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What Would Drive a Character To Torture Their Enemy

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by ShadeZ, Jun 25, 2020.

  1. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Sage

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    Generally I think of three core reasons character to torture their enemies. However, I am wondering what you all think might drive a character to torturing their foes. What sort of past would they have to have to be driven to that.

    -Desperation (Ex. Get information by a certain time or a world ending bomb will go off, self or friend is threatened)

    -Sadistic Nature (A character who tortures because they enjoy it (bad guys), or they regain calm and control from it (Dexter), or they have different mental persona from a human (a cat's sadistic nature))

    -Lack of Combat Knowledge (accidental) (person doesn't know where to hit to kill so instead they end up maiming the enemy)
     
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  2. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Rage
     
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  3. ryanzdawson

    ryanzdawson Dreamer

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    Hello. I am new to this forum.
    A character's nature might allow them to torture if they are unfeeling or if they believe the burden of compassion doesn't apply to their particular victim. A god torturing humans might not see any problem with their actions, for instance. Prejudice might permit torture, too. That is just what I think.
     
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  4. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Sage

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    Welcome. Thanks for the input. Also, forgot to add this to the main bit. Do you think an anti-hero/good guy could be justified in torturing someone if the enemy tried to torture then kill someone close to him particularly a love interest.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2020
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  5. ryanzdawson

    ryanzdawson Dreamer

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    That's a good and complicated question. Torture could be a line over which most readers wouldn't follow the protagonist, but I guess that depends who the protagonist is. The Punisher could probably get away with it. Batman has employed torture as well. Then again, the Terminator went around shooting people in the knees and that was mostly played for laughs. How did you, the viewer, feel about the hero doing that?

    I think it might be good for torture to have a lot of weight. It can be good to leave the reader wondering if they're ok with what happened. There's useful ambiguity built into the issue.

    Tl;dr: Maybe. If it's handled well. I wrote too much. I apologize.
     
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  6. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Sage

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    You wrote too much? I don't know that such concept exists in a WRITING guild lol. Good advice.

    The character's friend stops him and he even mentions that his reasoning is the evil person would do the same if their roles were reversed as the evil person just demonstrated. The friend argues he shouldn't bow to their level. Ultimately the friend wins that one. Their race is known to have a vicious bloodlust which can be handled with hunting, sparring, and in some cases physical activity like running, climbing etc. This character has a mutated various of the bloodlust that is very high and often can't be tamed with the milder methods resulting in his title: The Bloody One or The Scarlet Killer. This tends to give him an antihero reputation even though he is fully in control of his actions. He adopts a largely passive, calm, composed, attitude and tries to suppress the need for violence.

    It is the notion that he would have tortured someone and does if needed that I question if the reader will tolerate.
     
  7. Hir i-Chorvath

    Hir i-Chorvath Inkling

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    Revenge is a possible motive.

    Torturing your enemies is not a typical hero/good guy trait, and I think that it would make some readers uncomfortable because heroes/good guys are generally put on a pedestal of do no evil and be super righteous and all that. Where if a villain did the exact same thing, it is perfectly fine because they are the bad guy. That doesn't make too much sense to me, but that seems to be the way people think. Personally, I don't have a problem with it. Depending on how the readers feel about the character and what the character's moral code is so far will decide whether or not they will tolerate it.

    I hope that makes sense.
     
  8. ryanzdawson

    ryanzdawson Dreamer

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    Not that I know better than anyone else, but I'd say that as long as his personality in the rest of the story comports with his behavior in the would-be torture scene, then most audiences will keep following. Basically, as long as it's earned and doesn't seem like a sudden huge departure from character with no repercussions. He sounds like a dangerous person with some moral ambiguity to him, if I understand correctly. If he were squeaky clean and continued to be so after nearly torturing someone, then readers might be upset. I guess some people don't even want to read about torture anyway, which may be understandable. But some of those people might not want to read about The Bloody One and his unnaturally powerful bloodlust anyway. Basically, in my opinion it sounds like what you have works. I'd read it without qualms.
     
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  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I can tell you that in every book where torture figured prominently, the author lost me. I suppose it's possible for it to be done in such a way that I don't lose my suspension of disbelief, but it hasn't happened so far. The torture scenes in the James Bond stories are merely silly. The torturing in ASOFAI managed to go on too long and went from horrifying to merely repetetive and ludicrous. I couldn't follow Gene Wolfe's Torturer stories more than the first few chapters. With so much available to read, I don't need to do the reading equivalent of poking myself in the eye with a stick.

    Also, it is well and widely known that torture does not produce reliable results. So the author pretty much loses me at the premise.

    Oh wait. There's one exception. The Princess Bride. That one was done well. It did not linger too long on the gore, and in the end the torture didn't work.
     
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  10. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Sage

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    What about if the torturer had a built on lie detector though? So you couldn't just lie to tell him what he wants to hear.
     
  11. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    Some reasons I could think of...not necessarily an attempt to explain why the example character would...

    Because its was the plan. The boss said make it take a while and bring back proof.

    Temporary insanity, or temporary loss of better judgement

    To see how they get out of it (I think the joker employed this a bit).

    Demonic Possession, or just being a demon type creature instead.

    For deterrence, making an example out of one to stave off having to do it to others.

    Because its just. If Vladd the impaller had been captured, might not some have seen fit to impale him?

    Because there is no better alternative. I dont want to kill you, but I cant just let you go...

    Because it establishes who is in control.

    Because they want to see if its effective.

    To teach a lesson.

    To create a reputation.

    Because they like it....

    In the case of your anti-hero. I think your scene does the job. They wrestled with it, and got to look a little across the line, but were talked out of it, and saw the better choice. Seems to work for me.
     
  12. StrawhatOverlord

    StrawhatOverlord Scribe

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    Very deep despair and desperation I'd say, unless it's already something the character would do. Most people as a general rule are pretty averse to hurting and killing others. A character driven to kill in self-defense isn't that hard of a push because it's instinct to defend yourself, and they could reasonably get used to it over time and repetition. Sneak killing or sniping, or any other situation where they kill someone who hasn't done anything and is unaware of them demands more detachment, it's probably not something a character who has never killed another human(oid) could do, unless they've hunted or defended their farm/cattle, etc, then maybe they can associate it with that and not really think of it as killing someone.

    Torture on the other hand, is prolonged and purposeful infliction of suffering, it's not something you do in one action (or at least pretty quickly) like killing, you have to actively do it for a while, and it's up close and personal. It can't be instinct or detached by thinking of it like shooting rabbits or coyotes, you have to really want to do it. Plus as someone else pointed out, it doesn't really work, so unless you do a little break from realism and make it reliable it's really more of a just-for-fun thing a villain or a really angry anti-hero would do.
     
  13. MythicLearner

    MythicLearner Dreamer

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    I would say depending on the genre of your artist products.
    In the fantasy world, the torture might be a demon work an madness.
    In the realistic world, the character wants information from their enemies or to display of force to the public.
     
  14. Red Star

    Red Star Scribe

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    A personal grudge for sure. Also, I guess it depends on if you're character is "good", "bad" or morally ambiguous. Also if they think it for the good of the better whole, that might be a motivating factor.
     
  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >What about if the torturer had a built on lie detector though? So you couldn't just lie to tell him what he wants to hear.
    If I have a perfectly reliable lie detector, I don't need to torture. I need only ask questions. I can use sleep deprivation, food control, and a whole array of psychological tricks. Physical torture, while a common literary device, simply doesn't have a great track record. And the longer the torture or more violent the torture, the less reliable the results.

    But folks have given plenty of other reasons to inflict torture, including simply wanting to inflict pain without regard to gaining information.
     
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  16. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    This may be true, but it is presupposing the common knowledge of the characters in a story. I don't think this has been widely regarded as true during much of history. Its not required that it is effective, only that the character believes it will be. And I would question a statement like this, like all things it likely has varying degrees of success, and sometimes may be the right tool for the right scenario.
     
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  17. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Sure. I'm not arguing a position here, just saying how I react to stories that feature torture as a key component.
     
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  18. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

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    I don't think people realize just how easy it is to cross that line. All that is needed are the right stressors.

    A guy I know told me that he had been having a mad month, work trouble, money trouble, and family trouble. One day he came home and his nieces dog that he was watching had dug up all the plants he had planted the week before. He told me he grabbed the dog, pushed it's nose into the dirt and hit it a few times, and again in another spot where it dug. He said there was no thinking, just anger, like he was watching from behind his own eyes. Kind of like he wasn't doing, wasn't in control. He said it was like all that stress, all those worries, confusion, fear, everything snapped together and became anger that he had no control over. Everything else vanished leaving only anger and it felt liberating not having to feel all those other emotions all jumbled together in a mass of confusion and fear. As soon as he stepped back he told me all he could feel was shame, shame that lasted for the next 3 days. The worst part was he knew it wasn't the dogs fault, he knew he needed to put a fence up, and that if he had it wouldn't have happened. But that it was nice for one second to have all those emotions directed at something else. But he told me that he was glad that happened, he had never dreamed it possible to do such a thing, like most of us only bad people do such things and he never saw himself as a bad person. He realized that he was just as capable of doing terrible things as true monsters, of becoming a monster. He said, "don't ever think your incapable of purposefully hurting someone. Understand that, and do everything you can to make sure you never get to that point."

    See I know this guy, and he is a decent well educated all around good guy. I would never have expected him to do such a thing. I think the ability to hurt others is within all of us and much easier than people want to admit to themselves. So all that being said I don't think it unreasonable for a character to torture someone if they feel overwhelmed by everything, it takes very little to tip the balance into anger. Once there it takes a truly great person to not let anger control them.
     
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  19. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

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    Culture.

    There are any number of cultures both in the past and even still today for whom torture was/is just fine and anyone unwilling to use it was unlikely to be in charge.

    Of course, presenting torture as culturally OK (by a protagonist) to a modern readership would be a challenge.
     
  20. Stable_Idiot

    Stable_Idiot Dreamer

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    Since I didn't see it mentioned, faith in a cause or belief in the righteousness of their action. That could make a 'Good' character do something like torture but you'd have to have quite an extensive setup to make it work. Along the lines of 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions', the good character would have to have some kind of moral descent to the point where torture because of a belief would work; otherwise, as mentioned above, readers will reject the idea.

    Could make for a fun redemption arc though, getting to the point and then stepping back from the metaphorical precipice.
     
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