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Posted: Oct 28th 2011 8:42PM (Unverified) said

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I disagree with the premise of this article. I don't believe these two methods of story telling are incompatible. In fact, I would argue that the best writing draws from both. While I can see how a "collaborative amateur" effort such as RP might be more hard pressed to do so than a single experienced fiction writer, that's no reason to just throw in the towel on the idea.

The best character authors will create a character core, the fundamental staple of who this person is, and that core should never change. On top of that, they will layer flaws and ideas that, while logically sprouting from the character's core, are not fundamental to who he or she is.

Over time, the character will face both external and internal struggles, and grow as a person. They will trim away flaws that hamper who they are at their core, and gain new ideas that help them to be who they want to be. For long running, well written characters, they will also at times of adversity gain new flaws to overcome, or lose faith in old ideas they once relied upon. This adds realism and drama to the character.

Still, through all of this, the fundamental core of a character should generally not change. The fact is, most people don't radically change at their core. Their morals, motivations, ideas, flaws, and even principals might change, but that change should come FROM their core, not happen TO their core. The difference may be hard to conceptualize, but it's the difference between an audience following a character on his personal journey, and an audience saying "What? He would never do that! It's not who he is!"

The differences you mention come from focus. While TNG focused upon single episode content, the growth of characters was not as absent as your article seems to imply. The difference is that TNG focused it's writing upon the core of it's characters. There were so many characters, the expanded details of each character weren't really heavily touched upon.

Still, it was there, as is necessary for good writing. It would just usually be wrapped up in a single episode. You would start with a character's core, an episode would introduce a flaw or idea, it would be addressed, and the character would return to his core character for the next episode.

An example would be a character is really good at his job, but he messes up at an important moment. This causes an illusion of inadequacy, and he thinks his friends would be better off without his help. Throughout the episode, his delusion causes detriment to his friend, but in the final moments, when everything is on the line, he realizes he can do what's necessary to save the day, and most likely, ONLY he can do what's necessary to save the day. He overcomes his inadequacy issues, does what he needs to do, and saves his friends to much rejoicing. Next week, he's back to his core character, and a new adventure ensues, likely exploring a mini-character-development of a new member of the ensemble cast.

Further, while Picard -already a Captain who has gone through most of his character defining experience prior to the show's start- may not have developed a whole lot as a character throughout the series, some of his crew members did.

Both of these character types exist -and co-exist- in reality. There are many people who regard life as a journey of change, and many people who are firm in who they are, and resistant to such change. These people often share a story, their paths through that story simply differ, and they must deal with that. It may cause conflict, but that's a part of the story, and a good RPer ought to be able to keep it contained within said story. Maybe one day, you will outgrow your stubborn RP partner who never changes and go off on your own, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy growing beside him while it works, and it certainly doesn't mean the split can't be amicable, or that a continued friendship is impossible for your characters.

Just because Batman never changes, doesn't mean Robin can't grow up to become Nightwing.

Posted: Oct 29th 2011 12:10AM JuliusSeizure said

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You mistook Eliot's intent. The point was not to claim that the two angles are incompatible, rather that they work at cross purposes. He even makes it clear that neither side is absolute and they're just tendencies. He also didn't say that everyone has to play to the same style, just that it's going to require some figuring out to prevent the divergence causing problems.

Remember how he also pointed out that some people will not see the difference? That's where you are.

Honestly, your view describes the TNG style. Despite what you claim, people can change who they are at their core, though that requires a long, and arduous process full of drama. Just the kind of drama the Lost style lovers hungers for!

The whole point of those stories is the transformational process, whereas the TNG style can have a lot more potential themes at their centre. That's why comparatively few stories do character growth, and fewer still do it well, with the exception of the Coming Of Age trope. That one works so well because nearly everybody has that time in their adolescence or early adulthood where we discover who we're going to be now that we're starting to understand how the world works.

And yeah, Batman stays the same while Robin grows up, because Robin gets to have his Coming Of Age after he's introduced, while Batman had his before the story began. Thing is, that ends up being the cause of a lot of discontinuity headaches among the fans anyway.
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Posted: Oct 29th 2011 3:04AM (Unverified) said

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@JuliusSeizure I get what you're saying, and perhaps you're right that he wasn't trying to argue that the two cannot be used in conjunction. If that's the case, these lines are misleading:

"Now try running the two of them together. Either way, it doesn't really work."
"You might be going for character arcs or character development, and the two are frequently incompatible over the long term."
"They're tendencies, though, and when you get right down to it, they're at odds with one another."

I fail to see why I could not play a character who grows over a long period, and changes drastically, alongside a friend who plays a character who is steadfast and unchanging, or vice versa. I see no reason why a character could not focus upon a journey of inward growth along side allies who are just interested in the adventure. This happens all the time in good literature.

Perhaps as a result, the opinions of characters toward each other may change, but that shouldn't cause a breakdown in the relationships of the players. Good RPers ought to be able to separate from their characters enough to recognize and accept the change in the IC relationship, and still enjoy the story and RP OOC.

As for not understanding the difference, I assure you I very much do. Some of my favorite fiction is character drama. I merely focused on TNG because his other example, Lost, I've never watched. I think it sounds like an interesting show, but between Sons of Anarchy, Dexter, Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Battlestar Galactica and Hustle, all of which I'm in the midst of now, and Game of Thrones, which I really want to start watching, I just don't have time.

So, in order to make my point, and keep my comment from being more of an essay than it already was, I merely focused on the show I knew relatively well, TNG, and how it still features elements of both sides, as an example for how one could take that implementation, and move even further with it.

There's no reason TNG couldn't have had a side story of a crew member who hates Picard and his way of doing things, always brushes with authority, and thinks the Federation needs to be more aggressive and take control. This man could have grown and changed, to ultimately become a loyal and valuable officer by the end of the season. This wouldn't have disrupted or conflicted with the episodic nature of TNG.

Finally, when I say that a character should rarely change who he is at his core, it's important to recognize what a character's core is. Many people have great difficulty with understanding what a person's core is. It's not their personality, it's not their morals or principles, it's not WHAT they think. It's HOW they think. How a character arrives at conclusions, how a person observes and takes in that around him. It's a character's drive, his true, absolute, internal drive. His soul, you could perhaps call it.

There are very few things that can change a character on that level, although it can happen. It's not right for most characters. Most characters are conceived as the creator wishes them to be. Though often authors create characters with a mind for growth and change, very rarely is the intent for a character to become a truly different person. And I don't mean Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader. I mean Yoda becoming Darth Vader.

See, while Star Wars may not be a great literary example, it is a good place to offer an example everyone knows. It's also got pretty clear cut characters, so it's easy to cut right to the core.

Anakin Skywalker changes a great deal over the course of 6 movies. He starts as a bright eyed kid, and becomes the universe's most detested villain. (In universe.) He turns from awe of the Jedi, to hatred of their kind. However, his core never changes. Who he is, never changes. When he is a child, he does what he does to protect his mother. When he is a teen, he speaks of his desire to control the galaxy in order to protect those he loves. He races off against orders to try and save his mother's life. He slaughters those who trespassed against his family. When he is a knight, he frequently breaks the rules to protect his padawan and friends. He openly expresses his desire for the Jedi Order to take a more aggressive role in controlling the galaxy to create peace for those he loves. He ultimately betrays his order to protect the one person he loves above all, and his unborn children. Finally, he turns against his master and earns his redemption through the motivation of protecting his son.

Anakin Skywalker, throughout all the changes he undergoes, remains true to his core. He is a man who would do anything and everything to protect the ones he loves. I think if he had lived, Anakin, despite having gone to the dark side and been redeemed, would traverse the dark side again if he felt it was the only way to protect his loved ones. He would be more wary of the lies and traps that lead to the darkness, but if he became convinced that his fall would save his children, he would fall.

There are few things that can change a person's core. Having children can do it. Though generally that change, though significant, is one of world view and not character core. A person who has a child experiences a change of what's important, refocusing on the child. However, often they will approach that new found importance with the same core character.

A traumatic injury, especially a brain injury, can do it of course. A life time of having one's beliefs consistently shattered can do it, though not always.

Most often, when a character appears to change at his core, he hasn't. Instead, his core is often buried in layers of shrouding character. As he sheds them he shows, and often discovers for himself, his true core. An example would be a man who appears to be pure scum, but really has a heart of gold. It's a trope of a man so hardened, even he himself is surprised when events conspire to show that he really is a good man.

Usually an audience can sniff this out. Often, an audience member will get a sense that this scumbag is on a journey of change. This is because at his core, he's a good man, and a perceptive and empathic audience member is going to pick up on that. Even if they don't know it, they might feel it.

Truly changing a character's core usually doesn't work out well. It takes an excellent writer to pull that off. First of all, because it doesn't feel genuine. Like I said, a person's core rarely changes, so when it happens it has to be really convincing. Often it will either take the audience out of the story with disbelief, or they just won't buy that the character has really changed.

The other reason is because audience members get invested in characters as they are, and a fundamental change to the core of a character makes them a different character. An audience member often hates it when a character they love turns into something they revile, no matter how realistically it's done. Inversely, they find it hard to relate to a character they once hated even if he has changed fundamentally into a guy the creator wants them to like.

So what I'm saying is yes, these are two different ways of telling stories. Yes, they are two different ways of handling characters. But at the end of the day, characters are characters. Creating a realistic and relatable character is the same process for both. You are creating a person. A person is defined by their core, and embellished by their personality. Personality can change in ways easy and hard, but changing a person's core is exceptionally difficult to pull off. No matter how much or how little you plan to change them, you need to stick to the principles of creating a solid character.

Because of that, because story telling has core principles, you can use those core principles to merge and mingle the two styles. It's a player's responsibility as a character writer and a member of a group to evolve his character in the style he likes while containing his story within the parameters of the group. A good writer and RP partner will understand how to do this, and how it means that you may have to sacrifice or alter some of your character ideas for the good of the story as a whole.

Perhaps this is what Eliot was trying to get across, I certainly got tugs of that from his article toward the end, but I felt the bulk of the article was spent enforcing the idea that these two styles are better off not commingling. I think that's a shame, because I think many excellent stories are told by mixing these styles.

I think the idea of a character on a journey of self discovery along side his pragmatic, stoic, and ever-the-same friend is exciting. Exploring how their relationship with each other changes as a result of this could be some of the most fun two RPers could have.

Having an idea of where you and your partners want to go is really important, and I feel like this is where Eliot was going with this article. I just wish he spent more time talking about how to resolve potential style conflicts than expounding upon why they might come up.
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Posted: Oct 28th 2011 9:02PM (Unverified) said

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What's with this unverified business? Every time I log in, it asks me to choose a username again. How do I fix this?

Posted: Oct 28th 2011 11:20PM JuliusSeizure said

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Just ignore it, for now. There's something wrong with the backend of the coding, and AOL's techs are incurably lazy.
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Posted: Oct 30th 2011 9:49AM (Unverified) said

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Observation #1 - When the roleplayers comment on a post, the comments are post-length themselves. ;)

Observation #2 - I think the example breaks down. The setting determines the character development as much as anything. On ST:TNG the ship went places and encountered external challenges, so the characters could be relatively static against that changing background. On Lost, they were on an island. Yeah, the show did stuff to try and bring things to the island, but the fact is that each week...they were on the same island. In that case, the characters had to move against a static background.

I've really stopped doing random in-game RP after years of roaming about capital cities and RP hotspots, dropping in on conversation after conversation. I'll still engage in it, but only within guild or friends list contacts who are known to me.

I suppose I do still RP out and about in the world, because there I run into players who RP their characters as regular Joes. What I've found around town are characters who, by their own assertion, should be raid bosses.

If roleplayers want a challenge, here's one. Why can't you become a character who is an everyman, but still interesting? Why is interesting synonymous with extreme? Character development vs. character/story arc is an interesting discussion, but when the characters are caricatures, it's not interesting.

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