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In the middle of my epic, the deutertagonist's love interest gets brutally killed off and she is forced to watch. For the third quarter of the story, she is trying to deal with the pain and trauma.

The story continues, but her character changes a lot. Examples:

  • At first, when she is rescued and wakes up, she is in denial, claiming it was all a dream. Once snapping out of it, she just breaks down completely.
  • She behaves and acts more edgy.
  • She acts more aggressive and violent when somebody tries to bother or harass her (at one point, she almost kills someone.)
  • She shows little to no interest in any activity.
  • She tries to do multiple things to try and remove the pain (drugs, alcohol, sex with others, etc.)
  • Throughout the story, she jokes around a lot, and is a bit sarcastic. After the tragedy, she will still joke, but her jokes are way darker, and many times insensitive.
  • Her playstyle is rather more brutal, killing opponents who beg for mercy and completely looting them with no respect.

Eventually, she gets another love interest (who was already pre-established as a character,) but some trauma sticks on her, making her slightly overprotective.

In the end though, how could I write her so she is tragic and you feel sympathy for her, rather than the typical unbearable jerk the audience/player hates?

Bonus: If there is really no way, then how could I at least make her edgy persona entertaining and liked at least?

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    If she was a sympathetic character in the first half, presumably readers will understand that she's still the same person, just going through a difficult patch. Feb 21, 2023 at 17:23

4 Answers 4

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The first rule of story telling is that your character's cannot do nothing.

Your character can be depressed and despondent, but something in her character compels her to keep moving forward. Even if she does it with little enthusiasm. Some sense of responsibility must remain that compels her to continue trying.

For a writer, that is the working definition of a "hero": No matter how injured they are, no matter how many times they've been kicked in the face, or beaten down, or lost loved ones, something in them compels them to get up and try again. They'd literally rather die than fail.

007 rides a motorcycle off a frikkin' cliff to certain death, without a parachute, on the slimmest of chances he can ditch the motorcycle in mid-air and land on the villain's piper cub and somehow still get the bad guy. 007 would rather die trying than fail.

Only villains give up the fight.

Your hero cannot stay down for a quarter of the story. Something in her character must compel her, despite her pain and grief, to continue the fight. She may not be as effective as she was, she may be distracted by grief. The other things you describe, casual sex and casual cruelty, you can fit those in. Her personality can change. But not her drive to finish the fight, she must still rather die than give up.

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  • So you are saying that only villains are rational and use common sense to decide whether to keep on fighting, and when to stop trying something that has failed before? That seems to imply that you think it is evil to make peace. Feb 21, 2023 at 17:19
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    @M.A.Golding I am saying a hero that gives up (on their main goal) is not satisfying fiction. It won't sell. People won't like it. Publishers won't like it. Agents won't like it. A hero that realizes they are wrong in some way, and then pursues what is right, can be a good story. In real life, giving up before we die is common. In fiction? It doesn't work. An unhappy ending with the hero dying while trying would be better than just giving up. Unhappy endings usually do not sell great, but even Stephen King, writing The Stand, knew he couldn't sell a book ending in a stalemate.
    – Amadeus
    Feb 21, 2023 at 18:14
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Eventually, she gets another love interest (who was already pre-established as a character,) but some trauma sticks on her, making her slightly overprotective.

In the end though, how could I write her so she is tragic and you feel sympathy for her, rather than the typical unbearable jerk the audience/player hates?

I think you've got a built-in redemption arc?

go extra dark

She was always a cocky bastard..., but now she's crossing a line, daring that point-of-no-return. Pushing friends away. Feeling low-key ugly rage all the time. It's clear no one can pull her out of it, so they'll have to ride it out, but she gets worse.

Weave some specific moments of friendship bonding with the other warriors, and besmirch those moments when D lashes out. They're not just insults, they're personal. They should hurt.

Bonus points if the reader/player is upset because she attacks something endearing or narratively earned.

Stakes are clear, reader agrees. They need her skills, but she is poisoning the group. Strain leads to some kind of pushback/confrontation/provoked fight – which doesn't resolve anything – and she's out.

They don't have a plan without her, but they can't continue with her.

redemption

Redemption comes privately through the second love interest. This is maybe one of the people D acts out sexual aggression with, but someone who also recognizes their behavior as grief, maybe went through their own experience, and who can say it in so many words so D doesn't have to.

Or some other way to let the reader see the second relationship is dark, but cathartic. Let D be vulnerable (fall apart) privately with the 2nd love, and the 2nd love is 'handling it' in ways no one else is realizing. Some private chemistry that works between themselves, that previously made that couple seem incompatible.

Returning to the group, D has taken some of the edge off and is focused for the climax. Everyone being stoic warriors they accept that she's back and just don't talk about it.

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  • Question: How will the love interest be interested in her after the sexual aggression? As for the also experienced something similar, you are right on.
    – Crafter
    Feb 22, 2023 at 8:01
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    @Crafter Without trying to tell you what to write, I'd put in some hints that 2nd Love is attracted but has high boundaries/caution/damage that appears as hate/disapproval (mixed message), while D is 'healthy' she registers 2 as stuck-up/haughty, later goes after 2 to 'take her down a peg'.... 2's reaction isn't fear or acting wounded (nor inviting it) but understands the real dynamic better than D, giving her an advantage in the situation. D's broken psychology is to provoke, but 2 can't be provoked or intimidated and already sees through D's act. (some enjoy rough angry sex as a release).
    – wetcircuit
    Feb 23, 2023 at 13:22
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She may be depressed and tragic, but no-one gets like that without a backstory, and it maybe even be the case that you can craft a suitable one that engages the reader's empathic understanding to avoid the hate-able characterisation. I'm thinking particularly of linking into a redemption arc process as mentioned in this other answer.

It doesn't have to be a grand opera, but rather just a sub-narrative to circle the character through some recognition inside herself and that insinuates itself into themes in the main story. My suggestion is to do this not solely through evoking sympathy, or laying down trauma-porn, but hooking onto the readers identification with the process of becoming: taking charge of ones own expression of emotion - "know how you feel BUT, choose how to express it": i.e. when it really counts. Depends on how you want the plot to unfold of course.

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Well, some depressed characters CAN seem very hated. All you have to do is explain (in the character's POV) as to how and why you wrote it that way. That's why they won't really hate that character, they will bond with them.

And also, you can sometimes make an edgy persona really liked. For example, if you feel like you are being followed, you would be very edgy to everyone or you would have an edge to your voice because you need to be sure THEY are not the ones following you. The only way for you to make their edgy persona likeable is if you have explain it all.

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