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In the story for a graphic novel Im working on my protagonist is cursed by a witch (or other magic wielding person) to wake up in a new place/time every day due to a wrongdoing on his part. I want this to be a story of atonement and am having a hard time figuring out a fitting offense that would lead a witch to deal out this punishment. The witch's motives are to force a character building experience on the protagonist so that by the end he comes out a truly better and wise man.

Here is a piece I did to explore the idea (the character in this is a child but that is not set in stone)enter image description here

What is a good way to find a fitting cause when you are more focused on the effect?

Im am primarily an artist and new to writing so any suggestions are appreciated.

  • Welcome to Writing.SE AJ D.! Please note that we don't do any "What should I write questions?" here as they only lead to opinion-based discussions and there is no way to judge which answers are better than others. For example I could say "Let someone hang - the character is supposed to play a big role later (he's a prince for example)" and another person could say "Hit someone - she likes to make people better". I am voting to put this question temporarily on hold until you edit it. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! – Secespitus Apr 18 '18 at 20:26
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    Make it a reflection of the punishment. Full stop. Your protagonist has some relationship with time that the witch despises. The witch too has some hangup about time. Maybe your protagonist has magic to hold an endless moment but only while awake,, and the witch despises them because she wants eternal youth and never sleeps. Anything. Just have the transgression reflect time and craft the story accordingly. – DPT Apr 18 '18 at 21:00
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    This should be closed but i can't help give you something. Make the which be coming to a new town, and be treated poorly. Now he has to come to new towns every day – Andrey Apr 18 '18 at 21:56
  • With the edit that makes this question focus on the process rather than the specific case for the OP, this appears to me to be on topic. There is plenty of precedence for "process" questions being on topic. – a CVn Apr 19 '18 at 6:43
  • The mere existance of your character might be an offense. Blame it on the parents! – Totumus Maximus Apr 20 '18 at 14:14
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Many religions (such as Buddhism or certain kinds of Christianity) and the whole New Age spirituality are based on or include the idea that the whole purpose of your life in this world is to allow your soul an opportunity for growth. Everything that happens to you, from abuse as a child to the death of your wife, are nothing but learning tasks.

You could employ a variant of this philosophy in your story.

On the other hand, many tales, both traditional (epics, folk tales) and modern (novels, movies, tv series), focus more on the effects of an experience than its ultimate cause. This is the basic principle behind what Hitchcock called the MacGuffin: some stories offer some pretense of a reason, but ultimately it does not matter why Sauron wanted to rule Middle Earth or why the murders were committed on the Orient Express – what the story is about is Poirot solving the riddle or how Frodo fights the power of the Ring.

So if you feel the need, you could make up some reason for the curse, but you can also have it remain a mystery – and bring attention to the fact that we often don't understand the reasons why things happen to us in real life.


If you want to find a reason or cause to the effect you have, ...

  • begin with the purpose of the effect:

    How will the curse affect your protagonist? What obstactles – inner and outer – will he have to face? How will this change him? What goal will he achieve in the end? What will it mean for him and the world he lives in?

  • find the opposite to that purpose – that's your cause:

    If the protagonist has to overcome some weakness, then the reason for the curse is that weakness. If the protagonist has to kill the dragon, then the dragon (or what- or whoever created or called the dragon) is the cause of the curse.


But it seems to me that you already have your cause. You write: "The witch's motives are to force a character building experience on the protagonist."

If you want to go further than that, then you are asking why a witch would want to build the character of some random person, to which there are a variety of possible answers:

  • the witch is a mentor and the protagonist is the predicted savior of their people
  • the witch is under a curse herself, and she curses the protagonist to equip him to free her of her own curse
  • the witch is the personification of some principle (such as the seasons or the rule of the land) and the curse forces the protagonist to overcome (and possiblly replace) her (to rejuvenate the crops or their land)
  • the protagonist has to learn something that can only be grasped by not knowing that it is "merely" learning (e.g. you have to be mortally afraid to learn how to deal with being mortally afraid, and if you are told it is just a class on dealing with fear, you will not be mortally afraid)
  • etc. p. p.
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Does there truly have to be a reason? In many fairy tales offending supernatural beings is extremely easy and they net out punishments far in excess of the "crime." Petting a cat that belongs to a witch (lifetime servitude), putting on a pair of dancing shoes (dancing yourself to death or until somebody removes the shoes), stealing a loaf of bread (walking across red-hot coals). These are just the ones I remember.

I could picture our hero, many decades later, seeing the witch again and thanking her because he is now a better man and the witch not remembering him at all.

It might not be the traditional literary ending, but it would be true to fairy tales.

Or maybe he just stops moving about in time after he had grown into a better man.

Or maybe the witch wanted to make him into a warrior-poet, and felt that was the way to do this.

It is much easier to figure out the "why" first, rather than the other way around. The best way to do this might be to find out where the character ends up (who he is when the curse ends) and go backwards from there assuming the witch wanted that ending.

Just my two cents.

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It sounds from the motives in the question as if the witch is thinking more of rehabilitation (a better and wiser man) than punishment. If I've interpreted that correctly, it's unlikely that the protagonist did the witch - or anyone else - any serious wrong.

Something petty - even something the protagonist didn't understand he shouldn't do - is likely to work better than anything really unpleasant. NomadMaker's answer mentions some of the classics.

The "why" in this case would cover why the witch wanted the protagonist to grow into a better man. Perhaps she has an interest in him, or maybe he'll do something for her later in the story - something he doesn't know but she can predict.

But, as Cloudchaser says, unless the "why" is a necessary part of the story, it doesn't need to be specified.

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