Fantasy Faction

Fantasy Faction Writers => Writers' Corner => Topic started by: Bradley Darewood on August 21, 2017, 04:43:50 AM

Title: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Bradley Darewood on August 21, 2017, 04:43:50 AM
So the ever-brilliant @cupiscent humored me some valuable advice in a message and I thought I'd open part of it up here in case anyone wants to throw down.

Quote from: cupiescent
First up, though, let me make a sidebar caveat about the Farmboy of Destiny. A big part of my issue with this trope and its common depiction in fantasy is that it lacks agency.… I prefer a hero who demonstrates the potential for extraordinary from the first chapter.)

First off, let me say that I don’t have the trope allergy so many others do.  I have nostalgic love of the tropes i grew up with, but I do break away, and when I do it’s because I want to *say something*.  Ultimately this means my current WIP subverts tropes, meaning people who hate princesses getting saved and etc etc are going to write me off without realizing that I do turn that on it’s head by the end. 

But back to the Farmboy of Destiny— I think you hit on something important here.  When Harper Collins reviewed my WIP, they weren’t feeling my MC.  He was missing something.  He doesn’t have anything extraordinary— even less so than a Farmboy of Destiny!  He’s not special by nature— he’s just trying to survive.  He’s hearing stories about knights slaying dragons and saving princesses, and it’s something he can never be.  The book (which is really the first act of a 300k book I wanted to write, but since 300k isn’t kosher….) leaves him responding to situations he’s thrust into (because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time) until the very end, when he finds his agency at one pivotal moment in the second to last chapter (ironically in deciding *not* to be the “hero” and becoming a rebel and an exile instead).  In subsequent books he *becomes* extraordinary— as he rises to meet challenges and learns what he needs to of his own volition and initiative.

This presents a problem for me— It’s great in theory but I need something to hook the reader to the character, and I don’t think I’ve successfully accomplished that.  I’m still wrestling with this problem.

Quote from: cupiescent
This is not necessarily a problem by itself! I mean, Scarlett O'Hara has the most mundane of motives: she wants to never be hungry again. What makes her an amazing and compelling character is what she's prepared to do in pursuit of that motive. That's the extraordinary.

The flipside is a book I read that I was so unmoved by I can't even remember the title. (One Goodreads check later: it's Giant Thief by David Tallerman, and now that I actually look at that surname and that title side by side, all I can say is: seriously, dude? Sure, the book is about a thief stealing a giant, but TALLERMAN?? ahem. anyway. My point is...) Throughout the majority of the book, the main character's primary goal is getting out of this situation, while the situation itself is the main plot. While his desire to escape to safety makes sense, it and the main plot undermined each other, instead of one-upping each other.

I think this probably boils down in essence to: give the reader at least one compelling reason to care about this character in this situation. Whether it's because s/he is capable (meta/physically or emotionally) of incredible things and you want to marvel at their audacity, or whether it's because the situation is so damn important/fraught/hilarious you need to keep watching it unravel, have a Reason.

(If your reason why I should hear about these adventures is because of what the character does after them, then perhaps this is not the story you really want to tell.)

With your guy, trying to survive is a fundamental and compelling and above all relatable goal. We can all understand it. But because it's something everyone feels, the question is why we should care about this guy surviving. Why is his story compelling and deserving of being told? And the two big questions that jump out for me as having the potential for an answer: what is he prepared to do in order to survive? and why is it important that he survive? Somewhere in there is - or can be inserted - a strong hook to keep the reader engaged.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Peat on August 21, 2017, 10:38:18 PM
I'm not entirely sure whether we're getting at FoDs in general or your specific situation, or what exactly your situation is, but I'm gonna blather on about what I think is being said and hope its helpful.

First off, a character doesn't have to be active. It sure makes life easier, but American Gods became huge with a central character who's famously passive. I'd argue that the Belgariad is a prime example of how a FoD can say a pawn the whole damn series and still engage people. And I don't think being Active is the be-all and end-all. Bradley, have you considered giving him an eyepatch and parrot (or similar other outlandish trademark apparel/look/characteristic that just makes the character seem cooler)?

However... a lot of FoDs are active. Not to begin with, but they grow into agency. Harry Potter. Pug. And, I think the most interesting one here, Rand Al'Thor. We don't see Rand become Superbad until the end of the book; you don't need your wizard wand to get agency. But because he's split up from the others and Mat's getting sick, he has to do things. Take charge. And that echoes the sense of responsibility he shows that finally triggers obvious powers, and that was behind the retrospective foreshadows that he was indeed special.

So you can keep the arc you have providing you a) Make clear he's reacting for a reason beyond his own survival (even if its as simple as survival of a friend) and b) The new situations he has to react to are a result of *his* actions and not anyone else's. At least, that's how I see the lessons of the first part of the Rand Al'Thor story.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: The Gem Cutter on August 22, 2017, 04:21:57 AM
First off, let me say that I don’t have the trope allergy so many others do.

There are no good or bad tropes - they're just conventions, things we've seen often enough to name, and we've literally seen it all, whether you number plots at three like Aristotle, or 36, or whatever. And whether narrow, like men rescuing damsels, or broad like happy endings, they're neutral. They are the building blocks of story, and trying to write and avoid them is like trying to write without using words, or writing words without letters. It's the execution of the trope that defines its merits. When done well, we often don't notice them. And even when we do, they're not always 'bad.' A poorly delivered trope is a cliché, while well-executed ones usually receive more distinctive terms.

In reading Cupiscent's comment, something struck me as vastly different between his view and mine when I saw this line:

"With your guy, trying to survive is a fundamental and compelling and above all relatable goal. We can all understand it. But because it's something everyone feels, the question is why we should care about this guy surviving. Why is his story compelling and deserving of being told?"

It seemed to me that this is looking for what doesn't exist - some kind of demonstration that that character is worthy - as if there is some level of "interesting" that must be achieved, some level of depth required to reach a threshold of distinctiveness. Smiley in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is anything but interesting or distinctive (unless you count his distinctive lack of distinctiveness). Frodo is as dull as the day is long.

I believe seeking these kinds of things could not be further off course from achieving the ONLY character trait of value in terms of making a story compelling. Empathy. More important than concept or vivid description or taught plot lines - what makes a story compelling is seeing ourselves. And therein lies the rub. I've not read your stuff, but the reaction you posted, Bradley, to my eyes points to one or two of two issues: either you failed to achieve empathy with Cupiscent or you failed to achieve it at all. And that's not a criticism - I've not seen the work. But I have seen the symptom, and there's a gap that people try to leap when describing what hasn't moved them, and they toss all manner of things in the gap to do so. Providing reasons to care is literally the most crass thing I've seen in a while. I first encountered the term on the cover of a book a sociopathic field officer was reading. It's title "How to care" - and yes, empathy was an emotion the man was incapable of.

This guy says it better than I, using an example we're all familiar with.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rhMu6FFJPw

Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: cupiscent on August 22, 2017, 04:56:44 AM
Disclaimer: objects in the mirror may be less brilliant than alleged. ;)

To clarify my comments slightly: there are a lot of classic FoDs who are totally passive until later. But they're classic. Would that delivery of the trope be as satisfying today? (Not to me, personally; I fear I have been glutted.)

I think Harry Potter is a different sort of FoD: from the outset, he is resisting the oppression of the forces that would keep him ordinary, and that oppression itself makes him unusual and interesting from the outset. Who is this kid, that he is kept in a room under the stairs? We are outraged on his behalf. We want to see him overthrow this. We're hooked.

Frodo is as dull as the day is long.

Totally disagree. Frodo - and indeed all his companions save Sam - are really weird hobbits who are actually keen to go on an adventure. Frodo in particular is painted as have significant wanderlust. He wants something different. He wants to see where the road goes. (And it comes back to bite him.)

Providing reasons to care is literally the most crass thing I've seen in a while.

Thanks? :p

Yes, every person matters. I believe that every person is worth reading about. (It's a significant part of why I go on and on about diversity in story representation.) But readers only have finite time. They can only read so many stories. They cannot read all the stories. It is simply impossible. So you need a reason why a reader should read this story about this person. And you need to let the reader know what that reason is, otherwise they might not believe there is one.

I believe this pretty strongly myself, but I'd also add that it's also advice I see from lit agents and editors: they want to have a strong connection with a character in the first 30-50 pages, to see what they want to achieve, to see the obstacles, and to care about the outcome.

Sidenote: I haven't read Bradley's work either. We were talking generalities.
Other sidenote: I'm a girl, TGC. :)
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: NinjaRaptor on August 22, 2017, 07:17:34 AM
I don't see myself ever writing one of these "Farmboys of Destiny". Give me a warrior princess who's already received substantial education in the martial arts (and other skills pertinent to adventuring) any day.

I suspect FoD-type characters are popular simply because they have the most obvious character arcs. It's easy to imagine where a character has room to "grow" if they start off immature and unskilled, and the coming-of-age experience is something most adults can relate to on some level. With a character who's already badass from the beginning, you have to dig deeper to find potential arcs since you can't do a coming-of-age with them.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: The Gem Cutter on August 22, 2017, 09:24:06 PM
Sorry about your gender reversal Cupiscent. I had you confused with one of the others here that I've never met :)

Frodo is as dull as the day is long.

Totally disagree. Frodo - and indeed all his companions save Sam - are really weird hobbits who are actually keen to go on an adventure. Frodo in particular is painted as have significant wanderlust. He wants something different. He wants to see where the road goes. (And it comes back to bite him.)


He might be an unusual hobbit - in that he actually leaves the Shire and all that - but he almost never argues with anyone, he has little conflict with anyone but the ring (they exist, but spread across the huge expanse of narrative, they're brief and involuntary). "Most interesting" of a species of the most boring race is not a discriminator of value. Hobbits have had like two battles in their entire, 4,000 year history. What he really is, and this goes to my point, is EXTREMELY sympathetic.

He is boring in his outlook, but his outlook is one we all identify with and, most importantly, sympathize with. He's the wisest and best educated of his friends, and he has great friends! And he sees their worth. In other words, he is someone we would all like to be friends with, and he's the kind of friend we all wish that we were. But beyond that, he's an exceedingly boring character. Take him out of the quest, and we'd care no more for him than Farmer Maggot - who's objectively WAY more interesting with those huge dogs.

There's no objective reason to care about Frodo or his sacrifice. We care because in him, we see ourselves.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: abatch on August 22, 2017, 09:58:10 PM
I suppose the trope is lazy. On the other hand, there's got to be a reason it's been around for so long. Perhaps it speaks to the untapped extraordinariness in any of us.  It's also difficult to invent new tropes.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Lanko on August 22, 2017, 10:14:43 PM
I only watched the movies so my perception of those characters are based on that.

I pretty much agree with Gem Cutter and even add to that that I never actually saw myself in him. Heck, I found Frodo at times insufferable with his Chosen One signal post over his head. And his tendency to get hypnotized/drowned/captured/wounded/etc by everything all the time absolutely could not make me identify myself as well. I wouldn't be that stupid to fall for all that all the time!

While I can give props to JRR for subverting the trope and creating a chosen farmboy who is frail and can't fight in absolutely any circumstance and defeats the dark lord without even fighting him, Frodo is... meh.

Heck, I don't even want him as my friend, I would want Sam instead. Now that's a friend.

Except maybe Smeagol, characterization, at least in the movies, was not a strong point for me. I liked what they represented (the archetype) and I believe that's how a fantasy world done properly and explored with seriousness would be like.
Also, it does have the feeling of mythology, like the Norse ones and even maybe Arthurians ones, done right as well.

In essence, what I enjoyed most was the atmosphere and sense of exploration, like seeing and almost being on what a magical/mythological Arthurian/Norse age would look like. The landscapes, adventure, exploration and mysteries of the world still making one wonder about them, instead of our pragmatic and fact-based world that has almost (or really nothing) none of that magic and wonder of ages past left. 

Which is curious, as in another thread everyone said characters are the most important and then we look at LoTR and while they're iconic characters, I think they were carried to that status totally by the plot/setting/atmosphere rather than anything they actually did.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Eli_Freysson on August 22, 2017, 10:17:56 PM
There are no good or bad tropes - they're just conventions, things we've seen often enough to name, and we've literally seen it all, whether you number plots at three like Aristotle, or 36, or whatever.

Yes, I make heavy use of tropes, as there really aren't any bad tropes. But there are tropes that people tend to use lazily, and when I use a familiar one I do my best to give it depth and justification.

Quote
I prefer a hero who demonstrates the potential for extraordinary from the first chapter.)

I rather agree with this. I'm not fond of entirely unimpressive nobodies whose life suddenly fills with people telling them how important they are, based on no qualifications that we can see, and getting carried through danger by a cadre of bodyguards until they finally come into their own. I'm not impressed by a villain who can be defeated by someone who really seems like an absolute Joe Average.

When I did my own take on the "youngster discovers that they have special powers" in The Silent War it was important to me that Katja not become the Ultimate Badass in record time... but also that she was tough and at least somewhat skilled to begin with. Her mentor just made her better. And better and better and better as the series progressed.

I only watched the movies so my perception of those characters are based on that.

I pretty much agree with Gem Cutter and even add to that that I never actually saw myself in him. Heck, I found Frodo at times insufferable with his Chosen One signal post over his head. And his tendency to get hypnotized/drowned/captured/wounded/etc by everything all the time absolutely could not make me identify myself as well. I wouldn't be that stupid to fall for all that all the time!

I will say in Frodo's defence that I feel the movies were very unfair to him. The Frodo of the books was a good deal tougher, and not a constant lamb on the freeway.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Peat on August 23, 2017, 12:29:50 AM
So you need a reason why a reader should read this story about this person. And you need to let the reader know what that reason is, otherwise they might not believe there is one.

I believe this pretty strongly myself, but I'd also add that it's also advice I see from lit agents and editors: they want to have a strong connection with a character in the first 30-50 pages, to see what they want to achieve, to see the obstacles, and to care about the outcome.

I couldn't agree with this any more if I tried.

And it isn't a demand for specific things. Its a demand for just something - anything - that makes the reader want to know about the character and their story. Anything you can think of - including going through experiences we empathise with.

After all, everyone has their own different idea of what makes a character worth caring for. Cupiscent and Eli are less likely to care for a character that starts unformed. Other people actively enjoy it. I don't really have an opinion either way. TGC thinks Smiley and Frodo aren't interesting. Cupiscent disagrees about Frodo; I vehemently disagree about Smiley. I find the dichotomy of a "breathtakingly ordinary" rather diffident person in poor-ish circumstance who nevertheless has clearly been and still is rather special in terms of his ability and standing fascinating. Etc.etc.


I also think that while there aren't good tropes and bad tropes, there are good portrayals and bad portrayals. The more a trope has been used and the more its characteristics go against the trends of popular fiction, the harder it is to do it well. FoD is at the heart of most of fantasy's major works and does naturally lend itself to a degree of passivity/slowness that is somewhat against trend these days.

Which is not to say its a bad trope. Au contraire, the fact its been used by all the 800lb gorillas in the room points to the fact its a fookin' awesome trope. Everyone knows about the power of the coming of age story. But it is a difficult to use trope.


Incidentally, I don't think its too difficult to come up with arcs around characters who start at level 10 rather than level 1. There's still the journey to level 20. Just that they don't seem to be as popular for whatever reason. Even someone who starts at level 20 still has life goals to achieve like Rescue Their Daughter, Wreck Shit And Relationships For Queen & Country, Solve The Cast That Killed Their Partner... those mightn't be fantasy big, but they're other genre big.


Finally, at least going by the books, I don't think Frodo is a FoD. He's not a farmboy (pedantic maybe), he doesn't have a destiny (quite important) and he doesn't power up at all. He's just as capable at the end as he is at the start; arguably less so, due to the wounds he's taken. In fact - crucially - I don't think LotR is a coming of age story for him at all. He's 50 years old when he leaves the shire (okay, that's maybe mid-thirties in hobbit years) and his world view doesn't change all that much and where it does, its not from maturity, but from damage. Pippin and Merry have coming of age stories; arguably, so does Aragorn (and two of those three do have destinies). But Frodo? Nah.

And I certainly think Tolkien would have been rather surprised to hear he was a subversion of the FoD trope as I'm not sure he'd have even recognised such a thing as existing.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: cupiscent on August 23, 2017, 01:12:21 AM
I just want to highlight a bit of nuance that I'm not sure I've made clear...

Quote from: cupiscent
First up, though, let me make a sidebar caveat about the Farmboy of Destiny. A big part of my issue with this trope and its common depiction in fantasy is that it lacks agency.… I prefer a hero who demonstrates the potential for extraordinary from the first chapter.)

Lack of agency is my only real concern, not the trope itself. (Like others have said: you can do any trope well, or poorly.) I don't mind seeing a level-1 character come of age, as long as they want to grow up. I don't even mind FoDs who have the plot happen to them, as long as they are moving themselves as well from page 1. I just want to see the active potential in the character right from the get-go. And that can be as small as talking back to an authority figure with good reason. It can be staring up at the night sky and yearning (though I admit I prefer it to be a specific yearning rather than a "one day my prince/adventure will come" woffle; Luke wants to go to fighter pilot school, but that's not the adventure he ends up in). Show me that hint, that burn, that seed-of-something, and I will trust you that it will grow and blossom, and I will come along to see it happen. (Note: this is about the character's emotional potential, not skill potential. Harry Potter's talking to snakes is interesting, but it's his need to escape oppression that makes him compelling to me.)
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Peat on August 23, 2017, 02:00:18 AM
Another example of small scale agency and potential might be Jon Snow deliberately counting himself out of the count of Eddard's children so his siblings can have the Direwolves. A real Save the Cat moment that.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Lanko on August 23, 2017, 02:20:51 AM
It seems strange to say this today, but LoTR was very subversive regarding common tropes back then. Just shows how the passage of time makes the uncommon become the thing to be beaten later.

But it seems hard to believe Frodo is not a FoD. Not even just for the fact that all Hobbits are apparently farmers when they are not singing, eating and playing.
It's not a prophesied destiny, but for reasons unknown he's still the only one who can resist the pull of the ring (well, Bilbo too and apparently all Hobbits had some resistance) and of all Hobbits the only one who has the will and endurance to carry it all the way to Mordor.

Humans and even elves are easily corrupted by it and he's even brought to a council of all the races who places the burden on him because of how special he is in regards to everyone else - pure of heart, no lust for power, self-sacrifice for the Shire, etc etc.
Heck, like the majority of cases of the trope, trouble searched for him to get his ass moving.

Regardless, everyone points out how only Frodo and no one else can do it.

Now the trope doesn't play as usual with him. He's no fighter and never learns to fight. He doesn't unite banners and armies under him. As said, he doesn't power up. Him and the villain don't even talk to each other.
In fact, he actually fails the quest in the end and takes the ring for himself. If wasn't for Gollum...

But he's still the humble boy, living, if not isolated himself, in an isolated community, and now goes see the vastness of the world for the first time, comes from a farming community and the only one capable of saving the world and carry the fate of the world on his shoulders.
Because it didn't matter if the armies of orcs, uruks, nazguls and etc were defeated, they wouldn't be able to destroy Sauron, who would just keep creating more. Only Frodo could do it.
 
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Peat on August 23, 2017, 02:53:45 AM
Not all hobbits are farmers. Richer hobbits clearly live a lifestyle similar to an English country squire - rich enough to never need work thanks to land ownership and inherited wealth. And Frodo is a gentleman. Plus, to be pedantic, there's plenty of hobbits shown in trades - gardeners, publicans, mill owners, sheriffs.

Sam carried the ring too and was able to give it up too. We don't know how many hobbits could have had carried the ring all the way to Mordor because its not part of the story but given the stellar record of the three hobbits that did, there probably were others. Peregrin survives looking at Sauron through the palantir - they're tough like that. Just they didn't inherit it. In any case, being an exceptional individual doesn't equal having a destiny.

And trouble searching for the main character while he's happy at home is a very common story start that doesn't make someone a FoD.

I'll give you that he's from an isolated community and goes to see the wide wide world. But I don't think that's unique to FoDs  either - or even bildungsromans in general - or definitely necessary to being a FoD.

I certainly think he's an inspiration of the trope. But an actual example? If he is, he's very far from a perfect one.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Bradley Darewood on August 23, 2017, 05:00:59 AM
OMG I'm overwhelmed by things I want to respond to...

I'm not entirely sure whether we're getting at FoDs in general or your specific situation, or what exactly your situation is, but I'm gonna blather on about what I think is being said and hope its helpful.

I just liked the ring of "Farmboy of Destiny" but really I should have titled this thread Farmboy of Destiny and Other Ways to Make Your MC Interesting (or Fail at It)

First off, a character doesn't have to be active.

Yay!

I'd argue that the Belgariad is a prime example of how a FoD can say a pawn the whole damn series and still engage people.

Could you expand on that? Haven't read that series yet.

However... a lot of FoDs are active. Not to begin with, but they grow into agency. blah blah blah Harry Potter blah blah blah Rand al'Thor

So I've actually got that going on in my story--my MC finds his agency in the second to last chapter.  The difference is that you were waiting for the other shoe to drop in both those stories-- Harry had the mark from Voldemort, Moraine came to town expressly to find Rand-- they grew into their agency but the reader knew they were the Chosen One from the beginning.  What if your MC isn't the chosen one per se, but finds his/her agency on their own?  What do you do to hook the reader in the beginning?

I believe seeking these kinds of things could not be further off course from achieving the ONLY character trait of value in terms of making a story compelling. Empathy. More important than concept or vivid description or taught plot lines - what makes a story compelling is seeing ourselves.

I think you're onto something here-- empathy is a powerful way of getting the reader interested (but not the only... there's the voyeurism of enjoying a decidedly un-empathetic character too among other options).  I think what makes the Farmboy for me is that growing up and feeling powerless and insignificant in the world, it was always great to dream of being more than who you were. Fantasy novels were a way to do that, reading about not-special guys (and on rarer occasions than there should be, girls) realizing they were really the magic prince capable of pulling the sword from the stone and saving the world or whatever.  It's easy to relate to that desire, and it gives the quality both the escape we're hungry for and (like @NinjaRaptor says) it's the perfect arc in which to show growth as well-- becoming a hero is also becoming a man etc. (unfortunately in my story the character becomes a man by becoming a not-hero... so much for escapes) While Frodo is hardly a farmboy, hobbits are overlooked an insignificant on the world stage so it is a humble beginnings story in that sense-- perhaps LOTR part 2 aka Terry Brooks's Shannara series-- tapped into the humble beginnings that made Frodo work as an MC, by making the story about a farmboy instead... and tons of farmboys tumbled into epic fantasy thereafter (Richard Cypher, Rand al'Thor...) as an orphan, Harry Potter definitely fits that humble beginnings mold.

Tho it looks like we can go two routes here: one with agency another without:

Lack of agency is my only real concern, not the trope itself. I just want to see the active potential in the character right from the get-go. And that can be as small as talking back to an authority figure with good reason. It can be staring up at the night sky and yearning... Show me that hint, that burn, that seed-of-something, and I will trust you that it will grow and blossom, and I will come along to see it happen. (Note: this is about the character's emotional potential, not skill potential. Harry Potter's talking to snakes is interesting, but it's his need to escape oppression that makes him compelling to me.)

That's the agency side.  The non agency side:

I don't think being Active is the be-all and end-all. Bradley, have you considered giving him an eyepatch and parrot (or similar other outlandish trademark apparel/look/characteristic that just makes the character seem cooler)?

Yeah I'm still trying to figure that one out @Peat . So far I got nothing.

@Lanko had some nice thoughts here:

In essence, what I enjoyed most was the atmosphere and sense of exploration, like seeing and almost being on what a magical/mythological Arthurian/Norse age would look like. The landscapes, adventure, exploration and mysteries of the world still making one wonder about them, instead of our pragmatic and fact-based world that has almost (or really nothing) none of that magic and wonder of ages past left. 

Which is curious, as in another thread everyone said characters are the most important and then we look at LoTR and while they're iconic characters, I think they were carried to that status totally by the plot/setting/atmosphere rather than anything they actually did.

and @The Gem Cutter 's thing about empathy, seconded in a way by Peat when he said "Make clear he's reacting for a reason beyond his own survival. (even if its as simple as survival of a friend) " Someone also mentioned Jon Snow in his Save the Cat moment... doing something nice makes people like you. (tho I will note that in my first writing of my novel, I wanted my MC's selflessness to be a surprise-- he was super douchey and greedy until Ch 30 when he takes all his money and gives it to his starving mother and the reader is supposed to be like "oooooooohhhh I misjudged him!" when nobody liked him enough to read that far, I went back and gave him some more nice protagonist qualities :( but I'm sad about that)

I think @cupiscent gives some really pro advice and hits at the core of things here:

So you need a reason why a reader should read this story about this person. And you need to let the reader know what that reason is, otherwise they might not believe there is one.

I couldn't agree with this any more if I tried.

And it isn't a demand for specific things. Its a demand for just something - anything - that makes the reader want to know about the character and their story. Anything you can think of - including going through experiences we empathise with.

From a PM with cupiescent:
Quote from: cupiscent
I think this probably boils down in essence to: give the reader at least one compelling reason to care about this character in this situation. Whether it's because s/he is capable (meta/physically or emotionally) of incredible things and you want to marvel at their audacity, or whether it's because the situation is so damn important/fraught/hilarious you need to keep watching it unravel, have a Reason.

So let me try to make a chart of what we have so far:

WAYS TO MAKE YOUR NOVEL INTERESTING IN THE FIRST 30 PAGES

Make your character relatable/empathetic from the beginning
* Humble beginnings (Farmboy of Destiny)
* Do something selfless (Save the Cat)
* Exhibit relatable emotions/needs/drives right away
* Oppress your character-- cupiescent's "Outraged on their behalf"

Hint at a character development
* Greatness is coming (Farmboy of Destiny)
* Reveal your character's *emotional* potential (eg. cupiescent's mention of Harry Potter and oppression)
* Tease hidden depths (maybe this is my broader version of what cupiescent said above)

Hint at things to anticipate about your character
* Greatness is already here (Peat's eyepatch or Ninjaraptor's warrior princess)
* Extreme drive/audacity (PM with cupiescent)
* comedy (PM with cupiescent)
* what is he prepared to do in order to survive? (PM with cupiescent)

Hint at an exciting setting to explore (all from Lanko)
* Rich atmosphere and landscapes
* Mysteries
* Adventures/Exploration
* Magic and wonder

Plot (added by me)
* Hint at the meaningful plot developments you have in store at the end
* why is it important that your MC survive? (PM with cupiescent)


Hmmmm.... so if I want to stick with an M/C who seems like a greedy douche, has no birthright, isn't chosen, isn't super great at much but can pick a lock or two, and has no agency until the end of the story where he becomes hated by everyone in the kingdom for what he's done....but beneath it all really wants to do the right thing... am I shit out of luck?  How do I do a better job of hooking the reader into the character, setting and plot in the beginning
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Peat on August 23, 2017, 06:36:13 AM

Hmmmm.... so if I want to stick with an M/C who seems like a greedy douche, has no birthright, isn't chosen, isn't super great at much but can pick a lock or two, and has no agency until the end of the story where he becomes hated by everyone in the kingdom for what he's done....but beneath it all really wants to do the right thing... am I shit out of luck?  How do I do a better job of hooking the reader into the character, setting and plot in the beginning

You are probably shit out of luck.

You can take some risks in taking the difficult option for a character who you want to have the readers' sympathy. Shadow in American Gods is passive, Jorg is a raging douchecanoe, plenty of characters don't have shiny cool powers... but if you're taking all the risks, you're probably not going to make it work. I'm all for authors being brave and bullheaded but you're gonna have to work double shift to produce something compelling out of that.

And, even as someone who likes passive characters, I don't get why you'd want to keep the guy stripped of agency in this situation.

Re The Belgariad thing

Garion is our MC. He spends pretty much the entire adventure in the company of one of his two mentors and generally does what he's told. He's also got an incarnate prophecy living in his head that occasionally takes over his body and acts directly, and frequently provides instructions on how to do things. Plus, at the end, he basically realises another character has always been star of the show.

As for how Eddings gets away with it... I'm not utterly sure. I love-hate the series; I love it ironically while also studying it intently to see how anyone could make it huge writing what he did. Part of it is its incredibly charming (if you like that sort of thing); the characters constantly banter with each other and its great. Funny characters can get away with a lot that other characters can't, funny authors can get away with choices others can't. Part of it was he was great at working with stereotypes. Part of it, well, part of I have no idea.

That said, even then, there are many small moments of agency and that counts for a lot. Bradley, I think you're getting caught up a lot in the whole "I'm going to counter-attack the Forsaken with my new power up" levels of agency and ignoring the small stuff that reveals a character's personality and gives them direction.

"I'll sass the teacher even when I'm already in trouble because my father's memory is precious to me" - "I'll mourn the old watch wher that was my only friend even if everyone wants me to hurry off and ride a dragon" - "I'll be more worried about whether the horse carrying my love makes it than anything else" - "I'll temporarily deny my birthright so my siblings get what they want" - "I'll keep sneaking away from my great new life to see my only friend" - and on and on. Your character doesn't have to want to move heaven and earth. In fact, it works better if he doesn't. Just wanting to do right by a friend, or family, or even some stranger, is enough.

You look at the Rand/Harry examples I posted? That's what was going on there. Harry sticking up for Ron, Rand trying to save Mat... these things happen pretty early. The reader is not waiting for the other shoe to drop at all. They are all showing what they're about long before they get their powers.

In case I haven't hammered the point home enough yet, the most important form of agency is about characters chasing what's important to them, not having their special powers, and the most important thing to human beings are their strong emotional ties which are usually friends (but occasionally an ideal, but that one's harder to do).

And you shouldn't be making the readers wait for that. If your MC has strong emotional attachments, use them early. If your MC doesn't have emotional attachments at all then... really good luck with that one.

Also, while I've concentrated mainly on all the nice positive sides of agency and emotional attachment... people read Prince of Thorns. They read American Psycho, they watched House of Cards, and everything else with a pretty unrepentant antihero. They don't have to be nice - but they do have to be compelling. And if they're not nice, then they need to be funny... but if they're not funny, or if they're actively nasty, then they need to be really compelling. (its also pretty commonplace to make their antagonist even worse).

To be compelling though, they need agency. Their big motivations. The things that make their villainy understandable. Incidentally, villains still have save the cat moments. Save the Cat doesn't have to be a nice sympathy winning thing. Its a signature "Do something notable and memorable early that earns the audience's respect and interest" thing. Which is usually being nice, but you know, sometimes you just wanna write a fucknugget.

Your list is missing a few important ones with the most crucial one being "What is the question the readers are hoping to see answered later in the book?" If your readers don't want to know why things are happening you're fooked so that means you need to a) have things happening b) leave some trailing ends as to why its happening.

Pixar has a rule saying the first time the character is shown on screen, they should be shown doing the thing they do best (which means what Harry Potter does best is suffer and endure which is actually pretty accurate). I like this rule. You can't do it with their actions with a FoD because they can't balefire the living crap out of an army but you can certainly do it with the emotions behind their actions (which is what cupiscent has been getting at). Maybe it doesn't have to be the first we see of them, but you need to do it early.

Also - eyepatch/hook isn't hinting at greatness - its just simply a couple of larger than life details that make it easy to remember the character. There's no greatness in the fact that Harry Dresden is 7' tall and dresses like a cowboy, but it does make him a little more memorable. Its a cheap trick that works better in cinema, but its still useful.

As for the no mentor/revelation thing...

a) They've probably read your blurb which is probably warning them the other shoe will drop
b) Chance meeting with a seer, reading about a vague prophecy, prologue, odd birthmark... lots of options. Plus, genre-savvy readers won't know much.
c) Who cares? Agency as a human being will win or lose you this battle anyway.

When we come down to it, people concentrate a lot on the agency of being in control with FoDs and sure that's important, but human agency is what matters most. Shadows in American Gods is the only character I can think of who's mostly free of human agency. It works because

a) American Gods is one of the greatest fantasy novel concepts ever
b) Neil Gaiman is an incredibly talented author
c) Shadow is likeable, his blankness is kinda symbolic/worthy, and he does sorta grow some agency.

And even then, lots of people would just say it doesn't work.

My three step guide to writing an interesting character would be thus:

a) Create an interesting character. Douchey semi-talented thief with no real goals doesn't cut it. Super spy who has failed in all he values and Adventure hungry but ordinary gentleman who has inherited the world's most dangerous treasure do. Wizard who's a PI and is mistrusted by the Wizard Council and is Marked by Supernatural Gribblies and has a Mental Family is arguably cooking with octarine... and arguably too much.

b) Attach them to the plot emotionally so everything is guided by their wants and reveals who they are

c) Write it like a damn ninja.

This post was brought to you by "Wishing I Was Drunk" industries.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: The Gem Cutter on August 23, 2017, 12:36:03 PM

Hmmmm.... so if I want to stick with an M/C who seems like a greedy douche, has no birthright, isn't chosen, isn't super great at much but can pick a lock or two, and has no agency until the end of the story where he becomes hated by everyone in the kingdom for what he's done....but beneath it all really wants to do the right thing... am I shit out of luck?  How do I do a better job of hooking the reader into the character, setting and plot in the beginning
1. A M/C who seems like a greedy douche: Schindler from Schindler's list starts as a greedy war-profiting, lecherous douche - but in a world of murderous psychopaths, he's a saint. His charisma and style help us over the transition. As the video I posted stated - we measure characters against the other characters on the stage. So long as there's someone worse, he's not so bad.

2. Has no birthright: this is a potential strength, as it is very very sympathetic. None of us have a birthright, either. Make birthrights a negative - something characters we hate have -and penalize him for it.

3. He isn't chosen: I don't know what you mean - chosen by destiny or the people or what. But again, very sympathetic if you posit it well - we all know what it's not like to be chosen. In my work, a central theme is that the people who are supposed to make great discoveries almost never are the ones who do. Deep in most cultures is a concept (described better by Simon Sinek's TED talks on leadership) that those who are chosen - the rich and powerful - are allowed the enviable position of leader because when shit gets rough they are SUPPOSED to deal with it. This unspoken covenant is critical to society and groups. The leader gets laid, gets fed, sleeps above the mud. But s/he's supposed to lead the ass-kicking when we need them to. In other words, if you have your character do this stuff without the bennies of being the leader, he's super empathetic. If you have those who do have position fail to step up - they're super the opposite, aka villains worth hating.

4. He isn't super great at much but can pick a lock or two: this hinges on whether he picks up more competencies. But if you look carefully, the M/C from Jurassic park, Dr. Whatshisface, has no skills and although he does have knowledge, he's in an action film. But as his initial scene illustrates, he is a skilled improviser with common sense. Coincidentally, this is some of the best character-arc stuff you can find.

5. Hated by everyone for what he's done: does this mean the audience or his world? If it's his world, so long as the readers love him, who cares?

6. Unsure what the agency discussion relates to, but it has the feel of breathing rarified air.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Lanko on August 23, 2017, 04:43:27 PM
I certainly think he's an inspiration of the trope. But an actual example? If he is, he's very far from a perfect one.

But that's the point of subverting the trope, isn't it? Or at least adding new ingredients to it.

But that's also an interesting thought. Thinking about it, who would be the perfect example of the trope?

My first thought was Luke Skywalker, but even he doesn't fit the trope perfectly. And now thinking, who actually does? Even a farmboy like Luke breaks some conventions with deep understanding of technology like fixing androids, flying pods and etc.

Anyway, Luke came after LoTR, so who inspired him? The farmboy to greatness trope started when Campbell organized his study of mythology and realized societies were either agrarian or hunters.

Characters like Conan come from hunter societies - nomads, constantly moving, self-reliance, almost always warrior culture, experience on the world and life gained through too much contact and conflict with different lands and people, etc - and farmboys from agrarian societies - settled, community motivated/reliant, little conflict/peaceful, lack of deeper knowledge of the world and life, "living in a bubble" syndrome.

I don't know if it was Campbell that made people aware of those common approaches or if he was the one who established them and only much later through constant reading and analysis people pointed it out, but as time passed there was a new... template, for lack of a better word right now.

With the rise of urbanization we became settled, but not with the common "problems"/aspects of agrarian society. And curiously gained things from the hunter part as well.

But anyway, that's how stories pretty much started. A farmer type forced out of his comfort zone and to distant lands and people or a hunter type forcing himself forward to distant lands and people.

I wonder if this new... template... has a name like farmboy or warrior hunter. City boy? Not necessarily meaning modern or urban fantasy, but one who encompasses more our current reality. Campbell also noticed this, and he actually talks and may have a classification (I will look into it later), talks about rites of passages of old and new (like receiving a car at 18) and such.

If previously people wanted adventure, quests, treasure and change/save the world, today people want to mostly known the world and change/save it isn't as clear cut as it was. Treasure and adventures got replaced by people introspecting to know themselves and success, riches and fame are now achieved with many different approaches. Instead of new places, it's now their place in their current known world.

That's because previously as a farmer/hunter (broadly speaking) the character would find new places, and would be forced out of his nest.

But now we are neither farmers nor hunters. We're mostly settled but without most of its drawbacks and even gained some of the hunters' benefits.
And they too, as City boy can come into contact with many different people because of the city itself, something a farm would hardly do - and without the dangers hunters usually faced. I guess this is where we are unconsciously talking about "not needing to be active", as city life (again, broadly using the term) allows other approaches to problems than farmer/hunter.

I wonder then if that's the cause of most introspective protagonists, who may share some elements with farmer/hunter but are clearly neither. Or where the quest is mostly highly emotional, finding one's place, and the sense or need of the self is much more evident. The deeper knowledge of oneself (character), their relationships and emotional attachment become more important than the abstract journey through other lands, battles and such.

YA is mostly know for this type of story, and I wonder if its success is based on this approach, the "city boy" (if there's a term for this I don't know or don't remember) that even when being in an ancient settings has the "modern arc" of needs, desires, what's important and not and etc.
I wonder if those authors, knowingly or not, tap into this on the genre.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Peat on August 24, 2017, 02:52:45 AM

But that's the point of subverting the trope, isn't it? Or at least adding new ingredients to it.

Well yeah. But at some point, sufficient change/difference results in being something else entirely. Which I believe Frodo is.

Quote
But that's also an interesting thought. Thinking about it, who would be the perfect example of the trope?

Rand Al'Thor and Belgarion. Both grow up on honest to god farms with a marked degree of isolation, are marked heavily by destiny, and undergo a coming of age ordeal that sees them go from grass green hicks to He-Man McGandalf on steroids. I would argue that they're the two characters who led to this being a fantasy trope and as such, the template is basically them. Oh! And both orphans, I forgot that little detail. That said...

Quote
My first thought was Luke Skywalker, but even he doesn't fit the trope perfectly. And now thinking, who actually does? Even a farmboy like Luke breaks some conventions with deep understanding of technology like fixing androids, flying pods and etc.

I'd love to have talks with Eddings/Jordan about the influence of Star Wars, because he seems such a ur-example. He's certainly a great example.

Incidentally, I don't a deep technical knowledge of how specific things work breaks the trope. It's ignorance of the wider world/universe that counts.

Quote
Anyway, Luke came after LoTR, so who inspired him? The farmboy to greatness trope started when Campbell organized his study of mythology and realized societies were either agrarian or hunters.

Him being? If Lucas/Luke, then yeah, Campbell was a noted influence, although I really doubt he as the only influence. Star Wars was a kitchen sink of everything Lucas found cool after all... myth, Japanese film, Flash Gordon, Dune, everything...

If we're talking Frodo/Tolkien, then Tolkien finished before Campbell published insofar as I'm aware, so certainly not him. My guess would be Frodo came from an agrarian society because Tolkien did and idolised them.

Quote
Characters like Conan come from hunter societies - nomads, constantly moving, self-reliance, almost always warrior culture, experience on the world and life gained through too much contact and conflict with different lands and people, etc - and farmboys from agrarian societies - settled, community motivated/reliant, little conflict/peaceful, lack of deeper knowledge of the world and life, "living in a bubble" syndrome.

I don't know if it was Campbell that made people aware of those common approaches or if he was the one who established them and only much later through constant reading and analysis people pointed it out, but as time passed there was a new... template, for lack of a better word right now.

With the rise of urbanization we became settled, but not with the common "problems"/aspects of agrarian society. And curiously gained things from the hunter part as well.

But anyway, that's how stories pretty much started. A farmer type forced out of his comfort zone and to distant lands and people or a hunter type forcing himself forward to distant lands and people.


I am somewhat out of my depth here, this being something I've not studied much (I find Campbell's prose boring, sad to say) but what about stories where the character doesn't really leave home all that much? Like Horatius at the bridge, or the Cattle Raid of Cooley?

In any case, the FoD isn't so much a representative of an agrarian society as an isolated one. I think the term Farmboy here is actually a big distraction because while the classic examples are farmboys, there's plenty of fantasy Chosen Ones who fit the template save for the bit where they come from an isolated background rather than from the back of the plough. Like Harry Potter. Nobody's disputing him as an example and I'm guessing Harry might well have not known what a chicken looked like until reaching Hogwarts.

Quote
I wonder if this new... template... has a name like farmboy or warrior hunter. City boy? Not necessarily meaning modern or urban fantasy, but one who encompasses more our current reality. Campbell also noticed this, and he actually talks and may have a classification (I will look into it later), talks about rites of passages of old and new (like receiving a car at 18) and such.

If previously people wanted adventure, quests, treasure and change/save the world, today people want to mostly known the world and change/save it isn't as clear cut as it was. Treasure and adventures got replaced by people introspecting to know themselves and success, riches and fame are now achieved with many different approaches. Instead of new places, it's now their place in their current known world.

That's because previously as a farmer/hunter (broadly speaking) the character would find new places, and would be forced out of his nest.

But now we are neither farmers nor hunters. We're mostly settled but without most of its drawbacks and even gained some of the hunters' benefits.
And they too, as City boy can come into contact with many different people because of the city itself, something a farm would hardly do - and without the dangers hunters usually faced. I guess this is where we are unconsciously talking about "not needing to be active", as city life (again, broadly using the term) allows other approaches to problems than farmer/hunter.

I wonder then if that's the cause of most introspective protagonists, who may share some elements with farmer/hunter but are clearly neither. Or where the quest is mostly highly emotional, finding one's place, and the sense or need of the self is much more evident. The deeper knowledge of oneself (character), their relationships and emotional attachment become more important than the abstract journey through other lands, battles and such.

YA is mostly know for this type of story, and I wonder if its success is based on this approach, the "city boy" (if there's a term for this I don't know or don't remember) that even when being in an ancient settings has the "modern arc" of needs, desires, what's important and not and etc.
I wonder if those authors, knowingly or not, tap into this on the genre.

Possibly. I'm reluctant to call the modern FoD trope as anything other than the product of a pretty urbanised society or say its unfitting to modern needs. I mean, if we accept Harry as one, then he's apparently incredibly well suited to them.

Ironically... if you want a fantasy hero who is highly introspective and where their interior quest (i.e. personal growth, emotional attachments, so on) is more important than their external quest (new lands, new people, fighting enemies) and who come from a connected society... Frodo seems to fit.

Arguably, as subcultures grow more diverse and cities more anonymous, the urbanised person has more need of stories about people from isolated environments going into the wider world and finding acceptance and success than people from the close knit villages of the past ever did.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Lanko on August 24, 2017, 05:11:46 AM
Hmmmm.... so if I want to stick with an M/C who seems like a greedy douche, has no birthright, isn't chosen, isn't super great at much but can pick a lock or two, and has no agency until the end of the story where he becomes hated by everyone in the kingdom for what he's done....but beneath it all really wants to do the right thing... am I shit out of luck?  How do I do a better job of hooking the reader into the character, setting and plot in the beginning

Before me and Peat hijack Bradley's thread, I say you're not shit out of luck.

Simply put, fiction (not just Fantasy) isn't just wish-fulfillment escapism along funny and relatable comrades. We also read to discover people, events and places that we wouldn't otherwise know or even think about.

I also don't buy the whole "relatable" (or sympathethic) thing. As someone said and I saved it, " A need for "Relatable" is a sign of a failure to engage with the work or text, a failure to get beyond one's own concerns to confront the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable." When the word "relatable" really means "relevant to me," as it often does, than anything outside the purview of "relatability" looks like it's not worth examining.

Which is absurd not only in Fantasy but in fiction.

Peat gave some very useful advice in handling some issues but maybe for the wrong type of characters, because if the character starts or remains a greedy douche, they kinda of defeat that purpose. Yes, Jon saves the cat, but Jon isn't and was never a douche. Harry stands up for Ron, but Harry also isn't and never was a greedy douche.

Let's look at First Law. Jezal dan Luthar is a douche and remains so not only for the first book but for 90% of the whole trilogy. When he isn't a douche he is constantly whining and bitching while being ordered around by Bayaz and others.
There's very little redeeming about Jorg Ancrath. Fitz Chivalry isn't (mostly) a douche, but he has very little agency, does stupid things that makes you gasp out loud, trains for years as an assassin and becomes an extremely incompetent one. He can also be extremely brooding and childish. But he is an abandoned, traumatized teen and that was his portrayal.

All established and famous characters in their genre.

I would be careful in adding stuff to make characters look more sympathetic or with agency simply out of fear (and fear is at the bottom of the issue) of what some readers might think.
Specially when not well executed, the character may look contradictory, or worse, make the reader realize the author is too self-aware and the progression of the character is an artificial one born out of the author's need to make a character relatable.

Well, we could say every character progression is a manipulation by the author to make a character at least compelling.
But there is good execution and then there is the terrible ones when anyone can see the obviousness of the author.

So your character is a greedy douche, isn't chosen, can just pick a lock or two, does something despicable and becomes hated but wanted to do the right thing and has no real agency until the end? That's fine. Well executed you don't need to make you MC relatable, sympathetic, funny and a self-sacrificing bro to boot it.

Oscar Wilde can complement it: "There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.”
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Peat on August 24, 2017, 07:28:06 AM

Simply put, fiction (not just Fantasy) isn't just wish-fulfillment escapism along funny and relatable comrades. We also read to discover people, events and places that we wouldn't otherwise know or even think about.

I also don't buy the whole "relatable" (or sympathethic) thing. As someone said and I saved it, " A need for "Relatable" is a sign of a failure to engage with the work or text, a failure to get beyond one's own concerns to confront the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable." When the word "relatable" really means "relevant to me," as it often does, than anything outside the purview of "relatability" looks like it's not worth examining.

Which is absurd not only in Fantasy but in fiction.

Is it? I read for pleasure. I have 5 unread library books, 10+ unread books on my kindle, 10+ unread books that I physically own, and a list of about... I have no idea how many books that I'd like to read that do not fit into that. Nevermind my love of re-reading.

If a book doesn't quickly engage me and show that its concerns are interesting, why should I read that book instead of some of the 25 minimum other books I could be reading? I'm gonna miss out on some of the books I want to read, why should the book in front of me get read and not the one next to me? I currently have 100 books in eye view, 2 in arms reach, plus 50 odd on my kindle.

And what if I was an agent, getting 20 queries a day, requesting manuscripts from maybe 1 in 20? Even if I wanted to dig deep into everything, I don't think I'd be physically able to without spending 12 hours a day working with that sort of word count to deal with. There's agents with backlogs of 700-1000 queries out there.

This is the sort of competition any one author's book is against. If I don't engage with the text, I'm not the loser here, because I'm sorted for books. The author is. And a lot of these books make it really easy for me to engage with the book while also confronting the unfamiliar and uncomfortable later on. I don't need to trawl through something I don't enjoy to find something worthwhile.


Anyway, a few antihero/villainous Save the Cat/Kick the Cat moments/shows of early agency

- Jorg killing the guy in his band who's questioning him. Bam, Jorg's ruthlessness/need for control is established
- Frank Underwood strangling a dying dog in House of Cards because he doesn't like useless things
- Vince Vega laughing about how different McDonalds is in Europe while on his way to kill some dude, while also telling the story of the time his boss threw a guy out of the window over a foot massage (establishing there's even worse people out there)
- Rorschach ranting away to himself about how everyone in New York has it coming
- Thomas Covenant raping a woman to check whether he's in a real place
- Monza grumps her way through Orso's victory speech

Most of those things are pretty unsympathetic but they do give us a good sign of what the character is about and that makes them interesting. Compelling. And... sometimes, sympathetic despite them being nasty.

Quote
So your character is a greedy douche, isn't chosen, can just pick a lock or two, does something despicable and becomes hated but wanted to do the right thing and has no real agency until the end? That's fine. Well executed you don't need to make you MC relatable, sympathetic, funny and a self-sacrificing bro to boot it.

Given that a publisher told him they didn't like his MC, maybe it isn't fine. It could be entirely execution based but there's a real strong possibility at least some of it is down to the concept.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Lanko on August 24, 2017, 06:35:52 PM
Is it? I read for pleasure. I have 5 unread library books, 10+ unread books on my kindle, 10+ unread books that I physically own, and a list of about... I have no idea how many books that I'd like to read that do not fit into that. Nevermind my love of re-reading.

If a book doesn't quickly engage me and show that its concerns are interesting, why should I read that book instead of some of the 25 minimum other books I could be reading? I'm gonna miss out on some of the books I want to read, why should the book in front of me get read and not the one next to me? I currently have 100 books in eye view, 2 in arms reach, plus 50 odd on my kindle.

And that's the difference. It's your preference only. What you find pleasurable others may not. What you dislike others may not have a problem with. What is engaging for you is not for others and vice-versa. And besides, most people aren't usually just engaged by the same things all the time.

There are markets and audiences for everything.

And what if I was an agent, getting 20 queries a day, requesting manuscripts from maybe 1 in 20? Even if I wanted to dig deep into everything, I don't think I'd be physically able to without spending 12 hours a day working with that sort of word count to deal with. There's agents with backlogs of 700-1000 queries out there.

This is the sort of competition any one author's book is against. If I don't engage with the text, I'm not the loser here, because I'm sorted for books. The author is. And a lot of these books make it really easy for me to engage with the book while also confronting the unfamiliar and uncomfortable later on. I don't need to trawl through something I don't enjoy to find something worthwhile.

The agent argument has some merit on the side of "engagement", but like I said, there isn't just one way to engage and the "sympathetic" argument falls short when even C.S. Lewis, Rowling and many others with sympathetic characters and engaging stories got dozens or hundreds of rejections from dozens or hundreds of agents/publishers while stuff like Prince of Thorns and other works with similar vibes had bidding wars for them.

I'm not saying to ignore and dismiss their advice, as they do have experience and knowledge, but simply to also take with some (or a lot) grain of salt.
One moment teen girl in a dystopian setting sounds silly for almost all of them and next thing you know is how a teen girl should be done, the setting of the moment and the thing they're voraciously hunting after.
Many, if not most, of polemic, thought provoking or just different types of works wouldn't have seem the light of day.

Anyway, a few antihero/villainous Save the Cat/Kick the Cat moments/shows of early agency

Again, The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb does a good job in showing a character with very little agency throughout all three books (though in the third he has far more).

Fitz is an orphan boy who is sent to Bucktower. He really has no power, influence, is shy, traumatized by being separated abruptly from his mother, has no friends and is even considered a future threat by others.

And here's where Save/Kick the Cat doesn't need to be done by a protagonist to show him/her with a lot of agency. You can have others do it to the character.
Burrich, out of his own volition and not because he was ordered to, shelters Fitz and gives him a puppy dog. Someone (I forgot the name) treats Fitz badly and maliciously, he being a small child who did nothing wrong to that person.

So without the hero actually doing anything, you can engage the reader by stimulating feelings by what others do or say to him. Or even what the hero just manages to observe of the world around him without any kind of interaction.

And to that, let's look at the title and premise to see how it helps a slow book by promising something unusual. Assassin's Apprentice. A bastard boy who will grow and learn to kill people. There's nothing in the beginning (somewhere between 30 to 100 pages in, I don't remember exactly) that hints at this at all. It's all in the blurb and title.

If the book was called "The Orphan of Bucktower" probably many people would have bucked off from the book. But "Assassin's Apprentice" totally tells me this current meek and shy boy will eventually start killing people. So I can go through the lack of agency because of that promise, and even endure it for a hundred pages or even more. Because I want to see how this will happen. Who he'll kill and why. What he will pass through.

Will he be ordered to kill the guy who gave him a puppy dog? Will he have revenge on the guy who mistreated him? Will he work for that guy? Will that guy order him to kill the guy who gave him the dog? And so on.

The character did absolutely nothing yet I'm engaged.

So this an approach Bradley can take for his type of MC. If he isn't too active and sympathethic, we can still engage and feel for the character by what, how and why other characters do, feel and interact with th the MC.

In other words, if he can't save or kick the cat, turn him into the cat itself. Being the cat of the other characters, show me his beliefs, reactions and thoughts when he gets kicked or saved (saved meaning "doing something nice", as portrayed by the main definition, or everything other action in between) by the other characters. How he treats them, and so on.

There are probably many more approaches.
 
Given that a publisher told him they didn't like his MC, maybe it isn't fine. It could be entirely execution based but there's a real strong possibility at least some of it is down to the concept.

That's a fair point and is indeed hard and will all come down to pure speculation as we don't have his story, his received feedback, his execution and his intentions.

Anyway, another point to consider is, if the problem is the start, how it begins. For me stories should begin with a change, whether it's a little before, a little after or right at the moment.

For example, Fitz's story begins when he is pulled away from his mother, carried all the way to the castle town and thrown there. That's a really big change. Harry with the letters and the unusual behavior of his adoptive parents.
Even in GoT the mundane lives of the characters begin in relation to two changes going on, one unknown and the other known to the characters: The Walkers beyond the Wall, as seen in the prologue and the coming of Robert to Winterfell to make Ned his Hand.

Others like Prince of Thorns already start with the character changed and mostly set in his ways and what is left for us is to understand how he changed to that (and what he's gonna do next as slowly discover it).

So maybe Bradley started a little too early in the timeline of his character or is taking too much time to get to at least at a hint of the promise of how a character will change. Because like Fitz, even without agency, things leading to some change need to happen even if the character doesn't have a lot of agency.

Again, hard to tell without actually seeing the story.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Yora on August 24, 2017, 07:30:19 PM
It's not all always about characters. A story can be made interesting through characters, but it can also be carried entirely by interesting things that are happening. The Lord of the Ring has flimsy thin characters. Characters in stories by Clark Ashton Smith have no characterization at all. Compelling characters are not a requirement to have a story that is worth telling. I recommend looking up The Tale of Satampra Zeiros, which is short and carried entirely by events happening to flat characters.
I don't see myself ever writing one of these "Farmboys of Destiny". Give me a warrior princess who's already received substantial education in the martial arts (and other skills pertinent to adventuring) any day.
My favorite character who came from nothing and became a powerful king of the greatest realm is Conan. Who we first meet while he is lamenting why he ever wanted to be a king. It's dull work and now people are trying to assassinate him, wishing back the times under the terrible tyrant from whom he had freed them. He's literally admitting that his greatest dream was to become a great king but never really spend a thought on what he would do then. Later on his backstory is revealed, but all that is said about it is that he was a total nobody who left his homeland because he was bored by it and dreamed of adventure. But the earliest adventure that is being told in full is one where is already quite decent at fighting and stealing. Everything before that is just not worth mentioning.

I think a reason why Luke Skywalker works is because he is not a nobody who is chosen by Destiny out of billions of other people. As soon as he runs into Obi-Wan he is getting told that he is part of an ongoing story because he's the son of one of the main characters and has only been hidden off screen temporarily. It could not have happened to anybody, but only to him.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Peat on August 24, 2017, 08:19:23 PM

And that's the difference. It's your preference only. What you find pleasurable others may not. What you dislike others may not have a problem with. What is engaging for you is not for others and vice-versa. And besides, most people aren't usually just engaged by the same things all the time.

There are markets and audiences for everything.

This is true to a point. I know my preference for consuming lots of meat is pretty common. I also know my preference for peanut butter and chorizo bagels isn't.

Crucially, I am very sure that my preference for maximising the pleasure I get from my limited reading time when confronted by an overwhelming array of choices is really common. That was the thrust of my point. The result of which is a lot of readers who want to see something they like very quickly. And yes, there is a bewildering array of things that people like. But it is not infinite, particularly if you're hoping to find a market big enough to support being commercially published.

Quote
The agent argument has some merit on the side of "engagement", but like I said, there isn't just one way to engage and the "sympathetic" argument falls short when even C.S. Lewis, Rowling and many others with sympathetic characters and engaging stories got dozens or hundreds of rejections from dozens or hundreds of agents/publishers while stuff like Prince of Thorns and other works with similar vibes had bidding wars for them.

I'm not saying to ignore and dismiss their advice, as they do have experience and knowledge, but simply to also take with some (or a lot) grain of salt.
One moment teen girl in a dystopian setting sounds silly for almost all of them and next thing you know is how a teen girl should be done, the setting of the moment and the thing they're voraciously hunting after.
Many, if not most, of polemic, thought provoking or just different types of works wouldn't have seem the light of day.

I'm not saying that being sympathetic is the only way to do it!

Or that only good guys are sympathetic, or that only active characters are interesting, or that there's no room for new things or any of that. Pretty much every 'rule' I could give on how MCs are most commonly done has been broken at some point in storytelling to huge success.

But I can't think of many who have broken/bent all of them at the same time. And that's where Bradley's character is to me.

And in any case, I brought up agents as the most extreme and important case of a reader who has too much to do to put up with books that do not make them like the book very quickly.

Quote
*snip some good thoughts on Fitz*
The character did absolutely nothing yet I'm engaged.

So this an approach Bradley can take for his type of MC. If he isn't too active and sympathethic, we can still engage and feel for the character by what, how and why other characters do, feel and interact with th the MC.

In other words, if he can't save or kick the cat, turn him into the cat itself. Being the cat of the other characters, show me his beliefs, reactions and thoughts when he gets kicked or saved (saved meaning "doing something nice", as portrayed by the main definition, or everything other action in between) by the other characters. How he treats them, and so on.

There are probably many more approaches.

You're a bastard as I was arriving roughly at this point in the bath and you beat me to it! Can you get away with a MC who shows limited agency if there's another character on screen bursting with the stuff? I was thinking mainly mentors like Belgarath/Moraine but yeah, there's plenty of examples and Fitz is a good one. Maybe a better one.

Plus that gives the MC a strong emotional bond to another character, and how they react is still an example of agency.

Incidentally, you might have just hit why I couldn't finish The Farseer Trilogy despite considering Hobb an incredibly talented author. I've certainly always thought Fitz is too much of a punching bag to cope with. And I know there's plenty of others who dislike the books because of Fitz. It is really difficult to do. And, to go back to my point about breaking all the rules, Fitz is a nice guy.

Also I'm fairly sure he has his own StC moment with Molly. But yeah, Burrich's semi-adoption of him is the big moment of the early book.

Its a shame Bradley's MC doesn't have a mentor. Bradley, I've gotta ask, did you design this guy to deliberately break as many MC/FoD rules as possible? :P
 

That's a fair point and is indeed hard and will all come down to pure speculation as we don't have his story, his received feedback, his execution and his intentions.

Anyway, another point to consider is, if the problem is the start, how it begins. For me stories should begin with a change, whether it's a little before, a little after or right at the moment.

*snip bang on examples*

So maybe Bradley started a little too early in the timeline of his character or is taking too much time to get to at least at a hint of the promise of how a character will change. Because like Fitz, even without agency, things leading to some change need to happen even if the character doesn't have a lot of agency.

Again, hard to tell without actually seeing the story.

Yeah, that's a really good point. The story starts with the change and the whole "Arrive Late, Leave Early" thing is good advice here. If Bradley is starting too early that will leave the MC twisting in the wind.


In any case, yeah, I was thinking that I was being a bit unsupportive. And the truth is if someone says they're going to go climb Everest in their pyjamas by their self, the supportive thing (imo) is to say "No you're not." MCs who are neither Nice nor Active are like hens teeth. I genuinely can't think of one. No Super Cool Powers can't help either. I wanna be like "Just pick one to do without!". It'd certainly be easier. Still, that's Bradley's choice, and all I can do is offer advice and ideas.

One thing I do want to say about the whole Nice/Sympathetic thing... it's easier to feel sympathy/empathy/root for the nice characters, but its not exclusively theirs. I'm sure we can all think of anti-heroic characters we've really liked, rooted for and felt sympathy for. I've got a lot of sympathy for pretty much all the characters in Watchmen, and most of them are some form of jerk. I think Glokta might just be the greatest fantasy character of this century so far and have a lot of sympathy for him. And so on.

And you don't necessarily to find a character sympathetic to find them compelling.

Oddly enough, I'd say that the badder they are the easier it is. The ambition, the intensity of feeling... those things are admirable. Shocking acts are more "Woah!" and compelling. Its a lot more difficult to feel anything other than irritation for characters who are just a bit of a dick. Go big or go home.

However, there is a good example of a really popular MC who is a bit of a dick and that's Harry Flashman. There's nothing grand or anything to him other than a desire to have a nice life, no qualms how he gets it, and a belief that it's easier to fake it than make it. He's even not always that Active, in that left to himself he's doing sweet fanny adams (he's deffo more active than passive though). He is strangely sympathetic though, because he's surrounded by even worse people (and is often rather amusing in his internal observations of them).

Which in fact leads me to the thought that there is indeed a whole genre dedicated to this sort of petty asshole - Picaresque (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picaresque_novel). If anyone wants to see how to make a fairly low grade character who's more on the unlikeable side than the likeable work, that's where I'd start looking.


As for the agency thing... well, Lanko already got my big idea. If Bradley wants to continue not having a mentor, then maybe he could show someone hunting the roguish criminal and using his agency to force the MC into doing things. You can even twist the whole FoD by having the forces of good hunt down this unwitting dark messiah, only to discover that the goodie two shoes are lying repressive bastards and actually, the MC is the good guy.

Another option might be giving the MC a subplot which does get him moving and showing agency while being completely passive in the face of fate/the main plot.

I do think the MC is well advised though to show at least some form of agency in terms of what he likes, what he wants to try and do, as quickly as possible. If nothing else, a character who doesn't have those small moments of agency simply doesn't feel human. Shadow's the only character I can think of who genuinely has that little agency and, in retrospect, there's a clue there...


One final thought.

If Bradley wants to deconstruct the FoD thing, I think playing around with the whole isolated community thing could be profitable. My initial thought was a character in a really well connected village, so he looks deeply rooted, but his internal thoughts and selfishness means he's actually quite internally isolated. Or maybe someone who grew up in a farming village on a major trade route, so he gets his "Info Dumps" for the travelling merchants and not the mentor. Or maybe they're from a travelling caravan and are isolated that way (Kvothe style).
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Lanko on August 24, 2017, 08:40:04 PM
You're a bastard as I was arriving roughly at this point in the bath and you beat me to it! Can you get away with a MC who shows limited agency if there's another character on screen bursting with the stuff? I was thinking mainly mentors like Belgarath/Moraine but yeah, there's plenty of examples and Fitz is a good one. Maybe a better one.

Plus that gives the MC a strong emotional bond to another character, and how they react is still an example of agency.

Incidentally, you might have just hit why I couldn't finish The Farseer Trilogy despite considering Hobb an incredibly talented author. I've certainly always thought Fitz is too much of a punching bag to cope with. And I know there's plenty of others who dislike the books because of Fitz. It is really difficult to do. And, to go back to my point about breaking all the rules, Fitz is a nice guy.

Hah, I was also just typing this part. Burrich semi-adopts him, Patience later takes to herself to instruct Fitz in the things of the court, Galeno and Regal dislike him, and so on.
Even just being ordered around by everyone, you can engage with the character by how he reacts to them. He may Save the cat with Molly and later kicks it with Patience, who is pretty much raising the bastard of the man

More importantly, not only we have mixed feelings for him, but for the secondary characters as well. They become relevant, and maybe even though the MC is unsympathethic, lacks agency or etc, you can still feel something for the MC because of his relationship with a secondary and hope the MC does the right thing for them, which will elevate or not our opinion of him.
Happy or outraged, you're engaged, whether it is by his good deed or by a desire to see him pay later, or anything else and he didn't need to be extremely active to do this.

I do agree though, that in Fitz specific case indeed Hobb exaggerated in all the misery and in making Fitz such an incompetent punching bag. A little more balance would have been more satisfying.

But that's a problem I had with the execution, not on the chosen tactic.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Bradley Darewood on August 26, 2017, 12:42:16 PM

1.So long as there's someone worse, he's not so bad.

2.  None of us have a birthright, either. Make birthrights a negative - something characters we hate have -and penalize him for it.

3. In other words, if you have your character do this stuff without the bennies of being the leader, he's super empathetic.

4. But as his initial scene illustrates, he is a skilled improviser with common sense. Coincidentally, this is some of the best character-arc stuff you can find.

5. If it's his world, so long as the readers love him, who cares?

6. Unsure what the agency discussion relates to, but it has the feel of breathing rarified air.

All really great points, TGC (except #6-- don't come down too hard on agency-- bottom line is that people feel more of the stakes/struggle if the protag demonstrates the possibility of impacting the central conflict).  I'm actually working on playing up #2 in the rewrite, I think I did okay with #5 and #4 and #1.  #2 is really what the story is about, at it's core: leaders don't become leaders by doing what's right-- it's about people doing what they think they should even tho they come from the bottom, and even tho it costs them

My three step guide to writing an interesting character would be thus:

a) Create an interesting character. Douchey semi-talented thief with no real goals doesn't cut it. Super spy who has failed in all he values and Adventure hungry but ordinary gentleman who has inherited the world's most dangerous treasure do. Wizard who's a PI and is mistrusted by the Wizard Council and is Marked by Supernatural Gribblies and has a Mental Family is arguably cooking with octarine... and arguably too much.

b) Attach them to the plot emotionally so everything is guided by their wants and reveals who they are

c) Write it like a damn ninja.

This post was brought to you by "Wishing I Was Drunk" industries.

hahaha, I hope "Wishing I Was Drunk" industries takes off.  Yeah this is the standard advice. It's good advice. That said, I think we've worked out some ways to diverge from this a bit in this thread and that really excites me!


If the book was called "The Orphan of Bucktower" probably many people would have bucked off from the book. But "Assassin's Apprentice" totally tells me this current meek and shy boy will eventually start killing people. So I can go through the lack of agency because of that promise, and even endure it for a hundred pages or even more. Because I want to see how this will happen. Who he'll kill and why. What he will pass through.

Will he be ordered to kill the guy who gave him a puppy dog? Will he have revenge on the guy who mistreated him? Will he work for that guy? Will that guy order him to kill the guy who gave him the dog? And so on.

The character did absolutely nothing yet I'm engaged.

So this an approach Bradley can take for his type of MC. If he isn't too active and sympathethic, we can still engage and feel for the character by what, how and why other characters do, feel and interact with th the MC.

In other words, if he can't save or kick the cat, turn him into the cat itself. Being the cat of the other characters, show me his beliefs, reactions and thoughts when he gets kicked or saved (saved meaning "doing something nice", as portrayed by the main definition, or everything other action in between) by the other characters. How he treats them, and so on.

There are probably many more approaches.
 
Given that a publisher told him they didn't like his MC, maybe it isn't fine. It could be entirely execution based but there's a real strong possibility at least some of it is down to the concept.

That's a fair point and is indeed hard and will all come down to pure speculation as we don't have his story, his received feedback, his execution and his intentions.

Anyway, another point to consider is, if the problem is the start, how it begins. For me stories should begin with a change, whether it's a little before, a little after or right at the moment.

For example, Fitz's story begins when he is pulled away from his mother, carried all the way to the castle town and thrown there. That's a really big change. Harry with the letters and the unusual behavior of his adoptive parents.
Even in GoT the mundane lives of the characters begin in relation to two changes going on, one unknown and the other known to the characters: The Walkers beyond the Wall, as seen in the prologue and the coming of Robert to Winterfell to make Ned his Hand.

Others like Prince of Thorns already start with the character changed and mostly set in his ways and what is left for us is to understand how he changed to that (and what he's gonna do next as slowly discover it).

So maybe Bradley started a little too early in the timeline of his character or is taking too much time to get to at least at a hint of the promise of how a character will change. Because like Fitz, even without agency, things leading to some change need to happen even if the character doesn't have a lot of agency.

Again, hard to tell without actually seeing the story.

Its a shame Bradley's MC doesn't have a mentor. Bradley, I've gotta ask, did you design this guy to deliberately break as many MC/FoD rules as possible? :P
 

That's a fair point and is indeed hard and will all come down to pure speculation as we don't have his story, his received feedback, his execution and his intentions.

Anyway, another point to consider is, if the problem is the start, how it begins. For me stories should begin with a change, whether it's a little before, a little after or right at the moment.

*snip bang on examples*

So maybe Bradley started a little too early in the timeline of his character or is taking too much time to get to at least at a hint of the promise of how a character will change. Because like Fitz, even without agency, things leading to some change need to happen even if the character doesn't have a lot of agency.

Again, hard to tell without actually seeing the story.

Yeah, that's a really good point. The story starts with the change and the whole "Arrive Late, Leave Early" thing is good advice here. If Bradley is starting too early that will leave the MC twisting in the wind.


In any case, yeah, I was thinking that I was being a bit unsupportive. And the truth is if someone says they're going to go climb Everest in their pyjamas by their self, the supportive thing (imo) is to say "No you're not." MCs who are neither Nice nor Active are like hens teeth. I genuinely can't think of one. No Super Cool Powers can't help either. I wanna be like "Just pick one to do without!". It'd certainly be easier. Still, that's Bradley's choice, and all I can do is offer advice and ideas.

One thing I do want to say about the whole Nice/Sympathetic thing... it's easier to feel sympathy/empathy/root for the nice characters, but its not exclusively theirs. I'm sure we can all think of anti-heroic characters we've really liked, rooted for and felt sympathy for. I've got a lot of sympathy for pretty much all the characters in Watchmen, and most of them are some form of jerk. I think Glokta might just be the greatest fantasy character of this century so far and have a lot of sympathy for him. And so on.

And you don't necessarily to find a character sympathetic to find them compelling.

Oddly enough, I'd say that the badder they are the easier it is. The ambition, the intensity of feeling... those things are admirable. Shocking acts are more "Woah!" and compelling. Its a lot more difficult to feel anything other than irritation for characters who are just a bit of a dick. Go big or go home.

However, there is a good example of a really popular MC who is a bit of a dick and that's Harry Flashman. There's nothing grand or anything to him other than a desire to have a nice life, no qualms how he gets it, and a belief that it's easier to fake it than make it. He's even not always that Active, in that left to himself he's doing sweet fanny adams (he's deffo more active than passive though). He is strangely sympathetic though, because he's surrounded by even worse people (and is often rather amusing in his internal observations of them).

Which in fact leads me to the thought that there is indeed a whole genre dedicated to this sort of petty asshole - Picaresque (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Picaresque_novel). If anyone wants to see how to make a fairly low grade character who's more on the unlikeable side than the likeable work, that's where I'd start looking.


As for the agency thing... well, Lanko already got my big idea. If Bradley wants to continue not having a mentor, then maybe he could show someone hunting the roguish criminal and using his agency to force the MC into doing things. You can even twist the whole FoD by having the forces of good hunt down this unwitting dark messiah, only to discover that the goodie two shoes are lying repressive bastards and actually, the MC is the good guy.

Another option might be giving the MC a subplot which does get him moving and showing agency while being completely passive in the face of fate/the main plot.


@Peat and @Lanko a ton of great advice here!!!  There's too much to quote!!!!

So here's what I'm really getting out of this thread :)

1) I think whether it's Rand, Harry or Fitz, there's something more the MC is going to do hinted at the beginning, even the title (Assassin's Apprentice).  I haven't figured out how to drop that hint in the beginning, i've been agonizing over it for forever. I really need to figure out how to do this kind of thing in way that's subtle enough not to be cheap, but not so subtle the readers will miss it. The beginning is exactly the problem.  I think the ending is strong.

2) Starting: Initially, I started out media res, but I'm actually thinking of going back *farther* so I can play up the have/have not tension and show some of that grueling inequality and daily grind that I implied but never *showed*, since it's central to the character and the decisions he makes later. I'm thinking of doing this, in part, on @Henry Dale 's advice

Given that a publisher told him they didn't like his MC, maybe it isn't fine. It could be entirely execution based but there's a real strong possibility at least some of it is down to the concept.

That's a fair point and is indeed hard and will all come down to pure speculation as we don't have his story, his received feedback, his execution and his intentions.

3) I really hate stories where the protagonist wins b/c they're the protagonist (biopics always make me want to vomit). It's so transparently fake and I see that trend as tied to our protag-worship, celebrity idolatry, and our inability as a people to feel empathy for more than one side, attribute agency only to the important people and treat everyone else like furniture. I want readers to question their presuppositions, question what a hero is, what leadership is, question the moralism they throw into the traditional hero narrative. Originally I wanted an ensemble cast where side characters could become main characters, main characters could fail and anything could happen.  Then, based upon the "books must have a protagonist that wants something" evil formula I went back and wrote Lade as my MC b/c... well... he survives to the end which I can't say for most of the other characters.  Was it a mistake to give in, be a conformist, and do that? Possibly.  Anyway I made an MC that wasn't a hero, learning that heroes themselves are manufactured and the desire to be the protagonist of some story (there are references to ballads quite frequently in the book it's very meta) is really not about doing what's right, it's about playing a role in a story manufactured by the powerful to serve *their* interests, thus maintaining the power structures the way they are.  I don't give any easy answers for those that rebel either, but that's to be explored in subsequent books.  This is all subtext that most readers probably will miss, but it's the most important part of the book for me.  The problem is that people looking for this sort of thing won't make it through the beginning to get to later parts of the book where the tropes get twisted.

Its a shame Bradley's MC doesn't have a mentor. Bradley, I've gotta ask, did you design this guy to deliberately break as many MC/FoD rules as possible? :P

4) So I got into this a bit above. I probably overstated my MC's doucheyness. He's an alright guy, just sort of self absorbed. But the fact is he survives to the end b/c he is a survivor. The "heroes" don't exactly.  The book is largely about how heroes fail, and are fake anyway. I actually do some of the things you guys mentioned.  There *are* mentors in the book.  The first part of the book the hero figure is a knight-prince (everything the MC, by birthright can't be) who is simultaneously a arrogant and mean to the MC, but also very selfless and heroic.  Being heroic makes him stupid. They spend half the book "saving" a princess who didn't want to be saved and actually unwittingly *unsaving* her, the hero-figure, constantly bravely putting himself in danger to save others, ultimately gets himself killed (as most protags really would just get their dumb asses killed irl imho).  After the first hero-figure dies, the second mentor takes a larger role.  She's sort of like La Femme Nikita (like from the 90s TV show, or maybe the OG film, not the new version), a con artist trying to save the world, at least in her own mind.  You're never really sure (and I don't get to *her* downfall in this book, that's for later in the series. Her failure is a lot more brutal and takes a much longer build up). In both cases my MC has a very antagonistic relationship with his mentors (the knight *hates* him, but they eventually bond, he's actually pitted directly against the second mentor in the final passes of the book, but comes to admire and respect her.  Joining her and betraying the king, thus changing him from a celebrated hero to a reviled exile is the big decision that ends the book).

Harper Collins actually loved the two mentor figures, and the other supporting characters.  They just didn't like my MC.  So that's what I've been trying to fix.  I think the core of the problem is at the start of the novel.  How do I seed that sense of anticipation (a la Assassin's Apprentice) while maintaining the unpredictability, the subversion of reader expectations that makes the ending worth getting to.... (like how do you do Assassin's Apprentice if you want the reader to become surprised that he becomes an assassin-- my climax hinges on you wondering what side the MC is going to choose at the end, I can't give it away in the beginning. That the princess doesn't want to be saved is a big surprise after a ton of build up to her rescue etc etc.)
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Peat on August 27, 2017, 12:28:11 AM
I really hate stories where the protagonist wins b/c they're the protagonist (biopics always make me want to vomit). It's so transparently fake and I see that trend as tied to our protag-worship, celebrity idolatry, and our inability as a people to feel empathy for more than one side, attribute agency only to the important people and treat everyone else like furniture. I want readers to question their presuppositions, question what a hero is, what leadership is, question the moralism they throw into the traditional hero narrative. Originally I wanted an ensemble cast where side characters could become main characters, main characters could fail and anything could happen.  Then, based upon the "books must have a protagonist that wants something" evil formula I went back and wrote Lade as my MC b/c... well... he survives to the end which I can't say for most of the other characters.  Was it a mistake to give in, be a conformist, and do that? Possibly.  Anyway I made an MC that wasn't a hero, learning that heroes themselves are manufactured and the desire to be the protagonist of some story (there are references to ballads quite frequently in the book it's very meta) is really not about doing what's right, it's about playing a role in a story manufactured by the powerful to serve *their* interests, thus maintaining the power structures the way they are.  I don't give any easy answers for those that rebel either, but that's to be explored in subsequent books.  This is all subtext that most readers probably will miss, but it's the most important part of the book for me.  The problem is that people looking for this sort of thing won't make it through the beginning to get to later parts of the book where the tropes get twisted.

I am possibly the wrong person to give advice here as I find the idea of heroism fascinating and believe that in the struggle to show empathy for more than one side we are sliding to a place where we less explore the "bad guy" and glamourise the unambiguously bad. I feel like there's 10 books out there wanting to "Challenge my understanding" for every 1 that simply wants to show some heroes. I'm up for both really, preferably the same time, but there's a glut and I feel a lot of the peeps out there with hot new takes are in fact offering me stuff that's colder than gazpacho soup.

But often starting at the opposite end of the road still means exploring the same places. And as such - what you have sounds pretty cool. It sounds like the sort of thing David Gemmell would do, except he'd definitely make the MC a guy with the potential for straight up "I'll do the right thing regardless of personal cost and I'll do it well" style heroism. It echoes some of the cynicism shown by Bernard Cornwell in his Dark Ages series. Its in pieces of Pratchett and a whole bunch of other stuff...

And as such, I don't think the issue is the set up, its simply the character. And while Yora has a point that not all successful stories depend on deep characters (paging Tom Clancy and EL James...), they're not going into certain areas of human psychology and I think that does also require characters as a main selling point.

Also, their characters are easily identifiable stereotypes. And your guy isn't.

Just make him someone people want to read about. Please. Right now, I'm not even sure you want to read about him. I feel like you've spent a gazillion words on every other aspect of your story on this thread, including why you're not making him interesting. Honestly? You don't need to make him heroic, or protagonistic, or whatever, just... readable. If you're gonna run this sort of story, I don't think you can afford any characters that aren't readable.

And if you fiddle around with the set-up without fiddling around with the character... well, maybe it works, but you are going all eleven sides of a dodecahedron to make it work.

p.s. Isn't your original ensemble idea basically what GRR Martin did?
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: cupiscent on September 05, 2017, 04:42:00 AM
I've just finished a fabulous seminar session with CS Pacat (Part 5 of a 6-month online session) where she talked about plotting using a new approach/language that gave me several "ah-hah!" moments; I feel like it's applicable to about six different conversations I've had with people here, but this is one of them.

She started by scrubbing out the question of "tension", and replacing it with the concept of "traction" - the point, she highlighted, is to keep the reader engaged and turning pages, not necessarily to keep things tense. Tension is one kind of traction, but you can also keep traction with mystery, or exploration, or revelation, or even delight. The important thing is to keep the reader convinced that what's going to happen is going to be great to read, and/or something that they really want to see happen.

And basically how you do this is you make promises. You promise that a gap in knowledge will be filled, or that a romance is going to develop between two characters, or that a Big Thing is going to happen. Then you delay gratification on that promise, until you finally pay it off, and then immediately raise a new question / make a new promise. (So, one of her key examples was the Hunger Games. The opening references "The Reaping", which is happening today, but doesn't tell you what it, or the Hunger Games, is, until the Reaping is actually happening. At which point immediately a new question arises: so who's going to be chosen?)

Promises - and thereby traction - also nest. You have your big overarching traction arc, which is the main plotline - will Katniss survive/win the Hunger Games? - but within that there are lots of smaller promise/delivery traction arcs. Similarly, Game of Thrones raises it's big arc in the prologue - winter and the White Walkers are coming, will humanity survive? - but also makes sure every single POV character has ongoing traction arcs, so you're always interested. (I think part of where the traction of the later books breaks down for me is when I could no longer remember what the arcs were for all the characters, so a POV shift meant a fall into a traction deadzone because I couldn't remember why I wanted to read about this character anymore. Lack of interrelation between the characters and plots didn't help this.)

The key steps are: 1) Raise the question or make the promise; 2) Establish why it matters; 3) Let the question loom (this is important, fast delivery is good for pizza, bad for plot, but on the other hand, don't stretch a question further than it can comfortably go); 4) Deliver the answer or event, and then immediately; 5) Have a new question or promise arise from the delivery.

This is, in essence, just a different phrasing of something I've said before here: always give the reader a reason to keep reading. But Cat's different way of looking at it really helped me make some breakthroughs in thinking about plotting my own writing, so I thought I would share!
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Jmack on September 05, 2017, 10:50:27 AM
Which makes me want onapply this immediately to my monthly story! Thanks for sharing, C.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Jmack on September 05, 2017, 10:55:07 AM
Double post.
Having been away, I'd not known about this thread.

This is a CRAZY long thread.
How many words of discussion are in this thing?!
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Peat on September 05, 2017, 05:46:12 PM
4,896 just in mine. So roughly two good university essays.  ;D
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Jmack on September 05, 2017, 06:34:22 PM
Sort of on topic, my son the hummus entrepreneur and small time organic farmer was "farm-sitting" for friends. When he put out for for the sheep, he misunderstood the instructions they'd left and only put food in one trough. Yesterday morning, he found that the flock had mobbed the trough, and five had trampled to death. We asked him how much the sheep cost, and he reported $150 for meat sheep and $350 for milkers.

He feels quite responsible and that we needs to find a way to make this up to the family.

Is the Call to Adventure?
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: cupiscent on September 14, 2017, 02:45:12 AM
This is becoming a bit of a Dee-dumps-advice thread, but hey, it's convenient and I'm typing with a toddler on my lap so I'm just going for easy.

This hit my feed this morning and seems like it might give a helpful way of thinking about things for Bradley and/or others with similar troubles: Making a solid novel plan with a physical goal (http://thewritepractice.com/novel-plan-with-physical-goal/)

There are some elements I disagree with - sometimes want and need are stronger contraposed, for instance - but it's an approach that might yield insight.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Bradley Darewood on September 14, 2017, 07:29:34 AM

Rgh, i have a million thoughts I've been meaning to put in this thread, but live has me slammed, with no time to even pick up my laundry off the floor atm, and this thread requires concentration :) I'll have a bit of time soon tho!

Thanks Dee--

Dump all the advice you like!!!!  This physical goal thing has it's merits, but I think I was expecially excited about where you were going with this one:


She started by scrubbing out the question of "tension", and replacing it with the concept of "traction" - the point, she highlighted, is to keep the reader engaged and turning pages, not necessarily to keep things tense. Tension is one kind of traction, but you can also keep traction with mystery, or exploration, or revelation, or even delight. The important thing is to keep the reader convinced that what's going to happen is going to be great to read, and/or something that they really want to see happen.

And basically how you do this is you make promises. You promise that a gap in knowledge will be filled, or that a romance is going to develop between two characters, or that a Big Thing is going to happen. Then you delay gratification on that promise, until you finally pay it off, and then immediately raise a new question / make a new promise. (So, one of her key examples was the Hunger Games. The opening references "The Reaping", which is happening today, but doesn't tell you what it, or the Hunger Games, is, until the Reaping is actually happening. At which point immediately a new question arises: so who's going to be chosen?)

Promises - and thereby traction - also nest. You have your big overarching traction arc, which is the main plotline - will Katniss survive/win the Hunger Games? - but within that there are lots of smaller promise/delivery traction arcs. Similarly, Game of Thrones raises it's big arc in the prologue - winter and the White Walkers are coming, will humanity survive? - but also makes sure every single POV character has ongoing traction arcs, so you're always interested. (I think part of where the traction of the later books breaks down for me is when I could no longer remember what the arcs were for all the characters, so a POV shift meant a fall into a traction deadzone because I couldn't remember why I wanted to read about this character anymore. Lack of interrelation between the characters and plots didn't help this.)

The key steps are: 1) Raise the question or make the promise; 2) Establish why it matters; 3) Let the question loom (this is important, fast delivery is good for pizza, bad for plot, but on the other hand, don't stretch a question further than it can comfortably go); 4) Deliver the answer or event, and then immediately; 5) Have a new question or promise arise from the delivery.

It gives you a lot more flexibility than the singular goal, and is helpful with an ensemble cast.

Sort of on topic, my son the hummus entrepreneur and small time organic farmer was "farm-sitting" for friends. When he put out for for the sheep, he misunderstood the instructions they'd left and only put food in one trough. Yesterday morning, he found that the flock had mobbed the trough, and five had trampled to death. We asked him how much the sheep cost, and he reported $150 for meat sheep and $350 for milkers.

He feels quite responsible and that we needs to find a way to make this up to the family.

Is the Call to Adventure?


Yes!!!  I expect to see your Hummus Farmboy of Debt Destiny novel out shortly :)
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Peat on September 23, 2017, 07:02:48 PM
Idle thought that fits in here...

Is ... erm, tortur- Glokta! Is Glokta a FoD in disguise?

He is an orphan.

He does live a life that's very secluded from the rest of the world i.e. torturing folks in a nasty cellar with no friends

He is thrust into an alien world (politics) in which he must develop new skills (okay, I might be stretching the point here) to thrive

And it all results in him being recognised for a "special destiny" and getting the girl.

I reckon he fulfills a lot of the trope and is a great example of how you can use the basic model while going nowhere near the aesthetics.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: ScarletBea on September 23, 2017, 10:05:01 PM
^ I love how you manage to completely match the trope to the person that is the least obvious in the world for that ;D
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Lanko on September 23, 2017, 10:12:09 PM
I thought that trope was supposed to be subverted by Jezal dan Luthar?

He's told he's the bastard son of the king, and more importantly, the lost secret heir to the throne (but instead of a farmboy is already a noble - and then later is revealed he actually was a whore's child) and later he does become the king, etc etc)

Glokta was a noble with a great prospect for the future then got crippled and fell off grace and everything else. He seems more like a "riches to rags" thing. Or a spin on the Evil Chancellor trope. 

Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Bradley Darewood on September 23, 2017, 10:30:14 PM

I'm just imagining Glotka out in the field weeding his turnip patch.
Title: Re: Farmboy of Destiny
Post by: Peat on September 23, 2017, 11:56:26 PM
Hey, nothing says you can't have multiple FoDs in the same book. Belgariad had two, Wheel of Time had five...

Yeah, Jezal is the obvious example*, but for me Glokta fits just as well in terms of the mechanics of what his character actually goes through on page. Tortured war hero is what happens before, evil chancellor is what happens afterwards - but what he goes through in the actual pages fits the journey very well. Obviously he's nothing like a farmboy aesthetically, but I makes that a lot less important than dramatic arc.

Bea - I'm trying to remember how I came up with the idea now. Possibly bath time thinking.

*Tbh, I've always thought he was a bit too obvious to be a good subversion. But then I loathe him and count him as the main reason I'm deeply ambivalent about The First Law.