Solidifying my story goal

by Ashy
(USA)

Hi Glen! I just want your opinion on my protagonist's story goal.


I'm currently writing a dystopian novel about a group of people living in a totalitarian-like government after the apocalypse. This government, the world's last hope of civilization, is trying to find new resources on their destroyed earth while developing the most perfect, efficient society they can. However, they have cruel - yet effective - methods (for example they kill those who get in their way, eat human flesh as an alternative to traditional meats, and torture some of their citizens for research). My protagonist sees the brutality of their ways, and she wants to take the society down. However, she believes that humanity doesn't deserve to exist any longer. The world was in shambles, and everything that could've gone wrong, went wrong. She takes this as a sign that humanity doesn't deserve a second chance.

To be quite honest, I'm kind of on the antagonist's side at times. I wanted to prove a point by having my main character against the government (to show that humanity isn't worth saving), but it all seems backwards. Can you please help me solidify my main character's decision to take down the society?

Thank you for taking the time to read this. You and your website have help me so much and I greatly appreciate it. Thanks and have a great day!

Answer: It sounds like the dilemma you've given your protagonist is a choice between two alternatives, neither of which produce a satisfactory outcome. Basically, it's either live in a community that is intolerable, or everybody dies.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with writing a tragedy in which a character tries and fails, but if your character doesn't even try because she is already so jaded, or simply tries to make things worse, there's little to drive the plot. She would have nothing worth fighting for. I suspect this is the problem you're facing.

I think you have to ask yourself what a positive resolution would look like. Would it be reforming the community so that it becomes worth living in? That is, a new deal is created so that civilization continues to be rebuilt but without the brutality?

Or would the solution be to build a brand new community elsewhere which perhaps is less technologically advanced, for now, but is one in which people's rights are protected and they can live happily?

It is quite normal for a person to be so traumatized by participating in a dysfunctional group that they eventually stop caring about the group's success and just look after themselves. They may leave the group, or even work to bring the group down and then leave (stealing anything of value on the way out the door).

But people have a deep need to belong to a healthy community. In most cases, after leaving a bad community, a person will eventually look to create a better one, no matter how traumatized she has been.

You might consider having your protagonist encounter an impact character who represents a different approach -- building a group worth being a part of, for example, or finding a way to reform the present society.

Your protagonist's dilemma would then be whether to stick with her attitude that humanity is not worth saving or embrace the impact character's belief that better is possible.

Look at it this way...

If you want an ending in which humanity dies, then your protagonist should be someone who tries and fails to make things better (even if it requires a tough inner struggle before she is willing to believe in the possibility).

If you want an ending in which a better world is born, then your protagonist may be someone who learns to have hope, which leads her to make the choice that leads to victory.

A third possibility (trickier to do) is to have your jaded woman as the main character, but have another character be the protagonist, seen through the main character's eyes. The protagonist may be fighting for a better world, and may succeed, but your main character cannot give up her jaded outlook. Hence, the main character cannot be a part of this new world. She may die trying to take it down or be exiled. This would be a comi-tragic or personal failure ending.

Best of luck.

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