where he goes through his deepest psychological crisis. I'll describe the situation, then you can tell me if you think his dilemma makes sense. Better still, please, if you can, project yourself into it and tell me what you'd do under the circumstances. OK. He's a youngish man in his mid-30s, with an area of expertise. He's very good at this particular skill: he knows he is, everyone in his city knows he is. Other than his girlfriend (who works with him in the same profession), there's nothing he loves better than exercising this skill. He lives for it and dreams of the day when he'll have a wider scope to exercise it, and accrue the fame that will come with his accomplishment. But! he has an arch-antagonist who is a wannabe psychopathic warlord/terrorist leader/dictator type. Said villain is implementing careful plans to bring society to its knees and remake it according to his convictions. To this end, he has for the past 25 years pinpointed men of skill and expertise (including my MMC) whose help he needs to bring in his new order. The AA has the MMC (and incidentally, his girlfriend/associate, the FMC) abducted and brought to his remote training base. There he gives the MMC an ultimatum: Work for me, or die. Now, "Work for me" includes the MMC being in charge of everything under the his area of expertise. He'd have unlimited scope to exercise his skill and the fame that would come with it--- everything he's always dreamed of! It would not entail his participation in any overt act of war or terrorism; he'd "only" be asked to do behind-the-scenes planning and to oversee the structuring of the AA's new society. "Work for me" would also include saving the life of the MMC's girlfriend. It would also, oh yeah, include conniving at ethnic cleansing and wholesale racial/religious group murder. "Or die" means being summarily put to death. At the outset my MMC gives the AA a flat-out No. But that's before he understands the AA's position of strength. Over the course of his captivity he comes to realize the AA's power in terms of men and weaponry (including a functioning suitcase nuke, with more in progress, which the AA plans to use very soon). He learns how many unsolved crimes can be laid to the account of the AA. He finds out how far the AA has come in infiltrating ordinary law enforcement, not to mention the minds and hearts of ordinary citizens. He discovers how skillful the AA's spy network is, and to his horror he learns that the AA has dug up a damning bit of dirt on him from his early adulthood, which he will ruin him with even if he changes his mind and lets him go. The AA escalates the death threat to possible death by torture, with the MMC's beloved girlfriend to suffer and die first. The MMC has no chance of escape, by dint of his fists or by his wits. He has no reason to disbelieve the AA's threats: he's already seen him execute a follower for failing to carry out his duty. Conversely, another of the AA's blackmailed men of expertise has told him that the AA keeps his "good" promises "once you've passed probation." So we bring him to the final audience with the AA, where there will be no going back from whatever he decides. Both he and his girlfriend the FMC have to decide, as the AA in a fit of "generosity" has given her the same choice, too. The MMC is a decent guy (under ordinary circumstances), but no cardboard hero who'll spout "death before dishonor!" like a faucet being turned on. He has some military experience, but it was brief and long ago. He does not believe in life after death, so he can't say, "Fine, you're sending me to a better place; come, Death, and welcome." For him, this life is all there is and he does not want to die. He is, however, a man who can still think under pressure. He doesn't go blank and piss his pants like a little girl. Here's the question(s) (at last! ): 1) As he struggles over what choice to make, how attractive do you think he'd find the offer of "free rein" and the fulfillment of all his professional dreams? 2) How much strength would he give to the fact that he'd be committing treason against the government he previously swore to protect and defend? 3) Which would weigh more heavily: That his agreement would mean possible death to people he knows and likes, or that his refusal would mean certain death to the woman he loves? Now suppose the woman, from her own convictions, tells the AA she's not working for him, no way, no how, and the AA "mercifully" grants the MMC the chance to convince her (in private) to change her mind. And suppose he's unsuccessful and the guard takes her away to be killed. The MMC is now left alone (with the clock ticking) to make his final decision. 4) Will the offer of unlimited scope in his field of expertise have any attraction now? 5) Or might he contemplate "pretending" to work for the AA until he can get revenge for his girlfriend's death? 6) Or think he might hamper the evil effort to derail it and so protect the targeted minorities? 7) Or . . . would the idea of participating in such a movement be so vile he wouldn't consider any of these and start yelling for the executioner to come get him, too?