Sunday, June 21, 2009

Victim of Fictional Circumstances

victim--a character who is the recipient of a real or imagined injustice; an individual affected adversely; one whose agenda, health, plans, and general sense of well being is diverted or destroyed by an outside force.

Victims have real estate with a view on the literary landscape, seemingly standing in line to be first to claim the role. A victim, by definition has experienced (or believes he has experienced) some force of event that has derailed his aspirations and his hoped for rewards, allowing him in some cases to stop all developmental motion, take on the mantle of the martyr, and luxuriate in the misfortune. Other victims of birth or circumstance or both get up, brush off the dust, then get back to the business at hand.

He or she who proclaims victimhood the loudest is likely suspect of malingering or playing on sympathy. Neither is attractive. A character is a victim as a consequence of having ventured something, taken a risk, hoped a hope. Such activity is not lost on the reader, who is now prepared to invest hard earned empathy in such a character, thus whatever the character who has suffered reversals does next has a marked influence on the reader.

There is a delicate balance to accepting one's fate; should one go meekly or with a fight? Should one wail loudly after reversal (such as, say, Silas Marner, when his miserly stash was stolen), or be the stoic? It helps to know the character in some detail before inflicting the status of victim on him; his response may well provide the exit strategy for the story. Does a setback enhance the character's forward inertia or diminish it?

A character who wishes to avenge victim status (See The Count of Monte Cristo, see also The Mayor of Casterbridge) is a good candidate for reader sympathy. Even Ahab, setting forth the hunt down the whale, though extreme, nevertheless excites our understanding and sympathy, even our grudging respect. A character who welcomes victim status as an excuse for avoiding future venture is an individual who will not have many rooters among the readership.

Hint: To stir up the potential of mischief for the sake of creating new stories, consider your take on Herman Melville's eponymous Bartleby, "pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn," then consider his inner core. Consider how you would portray him if you were an actor, and how you would move him forth as a character you had created. Is Bartleby a victim?

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