Let’s talk characterization, shall we? When I was taking a class for editing fiction, one of my instructor’s told us something that opened my eyes. It was a small thing, something that is actually quite obvious. Nonetheless, it forced me to think about characters of all shapes and sizes in a new light.
What he said went something like this: Our personal experiences have a definite influence on how we view characters. We must be very careful when figuring out what is working for a character in a story and what is not. Is that character designed to make you despise them, or do you just have an irritating aunt that resembles that character? Do you dislike the character because the writing makes them that way, or do you dislike them because they go against your personal views?
This couldn’t make more sense to me, and though it has not changed how I despise characters, it has made me understand why they irk me.
I’m going to go through two characters here from Dragon Age 2. I know, it’s not a book, but it is still so relevant. If you haven’t played and want to, be warned.
In that game, we have two elves that can become companions to your MC, Hawke: Merrill and Fenris. The elven history in the DA games is mostly negative, since some elves are treated as slaves, others are basically quarantined in certain areas in the cities, and the rest live outside of society.
Merrill is a Dalish mage, who showed up briefly in the first game if you played through as an elf. The Dalish are wood elves and wanderers. They live outside of society and keep to their clans. You get Merrill by completing a few quests and then she becomes part of your party. She was second to the “Keeper”, the leader of her clan.
Fenris is an ex-Tevinter slave and warrior. When you meet him, he has semi-recently escaped his master and is set on revenge. His childhood was spent as a slave and he has a penchant for revenge. He becomes part of your party after completing a few quests related to him. He is alone and, as a fugitive, has no family or friends.
Now that you know a bit about their backgrounds, let’s look at their personalities:
Merrill is shy, unsure of herself, and desperate to help her people in any way that she can. She is naive and inexperienced. She is not opposed to blood-magic (generally frowned upon by most) and sympathizes with demons and people who become possessed by them. She is nice enough, with a sort of quirky personality that just makes you want to help her.
Fenris is broody, dark, and quite dry. He has learned to despise magic because, long story short, that’s what caused him to be raised in slavery. He is smart, very useful in battle, and is confident in his beliefs. He does not support blood magic or demons. At first, it is his desire for revenge that drives him to become one of your companions. He has little emotional attachment to anything.
Which character did I prefer? Fenris. Broody, dark, depressing Fenris. Why? Because Merrill struck me as an irritating, unreasonable character who has no logic or sense in her. She might have heart, but, in comparison to my character, her goals were counter-productive.
It was easy for me to understand why Fenris was so morose—he grew up as a slave. It was easy to understand why he didn’t like magic too—that’s what enslaved him. He smart, quiet, and knows himself. Merrill is constantly seeking approval and assistance in things that my MC wouldn’t want to get involved in. Blood magic and demons usually means bad things.
Fenris is useful, and I know where his loyalties are. He is straightforward and you never need to guess about what his response will be.
On the other hand, Merrill has become a favourite with many DA2 players. I was just involved in a conversation where it was argued that she was cute, friendly, and just so “charming”. Those aren’t the words I would use to describe her.
This goes to show that your own personality and life experiences does change the way that you view characters when reading a book or playing a game. I am more like Fenris, and his goals are akin to mine as a player. Merrill, to me, was quite different from what I look for in a friend or companion in real life.
If you’ve played the game, which elf did you prefer? Why? Are there any other examples, in books or games, that really spoke to you?