Posts Tagged ‘characters’

There’s something strangely satisfying about creating something from nothing. You sit down with a handful of dice and a short while later you have something that was not there before: a character. Not right away, of course. It takes time to decide who you are, who you are going to be.

Sometimes this process is easy. Something about the game setting speaks to you, or perhaps it is an idea that has been worming its way through your subconscious for a long time, waiting for the opportunity to put it into practice. Other times you have a concept for what a character is, but the question of who the character is is a mystery. For example: The character is a gnome barbarian. According to the dice rolls the gnome is tall for its species. It is middle aged. It is also a level one character and therefore is a novice in the world of adventuring. That is all you know. And then the DM speaks, setting the scene for yourself and the other players gathered around the table, and in a few short moments you will learn who your character is.

Playing any tabletop role playing game is an adventure not just in the literal sense of game mechanics, but also in regard to being able to be what your are not for the span of an evening. Losing yourself in a character, however,¬† is not always something easily achieved. Recently my gaming group has been working through Pathfinder’s Jade Regent and while the little goblin gunslinger I’ve been allowed to play is fantastic on paper pinning him down as a character has been a bit more rough. The first session we sat down was pained, every move or comment he made never seemed right. My vision of what he was conflicted with who he was.

It seems weird to say that. This character is something I created. I should know who and what he is without a second thought. And yet, I didn’t. You’ll hear authors talk about similar problems as they work their way through a story, realizing later that something doesn’t fit and needing to go back to repair or recast. Playing an RPG isn’t so different, only I find the indecision that much more painful. You are the character and the character is you and yet…there’s no connection. It takes time.

Other characters seem to jump off the page fully formed. This past Friday my group played a one-shot with pre-made characters, which means I had very little decision making to do in the way of what the character was. The papers were laid out on the table, each with a picture and all the pertinent stats and a name. This leaves a player in a precarious position. Often the “who” portion of the character is slowly formed along with the “what”. Being given the “what” means snap decisions have to be made based on the information already given. Its a lot like playing an improv game in the theatre. They give you the body and you provide the heart. Much to my surprise the character leaped out at me and made it very clear who and what he was. A pretty face, yes, but also a huge foul-up. Within two rounds I knew who he was and had the greatest fun playing an elf Indiana Jones/Han Solo type.

The DM mentioned, “Wow, you have that likeable a-hole down pat.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “And it’s so much fun.”

It truly was a fantastic experience. When something is right, it’s right.

For those curious about DnD and how it works or if you’re nerdy like me and enjoy listening/watching other people play might I suggest The Nerdgasm Podcast Episode 41. The crew over there actually invited my own DM to run them through a beginning game. If you’ve never played before this will give you a general feel for what goes on, or bring a smile to the face of anyone who likes to see new players enjoying themselves for the first time.

I would also suggest the star-studded Author D&D that happened at Legendary ConFusion this year. Run by Peter V. Brett and Howard Taylor the whole session was probably one of the most enjoyable I’ve seen. (Acquisitions Inc with Pat Rothfuss from PAX Prime was pretty good as well.) Author Players include: Kelley Armstrong, Myke Cole, Wesley Chu, Brian McClellan, Rich Morris, Cherie Priest, Michael Sullivan, and Sam Sykes

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What’s In A Name?

Posted: March 2, 2014 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

My cousin’s wife recently gave birth to their son, and in the months prior to that joyous occasion one of the biggest topics of conversation was what they planned to name their future bundle of joy. The original deal agreed upon was that my cousin was in charge of naming any male children and his wife would name any female children. This agreement was then amended when they found out they would be having a son and my cousin’s wife suddenly had a wide variety of opinions about the name. Nothing too common. Nothing too strange. Maybe something traditional. No, I don’t like that name. How about you pick the middle name and I’ll pick the first? Eventually they settled on a name that they were both happy with and now little Harvey Paul has made his appearance in this world. Harvey Paul is who he is. As he grows up people will make associations between his name and character traits he possesses. Eventually his name will become synonymous with everything he is.

The “What should we name our child” discussion is not an isolated incident to people expecting a child. I’ve heard the topic randomly discussed by married and engaged friends of mine who are not even expecting. “So we were talking and decided if we have twins we’re naming them Luke and Leia. We’ll let you name your kid Han.” “I think the name Lilith would be awesome and my wife liked it until she found out what it means and now she says there’s no way we could name our kid that.”

As an author you have hundreds of children. Each character unique in physical description and personality. Sometimes the names just come to you and it’s kismet. Of course their name is Ivy. Why wouldn’t it be? Other times it isn’t nearly so easy. You put down a name as a placeholder, knowing it isn’t right but needing to put something down. Something down is better than just a blank space with a line, right? After all, there has to be some way to differentiate who you’re talking about, and it seems bad parenting to call them Man #3 and Woman #5.

If naming people seemed hard there’s the even more difficult task of naming¬† towns, bars and restaurants. There’s a lot of pressure to make something that seems plausible but not cliche. Not to mention, the name has to sound correct. It has to fit the personality of what you’re talking about.

I hate naming things. People or places it doesn’t matter. Sometimes I know the name like some spirit came down and told me. Other times I stare at the paper and agonize over what to call something. And once in awhile I am faced with needing to draw a fill-in-the-blank line because I can’t handle making that kind of decision and everything I think of sounds so stupid.

This is the point where I feel I should have an answer to the question of “How do you name things?” but I don’t. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person who struggles this much. I want the name to sound right. I don’t want to write a character with a name and know that isn’t who they are. It’s like when my dad calls me by my sister’s name. Right gender. Wrong person. My sister may look similar but we behave quite differently. When I can’t decide on a character’s name I feel it’s very much like that. I can just see them rolling their eyes at me and sighing as I botch it again.

Show of hands: Who else has this same problem?

 

Have you ever had one of those moments where a character suddenly reveals something about themself that you were completely oblivious to?

(On a side note, did you know that spell check says “themself” is not a word?)

Back to the point: character secrets revealed. I’ve read articles and memoirs where authors discuss this strange phenomenon; I’ve just never had it happen to me. With a background in writing far more fanfiction than original fiction, I’ll admit the scales are tipped in the favor of characters having very few secrets hidden from me. When writing fanfiction you can make conjectures about their beliefs, fears, and favorite things but at least for me it was always educated guesses based on things I had already seen. There was no shock of surprise, there was analyzing.

Even though I’ve been working on my current project for about a year I’ve only experienced these “aha!” moments recently. (At least as far as I can recall.) Perhaps it’s a result of knowing my characters better. I’m more than halfway through a book. Once you’ve hit the halfway point you aren’t figuring out story or characters on the same level as you were in the beginning. In the beginning of a novel you’re setting the scene and getting a basic handle on everything. By the time you’re halfway through the story characters have started to take on a life of their own. Their decisions aren’t nearly so premeditated as they were in the beginning, they’re becoming organic and spontaneous and that’s when it hits you. BAM!

I experienced this moment yesterday afternoon while chugging along on my 3,000 words for the day. The scene in question was a little heated. The main character had asked for help from the one person who she trusts to give her answers: her mentor, your basic little old lady figure who has been around the block enough times to know what’s up with everything. Since the beginning the mentor has been rather coy with the information she’s given out and the advice she’s made. It’s never blatant and it’s always in that sneaky old lady way, like she knows more than she’s giving. Anyways, before the old woman can put in her two cents I’ve got a younger character start giving out a metric ton of ideas and advice, basically steam rolling her. As I’ve set the younger character up to be the expert on this particular topic it made sense to have him do what he does best and provide the information we need.

Only there was a problem. As the scene unfolded I realized the old mentor was quiet. Too quiet. Not like a “I as a character have nothing to say so I’ll wait in the background” kind of quiet. I’m talking about a pissed off kind of quiet. Like she’s just stewing in her own juices kind of quiet. And then she exploded. It turns out my expert isn’t the only expert, and the old mentor wasn’t at all happy with his methods because she knew all that stuff too, she just didn’t feel it was appropriate to share it all in one giant drop and she chastised him for it because he was “breaking the rules”. Apparently my main character isn’t the only character on the field she’s mentored, and I hadn’t the slightest idea until it hit like a ton of bricks.

Has anyone else experienced a charming moment like that? You’re writing your story, minding your own business and WHAM! a character reveals something you were oblivious to but in the end it seemed right?