Twist Ending

Hello, I'm a college student who is taking Fundamentals of Creative Writing. Our main assignment of the year is to write a polished piece of fiction to present to a class workshop. It is a bit early to start but I already had an idea.

My notion was a story where the protagonist is a student who is just moving to a new town and staying with his uncle. A portion of the beginning is dedicated to portraying how he knows nothing and no one in his new surroundings. Also, at this point I intend to characterize him as amicable, friendly, and reliably skilled.
I also want to introduce a second character who is a constant presence in the story. Although, I'm not quite sure what sort of relationship to give the two (budding friendship, occasional acquaintance, grating on each other's nerves etc.) and the reason for that is because of what I planned out for the rest of the story.
While my ideas are still rough and still need work, the basic premise is that when the protagonist arrives at the town there is a string of murders, not enough to send everyone into a complete panic, but enough to encourage caution. He will be constantly reminded to be safe and to not wander around. During the course of the story, he'll express concern and confusion over the murders.

However, I planned the final scene of the short story to be the second character getting into trouble with a group of people-possibly a group delinquents-and the protagonist showing up to help. At first it will just be a fist fight but eventually the protagonist will begin to be overwhelmed by the uneven numbers. That is when the protagonist will pull out a gun and easily dispatch the rest of the attackers via gunshots.
This is when I plan to reveal that the protagonist was the killer all along (perhaps as a hitman) and that all of his previous actions were part of his persona. The story ends with the protagonist apologizing to the second character, saying that it's nothing personal, and dispatching of him/her.

Let me first say sorry for presenting you with this jumbled mess. But my problem is that I'm not quite sure how to portray the second character. I know I want the protagonist to seem genuinely polite and even tempered to make him likeable, but I'm not sure whether to make the second character a "jerk victim" or an innocent everyman.

Also, if there are any glaring flaws in my rough draft, please point them out.

Thank you for your time.

Response: Don't take anything I say here as definitive, but here are some thoughts to consider...

First, I think what you have here is more than a short story. If you're going to present a series of murders leading up to the final catastrophe, and take the time to do proper character development, you're looking more at a novella or novel-length work.

Second, the major flaw I see is that the plot you outline is absurd. Don't take this the wrong way. I mean this in a technical, not a pejorative sense.

There are two essential aspects to a story. Externally, there should be a story goal. Some problem or inequity is troubling the world the story takes place in, and it needs to be resolved one way or the other.

Next, the main character needs an inner conflict. He (or she) must be put in a situation where he must confront himself, question who he is and who he wants to be. He must examine whether what he knows about himself is right or whether it's time to change his ways and become different.

How the main character chooses to resolve that inner conflict at the critical moment determines the outcome of the story - whether or not the story goal is achieved. The meaning of a story is therefore that your personal transformation (or lack thereof) makes the world a better or worse place. Or, to put it another way, when faced with such a problem, this particular choice is the best (or worst, depending on the outcome).

In your story, you have a main character who is committing a series of murders, culminating in a final bloodbath. His nature is the story problem, and the goal must be for him to stop.

But why is he doing it? What is his purpose or motivation? You haven't mentioned any inner conflict, which means you run the risk of creating a story that is emotionally shallow and meaningless (which is what I mean by absurd).

If you want to turn this into a meaningful story, I think you will need to do one of two things.

1. Develop the killer's inner conflict. Make him into a killer who is struggling to change and in the course of that must question his own nature. Your second character could be the impact character who gives the killer an example of a different way of being - the source of the pressure to change. Then, if the killer cannot bring himself to change, the story will take on tragic overtones. The reader may even feel sorrow for the killer's inability to escape from himself.

2. Make the second character the main character. Make him someone naive who wants to protect his community but fails to recognize the killer. Give him clues as to the truth about this killer (that's the pressure) that he fails to notice (or chooses not to). I'm not sure the difference between a "jerk victim" or an "innocent everyman," but either way, the resulting story would be a cautionary tale - also tragic. By making the wrong choice and failing to give up his naivety, the main character and the world suffer.

However, in this second version, you might consider whether to have the main character die. It may be better if he lives with the knowledge of his failure and the lives it has cost - so that he becomes older and wiser.

Best of luck.

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