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May 29, 2009

Torn

I have a major character who is going to make a decision which will turn him from a hero to a villian. (Or as my son would say, "a bad guy!")

I'm torn.

I want him to bear responsibility for his own fall. He makes the choice unaware of the ultimate consequences -- he doesn't become a villain all at once. But he does make the choice.

At the same time, I also want the reader to retain sympathy for him as he descends into darkness, and even when he is called upon to do terrible things, understand why he is doing them (at least, how he justifies them).

Should I have him make his initial choice -- which sends him down the "wrong" path -- already be for selfish reaons, or for altruistic reasons?

14 comments:

beth said...

Personally, I think it would be more interesting if his motivation for bad was something good, not selfish.

Justus M. Bowman said...

I agree with Beth.

Scott said...

I agree with Beth also.

Sometimes, good people do bad things - I believe this was a line from a Grey's Anatomy episode. The character was trying to justify his/her actions. The line stuck with me.

People (characters) sometimes make a choice out of anger that has far reaching consequences. Sometimes, a choice made out of guilt has horrible consequences. So, even though your character made the choice that set him on the path of darkness . . . well, if the motivations are clear, the intent behind the choice is clear, then I would think (hope) the reader would have sympathy for the character.

S

Davin Malasarn said...

But, Tara, you specified that he doesn't really know the consequences of his actions, right? For me, that gives you permission to have him do something selfish. I'm not saying his decision has to be selfish, but I don't think he would necessarily lose my sympathy for him, if he made a decision for a small selfish reason. It does depend on the context though. I mean, if his motive was because he wanted a piece of candy, or something innocent like that, I'd be okay with it. I might even find it charming and more human.

Tara Maya said...

I wonder if there's any way to leave it ambiguous. Offer the reader both possibilities, leaving the reader to decide what more strongly motivated him? I'm not sure I know how to pull that off, but it would be ideal.

Originally, I introduced this character as a straight-up villain, only revealing his good intentions later on. In this version, I introduce his good qualities first, and I worry I may have gone over the top in making him seem *too* good.

ban said...

Wow, what a dilemma ... I'm gonna side with Davin - if he doesn't understand the consequences of his actions before-hand, it would be understandable & believable for him to do something 'selfish'. This might give him something to think about and regret latter on. It would offer some great 'what if' moments and show a bit more clearly that there ARE repercussions for actions. (even if they weren't meant to be 'bad'.) If he acts out of the belief he is doing something good it might be too easy to justify his latter actions ...
ps: waiting for you post on beta bloggers :)

Jayden Vasara said...

i'm going through the same struggle w/the villan of my new book....let us know what you decide to do!

scott g.f. bailey said...

Tara: I'm going to say it depends on what you plan for this character's story arc. Do you want, in the end, for him to regret his actions? Then I'd have him act for selfish reasons if it seems like a harmless act at the time. If you want him to be a villain, you could make him act for what appears to be altruistic reasons, but actually selfish ones. Or other variations. But it depends on what you want to happen to him later on, and what you want your reader's relationship with him to be at the end of the story. Is he the protagonist? How does this decision affect the protagonist's story? That's the real question, I think. Remember who the story belongs to and write accordingly.

scott g.f. bailey said...

By which I mean, if this guy's NOT the protagonist, the choice you make for him will likely have to do with what that choice does for the protagonist's story. I seem to be rambling.

Tara Maya said...

That makes sense, Scott.

Icy Roses said...

It makes me happy in general that you get to see the villain's downfall from someone good into someone bad. That alone, I would say, almost gives me sympathy for him. I could see it either way. Altruistic reasons might make him slightly more sympathetic, but I would almost prefer selfish reasons, because you don't see that pulled off well in too many books.

Selfish reasons are sometimes better. Because not everyone is altruistic all the time. People who are selfish, yet still give me a reason to like them are rare, and I would like to see more of that.

In any case, now I am really curious to see what this story's all about. :-)

Tara Maya said...

I fear he may still come across as too cliche and uni-dimensional.

laughingwolf said...

a challenge, but try to incorporate both possibilities... you want him to be multidimensional, as you say

Solvang Sherrie said...

Can he selfishly make his choice but try to make others think it's really the altruistic thing to do?