Solving Problems with Violence?

#1
I've received some comments about my protagonist being wimpy.  I take no issue with this; I wrote him to be that way, after all.  It's just that when brought into the context of my story - a world where violence is a more regular occurrence than ours - some readers are of the mind that having a mostly-pacifistic protagonist is a bad thing.

I wrote him to be against violence, and to be of the belief that it is only to be used in self-defense, but I'm getting the feeling that readers don't like this.

So my question is this; is solving problems with violence going to bring in more readers in the long run?

Re: Solving Problems with Violence?

#2
Aang from ATLA is a decent example of a character who believes in nonaggression, but as a character he is still realistic enough to engage in violence when it's ultimately necessary. This is why the scenes when he enters the Avatar state are so impactful: they show the exact moment Aang becomes serious and accepts what must be done. 

I haven't read your story yet, so I'm just assuming that you're asking because your character might be perceived as being too passive. I think there are ways you can make it work, but ultimately plot is driven by conflict. Maybe this character does something violent and has regrets. Perhaps this character mis-judges a situation and acts violently in a situation that would have resolved peacefully without their intervention. How would your character feel? Take that a step further, if you were your characters therapist, what might that character reveal to you about it? 

It's all about finding conflict, whether that means physical violence or an inner struggle. Finding the right balance is the secret ingredient. 

Re: Solving Problems with Violence?

#3
It all depends on what audience you are aiming for.  There are audiences that will not be turned off by a main character that uses his brain before his fists.  You can have conflict, tension, and excitement that doesn't involve blood being spilled, too.  Your skill as a writer can create anything you like, if it is up to the task.  

Some genres will be more challenging to be a pacifist in.  Adventure stories that aren't Man Vs Environment for example.  But there are exceptions.  Look up Desmond Doss, for one.  WWII, he was a conscientious objector.  Didn't carry a gun.  Still a hero, though.  

If you go all bloody mayhem, you will be pitching for a *different* audience.  Some people like pineapple on pizza.  Some people are weird.  Having a taste for violence in their vicarious reading is not a bad thing.

Just be aware that it will be an additional challenge as a writer.  Challenges can be good.  But be also warned if you want the most eyeballs on your work, you'll want to pitch to the most common denominators.  Don't look down on lowbrow but popular- that's where all the people are.  A simple story, written well is a much, much harder thing to do than it is to say.  Generations of men and women better than you and me have spent their lives at it.  Some few of them succeeded.  Most of them that did worked hard for it.

Good luck and write often.

Re: Solving Problems with Violence?

#4
Nah. People are gonna complain no matter what you write. Just do your thing and stick to your vision. 

I haven't read your work so I can't comment on it specifically. Just remember that the difference between being a pacifist and being a 'wimp' is often how proactive a person is. A pacifist might need to work quite a bit to keep themselves safe, be that through networking, money, intelligence, misdirection or being strong enough to dissuade attackers in the first place. As long as your character is not turning a blind eye to and ignoring his own vulnerability repeatedly, it's probably fine. 

Also RR is home to a lot of action stories and a lot of people expect that sort of thing. It might be good if your synopsis hints at the character being a pacifist so that people who want action can just look elsewhere. 

Re: Solving Problems with Violence?

#5

Haust Wrote: Nah. People are gonna complain no matter what you write. Just do your thing and stick to your vision. 

I haven't read your work so I can't comment on it specifically. Just remember that the difference between being a pacifist and being a 'wimp' is often how proactive a person is. A pacifist might need to work quite a bit to keep themselves safe, be that through networking, money, intelligence or being strong enough to dissuade attackers in the first place. As long as your character is not turning a blind eye to and ignoring their own vulnerability repeatedly, it's probably fine. 

Also RR is home to a lot of action stories and a lot of people expect that sort of thing. It might be good if your synopsis hints at the character being a pacifist so that people who want action can just look elsewhere.
My protagonist is in a teaching role, so I had hoped that would bring across the idea that he's trying to set a good example by trying to deescalate conflict with words as opposed to arms.

Re: Solving Problems with Violence?

#6
From a purely statistical standpoint, I'd say yes since action and violence seems to appeal to a greater number of casual readers. However, you should write what you want to write. To me it sometimes takes more courage to stand for one's convictions than to give in to societal norms.  Plus, that conviction gives the MC some depth and I'm more likely to root for them. 

Re: Solving Problems with Violence?

#8

BewareTheChain Wrote:
Haust Wrote: Nah. People are gonna complain no matter what you write. Just do your thing and stick to your vision. 

I haven't read your work so I can't comment on it specifically. Just remember that the difference between being a pacifist and being a 'wimp' is often how proactive a person is. A pacifist might need to work quite a bit to keep themselves safe, be that through networking, money, intelligence or being strong enough to dissuade attackers in the first place. As long as your character is not turning a blind eye to and ignoring their own vulnerability repeatedly, it's probably fine. 

Also RR is home to a lot of action stories and a lot of people expect that sort of thing. It might be good if your synopsis hints at the character being a pacifist so that people who want action can just look elsewhere.
My protagonist is in a teaching role, so I had hoped that would bring across the idea that he's trying to set a good example by trying to deescalate conflict with words as opposed to arms.
Hah, I don't envy him his job then. Getting kids to listen is hard enough to do in mundane reality. :D 

Maybe the teaching role is exactly the problem. A lot of people are just taught naivety in school under the name of pacifism. Pacifism, while not necessarily complicated, is just one of those things that has to be taught with a real pinch of philosophy and education in conflict solving. 

Maybe your issue is that the complaining people had teachers who just told them stuff like "good people are nice" and therefore thinks it's annoying to read about a pacifistic teacher? 

Re: Solving Problems with Violence?

#13
Violence is rarely the right answer. But when it is, it’s the only answer. I think it's fine to have a nonviolent protagonist on RR. I mean, just look at the top two novels on this site. Jinn from Beware of Chicken is extremely peaceful. IIRC, he only fights with one other human during Volume 1, and that's in someone else's defense. Zorion from Mother of Learning fights more often than Jinn, but it's never the first solution he reaches for.

Your character's "wimpiness" might be a bigger potential problem. I think courage is arguably a required trait in main characters because people who live in fear rarely have any impact on the world, and the main character needs to change his/her world by the end of the story. Otherwise, someone else in that story deserves to be the protagonist.

Courage doesn't mean "eager for a fight though." Instead, it's the happy medium between cowardice and recklessness.

Re: Solving Problems with Violence?

#15
whilst violence is very common for mcs on rr, i don't think it's violence that readers want. what readers want is a hyper competent protagonist. 

or at the very least a protagonist who is very clearly hinted at becoming a badass later on. how competent a character is depends on the environment. 

put a pacifist who's a cooking prodigy - better than gordon ramsey - in a story about cooking, then audiences will percieve that character to be high in competence. but put that same character in a fighting based narrative like dragon ball z and they'll 0.5 bomb your story and call your mc a whiny lil bitch. not that they should, but that how it be on this site :/ peocrying

Re: Solving Problems with Violence?

#16
There are some decent films about Gandhi, so it's not impossible to have an interesting story with even a pacifist if you feel like it. In litRPG, and similar genres, it might be rare because RPGs often centre around combat. However, even there it is possible to have a pacifist run or non-combat role where fights are rare. There are a few heroes in fiction who are renowned for being reluctant about killing, like Batman, though he is often violent. The Bhagavad Gita is a renowned part of the Mahabharata, that occurs when a major character has misgivings about fighting his family members, and has to be convinced of it at length.

It is worth being cautious about the peaceful protagonist, however, in terms of not making them look too out-of-place. It is possible to have a reluctant protagonist, as the Raimi Spider-Man films often attempted, but even in those films the hand-wringing could sometimes come across as overdone. Thomas Covenant offers another example of a protagonist who is reluctant and feels guilt, but is still carried through the story. Ashoka was known as a belligerent monarch who converted to Buddhism due to the violence of war. Even Star Wars has Jedi who are often reluctant about killing and extravagant violence. If the action is disrupted by conscientious segments for much of the story, then it might hold the story back slightly. If the hero develops into a conflicted yet possibly heroic figure, then it could work effectively.

However, obviously many novels have opted for protagonists who are somewhat amoral towards violence, from Prince of Thorns to Reverend Insanity. These also have their place, because having too many Jedi would get dull. However, the reluctantly violent hero is actually a fairly common archetype, and many well-known heroic tales involve figures who are conflicted about their violence. From some points of view, the Jedi are moral, from other points of view they are dull and evil. Fiction has veered in both directions.

Re: Solving Problems with Violence?

#17

David Wrote: Violence is rarely the right answer. But when it is, it’s the only answer. I think it's fine to have a nonviolent protagonist on RR. I mean, just look at the top two novels on this site. Jinn from Beware of Chicken is extremely peaceful. IIRC, he only fights with one other human during Volume 1, and that's in someone else's defense. Zorion from Mother of Learning fights more often than Jinn, but it's never the first solution he reaches for.

Your character's "wimpiness" might be a bigger potential problem. I think courage is arguably a required trait in main characters because people who live in fear rarely have any impact on the world, and the main character needs to change his/her world by the end of the story. Otherwise, someone else in that story deserves to be the protagonist.

Courage doesn't mean "eager for a fight though." Instead, it's the happy medium between cowardice and recklessness.
Thing is, the reason he's considered "wimpy" right now is because the story hasn't progressed enough for him to improve.  I want my readers to know that he definetely does grow bolder, but I don't want to spoil them

Re: Solving Problems with Violence?

#18

Chrolllo Wrote: whilst violence is very common for mcs on rr, i don't think it's violence that readers want. what readers want is a hyper competent protagonist. 

or at the very least a protagonist who is very clearly hinted at becoming a badass later on. how competent a character is depends on the environment. 

put a pacifist who's a cooking prodigy - better than gordon ramsey - in a story about cooking, then audiences will percieve that character to be high in competence. but put that same character in a fighting based narrative like dragon ball z and they'll 0.5 bomb your story and call your mc a whiny lil bitch. not that they should, but that how it be on this site :/ peocrying
I supposed that's another thing I'm confused about.  While there is the odd action fight scene to break it up, my story is mainly a kind of comedy/drama/romance(?) thing.  I don't know what to call it, but it's certainly not packed to the gills with action.

Re: Solving Problems with Violence?

#19
All drama revolves around conflict.

Now, the RoyalRoad audience has a definite preference for stories with physical conflict, being a crowd with a deep love of Shonen manga and anime, - but that doesn't mean that a pacifist protag is automatically bad. You might have to be a bit more creative when it comes to setting up and resolving the conflicts in your story in a way that engages the reader, but, well, we're writers. Being creative is what we do.

It might be instructive to take a look at the Dramatic Protagonist versus the Iconic Protagonist, here. I'm cribbing this from the excellent game designer and writer, Robin D Laws, and I recommend his podcast with writer and game designer Kenneth Hite, "Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff" as an excellent resource in practical writing tips and general esoteric weirdness.

The Dramatic Protagonist is someone like Hamlet. They have a dramatic arc - an internal conflict or contradiction that they resolve through the course of the story, reaching a new synthesis by the climax. "Do I merk my step-dad just 'cos some ghost told me to? Is familial vengeance even a good thing?" Hamlet asks himself over the course of three agonizing hours, finally coming to a resolution that leaves everyone in Denmark dead because tragedy.

Your Iconic Protagonist is someone like Batman or Indiana Jones. They have a Heroic Ethos, a set of ideals they personify and uphold. They are presented with a conflict, and through re-stating and upholding that heroic ethos, they resolve the conflict. 

Joker poisons the water supply: Batman hunts down the clues and by virtue of being The World's Greatest Detective, solves the mystery, concocts an antidote, and karate-chops all the goons. By virtue of Batman-ing hard enough, he solves the conflict.

Indiana Jones races to beat the bad archaeologist and the Nazis to find the Arc of the Covenant. Along the way he performs being a Noble Action Archaeologist hard enough (and by respecting the original mythology and heritage of the civilisation whose artefacts he is questing for enough) that he is able to win through in the end. 

An Iconic Protagonist can develop and change as a person - but it's always in the direction of refining and better expressing their Heroic Ethos. Batman is never going to stop being Batman - he's just going to get better at Batman-ing. 

So: For you, I would sit down and look at your pacifist MC.

- What is his Heroic Ethos?
- Why is he a pacifist in a world full of violence?
- How does re-stating and reifying his Heroic Ethos resolve conflicts?
- Is he a strict or conditional pacifist? The man with a violent past who has forsaken violence, but will resort to violence only if sorely pressed and in the defence of others, is a well worn pulp fiction trope (See: the gunfighter who hung up his six-shooter coming back for one last gunfight to save the town). Perhaps your MC can kick ass, and because he can, he knows when he shouldn't.

In any case: Yes, you should know what the audience wants and give it to them... but sometimes the audience doesn't know what it wants until they read it. Nobody knew they needed space wizards cavorting around the galaxy with laser swords teamed up with a teddy bear, a cowboy and Robot-Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern until Star Wars came out and suddenly it was all anybody was talking about and got robbed of the 1978 Best Picture Oscar (Annie Hall? Seriously?).

No, you're not the next George Lucas, but there's no reason a well crafted story with a pacifist protag can't find an audience even on a platform chock full of Shonen-inspired MCs. Take the audience feedback on board and think about how you can incorporate it, yes, but at the same time, the real pull in Shonen is the emotional conflicts that are externalised through violence. If you can unlock that same dynamic by avoiding violence? That could be golden.

Re: Solving Problems with Violence?

#20
anything can bring in an audience but what you are doing and the opposite of what you are doing. The question is do you want the audience that you get from what you make and enjoy creating or the audience that is created by having to change core aspects of what you make.

I will say a pacifist character reminds me of making a paladin in d&d seem intimidating. I had a speech on that character once that was used for intimidation that went something like.

"Oh I know that I have my oath. I know that if I go against it I will lose everything that I have been blessed with, but every day the darkness that I see is bringing me ever closer and even I don't know how much longer I can last before I break."

"You might think so what? Someone who has so many morals can't possibly have a cruel mind, but I've seen cruelty you can't imagine and it's stayed in my mind without a single means of release and when I finally let it out and lose that which I devoted myself to I'll have no reason to hold back and more ideas on how to improve the cruelest things I've seen to make them even more cruel."

"The question is. Do you want to be the one to see when someone who has bathed in the light decides to embrace the darkness that has always tried to take hold personally?"