1. Nathan Coleman

    Nathan Coleman New Member

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    No Better Than Them

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Nathan Coleman, Jun 28, 2018.

    "You can keep denying your crimes, and say that what you do is justified, that it is for the greater good, but someday you will have to realize that you are nothing but a killer, and will not live to be anything more dignified than that of your victims."

    That's an important but not so refined line I have in my novel which was said to my main character, who was driven by his inner pain and past to take it upon himself to kill criminals, specifically murderers, and domestic terrorists. His real name is Aaron, but he as he is known to the rest of America, Seeker

    I want the reader to start to believe that Seeker is on the way to a lighter path after this line is the main thing that pushes him over the edge to question the morality of what he is doing, only for the one person he has left to love is brutally murdered, making him take the low road and accepting that he may be "no better than them", yet proceeds to believe that all of his killings are for the better. This ideally will crush the reader's hopes for Seeker.

    After his friend's death, his killings become more brutal and more personal, which brings in my conflict of how can I develop the character so the reader will still relate and care about him, after the character has moved on from being a better person to a cold blooded killer, and abandoned the reader's hopes? What are your thoughts on this dilemma?
     
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  2. SolZephyr

    SolZephyr Member Supporter

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    I think you should foreshadow early on that this is the path the character might take. Maybe hint to his darker side a couple of times. If people expect the Punisher and end up with Jigsaw, they might get turned off.

    Also, be sure to give the readers enough hope that he'll change back to his better self by the end -- it will help people get past the rough patches. I'm not saying he has to get better by the end (it wasn't clear from your description if he does), but you want people to keep holding on to hope for the character to keep them invested. Maybe introduce a new character that interacts with the MC regularly and comments about the killings. The new character doesn't have to be aware that the MC is responsible, but they should say things that make the MC question the dark path they're on, at least a little.
     
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  3. Nathan Coleman

    Nathan Coleman New Member

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    Thanks for the tips. I didn't even consider at first adding another character in because my MC tend to be solitary, but I think that would progress the story a ton, and is a really good solution! Your point about foreshadowing is a good one too that helps me a lot. I'll keep these in mind. Thanks!
     
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  4. GrJs

    GrJs Active Member

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    Emphasise his losses to muderers and other criminals. Don’t be afraid to take him down a dark path, show case his thoughts as he’s killing people, especially after his friend gets it. You make it like an unconscious impulse action that he mimics his mates murder in certain ways.

    I’d suggest watching The Hitmans Bodyguard with Ryan Reynolds and Sam. L.Jackson. It does a wonderful job of humanising Samuel’s character(the hitman) and even covers how he feels about the morality of what he’s doing.
     
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  5. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    If I have understood correctly, Seeker is a vigilante who kills (known?) criminals and terrorists. Presumably if he has chosen this path, he has already made a moral judgement and decided he is justified in doing what he is doing. And I think there is certainly an argument for that. If somebody is murdering innocent people and one has the opportunity to kill that person to prevent further deaths, then it may be immoral not to kill them.

    So, you want to create a reason why he will start to doubt the morality of what he is doing. This will lead the reader to believe that he might change his ways and stop killing. You can then either make this happen to resolve his arc and make it a redemption story, or have him try but fail to stop killing, accept this as part of himself, and as you say crush the reader's hopes for him (if indeed they were hoping he would stop - some readers will hope that he will continue to kill if they too believe he is justified in doing so).

    Hopefully I've got all of that right so far. Assuming I have, you can work through the moral argument first and then work out a point at which he might question it:
    1. Criminals and terrorists are killing innocent people
    2. Law enforcement is (presumably) unable or unwilling to prevent these killings
    3. I have the ability to find and kill the criminals
    4. It is morally justified to take the life of one who would take the life of several others

    Then after the death of his friend, a further moral judgement is added:

    5. People who kill others should be brutalised and killed
    His killings then become about retribution rather than (or perhaps as well as) the moral arguments previously used to justify his actions. You can then introduce an agent which questions any of these moral judgements. What I would say is that "you're no better than the criminals" is morally questionable. The criminals and terrorists are harming (potentially) innocent people, whereas Seeker is harming people who did harm to others. These are not morally equivalent.

    So you need to either introduce an agent which will question the moral judgements Seeker has made in a convincing way and make him doubt his judgements, or cause him to act outside of his own moral framework. You could do a combination of these. For example, somebody could question his authority to enact punishment and point out that the law enforcement system protects people from miscarriages of justice. Seeker chooses to dismiss this, but in the course of his vigilante killings he murders an innocent. This reinforces that his moral judgements may be fallacious, leading him to question whether he should be doing it. Where you take it from there is up to you. Questioning his morals this way would certainly create the conflict you are hoping for.
     
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  6. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Have you read/watched the Dexter series? It sounds like a similar setup, although I don't think Dexter has the initial crimes to "justify" his behaviour.

    He talks about his Dark Passenger and calls himself a monster, and just giving him that level of recognition that what he does is wrong goes a long way, for me, toward making it okay to read.

    There's a related element that I find hard to put into words, but... I don't mind it when characters do things I don't like, but I can't stand it when the author seems to be backing the character up. Like, as an example, I read a a romance novel once where the female main character visits the male main character's home to give a medical treatment to his niece. While she's there, he appears in his underwear, makes a bunch of suggestive comments, and places himself between the female main character and the door, preventing her from leaving (without having to come within grabbing distance of a half-naked, aggressive asshole). Disgusting behaviour, absolutely contrary to my values (or, I would think, the values of right-thinking people everywhere). I hated that male character. But it would have been okay for me if the author had shown that this behaviour was out of line and taken the plot in that direction. This guy needs some socialization, some grovelling, rehabilitiation, etc. and then I could accept that the heroine fell for him. But the author didn't give me any of this, so I ended up feeling like the author thought the behaviour was acceptable, and I hated the book.

    So... long paragraph, but I think the general gist is that readers will stay with a character doing horrible things as long as the horrible things are depicted as being horrible. Don't be afraid to go dark - just acknowledge that you are.
     
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  7. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Dark is very interesting really. I think of Two-Face from The Dark Knight (the movie - I have no idea what the comic book version was like). You still related to Two-Face because everyone can sympathise with being tipped over the edge by the loss of one's love. I also think of Kylo Ren from the new Star Wars movies - he's by far the most nuanced and interesting character in the new episodes and despite him turning against Rey at the end of the second movie, truth is I personally still hold onto hope he might change (doubt it, but I'm still interested). I've seen memes crushing on Kylo Ren how he's their ideal man... which is disturbing. But, goes to show that even dark can be very attractive. I find him fascinating but crushing on him - oh no. No way.

    I think in the end, the reader's hope shouldn't be completely lost until right at the very end - up until then you need to keep the conflict going, because that's the best part of the whole book. Once it's decided which way your MC's really truly gonna go (or stay), that's the end of the story.
     
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  8. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think @BayView hit the core of this issue on the head. What do YOU, the author, think of this character? Do YOU think his actions are justified? Do you relate to his original situation? Do you relate to how he has developed?

    Do you think violence is ever justified? If so, how far do you think it should go?

    If the Seeker is simply trying to rid the world of dangerous criminals, he will find them and quickly kill them, won't he? (Presuming their guilt is proven, and he's not in danger of executing innocent people himself.) The goal is to remove the threat.

    If, however, he decides to torture them first or make their ending less than swift and efficient, that would say to me that he is punishing them, rather than simply eliminating a threat. That takes the story in a slightly different direction, and will put off some people who might have been okay with him just finding and quickly killing the criminals.

    And if he ends up enjoying the torture and finding ways to justify it? (Or you, the author, begin to enjoy detailing the torture?) Then I think you're in yet another place with this idea.
     
  9. Nathan Coleman

    Nathan Coleman New Member

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    You hit the nail on the head. Thanks for the help!
     
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  10. Nathan Coleman

    Nathan Coleman New Member

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    Thanks! this gives me a lot of things to think about.
     

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