Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Character Building

Okay, I can see to edit now. Whether I'll be able to fix that link is another question.


Once in awhile people, in the context of writing or gaming, will remark on the facility with which I make viable, distinct characters. Other people are puzzling over what feats they should choose and which class suits their stats best, and I already have a hobbit* martial artist who rolls with the punches and loves to feed people. Which can be a disadvantage in the game when I have to use abilities I don't know how to do the math for; but can also be an advantage when a skill built up purely for character purposes becomes the means to victory. I can't count the number of former opponents who mellowed out and provided assistance after a few of Marjoram's mouthwatering improvised meals. (The one when we and the kidnappers both got shrunk to the size of ants and Marjoram made a delicious meal out of a scorpion springs to mind. The kidnappers, captured, fed, and interrogated, sang like canaries and by the time we got unshrunk were allies against their employer.) And sometimes, in writing, a character with a strong voice or a lovable personality will draw your attention away from the action, just because you want to hang out with Chet the downstairs neighbor some more.

Generally speaking, though, the ability to generate distinctive characters at the drop of a hat is a good thing, if capable of being overdone, and people who remark on it are always being complimentary. Which I'm afraid I don't do well. So I tend to shrug it off and say "It's a knack."

Which it is. My life has always been populated by imaginary people with individual tendencies, motivations, and desires; and whether they manifest through character stats as Marjoram, or through words on a page as Len, or simply as daydream figures who never quite make it out of the garage sale, I don't have to do a lot of elaborate exercises to invoke them.

But I've been doing a critique for a young writer lately, and seeing how, in some places, she screws up something that she has a powerful knack for, I'm reminded. Yes, it's a knack - but it's also a knack I've worked hard at. My earliest characters included a bunch of Mary Sues - those idealized stand-ins for the author who form the protagonists of so many apprentice stories, and occasional published ones. A lot of them owed more to what I'd been reading than to my own observations of human behavior, which is always problematic. Far too many of them had my own particular faults and virtues I only imagined I had.

And even today, the characters who turn up when I need them have a strong tendency to be analytical thinkers and, as I discussed in the post about why I game, unless something exterior wrenches me out of my comfort zone, there are certain normal human behaviors that my characters seldom to never exhibit, unless they're antagonists and don't get viewpoint scenes.

Having a knack for something doesn't mean you don't have to sweat that thing. It just means you have a bit of an advantage in using it compared to other people. But if you neglect that advantage, it will never turn into a strength; and if you ever stop working it, it'll never get strong enough to carry your weaknesses.

*Yes, the rules say halfling and the Third Edition halfling bears almost no resemblance to a hobbit, but Marjoram was a hobbit, ask anybody who played that game!

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