I’m having some trouble with my MC in a fantasy novel. Simple version is she was basically brainwashed and she was unable to notice certain aspects of the world around her, and she did some truly terrible things in the backstory because of the brainwashing. She thought there were for the greater good, and that they weren’t really that awful anyways.

In the beginning of my book I’m showing her living some of this, making it obvious some external force (a god in this case) is manipulating her perceptions and her mind. The first point of no return in the novel is when another god intervenes to start undoing and blocking the mind control.

So I know where she’s starting, she drank the coolaid and is basically an enforcer for a fascist regime who is solemn and all business because she’s programmed to be that way. I know where she needs to end up, with her eyes wide open, having first made actual friends and then moved to an assassination plot and killing the ruler who caused the brainwashing by the god to happen in the first place, also becoming a real girl instead of a puppet in the process.

I’ve worked backwards from the end and I know what types of steps need to happen to get there. She needs to start seeing things as they really are, she needs to start seeing the people around her as people and not just cogs in the machine, she needs to connect with a few of them on a personal level, learn to trust… etc etc…

My issue is this. I can write her personality like she is in the beginning. And I can write her personality like she is in the end. But the transition is giving me problems.

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Because I don’t want it to be that she’s instantly aware of things, or instantly friendly with the servants or people around her. I want it to be gradual and to have her wondering if she’s going insane as she starts to come out of her “normal” of being brainwashed. I’m turning out to be pretty inconsistent at this and so from scene to scene it’s looking like she’s got multiple personalities, jumping from one level in the “friendly and normal person” scale to another and back again.

Has anyone done something like this and how do you quantify the small differences? I’m a plotter and honestly if I could have in my outline “this scene she notices the servant brought her food for the first time where usually she ignores their presence completely” and “this scene she understands a joke someone said and she thinks it’s funny for the first time but doesn’t show it yet” that would help.

But I’m having trouble pinning down what things someone who was brainwashed into being a bit of a sociopath but who was genuinely a good person and is returning to being a good person slowly would have as minor steps in that process. I also need her to gradually start to realize that things she did in the past were not ok and they were actually horrific, and I need that horror and guilt to slowly break over her.

So… yeah. How to break that kind of thing into specific steps that can be put into an outline of the entire novel in chronological order?

I wish there was a sociopath scale from like 1-10 where it lays out “if you’re at an 8 you won’t notice or thank any servants but if someone got hit by a car in front of you, you’d feel bad. Not bad enough to go help but you’d slow down to look for a second and see if they died”. And then like a 5 where you’d go see if they needed someone to call an ambulance but you wouldn’t actually touch them or stick around to wait for the ambulance after you called them. And then down to a 1 which is still not a normal person, but dogs like you and if you don’t ask your waitress how her day’s going at least you tip her.

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Anyone done anything like this? Or have suggestions?

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