This is one of those amorphous blog post ideas that I’ve had rattling in my head this week. It may or may not make a successful post – I’ll leave that up to you guys to decide. (Or rather, I’ll wait to see if I get a bunch of confused comments. )
Character strength can be a really hard concept to define. Sure you can pick up on a few things that make characters “strong” – defined, consistent personalities, depth of personality and story, the ability to be an agent of change and to change and grow themselves. But those are all pretty “fluid” topics, and we could go into huge lists of ways to make a character stronger, or ways to increase their depth, or whatever.
A lot of times, though, people suggest giving your character a weakness to make them stronger.
Which seems, quite honestly, counterintuitive.
Giving a character a weakness doesn’t mean necessarily that they become weak. It’s almost more applicable to say “give the character balance”, but since people usually have no trouble giving their character awesome-traits, the discussion usually boils back down to giving your character some not-so-awesome traits. While you can always throw an unrelated weakness into the mix, it’s possible to have weaknesses grow from strengths (and not in that really kitschy way that people talk about for job interviews).
One way to do this is to take an event or situation and answer a few questions about the character, to see how it works out.
As an example, since this sort of thing came up in RP this week, let’s poke around in Aely’s brain a little (if you don’t mind my presuming that Aely is a strong character).
Aely’s backstory contains some pretty dark times. That’s not unusual, since most of Azeroth has been involved in wars for all of recent human memory (the Elves get a bigger perspective on this one). Within those dark times she experienced some pretty heavy trauma that left her both physically and emotionally scarred.
That event left her stronger – she rebuilt herself physically and mentally, is a much more solid, stable person, and has very concrete beliefs because of it. She also has strong motivation for being a better healer, particularly of certain types of wounds, and is extremely protective of the people she cares about. But that event also left her weaker – heavy trauma like that has far-reaching mental implications, and if she is surprised by someone else suffering from something like what she went through, it makes her extremely upset. If that person is someone she cares about, it’s worse, because then she feels guilty for not being able to get past her own physical and emotional reactions to be able to help them. She wants to be able to protect the people she loves, and when she fails to, compounded with her own mental issues getting in the way of her being able to care for people, it makes her pretty upset.
Looking at the description of Aely, there’s kind of a formula that can go towards helping other characters:
1. What is the event? (Obviously this should be something significant for the character – either good or bad)
2. How does the character react before, during, and after the event?
3. How does that event make the character stronger?
4. How does that event make the character weaker?
5. How does the character think about and relate to what happened? How does that affect future events (if it affects them at all)?
From that formula we can take an Orc that spent time in the internment camps (a horrible event). He suffered from the lethargic lack of energy and mental fog due to lack of demon blood. During the internment, he became almost mindless, afterwards he hated himself for not fighting more strongly and developed an ingrained hatred of Humans, and a distrust of all Demonic and Shadow magic. He also took to training himself in the shamanic arts, and is extremely loyal to Thrall and to his comrades in battle.
This, in the end, makes him a stronger character – he is thinking about what happened and reacting to it, being introspective about his own reactions, and acting on what he finds. He is stronger physically and mentally, and will be very hard to dupe into any sort of subservient position in the future. But it also makes him weaker – hatred and irrational fear can blindside even the most stable of characters, and while that might not come up in every single story or situation, if he is written and played consistently with those traits, then that one event is responsible for character growth, character depth, character strength, and character weakness.
When people talk about how to build good RP characters, they often suggest creating “balance”. Hopefully this will help spark some creativity towards dealing with character creation.
Life-defining moments don’t all have to be good, bad, happy, or sad – but every life has a few defining moments and experiences. (Obviously not every event will be life-defining or life-changing – that will depend entirely on the character.) Sometimes those happen over a period of time (like both Aely and our Unnamed Orc), sometimes they happen in a sudden moment. Either way they can affect a character from that point forward.
Thinking about a character’s defining moments (and how they react afterward) is a good start toward creating depth and believability.
Since it’s Friday, feel free to take the formula and use it like a “Friday Five”, either for a character you already have developed and active or for a new one you imagine up in your head.
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