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How do you get readers to accept a story that is not a character study? (1 Viewer)

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ironpony

Senior Member
I wrote a screenplay that is a thriller, but the readers are saying that I really should go into the group of villains' backgrounds more. How they all they met, grew up, and formed the group of antagonists that they are. But I feel that the script is not that kind of script though.

For example in a movie like Die Hard, you have group a villains who are commiting their crimes, but they not do go into the backgrounds of who they all are, how they met, etc. There is some explanation as to who they are, but they do not make an entire biography out of it. It's just not that kind of movie or story. And a lot of other thrillers are the same way, where they don't make a biography out of those sorts of things.

So how do you get a reader to accept that it it's not that kind of story instead of them feeling that it should be a character study instead, or be a genre or type of story that it's not. Am I doing something to make them feel cheated perhaps, if they are thinking that?
 

LadySilence

Senior Member
Reader and spectator have one thing in common:
80% of them want to know everything.


You can't convince everyone, you can create characters with a strong charisma, who make you forget many questions.


I personally love a little bit of mystery in the characters. I find it stimulating.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I don't believe the entire background of my characters is necessary - only the pieces that are relevant to the story. Beyond that, I dislike core-dumps regarding character history, and feel it is more effective to dribble it out when pertinent and appropriate.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
It doesn't sound like your story would benefit from it. Do your readers say they don't understand the motivations of the characters or something like that? Even then I doubt you'd need backstory. You could find other ways to make sure motivations are apparent.
 

apocalypsegal

Senior Member
My opinion is that you have the wrong people reading your work. The point of beta readers is to have someone who understands and enjoys your genre, and who has some notion of how a good story works, and it seems you don't have anything close to that.

The thing to remember is that everyone has an opinion. It's valid to them, but it may be totally wrong. And just because someone says something doesn't mean you have to agree. Person A says one thing, and you jump on that, then Person B says the opposite, and you jump on that, on and on and on. This is not how you write, or at least, it isn't how anyone can get to a finished story.
 

Sam

General
Patron
Who's not accepting stories that aren't character studies?

Thrillers can have as much or as little backstory as you deem necessary, but the idea that people won't accept the story unless you forensically tell the history of the villains is asinine.

I suspect you misunderstood these readers' motives. They may have been telling you to flesh out the villains more; to give them a reason for their modus operandi; to make them less like cookie cutter villains and more like well-rounded characters who are doing what they're doing for any number of reasons ranging from religious, political, or the entire gamut in between.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I agree with Sam even though you said at some point that would imply a rewrite. But keep writing and maybe you will have to meet with the reader's demands. If we examine what some consider a popular opinion movies are rewritten all the time. Tootsie was rewritten 50 times. You can take a look to verify that happened and different writers were hired and some were not included in the credits. I don't know the exact number. But it was many writers which implies a lot of rewrites.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
The thing to remember is that everyone has an opinion. It's valid to them, but it may be totally wrong. And just because someone says something doesn't mean you have to agree. Person A says one thing, and you jump on that, then Person B says the opposite, and you jump on that, on and on and on. This is not how you write, or at least, it isn't how anyone can get to a finished story.

This was my experience with Beta Readers. I could agree that if EVERY beta reader mentions the same thing, pay attention. The rest is just the noise of opinion. I farmed out my first novel to four beta readers. Not one note matched that of another beta reader, including an "editor" I paid $60 for her notes.

Now, by the time I wrote my first novel, I was a fairly experienced writer with upwards of 2.5 million words I'd been paid for. I wasn't concerned with elementary grammar or plotting issues. The issues I found to concentrate on in revision came through my own research, and were never mentioned by the beta readers. It was my first, and intentionally last, desire to use beta readers.

For anyone but a novice author who is not an effective writer, beta readers amount to acceding to the demands of a committee. Committees tend to mongrelize decisions to the lowest common denominator. That is not a result any author should aspire to.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
You mentioned Die Hard as an example of stories that don't need background info for the characters. The villains in that movie were not given a background, because they didn't need one. They were thieves, well organized thieves, but that's it. I believe in your story, the villains are raping women because of some perceived slights made against them. This in fact, does require some explanation. The characters themselves have noted their backgrounds and made pleas to some sense of moral/emotional outrage. If you are going to make this their calling card, then yeah, the readers will need more info for the villains or they will fall flat. If they were simply a gang of thugs that kidnap, rape and sell women into slavery, we don't need to know their backgrounds as it wouldn't factor into the reason they are doing the crimes. But for your villains, their backgrounds are necessary for them to do the crimes.

When the motivation is simple, the whys become simple as well. When the motivation is complex, the whys are necessary for the viewer/reader to get on board.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Who's not accepting stories that aren't character studies?

Thrillers can have as much or as little backstory as you deem necessary, but the idea that people won't accept the story unless you forensically tell the history of the villains is asinine.
[...]

I believe that readers want to relate at some level to the main characters in the story (even the villains). But adding too much backstory weighs it down, so it's best to be judicious about how much history you include. That said though, our past creates our perspective of the world and others around us, but that history is important only in so much that it provides perspective, which becomes our core motive behind most everything we do.

The notion that a group policemen are running around raping women because of slights from their past seems a stretch to me. There has to be more to it. That backstory is necessary, it's a major aspect of your story, and as such needs be explored and explained to the reader's satisfaction.

Every person is the hero of their own story, even the worst of us believe they are entitled or are justified in what they do - even if the outcome is horrific.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
You mentioned Die Hard as an example of stories that don't need background info for the characters. The villains in that movie were not given a background, because they didn't need one. They were thieves, well organized thieves, but that's it. I believe in your story, the villains are raping women because of some perceived slights made against them. This in fact, does require some explanation. The characters themselves have noted their backgrounds and made pleas to some sense of moral/emotional outrage. If you are going to make this their calling card, then yeah, the readers will need more info for the villains or they will fall flat. If they were simply a gang of thugs that kidnap, rape and sell women into slavery, we don't need to know their backgrounds as it wouldn't factor into the reason they are doing the crimes. But for your villains, their backgrounds are necessary for them to do the crimes.

When the motivation is simple, the whys become simple as well. When the motivation is complex, the whys are necessary for the viewer/reader to get on board.

Yeah that's true. Well I wrote it so that when the police are investigating the crimes, a forensic psychologist explains why the villains are doing what they are doing. But is that not enough of an explanation though? Like if the police understand the psychologist's explanation, can the reader then?

I believe that readers want to relate at some level to the main characters in the story (even the villains). But adding too much backstory weighs it down, so it's best to be judicious about how much history you include. That said though, our past creates our perspective of the world and others around us, but that history is important only in so much that it provides perspective, which becomes our core motive behind most everything we do.

The notion that a group policemen are running around raping women because of slights from their past seems a stretch to me. There has to be more to it. That backstory is necessary, it's a major aspect of your story, and as such needs be explored and explained to the reader's satisfaction.

Every person is the hero of their own story, even the worst of us believe they are entitled or are justified in what they do - even if the outcome is horrific.

Oh sorry, it's not policeman that are the villains doing the crimes. The police are trying to stop them. But how much backstory is necessary though? In a movie like Seven for example, you hardly get any backstory on the villain, and the mystery is more interesting. So how was a movie like Seven able to get away with very little backstory then? But the readers want a history with each individual member of the group, and I really feel like that will slow and bog the story down though.
 
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Newman

Senior Member
I wrote a screenplay that is a thriller, but the readers are saying that I really should go into the group of villains' backgrounds more. How they all they met, grew up, and formed the group of antagonists that they are. But I feel that the script is not that kind of script though.

For example in a movie like Die Hard, you have group a villains who are commiting their crimes, but they not do go into the backgrounds of who they all are, how they met, etc. There is some explanation as to who they are, but they do not make an entire biography out of it. It's just not that kind of movie or story. And a lot of other thrillers are the same way, where they don't make a biography out of those sorts of things.

So how do you get a reader to accept that it it's not that kind of story instead of them feeling that it should be a character study instead, or be a genre or type of story that it's not. Am I doing something to make them feel cheated perhaps, if they are thinking that?


Just like that, tell them it's like Die Hard.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Oh sorry, it's not policeman that are the villains doing the crimes. The police are trying to stop them. But how much backstory is necessary though? In a movie like Seven for example, you hardly get any backstory on the villain, and the mystery is more interesting. So how was a movie like Seven able to get away with very little backstory then? But the readers want a history with each individual member of the group, and I really feel like that will slow and bog the story down though.

is part of your police procedure discovering the motive as a way to predict the criminals behavior?
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Not really. The discovery of the motive is there more for the readers benefit, but it doesn't have anything to do with the methods on how the villains are caught though.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
Yeah that's true. Well I wrote it so that when the police are investigating the crimes, a forensic psychologist explains why the villains are doing what they are doing. But is that not enough of an explanation though? Like if the police understand the psychologist's explanation, can the reader then?
Without the psychologist knowing who the villains are she won't be able to make a details analysis for each member of the gang. She would only be able to give an overall breakdown of incels and their motivations.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Without the psychologist knowing who the villains are she won't be able to make a details analysis for each member of the gang. She would only be able to give an overall breakdown of incels and their motivations.

But I want the villains to remain unknown for a large part if it though. It's not until the last third, or the last act when the police discover who the invidual members are. But of course the reader wants an explanation on why they are doing what they are doing beforehand of course. So couldn't the psychologist give an overall explaination in the beginning, for the overall group, without needing to know each member at that point? If the psychologist knew who they are all, right from the beginning, the police would be too far ahead in the plot already.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
But I want the villains to remain unknown for a large part if it though. It's not until the last third, or the last act when the police discover who the invidual members are. But of course the reader wants an explanation on why they are doing what they are doing beforehand of course. So couldn't the psychologist give an overall explaination in the beginning, for the overall group, without needing to know each member at that point? If the psychologist knew who they are all, right from the beginning, the police would be too far ahead in the plot already.
My first thought about this was the movie, Silence of the Lambs. They showed us the killer, but didn't give us an explanation of his whys, only that he was clearly disturbed. As the movie progressed, we got more and more information about the man that rounded out his issues.

So, I'd suggest you take a look at Silence of the Lambs and see how it handled this dilemma of not giving the reader a ton of information about the serial killer, but still giving enough to keep us interested.
 

ironpony

Senior Member
Okay thanks. Actually The Silence of the Lambs was a big inspiration for me early on in the writing process, and feel my story is similar in tone. But I was inspired more by the movie Seven though. But it seems the readers want an explanation of everything and everyone right away, or at least a lot more. The Silence of the Lambs and Seven for example, don't become a character study of the villain or a fleshed out biography of sorts, where as the readers want that for mine. But are the readers wanting the story to be something it's not, when I was inspired more by The Silence of the Lambs or Seven?
 
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