Stop Being So Agreeable, Dammit

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Interesting, imperfect and three-dimensional characters are awesome. They make you want to keep reading a story, or series, they can sometimes make up for failures in plot or other areas of writing, they’re often quotable, and they feel more real. They’re also really hard to write.

In my many hours spent playing roleplaying games, it’s become more obvious over time that almost everyoe has a default character they go to when creating one for a new game. The system may be different, the setting wildly unique, the scenarios new and exciting, but the patterns who of plays who can be discerned. I’m no exception–I like playing good-hearted rogues. The underdog coming from a somewhat put-upon background to rise above and be a hero, I freaking love playing that guy or that girl. So much so that it’s really hard for me to be anything else even when I’m trying. This became really obvious to me when my friend Melissa ran a game where the PCs were specifically intended to be villains. I crafted my character a certain way, but with how her background ended up unfolding and my natural reactions in-game, it just plain had to shift. She was meant to be a ruthless and proud assassin intent on killing the ruling family who’d had her own family killed. She ended up being the classic “Misled” villain who believed she was doing good despite doing some kinda bad things, and in the end joined up with the secret police watching over the world at large to make sure no one group or individual ever got too powerful. (She also turned into a giant bug on ocasssion, but that’s neither here nor there!)

So the next time I had a notion of playing a not-quite-good guy, I put a lot more effort into making her morally ambiguous, driven by her own motives for power, argumentative with other characters, and if she did the right thing, it was somewhat more of a side effect or an alignment of goals for the time being. It wasn’t always easy, but it was fun and rewarding once I got it down.

It’s hard for anyone to get outside their heads for any stretch of time and see why someone else doesn’t agree with them or see things their way. Which is why players have default characters–the put-upon underdog hero, the violent thrasher, the shrewed businessman, the amusingly arrogant aristocrat, the wacky nerdy sidekick, the spunky young heroine, the hulking brute with a heart of gold, the list goes on.

Likewise I’ve noticed a pattern when writing scenes between characters I need to not get along–it’s really hard. I’m a pretty reasonable, logical, and practical person, and I make the effort to see the other side of the argument when I’m in one. But characters can’t all be like that, not very often anyways, because people aren’t all like that–we argue, we fight, we just don’t get it and we get angry about it! So a number of the conversations I’ve been writing keep going too smoothly because everyone gets what they need out of it on the first go.

That’s what the editing process is for, of course. I’m not tied to what I’m writing down right now. So hopefully, like an RPG, even if it isn’t easy, it will be fun and rewarding once I’ve got it down.

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6 responses »

  1. I feel your pain. I don’t like conflict, so it’s hard for me to create it in my writing as well. It’s good that we’re learning and practicing, though. Thanks for sharing!

  2. That snarky, morally ambiguous, character reminds me of Nancy Botwin from Weeds. She brings a lot to the show. The show holds morality in suspense by playing with the idea that she is corrupt for what she deems a greater good: her family. It’s entertaining to play with these conventions and I bet it’s fun to write about.

  3. Arabella Fabrizio was awesome! I loved that you found the hero in the villain. I think that’s what I like about you in general.

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