1. A.V.K.

    A.V.K. Member

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    Need a character reason, not plot reason.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by A.V.K., Jan 28, 2017.

    Hey writing forum!

    First post here, but a bit of a lurker for a while.

    In any case, I'm at a point of my book where I need a character reason for the main character to spare a longtime menace and rival of her family. The plot reason is "because if she kills them, an irreparable curse will be cast on the land," but the character reason has to be something more along the lines of wanting the break the cycle of violence between her family and their rivals and start addressing the grief which drives these factions to antagonize each other.

    That's fine and all, but when driving the story, I want the latter ( the protag realizing something to the effect of:"I need to heal for ME and OTHERS") rather being overshadowed by plot-reason (The protag just saying "I don't want to suffer this curse") when it comes to the final moments of that decision. Through the story the main character and company finds out about said ancient curse thing that is lain upon their land, but I'm struggling to find a way to connect the two.

    In any case, the main character is curious, loyal, insightful, but can be timid to avoid getting hurt. She evades, dodges, and stays quiet to avoid getting hurt. However, at the start of the novel, she swears to the remaining members of her clan that she will avenge them, and she decided that she wants to stop avoiding the past and confront the enemy that killed members of her family. Her sense of duty and yearning for peace over this issue is always at conflict with how she normally deals with these problems. I need some event that lets her realize that it's not vengance she needs, but instead peace with herself and truama. I think that her realizing that for herself will be much more effective than "I don't want to unleash a curse."

    Any ideas or examples? I'm open to suggestions. Sorry if it seems vague, but I wanted to keep it concise.
     
  2. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    This is your story, and only what you come up with yourself will really work for you. But I've got a few ideas of how to get started.

    Forget plot, and focus on character. Dig deep into your own self for this. Is there a side of this argument you're leaning towards yourself? Are you the sort of person who longs for revenge when you are wronged, or are you the sort who just wants things to go 'back to the way they were?' Are you the sort who can nurse a grudge, or are you the sort who, when stuck in an argument or conflict, immediately looks for some kind of compromise or reconciliation with the opposition?

    In short ...how much like yourself is this character?

    Are you any good at expressing yourself? I mean, if you were to decide to go against something you'd promised to do, would you be able to explain your decision well enough to persuade others to change their minds as well? If not, would you be willing to be ostracized by your clan, or at the very least lose respect over your decision?

    If you manage to see something 'good' in somebody or something you dislike, are you the sort who would find out more and maybe admit you could have been wrong about them? How would you react if they turn out to be actually deranged or truly mean? Powerful, but mean and deranged ...hmmm....where have I seen this before? Or what if good exists in them, but they don't want to see any good in you?

    Would you do anything to avoid getting hurt? (Even something that harms others?) Or do you just try to stay out of a fight? If that's the case, and you do end up in a fight anyway, how do you react? Is there some point where you would fight like hell with everything you've got, because losing is unthinkable? Or would you be more inclined to let them win, just to get it over with? And hope they wouldn't be too hard on you?

    I'd play around with some of these concepts. If you dig in hard enough, and be patient enough, I think you'll come up with a solution for your story's character. Whatever she does, though, there will be consequences. And she may not be able to achieve her goals, depending on luck, the nature of the opposition, and other events she can't control. How would she find peace in continuing the feud, if that's what ends up happening?

    Resist the urge to make this too easy. I'd say take whatever you're planning to do and turn it on its head, for the sake of speculation. If you have envisioned a happy, peaceful ending, play around with that not happening. Why? And what then? How does that leave your character? It will certainly test her. The more you can stretch this situation in all directions, the more ideas you'll come up with. Sooner or later, one option will just feel 'right.'
     
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  3. nataku

    nataku Member

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    Her reason can be anything. Not wanting the land to be cursed seems like a good reason to keep the jerk alive if you ask me. She doesn't need to be happy about having to keep them alive, but she really doesn't need a higher reason when there's already a very strong plot reason not to kill this person assuming she cares about the land that is.
     
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  4. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    I have the same issue myself, except it's about forgiveness and redemption - quite similar I suppose lol. I don't have any ideas, but I did receive a good piece of advice once, and that is you want to show the reader this concept. What needs to happen to teach your character this particular lesson, that would communicate to the reader this message?

    I'm thinking of the film Whiplash I just watched recently - I didn't really like the film much but it was done well. At one point, Andrew the MC is drumming and drumming and his thumbs and joints are bleeding, and he's in obvious agony. Yet, he keeps on drumming, faster and faster, and the blood splatters. And I, the audience, thought to myself, "Is this worth it?" No one ever says this or asks this or ponders this - but it made me ask the question.

    But I guess if we analysed it, the film maker had to build that up. First, how talented he is as a drummer. Second, how important drumming and the recognition were to him. Third, how close he is to achieving what he wanted, so we understand why he's pushing himself thus. Finally, fourth, how much pain he is actually suffering for it.

    Or to take from a literary example, in the Fault in Our Stars, it portrayed well the pointlessness and humiliation of death. There's this scene where Gus is at the petrol station because he so wanted to buy his own cigarettes, rather than have someone do it because he's too sick. Instead, he gets stuck there 'cause a tube in his stomach detached and he was crying and panicking and unable to get it back in, begging Hazel not to tell his parents. It was a very, very sad scene, designed to have you pity this man whom you'd come to love and respect, a man you knew had much cheer and bravery and now has been reduced to this. Slobbery, blubbering mess.

    These are all situations that show the reader/audience a particular thing, a very specific and very emotional message.

    So think - what would need to happen to make your MC realise she needs peace, not revenge? Maybe something happens to her or someone she loves. Maybe she witnesses something. I think the key here now is contrast - you must establish something powerful and then completely shatter it in front of the reader's eyes. Get that, and you'll get your message across. I don't pretend to know what needs to happen for this to happen, but this would be how.
     
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  5. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributor Contributor

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    Recently, I've come to realize that a character reason is always emotional. They make a decision based on trying get a 'good' feeling or to avoid a 'bad' one.

    And I've started looking at characters' emotional (motivational) lives as a separate entity from their logical (plot) lives.

    And the beauty of it is that their logic can be anywhere from slightly weird to totally insane. It's just a matter of finding a backstory that would drive them emotionally toward making that decision.

    For instance... My wife had a conversation with someone at work who's a die-hard Leafs fan (Toronto's hockey team) but the Leafs haven't done well for years and she asked him how he can be a die-hard fan (we don't live in Toronto, so it's not a hometown thing). It would be perfectly logical for him to be a fan of the Ottawa Senators because that's our hometown team... or for him to be a fan of some other team because most of the time, that team kicks ass. But it makes no sense to be a fan of a team in another city, especially when they're always losing.

    But what he said was, "When I was a kid, I used to watch the Leafs with my dad. Being a fan now makes me feel close to him."

    Et, voila. An emotional reason for an illogical choice, but anyone reading that will understand why and accept it as 'logical' for the character.
     
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  6. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    This can be an opportunity to make your subplots or secondary characters really shine. You have to be careful you don't do it in an overly obvious, didactic way, but as long as you're careful about that...

    One of your subplots or secondary characters is about someone who has been in a similar situation. Obsessed with revenge, blocking out everything else, further down the same path the MC is currently started on. And by watching the other character (or learning things from the other subplot) your MC decides that isn't the path she wants to be on. Maybe you have a secondary character the MC idolizes at the start and then the secondary character does something far too cruel in the name of revenge, and it makes the MC question herself and whether she's been idolizing the right thing.

    I can't give you the details, obviously. But if the MC-at-the-start swore total revenge, and the MC-at-the-end decides against total revenge, then the body of your book has to at least partly show how the MC has learned and changed about revenge.

    Alternatively, your MC could "wimp out" when the time came to actually kill someone, but I get the idea that you're looking for a more spiritual approach.
     
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  7. A.V.K.

    A.V.K. Member

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    Thank you for all the replies! They have all been very helpful in one form or another. I'll do my best to sort through these on a one-by-one basis. Long post ahead!


    That's something I do for the characters so far for the scene-to-scene "how they react to things" sort of thing. And it's good advice. I actually arrived at this thing happening BY turning it on it's head. the book started as a revenge-quest sort of thing, but I found that it could have more emotional weight behind it if the revenge didn't happen, and instead was flipped into a tale about the "heroes" eventually realizing the devastation caused around them. I just bring this thread up because I feel like stories can get weak when plot happens for the sake of plot, so I want to be sure I'm marrying character growth/motiviations/wants&neeeds to this particular pivotal plot point.


    True. it definitely doesn't have to be an "everything is happy after this" sort of deal. Even if the reason comes down to just plot, I just want to be sure that it matches and shows some character growth. For example, if the cost was to ruin the land and people she's been using to get revenge, she may decide not to go for revenge after all, showing that she started to care about the people that helped her out more than the revenge.

    I think this may be the way to go. She has inadvertently hurt others in her revenge-quest, and gets ample opportunity to see other people that have become an empty shell of themselves in their own pursuit of vengeance, and she's always observing the devastation that seems to follow in it's wake.


    That makes sense. Maybe I'm just over-thinking things.

    She wants revenge due to the promise she made her dying father, but actually needs peace with her past to move on.

    That's actually a theme with the secondary characters the MC conflicts with. One has already found vengeance and has been ruined by it to the point where they're only a shadow of their former self. Another one seeks it as a narrow-minded form of redemption at the cost of himself, and yet another befriends then betrays the MC in order to get revenge. They conflict because they are after the same bad guy, and can't work together because the macguffin used to inact vengeance can only ever be used by one of them. Vengeance is always a selfish force that drives people apart and brings ruin in it's wake. While I have made a scene or two that emphasized that, I think I can work to make it more clear/foreshadow things more so the BIG CLIMAX MOMENT(tm) works a bit better.
     
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  8. making tracks

    making tracks Active Member

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    I love stories with these sorts of themes. If you want to avoid the reader thinking it's because of the curse, maybe she could be somehow drawn to unleashing the curse just so the fighting and her anguish can stop (of course this depends on what the specific curse is). She may have become so exhausted by everything that has happened that it would be easiest to go the route of mutually assured destruction by getting the vengeance and unleashing the curse. But then like you say above, her realisation that this sort of thinking leads to cycles of vengeance over and over again (and seeing what it did to the secondary characters) makes her choose the alternative which of course will have its own consequences.
     
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  9. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Sounds to me as if you're going about this the right way. Sooner or later you'll get that eureka moment, and it will all fit together. Congratulations on deciding to dig into this topic.
     
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  10. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    @A.V.K. If I was writing this, I would have her wish, at the end of her book-long commitment to hunting him down, that she could kill him without worrying about a curse upon the land, that she wasn't forced to keep him alive when every drop of blood in her body was screaming at her to kill him. She would hate him for outmaneuvering her by holding the world hostage, and she would hate how powerless she was to do anything about it, and she would be planning a far more "satisfying" vengeance if a way to stop the curse is ever found...

    Only to realize over the course of the second book that stopping him had been good enough and that killing him would've been unnecessary.
     
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  11. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    personally i'd stay away from worthy moralising and have her not kill him because her gun jammed or she didnt want a mess on the floor
     
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  12. A.V.K.

    A.V.K. Member

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    That is true! I should keep in mind that, but, on the other hand, making it a stand-alone complete whole is kinda important to me. I don't know if I'll write a sequel, so I want to make it as a complete thing as possible. If it ends up being really long, then I'll cut it into two books.

    I don't want to turn it into a moralizing sort of thing. She wont spare said villian because it's "right" or "then she's no better than them" or other moral codes that always fall flat for me, she'll do so because she's tired of the pursuit and the toll it's taken on her and those near her. She'll realize it's not what she needs.


    Anyways, thank you for all the replies! I'm sure I'll work things out in the pages to come.
     
  13. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    ... That is even better :wink:

    Have you ever read The Killing Joke by any chance?
     
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  14. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    Have her think something along the line "if I kill them, an irreparable curse will be cast on the land, but that curse is that this war, this fighting and killing... that is the real curse, and it will just go on and on. Spare them, no matter how much I want my vengeance, and that can end."
     
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