1. TheScorpion

    TheScorpion Member

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    Mercenary - avoiding cliches

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by TheScorpion, Feb 4, 2018.

    I’m currently working on a piece where the main character is a top mercenary employed by a guild.

    My problem is I tend to slip into the cliches when it comes to the female, hired-killer. She’s strikingly gorgeous, strong, sassy and smug as all get out. The best characters have flaws (or just character elements to prevent them from being too perfect) and I’m still trying to develope hers. I’ve let the story develop in a fairly organic fashion but I find myself falling back on an easy-to-write precedent.

    Any suggestions for making her more real? I want her to be a strong, relatable lead even if she moves from true neutral to chaotic good over the course of the story.
     
  2. TheRealStegblob

    TheRealStegblob Kill All Mages Contributor

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    Well. There are lots of things you could do to beef up her character and make her a little less cliche. But then there's the question of do you necessarily need to? What's the general tone of your story? Can she exist as just a slightly silly, but lovable, cliche? Most people don't hate cliche as long as it's either funny or cool or charming in its own right. Cliche is only a real problem when it's boring or too blatant or groan-inducing. Of course, she can also be broadend and deepened while still being a cliche, too.

    One thing you could do right off the bat is maybe tone down the strikingly gorgeous feature a little bit. Strong, sassy and smug are all pretty neutral and fun elements on their own but I think the thing that tips a fun character slowly towards the zone of 'boring cliche' is if they're too overtly attractive. It's just too easy of a feature, you know? Like "my character is this total badass with a 16 foot long dick and a ray gun instead of a hand and also he's like super cool and handsome and manly...", physical perfection (for me personally) can be the straw that breaks the camel's back when it comes to a lame cliche. It's especially bad with women, who are often presented as sexy tittybabe models (by both male and female authors alike). At least with men, 'grizzled kind of ugly dude but still handsome in a rough sense' is a popular route many characters take as opposed to 'hot handsome dude'.

    An easy angle to take with her is that she may be secretly harboring a lot of pain and self-doubt behind her tough facade. She didn't choose to be tough, she had to be tough to survive. It's a very cliche angle by itself, but it's something you could work with.
     
  3. TheScorpion

    TheScorpion Member

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    Well, the idea is that her heritage lends her to be that attractive - the way that predators often are. She is hiding pain and a lot of anger, along with a fairly serious secret, mostl of the anger directed towards the system that has created the need for her to hide her past in the first place. I wonder if that’s enough to counteract her blatant physical attribute.

    I’m hoping that pain makes her deep enough, versus that shiny, sort-of unreal, superficial kind of character.

    Once I’ve been active on the site here long enough, I’ll post the story. I’m really looking forward to feedback.
     
  4. TheRealStegblob

    TheRealStegblob Kill All Mages Contributor

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    An angle like this could be just good enough to work, yes. Just as long as you're able to keep the drama complex, of course.

    Pain is something that can lead to a lot of organic depth, you just have to carefully construct your character. "Pain" is also a very easy and superficial crutch people will lean on when trying to make a character deep, only for the character to ultimately end up being rather shallow- or even worse, a full on Mary Sue. Not that I'm suggesting you have this problem at all or anything, I'm just kind of rambling.
     
  5. TheScorpion

    TheScorpion Member

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    Agreed. There are so many shallow, superficial, angsty, angry characters out there. Maybe my story falls into that, maybe not. I’d like to think the way I’ve built her past and what is to come in her future she isn’t a Mary Sue.

    Also, so many mercs tend to be chaotic neutral I’m hoping that her transition into chaotic good will add some depth.
     
  6. TheRealStegblob

    TheRealStegblob Kill All Mages Contributor

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    As long as she's fun, charming and isn't built to be overly perfect, most people should be okay with her. The MC of a manuscript I've written is somewhat tipping the lines of "Mary Sue" himself, but the defining thing is that he's fun and charming and the adventure is slightly goofy/more adventurous in nature, so he's more of a lovable character than a blatantly shallow one.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2018
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  7. DITF Ninja

    DITF Ninja Member

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    Pain is only one thing of many that can be a driving factor for why people would do what they do. And believe it or not pain really isn't that big of a driving factor. A good example of this can be seen in a character I have been reading about, Drizzt Do'urden. While yes he has a painful past and a violent relationahip to both his people (the drow) and the surface world it is by no means a driving force. His main driving force comes purely for his love of peace and nature, so much so that it can drive him into a whirlwind of slashes with his scimitars. The past and secrets could be a great hook for story progession but I wouldn't make them an integral force that motivates the character but rather a conflicting one against their own driving force and desires. I will example this again actually using both WIPs I am working on and the MC for each. One is a sword toting badass who desperately works at hiding her family ties but they are not her driving force. Hers is simply to understand these super confusing morals her father taught her and how they fit into the world as well as her place in all of it. My second MC has a painful past but one entirely of his own doing but it only really serves to help the reader grasp who and what he is. Now it may have some influence on his actions and decisions like the first MC but it is not a main driving force. For him instead he is a cog in a system that has no place for him so instead of adjusting for the world (like most stories tend to) he morphs the world to him.

    My take on this is forget the immediate story arc you have so far and just try to imagine what the MC would want most in the world if they could have it right now. Take that in hand with the story and twist the two together so you have constant conflict between the two but still have some sort of progression. Unfortunately I cannot provide more specific examples because there is a lot of details to take into account but hopefully these words help.
     
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  8. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere... Contributor

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    Flaws are odd to me. If you force a flaw in there, it becomes a square peg in a round hole. Here is a question I think you should ask yourself: Is there something that this character values? Does she value money? Does she value family? Does she just value the thrill? In other words, what is the most important thing to your character? That's where people are going to feel that connection is when they see a character who values something they understand.

    What I think would work for you is the typical heroes journey plotline. It works around a character's goals, motives, and their conflict. It involves several parts: It involves a quest and it involves trials. So let's look at how it works:

    1. Where does your character come from? Now, this is not same thing as where your story begins. Your story can begin anywhere in your character's life. But for the type character you're trying to create, you should think of maybe three events in their past that shaped them to who they are today and three people who helped shape them. These events and people will either be things that hurt them badly or nurtured them. One thing you don't want to do, is you don't want to have all bad things and no good things. Because that's rarely how a life is. And whether you ever get into these events or not, that's just depends on how the story goes. This helps create some of the motives behind your character.

    2. What does your character value at the beginning of the story? All your character's motives are going to be built around what he or she ultimately values. Hunger Games made a huge deal about how much Katniss values her sister. She absolutely adores Prim and ultimately every irrevocable decision Katniss makes is because of her sister. And that's where people fumble with the antihero archetype. They make this character who doesn't value anything and that just gets annoying.

    3. This is the most important part. You want a character who is flawed. Remember, what I said about flaws being put in there? How do we do good, organic flaws. Well, you need to start with this question: What either threatens or challenges your character's values? Let's say you have a character that values money. Okay, what happens in the story to make her realize money isn't as important? This is your conflict. One big problem with characters is when nothing challenges them. Nothing temps them. Nothing makes them question their perspective. Then the author sits there and scratches his or her head on why no one likes this character.

    4. Is there solid rising action? A lot of issue with characters not being relatable is because the writer has a flawed story structure. Tension isn't built. The threat isn't well established so the conflict falls flat. Something like that. I recommended the hero's journey story structure. That's not the only story structure, but it's a good one. So what happens in a lot of them is that the hero has moment in their life where everything is turned upside down. That's the thing I mentioned about that challenges or threatens your character's values. For a while after that happens, the character is fumbling around, making these mistakes that reveals his or her flaws. He or she doesn't know what to do. Everything they knew is knocked off course. Eventually the hero is going to get some kind of plan together. And that plan will go okay. until it doesn't. What happens is the character is faced with this obstacle that they can't overcome. And this will defeat them initially. This is where the character hits a low point and again is forced to reevaluate what he or she is doing. And that's where the character will have the enlightenment necessary to finally complete the task. A lot of times this is done at great sacrifice to the character.

    5. Now that your character has faced off against their own flawed and short sighted perspective, what has changed? Has your character readjusted his or her values? Has she given up values that weren't altruistic and holding her back?
     
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  9. TheScorpion

    TheScorpion Member

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    Wow, thank you for such a detailed response. That’s a lot to consider. I’ve scratched the surface on a few of your points but clearly, I need to do some deeper thinking and consideration. Thank you!
     
  10. Azuresun

    Azuresun Senior Member

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    One thing I'd like to add is that you don't necessarily have to avoid the clichés, you can give your character these aspects....and then develop them. After all, there are real people somewhere in the world who are like this, and they're not "unrealistic". What would being like this actually be like? Would it be an entirely good thing, when you stop and think about it?

    For example, she's good-looking....does she get sick of guys talking to her chest or propositioning her when she came to talk business? Does she have low self-esteem under a superficial brashness, and seeks approval for her looks? She's smug....does that make it hard for other people to warm to her? Does she actually hurt or annoy other people when she thinks she's being witty and smart?
     
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  11. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Well you've got two traits with solid flaw potential: sass and smugness.

    Smugness may lead her to underestimate opponents. It may irritate clients and comrades. In the proper context it could motivate antagonists (your smugness is so annoying I'm gonna screw you out of this job, sort of thing).

    Sass is similar with the potential for irritation. It may lead her to say something when she really should've just kept her mouth shut.

    If you've got the courage to make these traits come up in major instances where they're both helpful and damaging, I'd say you don't need to worry about creating any other flaws.
     
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  12. TheScorpion

    TheScorpion Member

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    That’s actually a great point; I consider those things beneficial aspects of her personality but I can see how they might be used to cause some issues. Definitely something to work on.

    I just have to say, I’m so glad I stumbled across this site. The advice has been so solid and helpful. Much appreciated!

    Xoxo
    The Scorpion
     
  13. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    In this case, doesn’t all that beauty make her a less effective predator? It seems to me that an unnoticeable assassin would be more effective than one that draws every eye in the room.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2018
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  14. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Quite - it's what the SAS call 'the grey man' - the person, male or female who's totally unmemorable does best in covert roles. If you really must make her strikingly beautiful (and its very overdone - don't for gods sake give her red hair and green eyes) she'll need to dress down when in the field.... the beautiful assassin thing is perpetuated by Hollywood because most leading actresses are attractive ... but in reality the Black Widow as played by Scarlet Johanssen would be captured on her first job because everyone would remember her.

    The same is true for men in the Ethan Hawke / James Bond / Jason Bourne type roles, none of them would last five minutes unless they disguised their chiseled good looks .

    (the only exception would be if they are operating in an environment where lots of people are attractive and an ugly or plain person would stand out, or if they were actually relying on their looks for the role - as with Delilah in the John Rain books who sleeps with the enemy and then betrays/kills him - in reality both the KGB and the Mossad were very active in that field often with male agents setting out to seduce executive secretaries of ministers etc)
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2018
  15. Privateer

    Privateer Senior Member

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    Is she a normal mercenary or a contract killer?

    What sort of work are we talking about? Close protection in Iraq? Frontline combat in central Africa? Poisoned umbrellas in a busy street? A knock on the door and five rounds in the chest at three in the morning?
     
  16. TheRealStegblob

    TheRealStegblob Kill All Mages Contributor

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    Sexy badass woman is overdone, but I don't think it's a technical problem. Yeah, someone who is attractive and noticeable won't make a good hitman IRL, but that doesn't stop 99% of fictional assassins from being good looking people.

    Though he also mentions his character is a mercenary-for-hire, not a covert assassin type.
     
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  17. TheScorpion

    TheScorpion Member

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    The main character is a gun-for-hire employed by a guild in a world where that sort of thing is completely normal (fantasy/dystopian world). She also resides in a city of millions of people so the odds of her sticking out is fairly slim. She’s distinct looking, but 80% of the population doesn't deal with the mercenary guilds. It’s the seedy underbelly of the city where she spends her time and makes her money. So standing out isn’t necessarily a bad thing. She has a reputation which is why she’s the top merc in her guild.
     
  18. TheScorpion

    TheScorpion Member

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    She, darling, she mentions her character is a merc for hire.
     
  19. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    But she's not going to be in a milling crowd of millions of people when she's trying to kill someone. She's going to be in a much smaller crowd, with far too many eyes on her.
     
  20. TheScorpion

    TheScorpion Member

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    True. But a very successful merc understands camouflage and the ability to blend in. I just want to make sure her beauty isn’t her only defining characteristic.
     
  21. Azuresun

    Azuresun Senior Member

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    We don't yet know if that'll be the sort of work the character will be doing (and if it is, you can just wear a disguise). In some settings, having a distinctive look might be an asset for a mercenary, to stick in the mind of employers.
     
  22. Red Herring

    Red Herring Member

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    I think flaws are only interesting when they relate to the character desires and/or goals. Beyond that I find that they just become quirks that come off as superficial to me. I agree with Kallisto, flaws can come off forced. But to add to the great comments here, I think it's great when flaws tie to the subtext of the character desires, which can change from scene to scene, that way the flaws become the driving force for the character; which can go a long way to making a character relatable.

    For example, ask why does she want to be a hired killer in the first place? Why does she take the job/contract in the story? Perhaps it's because she's an anti-social psychopath who enjoys killing, not a great example because it's hard to relate to but easy to empathize with given her career decision. Perhaps it's because she's frivolous with money because she has a wild lifestyle and addictions that force her to be a killer for hire because that's the only thing she's good at it. I think it's more interesting to find the flaws within the subtext of the story driving decisions that she makes rather than coming up with random quirky ones. I find flaws that might explain a character's decision more interesting than random quirks, I think that goes a long way to making characters more relatable and it saves you from having to shoehorn flaws that don't fit.
     
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  23. matwoolf

    matwoolf Contributor Contributor

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  24. TheScorpion

    TheScorpion Member

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    [/QUOTE]For example, ask why does she want to be a hired killer in the first place? Why does she take the job/contract in the story? Perhaps it's because she's an anti-social psychopath who enjoys killing, not a great example because it's hard to relate to but easy to empathize with given her career decision. Perhaps it's because she's frivolous with money because she has a wild lifestyle and addictions that force her to be a killer for hire because that's the only thing she's good at it. I think it's more interesting to find the flaws within the subtext of the story driving decisions that she makes rather than coming up with random quirky ones. I find flaws that might explain a character's decision more interesting than random quirks, I think that goes a long way to making characters more relatable and it saves you from having to shoehorn flaws that don't fit.[/QUOTE]

    And what if her drive to become a weapon-for-hire is driven by an altruistic need to hide her past? It's one of the few niches in the world were someone like her can not only fit in but flourish. She has a very particular skill set and acknowledges it and she's very good at her job, whether she likes it or not. But she knew she had to do something with her life and by becoming a merc it gave her the chance to shed her past and become someone else.

    To be honest, my main concern was focusing more on her personality and physical attributes (probably should have mentioned that) than what drove her in the first place. I feel like the very sexy, snarky af female assassin is over-done (ie The Black Widow) but with the main premise of the story, it makes sense for her to be very attractive. Trying not to slip into that mold while developing this character.
     
  25. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I'm not sure how you can say flaws are odd to you. Are you not flawed? I am no stranger to flaws, and I believe characters need them to be realistic, unique and perhaps not cliche.
     

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