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Thread: Getting the main character out of the city

  1. #1
    Senior Member Amanita's Avatar
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    Getting the main character out of the city

    A question about my story once again, but I'd also like to know how you got your protagonist away from home if this was necesarry in your stories. (Don't worry, I'm not going to steal. )

    I'm a bit stuck with the following situation now. My main character has discovered her chlorine magic and the people around her know about it too by now. Elemental magic in general used to be taboo in her country, and most people view it as such still. No one knows anything useful about it.
    Therefore she has to get away into another country where she can learn. That much is clear.

    The question is: How do I get her there?
    Should she choose to leave?
    Or should she be forced to leave?
    Or should some elemental magician travel through the city by coincidence? An option I've been playing with but it seems a bit too contrieved.
    In my first draft I tried the first option, she chose to leave and went to the only elemental magician of whose existence she knew who's also the man she's blaming for her situation. I'm not really happy with this anymore though. It just doesn't make sense for her to believe that he'd help her or even want to accept any help from him.
    Just running of into the blue isn't really helpful either though.

    I'm not sure if I'm supposed to introduce more severe conflicts with the others either. It would make sense given what I've established about them but on the other hand I'd like my main character to stay loyal to the city. This is quite important.

    What do you think would be the most sensible thing to do there? And what do you think about helpful people dropping by by coincidence?

  2. #2
    Three commonly used chestnuts that work well:

    1) Threat. The classic example is Frodo's impetus to leave the Shire. By the time the Black Riders are at the gates, he already knows he has to go and find Gandalf.

    2) Adventure. The lure of adventure, related or unrelated to the information sought, is often enough to get many characters on their feet. Not all adventures are for experience, either... some seek treasure or to find something lost (family member, heirloom, knowledge).

    3) Exile. Call it what you want... banishment, geasa, or even dangergeld (from Modesitt's Reculse Saga)... you can always boot them out of town.

    There's a great chart at Powers and Peril that breaks these down even further and provides loads of inspiration for how to get feet on the road.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Meg the Healer's Avatar
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    Excellent questions. Choosing to leave and being forced to leave....always hard to choose from. I (personally) haven't ever liked the "oh by the way - this guy who happens to know/have exactly what it is you need to know/have is going to be here tomorrow" option. Now, if in your world this magician is coming thru the country because everything 5th harvest moon the "taboo magician" comes thru the country then that's a little different mostly because it's no longer a coincidence that he'll be there.

    Do you have cities/countries where elemental magic is not taboo? Where openly practice is not only accepted but expected? Are only certain people accepted into these "schools of magic" or can anyone join or do you need to be recommended or is there a proving you must go thru before you can be accepted?

    Without asking you too much of what conflicts your MC is going to be facing it would be would any of those conflicts force her to leave the city behind to either protect it because she's not there or to return to protect it because an invasion is coming and she needs to get her skills up.

    I guess I have more questions than applicable solutions. But maybe these questions will help?
    Opinions are like testicles. If you kick them hard enough, it doesn't matter how many you have.
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  4. #4
    If such magic is taboo in the country, perhaps it is outlawed also? If the people around her know about it, it may not take long for whatever force deals with such things to find out. (Such force could be akin to the FBI, secret police, or even bounty hunters). That way, you could introduce the established magician as he tries to get her out of the country to somewhere safe (that is, if he knows of her existance, and is helpful enough to want to protect her). That way, she doesn't have to believe he'll help her, because she'll have no other choice.

    Of course that's just how I'd do it, making some massive assumptions as I go.

  5. #5
    Your more general question, about getting characters to leave home, is a good one. I'm trying to think of examples in my own stories where I've had characters leaving home. In some cases, I actually start the story (or their character arc) with them already travelling and don't really explore why that is - generally they're going to a place rather than fleeing from one; but I don't set up why the new place is superior to the old, only that it is. The motive is basically that they're seeking a better life than the one they can expect where they are already.

    One of my immortals dies (and by so doing becomes immortal), and then leaves his village (whichwas destroyed at the same time he was killed) to rescue his family - the dual impetus of there being no reason to stay and a real cause to fight for elsewhere. Another of my immortals is driven out of his home (this time before he becomes immortal rather than at the same time). Among my mortal characters, one character is kidnapped for political reasons and thus doesn't have much choice about it. One character, Koth, leaves home after his biological father returns after a decade of being gone to follow his adoptive father who has just left to return to his own city to help fight a war. he doesn't like his biological father and misses his adoptive father, and also wants to see this city. Another of my mortal characters leaves home because he wants to change the world, to bring about radical political change, without bringing trouble to his own door and his family.

    I think what I'm trying to say is that for me, the strongest motivations to leave are a mixture of reasons: hope for something better elsewhere mixed with fear of remaining in the same place.

  6. #6
    Moderator Ravana's Avatar
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    Motivating characters to get up from their comfy chairs (lives) and go do—well, anything else—is always one of the hardest steps. Unless the motivation is built into your plot from the outset, finding a plausible reason for the adventure to begin will depend heavily on your setting… so much so that I would say that if you can't find such a reason, you may need to change your setting itself, rather than anything about your character or plot.

    Here are a few generic "dislocating" factors, which I'll try to connect to your specific situation momentarily:
    • Character has to leave: cultural tradition, rite of passage, avoiding arrest/persecution.
    • Character wants to leave: bored, hates present situation, wants something that can only be found elsewhere.
    • Character is physically compelled to leave: kidnapped, enslaved, exile.
    • Character has no reason to stay: no family, no economic connections.
    • Character is following someone/something: military, crusade, pilgrimage, teacher, friend.
    • Character is pursuing someone: rival, debtor, slaver, long-lost cousin.
    • Character is hired to go, or has other economic reasons to: guard, mercenary, messenger, merchant, spy.
    • "Home" no longer exists: destroyed by war or disaster, captured by hostile forces.

    Your present setup already uses elements from the first two categories (avoiding cultural strictures, can only find teaching elsewhere), so that might be enough, depending on the level of inertia in her culture: what forces are at work to keep her where she is? I agree that the "convenient" teacher wandering through seems a bit too contrived… I'd be inclined, at a minimum, to make it more along the lines of her hearing about a teacher in the vicinity and seeking him out. That way, once she decides that he isn't the kind of person she'd stick with, she's already dislocated, and so might as well keep moving. That won't work if she's already "blaming him for her situation" at the outset, though; perhaps that part can be deferred? Alternately, if she already has a "situation" worth blaming someone for, perhaps she thinks she can settle her score with him—if not immediately, then after she's obtained some experience or training.

    As I said, the forces of cultural inertia are probably what you need to focus on first: considering those might provide you with your answers… or at least make clearer how strong the reasons to leave have to be. If the culture is one in which there is considerable physical mobility, there is little problem; if it's one in which few people ever leave home—perhaps are constrained not to, if serfdom is the dominant social structure, for instance—then you'll need to have some good reasons for your character to overcome this. Social class and class mobility, economics and economic mobility may also strongly affect what happens: the lower in each bracket, and the less mobility there is in each, the more difficult it will be for people to leave their present situations, whereas in a "land of opportunity," people could conceivably up and leave at the drop of a hat, provided they are sufficiently self-motivating at least. In fact, where such "opportunity" exists, it would be more difficult to explain why someone might remain in an undesirable situation… barring the lack of self-motivation.
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  7. #7
    Senior Member Amanita's Avatar
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    Thanks for your long post, Ravana.
    You might be right, my character might be a bit too happy in her current setting. She has a loving mother, friends, a community of people supporting each other and is on good terms with the leader of this community. She also has a perspective work place, she’s already familiar with and has her future planned. (She’s seventeen at the beginning of the story.)
    If it weren’t for the magic problem she would have no reason to leave at all.
    Serfdom or anything of the sort doesn’t exist (anymore) in her country, at least not where she is. Her family has already been forced to leave the village where she was born but people there aren’t likely to move away from home if they aren’t forced to do so.

    The person she’s blaming for the situation isn’t anywhere near but she’d already have to go to the neighbouring country to meet him. He’d better not come anyway near either because she’s not the only person very angry at him in this place. (He actually is only partly responsible for the things they’re blaming him for , the actual villains are, and the main character is going to find out about that, but this will happen later.)
    This could be a reason for Alchemist Circle members to come to her city, however. They might be looking for evidence.
    I didn’t consider her already having her prospective teacher visit but someone else who possesses elemental magic and is at least able to answer a few questions and take her to someone who’s really able to help.

    Maybe, I’ll have to bite into the sour apple and let the people around her react very negatively and force her to leave.
    One idea I’ve had was that there’s a greater group of fanatics who threaten her and everyone who’s defending her and she chooses to leave to protect herself and avoid being the reason for others peoples’ troubles.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Digital_Fey's Avatar
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    my character might be a bit too happy in her current setting. She has a loving mother, friends, a community of people supporting each other and is on good terms with the leader of this community. She also has a perspective work place, she’s already familiar with and has her future planned.
    The usual thing to do with characters who are very cosy in their current situation is to rip them out of it, brutally. This creates lots of action, tension, angst, etc., but it can also be the very thing the reader expects you to do.

    Basically, it sounds like there's a couple of viable directions for the plot to go in, and maybe the best way to pick one is to decide what you want to show about the character herself. Is she the kind of person who would sacrifice herself by leaving so that others don't get hurt? Does she secretly feel bored by having her future mapped out so precisely, stifled by her family's love, and in need of adventure? If she were to undergo a traumatic experience, such as being forced by violence to leave the city, would that provide a necessary impetus for her actions later in the story? Would it add another dimension to her character, make her stronger or more cynical?

    Just throwing some ideas out - hope it helps^^

  9. #9
    Senior Member Amanita's Avatar
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    Thank you.
    The usual thing to do with characters who are very cosy in their current situation is to rip them out of it, brutally.
    This might really be a good choice if it fits in.
    Yes, the various directions this can take are my problem at the moment. I have real trouble deciding. She's definitly supposed to stay relatively loyal to her city, this is very important for the plot. (She's supposed to help tracking down the people who've attacked the city and she won't be interesting in this if she's cast out to brutally. She's not that selfless.)

    Maybe I'll list the ideas I'm trying to decide among. (In no specific order.)
    a) Character wants and needs to learn about her magic and leaves the city willingly to travel to the country where she can do so.
    b) Character's family realises that she's in severe danger at home and can't learn, therefore they take her to the country where she can learn.
    c)Her magic stirs troubles between people who care for her and support her and fanatic traditionalists. She doesn't want to cause discord among them and leaves willingly.
    d) The fanatic traditionalists attack her, she manages to escape/gets help and leaves because it would be too dangerous to stay.
    e) Same as above, but she uses her abilities to fight them, kills or severely injures one or more of them and even the people who used to care about her a freaked out. She's forced to leave because of that.
    f) Two members of the magical organisation come to her city looking for an enemy of theirs who has chlorine magic as well, instead they find the character and take her with them to get her taught.
    g)The enemies try to recruit her, she refuses and has to leave so she can get protection and they won't harm the people near her.
    h) The enemies actually abduct her and she escapes somewhere in the middle of nowwhere and travels on from there.
    i) As above but she is freed by members of the magical organisation and goes with them.

    Many possibilities, as you can see. Any thoughts?

  10. #10
    I like your idea of injuring the attackers and it freaks out those that he/she calls friends, forcing her to leave because she is now seen as an outsider.

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