1. Oldmanofthemountain

    Oldmanofthemountain Active Member

    Jun 4, 2020
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    How do you “twist and turn” your characters’ true nature?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Oldmanofthemountain, Jul 11, 2020.

    In this hypothetical novel, our protagonist befriends a mysterious old man in his late 90s. The old man is elusive and rarely leaves his run down house. Before the main character is properly introduced to him, it seems like the elderly man is a nefarious figure.

    Due to his taciturn nature, sullen personality, and disheveled appearance, there are many disturbing and fanciful rumors about him. They range from him practicing black magic to being a pedophile. In fact, the locals use him as a boogeyman to frighten their children.

    Not helping matters, when the man was in his early 40s until his retirement in his mid 60s, he used to be the local pawnbroker in the town. He was rather notorious for being something of a snake-oil salesman in his dealings. Many of the items he pawned off, were often of dubious quality or legality, and was quite sleazy on how sold them to customers.

    The man was suspected, and even investigated on a few occasions, of having ties to organized crime. He would also aggressively rebuke anyone that tried to socialize with him, and was very rarely seen interacting with others outside of his shop. In all of the decades of him living in that town, not a single local ever witnessed a family member or a friend visit him. The man's aforementioned secrecy and his surly loner demeanor really rubbed off the locals the wrong way. The town's older population remembers him as the sketchy and gloomy pawnshop dealer, and they feed into the younger generations' rumors about him.

    Once the audience and the main character seems to get to know the old man better, it appears that he is simply just lonely and misunderstood. Think the Professor from the Egypt Games or Old Man Marley from Home Alone.

    It is eventually revealed that he was indeed a war criminal, who committed a string of rapes and murders some 70 to 75 years ago. The old man is still unrepentant about his atrocities to this very day. However, that was over 70 to 75 years ago. Unlike what the slanderous rumors proclaim, he is now too sickly and feeble to be a threat to anyone now. In fact, the old man spends most of his days waiting for the reaper to claim him. He wakes up every morning, disappointed that he lived through the night.

    As a writer, how would you work with such a “zig zag” type twist with a character like the old man in the outline. How do you lead the audience into interpreting your character one way, then misdirect them into picking up a different view of the character, and finally reveal the actual truth? What are some ways to properly foreshadow such a twist?
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2021 at 5:24 PM
  2. Sithis001

    Sithis001 New Member

    Dec 25, 2018
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    Maybe you could drop small hints through out the course of the story. Maybe during the discussions your MC has with the old man, he will say things that may suggest that the old man isn't who he appears to be. It could be a small thing he says but it's something that bothers the MC.

    Maybe the MC is looking around the old man's house and finds pictures and objects that hints at his past. He may have a photo of him and a well-known Nazi, a medal from a known corrupt dictator, a membership card to a racist or extremist organization, etc. As the MC and the audience progress though the story the pieces begin to come together and the old man's true nature is revealed.
    Oldmanofthemountain likes this.
  3. Storysmith

    Storysmith Senior Member

    Jan 5, 2014
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    Season 1 of The Walking Dead did this very well with the character Shane. There was no foreshadowing that I noticed, but as a viewer you'd get more information with which to interpret his prior actions. As a result, he would move from villain to hero in viewer eyes.

    In your case, you could have the old man appear bad based upon rumour. As your protagonist gets to know him, it can become clear that he is incapable of the things he's rumoured to do. But then you could have the protagonist find evidence of black magic or paedophilia, only for an innocent explanation of it to pop up later. Finally, you can reveal the truth about his war crimes and his lack of regret. If handled well, that should let him move from apparently bad to good a few times.
    Oldmanofthemountain likes this.

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