A jerk, but not a villain?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ireth, Jul 5, 2018.

  1. Ireth

    Ireth Mythic Scribe

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    So I'm working on a fanfic at the moment and having trouble with a minor character. The story is of the modern-Earth-girl-falls-into-Middle-earth type, and the plot focuses on said girl arriving early in the First Age of Arda and being the first human the plot-relevant elves have ever heard of, much less met. The problem character is an elf named Ervellas, who is suspicious of the MC and her intentions from the start, believing her to be a spy for the Enemy and/or some improved less hideous version of an orc.

    Ervellas is far from the only elf to treat the MC poorly (and on the flipside, just as many elves are perfectly kind and ready to help her), but he is the worst of the lot. My trouble lies in fleshing him out -- I don't want to set him up as the ultimate villain of the story, and I'm not sure about giving him a Heel-Face Turn yet. But he needs to be more than "that jerk who hates the MC beyond all reason". The story is largely told from the MC's POV, but there are several sections that show what the elves do/say/think when the MC is asleep or elsewhere. Ervellas is also not intended to be a large part of the story, falling out of relevance after the MC and a few of the friendly elves embark on a journey while Ervellas remains behind; he may or may not return at the end, depending how the plot turns out. How do I show that while he's mistrustful of one character because she's different, doesn't mean he's completely an awful person?
     
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    He doesn't like strangers, of any sort. (you could build a backstory explanation for that, or not)

    She inadvertently offends him in some way, and he does not forgive easily. Instead of offense, it could be she does something that endangers someone or something, or she unwittingly tromps on sacred ground or the like.

    You could make him comic. He keeps predicting some action of hers will cause a house to erupt in fire, or all the cattle will die, or such like. Never happens, of course.

    But I gotta ask: why? What plot purpose does this arbitrary opposition serve? Especially if it's going to be left behind without consequences?
     
  3. Ireth

    Ireth Mythic Scribe

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    The first option seems most reasonable, but I'd have other trouble in demonstrating it. The only other people Ervellas and his people (Sea-elves/Falathrim specifically) would be in contact with are other elves, most likely either the Sindar or the Noldor. Dwarves are an option, but they don't travel close to the Sea and thus aren't likely to ever encounter the Sea-elves on their own turf, and I'm not sure how far inland the Sea-elves would typically travel either. The MC and her friends will encounter the Sindar later when they reach Doriath; I haven't yet worked out what role the Noldor will play aside from Finrod, as they ultimately end up traveling much further east so he can have his first sight of the Edain.

    Your last question is a valid one. Mostly Ervellas' jerkish attitude is there to avoid the cliche of "plain, ordinary girl ends up among elves/other much more beautiful/powerful people and everyone instantly wants to be her friend/love interest". (The love interest part will be completely averted, in part by virtue of the MC being aromantic/asexual.) I could have Ervellas join the traveling company from the start, but why would he want to spend so much time around someone he dislikes so much? And why would the others put up with him or let him come at all if they know he's a jerk to the MC?
     
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    That reason is more of a plot device than a necessity. Why have everyone else like her from the start? They might be alarmed, confused, intrigued, fearful. There's plenty of room for ambiguous reactions.

    About the quest: maybe arrange it so several elves must go along, including some who don't like the MC or who at least mistrust her. Ervellas can be the leader of that faction. Another faction might worry about the MC but the quest is more important so they're willing to go along. Maybe only one or two actually like her. Over the course of the journey, some might come around. They might even start to admire her or believe in her. And there'd be that one (doesn't have to be Ervellas) who still hates her and betrays the company at a critical moment.

    The main thing is, there needs to be solid story reasons for the various attitudes. If Ervellas is there merely to avoid one trope, that's only to step squarely into another--the default jerk. But do keep him. It creates conflict.
     
  5. Firefly

    Firefly Journeyman

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    I think this could be a really fun character. I think the idea of him being suspicious of her being some sort of 'improved orc' spy is fascinating. Him trying to investigate her or persuade others she isn't trustworthy would definitely make sense from that angle, especially if the idea of a magical orc spy isn't completely implausible.
    Another thing that could help would be fleshing out what his relationships were with the other elves before she showed up-particularly the ones she befriends. I can easily see them trying to persuade him to be less paranoid, or him deciding he MUST go on their quest to protect his friends from the Evil Human girl.

    Or maybe not that, I can't know what would be best for your story. But showing him as paranoid/suspicious/protective rather than unreasonably hateful seems like it would make sense, and sounds like an interesting story to me. And more complicated/fleshed out character relationships are always fun :)
     
  6. Ireth

    Ireth Mythic Scribe

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    Oh, there are definitely varied reactions, especially when they move from the wilderness where the MC first shows up to where the rest of the Falathrim live. I did say Ervellas isn't the only one to dislike her; he's just the one who dislikes her the most. Some are contemptuous of her and feel they're better than her for various reasons; others pity her for her disabilities and differences (she's nearsighted and autistic). Even some who take up the quest with her are not wholly friendly.

    Ooh, I like the idea of Ervellas inserting himself into the quest like that! It could make a certain future conflict I already have planned that much more painful. *rubs hands together eagerly*
     
  7. Hallen

    Hallen Journeyman

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    Most people have a fear of the "other". That fear is instinctually based in our genes because often the other was an enemy, or as a minimum, a competitor for scarce resources. It's natural to mistrust the other. (This doesn't meant that we can't rationally overcome this. It's also where experience and culture help a lot. This isn't necessarily about race. The other could be the same race, but wear their hair different, or speak a different language.)

    If this 'jerk' thinks the girl is a real threat to him, his family, and his people, maybe he's not really a jerk at all. He's just doing what he believes and is trying to protect his people. You just said she is the first human they have seen. Maybe she is a spy. Maybe she is an Orc's attempt at manufacturing something that looks like an elf to infiltrate them?

    If this were my story, and it's not so this is not instruction it's just opinion, I would write this guy that way. Not as a jerk, but as a person who thinks they are doing the right thing. Maybe some of his actions make him look like a jerk, and maybe that's how your MC sees him, but I would make him cautious, untrusting, loyal, dedicated, and somewhat outspoken. I would probably give him a reason in his past to not be trustful of others. I would also make him a bit petty and spiteful.
     
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  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istari

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    I think that all you need to do is give Ervellas a reason for being the way he is. Perhaps the other elves can comment on this behind his back. It can be a sympathetic reason or an irrational but understandable reason. "Ervellas is a jerk to everyone; don't mind him," or "Ervellas lost his wife during the summer; he's not been the same since."

    IF she's not his only target, but he's been problematic for others in the community as well, his ire is not solely directed at her and thus he probably won't come across as the villain, especially if his personality is woven into the fabric of the society from before she even arrived.
     
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  9. DragonOfTheAerie

    DragonOfTheAerie Valar Lord

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    Maybe Ervellas is just reacting to a very legitimate character flaw your heroine has.
     
  10. Ireth

    Ireth Mythic Scribe

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    Later on, possibly. To be frank, the MC is a self-insert so I'll have to be very aware of that. But his reaction to her is negative immediately upon meeting her -- all he knows is a) she's not an elf, b) she's injured and scared, and c) she doesn't seem to speak or understand more than a few words of Sindarin. That is the basis of his mistrust. There are a lot of barriers to them understanding each other before her flaws even come up.
     
  11. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Lore Master

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    Ervellas may dislike the main character because he has been around long enough to know that new people showing up have often brought major changes that have not always been good for him and those around him. Maybe he's been betrayed by falling for the charms of a "too-good-to-be-true" stranger in the past so he's weary of her and her motives. In other words try to find a reasonable - possibly partly justifiable - explanation of why he would dislike the main character.

    The thing you want to avoid is the "he dislikes her because she's female or different" cliche.
     
  12. Ireth

    Ireth Mythic Scribe

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    The first idea is the most viable, imo. There's zero chance of him falling for her charms, because she has zero interest in charming anyone -- as I mentioned before she's aro/ace; plus even if she wasn't, she would know better than to pursue interest in someone from another world if there was no guarantee they could actually make it work, whether by her staying with him in his world or him following her back to hers. As for "he dislikes her because she's different", that's literally canon for some of the elves, regarding both Dwarves and humans. I'm just taking it a step further with Ervellas' "she may be a spy or some new kind of orc!" rationalization.
     
  13. DylanRS

    DylanRS Apprentice

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    You said it yourself: "But he needs to be more than "that jerk who hates the MC beyond all reason"."

    Have you written the character to be hateful of the MC unreasonably? If your goal is to make Ervellas a tribal type who can't see past his reflexive fear, than you can achieve the "making him more than" by making him one of the major villains. But you said you wanted him fleshed out. Fleshed out doesn't have to mean sympathetic, but it seems that that's what you mean by it.

    Try roleplaying as Ervellas. Convince yourself that the MC is not to be trusted. Imagine being confronted by a more accepting elf who you care deeply about, and try to change their mind. It's possible, though not necessary, that you (as Ervellas) will yourself warm up a little to the MC. Edit: You don't need to make a scene about this for it to be helpful.

    But is Ervellas supposed to be ultimately reasonable? Or is he supposed be wrong for the right reasons? You can also just make him a jerk but not a villain, like your thread title suggests. What I mean is, you don't have to make him the center of attention just because he's a jerk. If he's going to be a block-headed obstacle, he doesn't have to evolve into the main conflict of the entire story.
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2018
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