13

So, I have this little story I would like to tell.

It's about a girl and how she's forced to take a journey with the man who has just killed her father.

I'll skip the details. The point is I'm not interested in the figure of her father; for what I would like to tell this is not important. So I've considered starting exactly from the moment when the poor man is killed. Or even after that, when the two are forced to "join" for a while.

My fear is that the reader won't feel invested about the situation, and I would like to create a tension between this two, and most importantly a sense of hate. But why should I hate someone that has killed a stranger?

Should I have some scene where the protagonist interacts with this father before he's killed?

  • 6
    Hi Andrea, what length is the story? The answer will depend on whether this is a short story, a novel, or something in between. – wordsworth Jul 24 at 20:23
  • 2
    @wordsworth not really a long one, i haven't a fixed length in my mind, but i'm not planning to make a book out of it or something. Sorry if i can't be more precise – Andrea Panda Zen Jul 24 at 20:53
  • 1
    I see nobody has pointed you yet to our tour and help center pages. Take a look when you have time, they're useful. And welcome to writing.se! – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Jul 24 at 21:27
  • 1
    Show don't tell? In war films we have dogtags, in Stranger Things we have a hairtie. – Aron Jul 25 at 4:47
  • 1
    I don't have enough for an answer, but it seems the character of the father isn't super important but the relationship between the father and the girl is critically important. Make sure that's established. – THiebert Jul 25 at 16:44
17

Obviously the little girl is doing the hating, and her father is not a stranger. You want HER to hate the killer. You can show that, being little she can even tell him so, there can be a dialogue exchange between them. Her actions, her fear, her speech can all convey her hatred, fear and dislike.

You want the reader to empathize with the GIRL, you want them to vicariously feel what she feels, that she's been kidnapped by an evil and violent man. That she loved her father. That this man cannot be forgiven, that she has to escape.

Nor should you start with a killing. There is nothing wrong with starting after the killing, but a killing is likely too big a deal to be the opening.

There are two routes I see, and both of them demand a telling of the killing.

I think you are probably trying to jump too fast to the drama. The best option is probably to start in the little girl's normal world with her father, show their relationship; then introduce this man, then escalate whatever confrontation is going on, THEN show the killing and the aftermath for the little girl.

The second option is to start with them together, show her hatred and distrust and fear of this man, without exactly telling the reader why. Leave that a mystery, it is just how this girl behaves. Then back-fill, and have the little girl relate, in a conversation to a third character, basically the same story about how her father got killed by the man she is with. This then becomes a "reveal" (for the reader) that explains all of her actions until now, along with how she came to be with this man in the first place.

  • Thank you, your answer i exactly what i was thinking, but perhaps i wasn't sure enough to just "go with it". – Andrea Panda Zen Jul 24 at 20:50
  • 1
    Out of interest, how did you deduce the girl was little? I did not get that from either the question or the comments. – Weckar E. Jul 25 at 9:54
  • @WeckarE. Not a deduction, a guess from the fact the girl is "forced to take a journey with a man that just killed her father". That could be kidnapping, but then the line "and I would like to create a tension between [these] two, and most importantly a sense of hate", seems inconsistent with an actual kidnapping, in which it is not necessary to create tension or hate. This suggested to me "forced" is less a matter of coercion and more a matter of necessity, which is most likely a child or non-adult girl that knows she cannot continue alone. Could be wrong, it was just a guess. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Jul 25 at 11:23
  • It's fair. My own reading put them at 16-17, so your (apparently more accurate) reading was interesting to me. I suppose I tend to assume works are YA a bit too often. – Weckar E. Jul 25 at 12:50
9

You don't need to describe the character of the father before hand. You could do that, but that would be irrelevant. In fact the conflict is between the daughter and the killer.

In fact, you have several possible conflicts between these two characters that involve the figure of the father:

  • the desire of the girl to remember her parent and the desire of the killer to let it slip in the past. You can present the figure of the father from the memories of the girl, and challenge it with dismissive comments from the killer.

  • the girl contrasting the way the father was treating her and the way the killer treats her. This does not necessarily need to depict the father in a positive light. In fact, he could have been an authoritarian father, and the girl now mocks the killer for his/her lack of authority on her.

  • the girl may not know that the father has been killed. The killer insists that he abandoned her. She insists in trying to find him. You can uncover the father's life through her attempts at finding him in the places she would expect him to be.

As you see in the examples above the conflict does not need the father to be introduced. He does not need to be described to the reader beyond what the two characters need to say. For all we know, he could have been completely different from what they remember. In a sense the father is a prop around which you build tension thanks to the divergent opinions and desires of the two characters. It could have been a puppy (see John Wick), or a piece of lost jewellery, or even an idea.

The strength of the conflict comes from how deeply you can extend the divergence from normality built on the "absence of father". This divergence generates two opposite forces, one which desires a return to normality (girl missing a loving father, or regretful killer) and one which prefers extending it further (girl thankful that the father has disappeared, or unregretting killer).

  • 2
    +1 beating me to this answer, and also for letting the girl discover her father has been murdered in the scene… That sounds like the biggest payoff. – wetcircuit Jul 24 at 20:38
  • 2
    I have to thank you, you've give me some point of view i haven't actually thought off. – Andrea Panda Zen Jul 24 at 20:51
  • 1
    The relationship between the father and the girl may also have had problems. Play that against her relationship with the killer. Slip towards Stockholm Syndrome, then away. Depending on the age of the girl, you may need to add some sexual confusion. Maybe the Dad was inappropriate and the killer respectful and chaste. You can make the conflict, the revelation, and the girl's journey as rich as you care to. And then kill her. – cmm Jul 25 at 17:55
5

The superficial problem is whether the readers will care about this character, but the deeper problem is YOU don't care about him. You even describe him as "it" --there's no emotional investment here.

It's fine to start telling your story at the point where the father is killed, but you need to have done the mental work of imagining his back story, and his life with his daughter --all the tender and the tough moments.

Otherwise, their relationship will seem thin, insubstantial and emotionally uncompelling. Your mistake here --a very common one --is to assume that just because you aren't putting it on the page, you don't need to think about it.

4

The primary reason for going into details about a character is to make the reader care about them. The opposite is also true: If you only sketch a character in the most broad ways, readers are unlikely to more than barely notice their demise. That's why nobody cares or even counts how many nameless soldiers, monsters or other enemies the protagonist kills. That's why when the antagonist is about to murder some innocent civilians, the story usually spends at least a few moments to show their human side - the child hugging its favorite toy, the old couple arguing in that deeply connected you-know-they-actually-love-each-other way, the young lovers kissing, the father holding his family. Even a small glimpse into them as people makes us care, at least a bit.

So the answer really depends on what you want to make the reader feel about that character. Is his death meaningful? Is the character important? Should the reader care about him? That does not mean sympathize - we also deeply care when the evil overlord is finally vanquished. But only if we have seen into his soul, if the story showed us how he hatched some of his plans, how he discussed just how much he hates everyone, how he enjoyed torturing his enemies - these glimpes into the character make us care about his fate.

If you want the readers emotions focussed entirely on the girl, you would leave the man a blank canvas, sketch him only from the outside (appearance, behaviour) and stay with the girl during the moment of death. Describing her perspective exclusively, even when it's his death that's the center of the scene, will connect the readers strongly with the girl.

But if you want the reader to not just see but actually notice that this man is now dead or even more, the manner of his death, and the justice behind it, and the meaning for the world and how this closes his character arc - then you need to give the reader also a connection to the man so that he can care about this event, and feel emotionally involved.

2

There is a somewhat related character dynamic in the Shattered Earth trilogy, in that a little girl character travels with her father who has recently killed her younger brother: she is, through exigencies, trapped with him for survival, and struggles with loving him and what the both entails and engenders - might be worth your scanning over for beats and nuances.

2

Your question highlights an important divide in writing:

What is important information, and what is important information to the current point of the story.


We the readers don't need to know every last detail right from the start, but You the writer need to establish the core elements for yourself before you start working with them, and you can build out from there as needed while the story itself progresses.


To address this it can be good to use carefully structured notes that go along side your writing process. Use them to establish any important facts or points as you come up with them, or any aspects that would be important to the overarching consistency within the story.


These notes do not need to be excessively detailed prior to writing, but it is important to keep an eye on things as you go to avoid critical potential conflicts.

  • Deciding that the father was a strong and brave man might cause a conflict if you decide to also describe them as scared of clowns and spiders... You would want to highlight that in your notes as something to address: Do you rewrite and remove being scared of clowns and spiders? Do you walk back them being brave and strong? Do you find somewhere to reinforce that they were strong and brave but scared of clowns and spiders?

From the start your notes on the character might be simple: The father, a name, rough age, loved by the daughter.

Short, sweet, simple.

Then take those notes and reflect them in the story. Show that the daughter loves the father, not based on what was going on in the past, but how the daughter thinks, feels, and reacts at the present in the story. Show it through her dialogue directed towards the other character, and her actions. Then Reinforce it through how you describe and have the killer act.


Remember that the story doesn't need to lay out every last single detail in stone for the reader, but can instead be more of a framework guiding the reader's own imagination. We humans can 'read between the lines' surprisingly well, and fill in details as needed without having every last thing spelled out for us.

[I've just gotten back Test Reader commentary back on a project that has nothing but dialog exchanges between two characters for the opening chapter, running commentary and banter about their current situation with nothing written outside of the " ", not even names. And it apparently worked shockingly well, and my test readers all understood what was going on. Do not be trapped by the idea that you have to hold the reader's hand every single step of the way.]

1

Andrea, Welcome to the Writing SE Site.

I wrote this as a comment, but I wanted to add more than a comment would hold.

Yes

To your question, yes, if you want us to feel anything about the girl's murder, you need to give us reasons to care about her. The question for you is, what do you want us to feel?

We could feel anything you want. Do you want this to proceed as expected, namely "poor innocent girl with limitless potential is mourned by all as sociopathic killer casually turns off her life?" Do you want this to be unexpected?

How was her relationship with the father?

The relationship between the father and the girl may have had problems. Was he abusive, manipulative, resentful of the girl? Does he love her, but not for her reality, but for the unachieved potential he imagines she should have had? What happened to her mother? Is the father responsible, or does the daughter blame him? Did the daughter ask the killer to kill her father, perhaps directly, or perhaps by spinner her heartache to a gullible internet companion?

How is her ralationship with the killer?

Play out her relationship with the killer. Maybe slip towards Stockholm Syndrome, then away. Depending on the age of the girl, you may need to add some sexual confusion. Maybe the Dad was inappropriate and the killer respectful and chaste. You can make the conflict, the revelation, and the girl's journey as rich as you care to.

Why does the killer kill her?

Do we see her murder, or imagine it? Maybe she kills the killer instead. How does the killer know the father, and her?

It is your story!

I don't know where you want to take your story, but there is endless room for many stories within the framework you created. Every revelation can have a counter revelation or another onionskin of nuance.

Make us care, and feel, and guess, and hope. Make me cry.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.