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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Acting against one's conscious

   
Author Topic: Acting against one's conscious
JeanneT
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I'm trying to figure out how a character would react to something and he's not cooperating with telling me so maybe you guys can help.

This is a former warrior who walked away from killing after fighting in a horrific war. He won't kill at all, even becomes a vegetarian. However, he is also a leader of a small group of people. When his own people are attacked, he defends them and kills someone. It's something that anyone would consider justifiable, but I'm trying to wrap my mind around how he would deal with this. Killing is something he swore he'd never do again.

I can't seem to get into his mind at that point. Any thoughts? Thanks.


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SchamMan89
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Maybe he didn't mean to kill the person, but accidentally does so? Maybe he held his throat trying to make him go unconscious from lack of breath...but accidentally kills him. Or he shoots the person in the leg, and the person has that blood disease where his blood won't quagulate (spelling?). I'm sure there are better examples of accidental death, but this is all I could think of at the moment.

Hope that helped.


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JeanneT
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Sorry I wasn't clear. Yes, killing him is an accident and I know how he kills him. What I don't know is how he reacts. He's being very reticent on the subject.

For him the fact that it was an accident, doesn't change the fact of the killing or that he has broken his oath to not kill.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited June 21, 2008).]


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extrinsic
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What's at stake from him going against his conscience? The horrific war is the motivation behind his peaceful convictions and principles. What does he have to lose? The respect of the people? His self-respect? His state of mind? His freedom? Is the killing driving him to want more death? Is he afraid to admit he misses the excitement of battle?

Do the people condemn him, or console him? Do they know he's a conscientious objector, or is it an internal conflict?

If the killing he objects to is at the core of the plot, how is it relevant to the inciting moment, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution?

These are posed as rhetorical questions. Answering them here may spoil the plot.

Specifically, when confronted by contradictions to my convictions, serving the greatest good is my guidance. I'll take the hit for me and mine, kit, kith, and kine. However, I'm more emotionally satisfied by stories where the protagonist fails to keep to his of her convictions and principles. The accomodation to the failure provides a deeper and more emotionally satisifying resolution. I fail. I identify more deeply with redeemable failures than golden boy, football heroes.


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DeepDreamer
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You say he's being reticent -- perhaps that's a good clue to how he's dealing with it? He doesn't want to talk about it. He doesn't want to think about it. He wants to forget it happened if he could, pretend it didn't, cover it up, hide away so he doesn't have to face the reality of what happened, of crossing that boundary he swore he'd never do again -- lying to himself that it never happened, that it wasn't his fault, eventually even making himself believe that he didn't really do it.

If that's not a tack you want to take, then here's a list of other reactions that might help jump-start your idea engine:

Anger
Self-loathing
Fear
Grief

This would also likely trigger an episode of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It could also make him physically ill.


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MartinV
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You could always do the split personality; that's always fun...
One side is hungry for more killing, the other is vegetarian.

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WouldBe
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In some ways, he is a victim--forced into violence--and might behave like a victim (perhaps a victim of violence), angry and short with his family/friends, anxious, impatient for life to return to normal, and of course, disappointment.
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JeanneT
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Thanks for the suggestions.


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Robert Nowall
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He'd have to find out if there was something, anything, worth fighting for. (Sean Thornton (John Wayne) in The Quiet Man found it in the love of a good woman (Maureen O'Hara.)
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RobertB
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He's probably be pretty shocked in the short term, but in the longer term he'd get over it, since he's been used to killing. It wouldn't be such a shock as the first one. He might easily go back to his old ways.
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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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Vegetarian an old Indian word meaning poor hunter.

I love that saying every time I see or hear that word.

In combat you have to make split second decisions that can have a major affect on the out come of the battle, and the rest of your life.

After returning from AFG, I have found that drinking helps. Not from combat but lack there of. Our hands were tied and now the prison brake in south AFG has made me even more feeling the need to go back and complete the mission and end it one and for all,

After returning, some soldiers (such as me) feel that we havenít done a good enough job. After hearing of the prison brake it made it worse. And no I havenít killed anyone to my knowledge you donít see them when you are getting shot at you just spray and pray. And if push comes to shove I would not hesitate to end someoneís life in self defense (not including hippies, hippies are not people.)
It might help to hear from a combat veteran.

RFW2nd


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JeanneT
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Rommel, I know many combat veterans. While I sympathize with your emotions, your reaction is not universal. As far as your hatred of those you refer to as hippies (and I'm not sure exactly who these are), I think you may need to consider why you have so much hatred inside. I assure you, it's more likely to hurt you than to hurt them.

Edit: I don't often talk about my personal life on this forum. I've gone through more than I care to share generally speaking including the fact that not long after the death of my older daughter my husband, who was a career soldier and combat veteran, killed himself.

This is certainly not the forum for discussing politics. But believe me, I don't need to be told about the results of war and violence.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited June 23, 2008).]


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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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My hate rid of hippies comes from my last life. I donít see them as any thing but a lucky Soviet Union conspiracy.

RFW2nd


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J
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Is he not telling you because he's stoic? If so, he'd probably act that way towards your other characters. Internal anguish, self-loathing, anger at himself and his victim, second-guessing his own actions, perfectly rational justifications whirling in a morbid dance with his inability to believe them, etc. Externally, it doesn't show much.
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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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What? I donít understand? The Crown Royal has blurred my thought process

RFW2nd


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Grovekeeper
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JeanneT,

Total pacifism runs counter to much of the genetic programming that has been built in to people over eons of evolution. It may well be that your character had enough of war and enough of killing to swear it off, but if you look at his behavior, you'll probably see that the killing in war was unnecessary and gratuitous to him (the killing may have been necessary to his immediate situation at the time, but the situation was one that he was in because of artificial factors). Thus he's sworn off killing categorically. Being a vegetarian is a logical outgrowth of this, because killing for food is not a necessity for him.

However, total pacifism in the individual runs counter to our animal nature, and can only successfully exist for any length of time in a society that has niche occupations for those who are willing to fight and kill (and do) and those who are not (and contribute in other ways).

The situation he finds himself in (leader of a small group) does not give him the luxury of pacifism; he is responsible for his "family" (whether they be blood relatives or not), and he will protect them through escalating force as necessary, up to and including deadly force.

He needs to come to the philosophical realization that there is a difference between killing without need (fighting in a senseless war, perhaps) and killing because it is the only option (protecting his clan in a way that he has the training and experience to do).

All things die that other things might live; that is a fact of nature. Your character will have to come to terms with the fact that biological imperative mandates that, when circumstances require it, we kill in order to protect the survival of ourselves and our family.

If this character is a man of reason, he'll eventually noodle that out. It might not be easy for him, but he'll get there.

-G


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JeanneT
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Grovekeeper, that's a good analysis (although I know pacifists who would disagree).

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Grovekeeper
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JeanneT,

I know of at least one vehement pacifist who would get into a heck of a snit over my analysis, and probably hit me hard on the shoulder for having made it. Thus proving my point, at least in her specific case.

I pondered putting more supporting argument in my post, but that would have taken it into the realm of the needlessly-political, which would have done your thread no good at all. I welcome off-line debate if anyone's umbrage-to-apathy ratio is high enough.

-G


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JeanneT
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I appreciate your not taking it into the political since it's already come close enough. Perhaps my difficulty reflects my own mixed feelings on the subject: that is should be possible to live without violence but how many of us, when it came down to that moment, wouldn't protect those who depend on us? And many of those (and I think this was reflected in my description of the defenders of the city) who consider themselves pacifist use their own forms of violence. (Please any pacifists out there, don't get mad) Some of us remember pacifist monks using self-immolation as a form of protest--which I considered an extreme form of violence.

Life isn't always as simple or clear cut as one might wish.


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TaleSpinner
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Yes indeed, good analysis, Grovekeeper.

I think our natural instinct is to fight, and what we call "civilization" is but a thin veneer.

In the UK House of Commons the chamber is divided into two sides. There's a line down each side, just in front of the opposing benches. A Member of the House must stand behind her line to speak. The distance between the lines is that of two men standing, arms outstretched, holding swords. It's a reminder that debate is our civilized substitute for fighting, and that only discipline maintains it.

If an enemy threatens your loved ones, if you're sure he will kill them if you don't kill him first, how many would stand by stand silently by in pacifism? And if they did, what would "love" mean?

I hope that if your character thinks it over--perhaps alone, in silence--I hope he'll convince himself that it was for the best, if abhorent. I hope also he had the strength of character to use "sufficient and necessary" force (even if that was lethal)--to kill no more than necessary to get a surrender, and not enjoy it or put them to unnecessary pain. If he did, his conscience should rest easy after a while. I hope. (Then, I speak as a fool with no combat experience.)

Hope this helps,
Pat

[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited June 24, 2008).]

[This message has been edited by TaleSpinner (edited June 24, 2008).]


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J
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I just watched Mel Gibson's "The Patriot" recently. The protagonist in that film might be an interesting study for your character. He's a veteran of the French and Indian Wars, famous for participating in the slaughter of the French army at Fort Wilderness. He's a hero, but he hates and abhors the things he did that made him a hero.

He finds a wife and becomes a studied pacifist, and settles down as the patriarch of a large southern farm. In 1776, when the American Revolution starts, he refuses to join the Continental Army, and tries to persuade the South Carolina legislature (of which he is a part, as a landowner) to vote against sending funds to the army. Even when a battle erupts near his property, he refuses to be drawn instead, instead offering medical assistance to all injured, both Continental and British.

When a British colonel finds his farm and orders it burned for the medical aid he gave to continentals (despite the fact he gave the same aid to the British), and orders his oldest son taken prisoner as a spy, he still refuses to fight. Even when the colonel points a gun at his head, he refuses to fight. Such is the power of his abhorrence of violence.

When the second-oldest son runs to the aid of oldest, and knocks a British soldier down, the colonel shoots the boy. Gibson's character holds his dying son in his arms as his house and barns burn down, his younger children cry in terror, and his oldest son is marched away to be hanged. In a brilliant piece of non-verbal acting, you can see in Gibson's face the moment his pacifistic principles give way.

When he catches up to the British patrol, he doesn't just ambush them--he massacres them. He shoots a soldier trying to surrender. Another tries to flee, but Gibson's character runs him down and hacks him to death with a tomahawk, screaming as he does so.

The progression of scenes very artfully shows--not tells--exactly why Gibson was such a studied pacifist to begin with. For him, there's no such thing as moderate or measured violence. He shies away from fighting not because of some abstract ideal, but because of horror of the things he must do, and does, when at war.


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annepin
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Hm... the other route he might go is to try to make up for it somehow. Either undergo some sort of cleansing process, self devised or through some religious order, or a period of atonement and punishment. He might, for instance, try to assist the victim's family, or become a medical professional and try to cure people, or adopt war orphans, none of which are exactly against violence but at least might help alleviate some of the traumas of fellow humans.

The religious/ social aspects of his culture would probably play a role in how he reacts and what, specifically, he might do.


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