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I am writing a short Sci-Fi story centered entirely on the man vs. beast narrative where the protagonist attempts to escape an unstoppable, bloodthirsty creature for roughly 15 pages. From the first word to the last, there is action galore with tight, bare-bones descriptions of movements and surroundings to let the reader live the fast-paced scenes I intended to create.

Upon re-reading my initial drafts, I realized that I never explicitly motivated the protagonist's escape from the monster. In my mind, a reader would naturally root for him given that he is human and the inhuman monster trying to eat him would be perceived as bad. I know it isn't difficult to motivate his escape, perhaps with subtle references to loved ones he is attempting to return to, but I am against including such tropes if possible.

My question is, is this good enough? Can I really assume that readers will care about my protagonist simply because he is human at odds with an inhuman creature, or must I explicitly motivate the reasons to root for him?

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    Note that in Beauty And The Beast, we root for the beast and against the men coming to kill him, because we are made to sympathize with the beast. – Todd Wilcox Jun 26 '18 at 17:09
  • @ToddWilcox Agreed, but our initial impulse is to root against the beast (I believe because of the fact that he is a beast). Only once we are shown his humanity do we start to sympathize with him. Hence my question if this automatic sympathy extends to the human form in addition to human characteristics. – MidwestIsTheBest Jun 26 '18 at 17:24
  • Who is your POV character? If it's a human protagonist, it would be very unusual for reader to think "Give it up already, let the beast have his lunch". – Alexander Jun 26 '18 at 17:36
  • @Alexander It is told in third person focused on one human protagonist trying to escape the monster. I'm mostly concerned with readers being apathetic to the outcome of his escape, not necessarily that they will root for the beast. – MidwestIsTheBest Jun 26 '18 at 17:57
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    @MidwestIsTheBest If you are writing in "third person limited" and protagonist is your POV person, I would say you have to make him really, really dull before reader would start rooting for the monster. Readers may not like unrealistic or dull characters, but it's in human nature to root for a POV person. – Alexander Jun 26 '18 at 18:15
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For us to be interested in your protagonist, there must be more at stake than mere survival. Survival is merely a technical problem. The physical action of an escape story is usually used to explore a deeper escape story, one that is more psychological, more moral, in nature than physical. In facing the beast, the protagonist must also be facing something within himself. His conquest of the beast must arise from (and also symbolize) his escape from the beast within. (Or, alternately, his conquest by the beast must mirror his conquest by the beast within.)

Note that this is not about making him sympathetic in the sense of making him likeable. A good guy escaping a beast is no more interesting than a bad guy escaping a beast unless there is another level of conflict involved.

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I think you must motivate him. For all I know, he is a villain, and you might be trying to save that as a surprise ending -- I've been rooting against one monster that is just following his nature to get a meal, for a worse monster that will destroy many lives! Thus I withhold my sympathy.

A character doesn't have to have loved ones waiting for him. Humans are valuable (or not) for their sentiments and sympathies. We do not survive alone, that is our nature, we form groups of collective action to survive. Compared to other beasts, we are too slow, too weak, with hardly any natural defenses or weapons like claws and teeth, stingers or venom, all we have is our brains, anticipation, and the coordination of efforts they provide.

The people we like contribute and share, the people we hate do the opposite, they are selfish, they take more than their share, they engage in exploitation and harm for selfish gain or pleasure.

All you need to make your character sympathetic is to put him in his situation for an altruistic or collective reason, instead of a selfish reason. e.g. He is studying the forest to understand why trees are dying, and how to reverse it. You are right that your character needs no reason to fear and run from the beast, but readers DO need a reason to root for the man instead of the beast.

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It's essential that you tell us more about the characters or the context in order for us (as readers) to know who to cheer for.

Consider a scene ripped from the middle of a(ny) Wolverine story. If we don't know what went before (bad men did very bad things to Wolverine and are threatening to do extremely bad things to him unless he catches and destroys them) then it looks just like your own scenario.

On the other hand, if you add context by either showing what happened before, or telling us something about the characters, then we know who to root for during that scene.

Summary: add character/context for clarity.

  • I strongly disagree with this. People root based on the camera/POV, not on who's right. Game of Thrones shows this so well sometimes jumping the POV into the antagonist's minds, making them for those pages seem completely justified. – Andrey May 28 at 16:58
  • That's alright, @Andrey, I very often disagree strongly with what I have said on any given day too; so I'm not at all surprised that you do. Time and POV can do that to the best of us. – robertcday Jun 26 at 8:45

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