I'm currently writing a sort of serious superhero thriller. The main character finds out his father is a kingpin and drug lord. At the beginning of the story the main character, who has been living in a bubble his entire life, witnesses a cold-blooded murder during a mugging. In the draft that I have right now, the people killed were strangers. This event weighed so heavily on the main character, who is the paragon type, that when he finds out his father is in control of the city's underworld, he becomes bent on stopping his own father.

Does that sound like a good enough motivation? Or do you think I would have to give the character more of a reason to fight his own father? I was thinking maybe adding a another character, like a friend or a brother, who gets killed in the mugging but I felt that would be jumping the shark or even a bit Batmanish or Spidermanish if you know what I mean? What do you think? Also, I want to add that even though some characters have superpowers in this world, I want it to be somehow grounded on reality.

  • Hi Daniel. How much backstory have you figured out between the father/son? I'd say that is the common place to develop the more complex motivation that you seem to be reaching for. Look at father:son relationships that are complex (like, maybe, these: slate.com/culture/2011/01/…) – DPT Dec 5 at 17:39
  • It's one of mutual respect. The MC sees his father as an authority figure. They shared common interests but are a bit distanced from each other because of the mother's death. Through the novel I tried to put the father as a good dad, protecting his son, consoling him, and all that, so part of the conflict in the MC is that his dad has always been kind and supportive to him but then finds out he's this ruthless criminal. The conflict in ideology between them is basically that the MC is a paragon who sees things in black and white, while his dad is more of a "I do what needs to be done" – Daniel Dec 5 at 19:36
  • You should read/watch Runaways (a Marvel Comic book and Hulu TV show based on the former) which is basically this plot, but with a team of kids who find out their parents run a criminal syndicate using their various superpowers. The kids decide to run away to fight their parents using various powers they inherited from them (two are genetic, three are stolen external super power sources, and one is an powered but genius badass and superhero fanboy). I'd also look at the Season 3 big bad of Buffy The Vampire (not a father but very father like... great for the inconsistent nature). – hszmv Dec 7 at 19:08

What you're describing is a trope known as Broken Pedestal (tv tropes link). It describes the painful disillusionment with someone the MC considered a role-model, or otherwise a person to be respected and admired, until discovering that character's "true colours".

Such disillusionment can be a powerful motivation, and often a source of conflicting emotions: the MC might turn his back on his former hero, or he might wish to redeem him (while still actively opposing him). Consider, for example, what Luke Skywalker thought his father was, and his response upon learning that his father is Darth Vader.

As such, there is no need for an additional motivator, in the form of a friend etc. being killed. In fact, such an event would be "too much", it would dilute what you're trying to say. It would also imply that your MC only cares because his friend was hurt, not because of the general wrongness and injustice of his father's actions. That would make him a less moral protagonist.

However, there is one thing you need to be wary of: you cannot build a character solely on him being against something, as in "against his father". He needs to be also for something - for justice, for people's right to life and safety, etc.

You can have the murder be of someone the MC knows, or of a stranger, but they will be different stories.

If the murder victim is someone the MC knows, the MC's intentions will always be clouded with revenge. That's not a bad motivation, it just may not be what you want.

If the murder victim is a stranger, the MC's focus is on the immorality of what his father has done.

For Batman and Spiderman, the defining event in their lives is not (just) that someone they loved died, but that they lost one or both parents while they were still minors living at home (Peter's uncle was in a father role to him).

In your case, your character's defining event is realizing that his father is a bad person and focusing all his attention on stopping him. He doesn't have to lose someone he knows to come to that realization. So, if you add in that twist, make it count. Don't just throw it in hoping it makes the situation more horrific. "My dad ordered someone's murder" is more than enough to turn someone's love and loyalty into ash.

  • 1
    Thanks! That's exactly what I was thinking. If the murder victim was someone close to the MC he would be on some sort of revenge and that's not what I want to entail. Instead the story is more about morality. The MC is a paragon while his dad thinks the only way to a safer city is to control all of the underworld with an iron fist . I'm just afraid the reader is not going to be convinced that the MC is bent on having his own father go to jail because he saw some random person's death. Yet, I think is good enough reason considering his belief system – Daniel Dec 5 at 19:41

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