1. sprirj

    sprirj Senior Member

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    What is believable is unbelievable?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by sprirj, Jan 18, 2017.

    Just a simple observation, and just wondering if there are any examples of this done right?

    Because of the way the media stereotypes, plays on our fears, and brainwashes the masses, is it possible to portray a truly evil character as believable if in the first person?

    They could be a serial killer, with no motive. The media would portray this person as a monster. But in first person, can someone with no motive, justify it? Or do they need to?
    Would a reader believe this, or do you have to follow some cliches to the letter?
     
  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Are you asking if you can have a serial killer main character and make them sympathetic?
     
  3. sprirj

    sprirj Senior Member

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    No, the opposite. Can you have an evil narrator with no motive, or does that erode any kind of plot or put off readers. Is it too unbelievable to have a heartless MC?
     
  4. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    So an unsympathetic MC.

    I don't think it would interfere with the plot. In terms of putting off readers, I think the general consensus is that main characters should be interesting. But they don't have to be likeable.

    See American Psycho for an obvious example.
     
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  5. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    You might very well think that. I couldn't possibly comment :cool:

    ... In all seriousness, when you're writing a Villain Protagonist, you need the character to be emotionally sympathetic and/or intellectually stimulating. Preferably both, but you only need one or the other. What is your narrator doing?
     
  6. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    And have a teddy bear or a kitten nearby to hug while you're reading it...
     
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  7. Ghost Reflection

    Ghost Reflection Active Member

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    How can you have a serial killer with no motive? Everything action has a motive even if its as simple as itching your nose. Perhaps more explanation is needed, because even if he's just killing out of impulse, that in of its self is a motive. I am curious about this concept so please do explain.
     
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  8. Arcadeus

    Arcadeus Senior Member

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    Every action has a motive. Whether that motive is survival based or entertainment based. To have no motive would be to have no control over the killing. If this is the case, you could optimally garner sympathy for the character and proceed with it as a Protagonist. Also no control over the killings... the killings would have to involve an involuntary need to pull the trigger, or see blood, or something of the sort. So... the motive is to relieve that itch/struggle.
     
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  9. sprirj

    sprirj Senior Member

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    I'm just trying to establish what is believable and what isn't. Can you have an MC so disconnected from the world that he would murder at random with no feelings. Not pleasure or pain from the experience. And would a reader buy into that?
     
  10. amerrigan

    amerrigan Active Member

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    You mean 'no motive' as the word motive means in court. eg. I killed my wife because she slept with my brother.

    Not motive as what motive means in writing. As in: what drives your character. Right?
     
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  11. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    It sounds like you're talking about someone who kills people the way most of us kill insects. If there's a bug in my house, no matter what kind of bug it is, it's getting dead. Killing some bugs, like cockroaches or mosquitos, is a matter of health and sanitation, but even things like the tiny little buzzy flies we get from time to time are exterminated as a matter of course. Do I have a "motive"? I must, or I wouldn't do it, but I don't get any sort of thrill from the kill, and I only occasionally feel a sort of abstract guilt.

    I think it would be difficult to sustain reader interest in a character who killed that coldly though. A killer who is consumed with cruelty and revulsion for his victims, like Amon Goeth in "Schindler's List", yes, but not someone who is has no more investment in the kill than swatting a gnat.

    Just my 2yen.
     
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  12. Selbbin

    Selbbin The Moderating Cat Staff Contributor

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    Heartless is a lack of sympathy and empathy, but doesn't mean they don't have a motive. Motive is motivation. ALL killers real and fictional have had some sort of motivation or they wouldn't bother. Even the joy of killing in itself is a motive. It's impossible not to have one. So no, not having a motive is not believable, and it has nothing to do with the 'media'.
     
  13. Selbbin

    Selbbin The Moderating Cat Staff Contributor

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    Cockroaches are very clean, cleaner than humans, and the idea it is about sanitation is a fallacy. Cockroaches only infest dirty places because there is food around. The cockroach isn't dirty. You are.
     
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  14. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    But they are so hard to litterbox-train. Little turds everywhere...
     
  15. Selbbin

    Selbbin The Moderating Cat Staff Contributor

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    But the turds are so teeny tiny, and you can use them in the garden. They're safer to your health than spraying the house with toxic chemicals. :)
     
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  16. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributor Contributor

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    According to Snyder, any character can be made sympathetic through a single act of kindness near the beginning of the story. And that act of kindness can be toward any living creature.

    By that logic, as long as your character is shown to care about something—anything—or anyone—for any reason, no matter how insane, it should work.

    And insane, as far as I'm able to determine, is a matter of having an emotional justification that 99% of people will think is weird.

    To my way of thinking, though, the truly evil character need only use cold, hard logic to justify any and all actions and that means the single act of kindness will also speak to that character's weakness since it'll be directed toward the one thing in the character's life where emotion gets in the way of said cold, hard logic.
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2017
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  17. Arcadeus

    Arcadeus Senior Member

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    So you kill them because you find them disgusting... motive.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    I'm just saying, you have to show some motive or the character will feel like a complete fake.

    You want a side-character to kill without reason, make it something people find monstrous and mindless.

    If a creature has a capacity for any real thought, people will want to know why it does what it does.
     
  18. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    The FBI has interviewed a lot of serial killers, maybe read some of the literature on them? Can you name a real or fictional serial killer that you would say is similar to your character?


    Very effective way to provide some humanity to otherwise emotionless characters.
     
  19. Ghost Reflection

    Ghost Reflection Active Member

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    I suggestion doing some research on antisocial personality disorder as the DMS refers to it now. Sociopath and psychopath are older terms for this disorder, but I think it would the most believable avenue to take, perhaps adding other compounding metal disorders. I once herd an explanation for people with APD: someone with antisocial personality disorder understands what feelings mean, but can't experience them. While someone with autism experiences all the feelings, but can't understand what they mean. It's also important to note that not everyone with APD is a serial killer. There are other compounding issues that evolve into that.
     
  20. sprirj

    sprirj Senior Member

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    This is exactly my conclusion. If the killer thinks he is above everyone else, he doesn't have to feel anything. It's just matter of fact. And no thought for what he is actually doing.

    I like this thank you. A glimpse of a soul, or something deeper, might allow a connection.

    I disagree. I think this is too easy and falls into how we want to see killers... As monsters. This is how the media paints them. Because it makes us feel better, knowing it is us and them.

    I have read an entire book of interviews with serial killers, along with Jon ronsons book psychopath test. But in truth, you can't generalise what a killer is. Each one is different.
     
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  21. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    Agreed, but all of them had a motive (whether they made sense or not,) none were mindless killing machines.
     
  22. Arcadeus

    Arcadeus Senior Member

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    I think there was a breakdown in understanding. What I meant by mindless monster; I was thinking horror/thriller style zombies and the like.
     
  23. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    This isn't a great example (and may not even be relevant) but check out Anton Chigurgh in Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men... here's a dude that doesn't set out to kill people like a serial killer would, but he will kill anybody at any time for any reason. His killing is certainly motivated, but the way he goes about it is just... odd.
     
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  24. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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    Interesting, I had the exact same thought when I read this thread. That's a sociopath for people who don't know what a sociopath is. A sociopath doesn't have to be sadistic, but a sociopath will stop at nothing to remove obstacles in his/her way (as long as he/she thinks they can get away with it), which is the case with this character.

    Narcissist sociopath. I recommend a good read on sociopaths. The vast majority of sociopaths are not serial killers but knowing them is it's quite elucidating about how they can do all kinds of wrong (killing including) without remorse.
     
  25. Reed R Gale

    Reed R Gale Member

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    If ^this^ is what you mean by 'no motive' then personally I think that you can do this. The fact that you could outline pretty concretely what you want means that it could be done. 'Would a reader buy into that?' Well...

    ...I guess it all comes down to execution. My gut answer to 'can it be done' is almost always yes, and there are innumerable ways to go about achieving that goal. So, I guess I have to ask:

    What is your goal? What do you want to achieve in making this character? Showing that killers don't necessarily see killing as immoral or villainous? That even killers are people? What's the prospect you're aiming for?

    How are you going to make it interesting? As Simpson said, you need some attachment to the character or something to keep the reader intellectually engaged. Focusing on one side over the other can make it clearer what kind of reader you're trying to attract.
     

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