How to make a character not turn into a 'brooding vengeful outcast' when something tragic happens to him.

Question: Ok so, for my story, my main character is living his life, trying to stay away from the troubles of the world. However, because of an unresolved situation in his past, tragedy befalls him and his wife and child are killed, prompting him to take action and solve the problem before it becomes worse.


However, I don't want him to become that generic 'gritty, brooding' 30-something year old male with a chip on his shoulder who's out to avenge his family. I just feel like that's been done too many times, (e.g. Gladiator, Every shooter game out there, etc.) and it would sorta rob him of a real personality. I was going to make so there's at least some hope left by having his child taken from him instead of killed, but then it might more like a damsel in distress thing.

So I guess what I'm asking is: how do I shape his personality so that this tragedy doesn't turn him into an emotionless avenger? Or should I run with it, and try to make it original in some other way?

Answer: I agree. The Byronesque character you describe, though effective, is so prevalent it is becoming a cliche. (For that matter, so is the police detective whose wife's unsolved murder is the thing that drives him.)

One way to breathe new life into a stereotype or a genre is to imagine this situation happening to a character you can believe in -- someone more like the people you know. Have him react in ways that seem more authentic and less cliched, or that are more like how you always wanted to see a character react. Don't let the model limit you. Make a character someone like you can relate to.

Something to consider...

It is true that the brooding, hostile persona is typical of someone who has gone through a severe trauma to the point where they may reject the community they belong to, believing it no longer functions in a way that serves its members (protecting the innocent). Such a character may take the law into their own hands, or try to sabotage the community.

Someone who handles stress and trauma better might instead appeal to the authorities to take action, or try to change the community to make it work.

Others might reject the community, but then try to build a new one that can function better than the old.

It also makes a difference if the person has support from others who can help them work through the trauma, rebuild trust, and reconnect them to the community's shared values.

It's also true that some communities can start to fail because they, as a whole, have suffered trauma (war, economic collapse, plague, natural disaster, civil war, etc.) and have become less capable of coping with new threats. These communities really aren't serving their members. And there are communities that don't try to serve their members, only the interests of the leaders (tyrannies, oligarchies, totalitarian states).

Such communities may need a way to heal or evolve. They need people who can move the community past the trauma and towards a better vision.

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