Characterization Inspiration


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?


Writers and…video games?

360I am a writer, both by trade and by passion. In my spare time, I read, I play with my dogs and cat, I garden, and among other things, I play video games.

Perusing through other blogs about writing, I have realized that many of my fellow writers also play video games, whether female or male. It seems to be yet another thing that links us together. I started to wonder why, as writers, many of us seem to enjoy immersing ourselves in a fictional reality.

Is it because it is as close as we can get to actually living in a story? Is it because when we write, we see our own writing just as clearly as we see our own lives? Or is it just because, as time goes on, video games are becoming more and more popular and almost everyone plays them?

I think that it is one of the first two. As someone who works with words, I tend to see things differently than others. When it’s raining, it is never simply raining to me. I narrate the rain in my head: the rain, cold and smooth, hurls itself at the parched soil, bringing with it the life that wakes the earth. With video games, stories come to life in the most remarkable way.

Video games allow you to become a part of a story that, unfortunately, would most-likely not take place in your everyday existence. I mean, it would be really amazing if I were to wake up one day and find myself on a cart with Ulfric Stormcloak, but that’s probably not going to happen.

Then, in some RPGs such as Dragon Age, Fable, Mass Effect, The Witcher, etc., you are given the opportunity to exercise your ability to choose. What you decide has an impact on the way that the games plays out. Of course, some games more than others. When I am faced with a decision in a video game, I take it very seriously. I take a lot of time to think about which choice I will make and what it will do to the outcome of the game. Sometimes I will even save before I choose, and then watch how it comes to pass. If I don’t like to outcome, I reload and choose the opposite.

It’s amazing to think that we can create a character that looks like us (or not) and become part of a fictional world. We control the movements, we control the progress, we are an integral part of a virtual story arc. How’s amazing is that?

Not to mention that some games even offer fighting companions, family, love interests, and pets. And the ones where you get to purchase, renovate, and rent out homes (that are customizable to a point) are pretty interesting as well.

This connection between the creative and vast imagination to the world of video games is closer, I think, than most realize or ponder. Games help me to imagination the fictional aspects of my stories in a whole new way, from the characters to the places.

Are you a writer and a gamer? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them! Or, just tell me what you’re currently playing. I am in the middle of Castlevania 2, and I just started Dark Souls 2 (I have already died 6 times).