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I'm writing a story inspired by the 2010 South Korean movie called I Saw the Devil. The movie is about a secret service agent called Kim Soo-Hyun who enacts his revenge on a serial killer called Jang Kyung-Chul for having murdered his fiancée, Joo-Yun. Kim kidnaps and releases Jang multiple times throughout the movie to psychologically torture him. The theme of I Saw the Devil is that revenge turns one into a monster. I think the theme topics are revenge vs personal humanity (or integrity), but the plot is very messy and doesn't really support the theme that well.

My story is about an FBI agent who wants to get revenge on an incel serial killer who murdered his fiancee. The incel murdered the agent's fiancee because he was jealous of the fact that the FBI agent had a beautiful girlfriend, but he was a lonely virgin. The theme of my story is that one can only overcome one's grief through restorative justice. The theme topics of my story are restorative justice vs retributive justice.

The philosophy of restorative justice eventually wins. At the end of my story, the serial killer's father will ask the FBI agent to work with him on an organization dedicated to preventing incel men from becoming violent extremists. The incel serial killer will commit suicide at the end of the story because of his inability to overcome his need for vengeance against womankind.

My story has the same problem as I Saw the Devil. In I Saw the Devil, Kim's, the protagonist's, goal is the weakest part of the story. His goal is to torture Jang for an indefinite period of time. His goal is too abstract, vague, and not concrete in any conceivable way. In other words, Kim's goal has no physical manifestation, and it cannot be represented by a single measurable or quantifiable event or by a limited number of chronological events in the plot. My protagonist, the FBI agent, like Kim, had the goal of torturing the killer who murdered his fiancee.

In I Saw the Devil, we never know if Kim is making progress toward his goal of avenging his dead fiancée because there's no possible way to tell when a torture scene brings him any closer to a sense of closure or helps him overcome his grief over his fiancée’s death. There's just no way to quantify the progress Kim makes toward achieving his goal.

Moreover, each and every torture scene feels highly repetitive because of a lack of quantifiable progress made toward achieving the protagonist's goal. Even though Kim tortures Jang in a variety of locations and there's a bit of a thrilling aspect to the chase of every catch and release, there's still so very little tension in the movie. I'm working on ways to give my story thrilling action scenes, but I want to have more character development than I Saw the Devil in my story, and I want to maximize my story's tension. I also want to include some ultraviolent scenes in my story like some of Kim's revenge scenes in the Korean movie.

What are the various kinds of ways I can turn my protagonist's goal of revenge into a quantifiable goal with a definitive beginning, middle, and end? In other words, what are some examples of ways I can turn my protagonist's abstract goal into a measurable concrete goal so that my readers know when my protagonist is making progress toward accomplishing his goal of revenge? And what are the various methods I can use to ensure that my readers will know when my protagonist will have achieved his act of revenge? My story is a horror thriller and I need it to be a very violent story. Is there a way for me to determine what amount of torture and physical suffering my protagonist can put my antagonist through before he gives up on his quest for his vengeance?

I want my protagonist to eventually change his goal from revenge to restorative justice when giving up on his goal of revenge. But I also want to make sure that when he's pursuing his goal of revenge he has a tangible way of achieving it.

I feel that my story is fundamentally flawed, but I'm stubborn, and I still want to write it. I don't want to give up on my story, so any suggestions would really be appreciated. Thank you.

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Revenge is tragedy

I think you may be mixing genres. Your story is not about a 'hero' who makes measurable gains.

It is about a grieving man in a downward spiral.

Your anti-hero is becoming pure villain. Like a tragedy, the stakes (not gains) are that he is losing ground but refusing to take the L, and digging in deeper.

If he does not course-correct, he will crash and burn. Everyone sees this – the reader, the other characters, the psycho-killer – everyone sees it but him.

Slippery Slope

Your protagonist believes the only way justice can work is if the killer feels some level of the horror that he's caused.

Which is a fallacy because the killer is a psychopath who is incapable of feeling what the MC wants. In a battle about feelings and remorse, the killer just doesn't have anything to lose.

You will need to raise the stakes with each 'slip'. Your MC has a downward character arc where he is lowering his morals, and he is not feeling better. He needs something (friends, career, a dog) that can be lost or irrevocably damaged because of his behavior. He needs to become fixated on his goal to the point he jeopardizes everything else important to life.

For the MC, it is not a game, it is his faith in a morally just world. His entire belief-system is shattered (it's more than just a girlfriend in a refrigerator). But, he still believes he can accomplish his goal. Once Psycho is broken, he can stop.

Villain ascendant

Once the psychopath figures out there is a game to play, he will exploit the MC's emotions to get ammo to twist the knife. Psycho will play the victim and get a restraining order, he will get the agent suspended, he will gaslight publicly and taunt in private.

Psycho has already crossed all the moral boundaries, and survived – perhaps even feels morally superior because of what he's been able to do. It's actually amusing to watch the MC struggle with these moral boundaries because they are so obvious, but eventually this gets boring and psycho will need to help the MC through provocation, false remorse, and head games.

On some level, psycho understands that 'winning' this game means getting the agent to murder him – but as long as he's still alive, the agent hasn't really crossed the final line and is still the loser.

If the MC fails, the psycho wins. If the MC wins, the psycho (morally) wins.

They become similar, and their goals are entwined, because each is trying to make the other more like himself. The only way for the MC to not lose is he has to pull himself out of the downward spiral and accept the grief that he can't do anything about.

Torture Porn

Your MC is an amateur trying to impress someone far more experienced.

Every theatrical flourish the MC adds, Psycho has already considered it, tried it, and rejected it.

Psycho can read the 'tells' like an expert gambler because he is the authority here, even when the MC appears to have the upper hand.

Your torture scenes are not about 'torture' they are the MC's bluffs that (slipping down the slope) become steadily less safe, less justifiable, less about the goal and more about lashing out at someone who hurt him.

That suggests each of these scenes has a turnabout, where the MC's goal is subverted or used against him. The MC does not 'win' these scenes – if he did he would stop.

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Revenge is an "eye for an eye" morality; or even worse, "two eyes for one eye".

It is not hard to make this convincing; it is not necessarily universal, but quite common in people. Including myself, in extreme circumstances. I've been friends with raped women, and women that were victims of pedophilia, and I'm all for the death sentence for people that destroy lives. For these women, many consider the person they were before they were raped effectively killed. They are not going to "get over it".

For your story, if you don't want to kill the villain, the revenge can be worse than death: Suffering the rest of their life.

If you want to go over the top, that's the goal of the main character; to permanently disable the villain. Blind him. Take his hands. Take his feet. Take his hearing. Take all his teeth. Take his tongue. Take all his money. Put him in a cage, restrained so he cannot kill himself. But leave him alive, insane and suffering.

The main character's revenge is to cause a lifetime of misery, worse than death.

And what's the price, for your main character? I'm not sure, but perhaps he realizes he is even more cruel and evil than the villain.

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