I was sitting at the red light at Five Corners, puzzling over who I wanted to submit to DriveThruRPG’s Tell Us About Your Character Contest. None of my creations immediately leapt out at me, and the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. Why was I looking at Solandre, my blood elf paladin from World of Warcraft, or Ragnavar, my Black-jeweled Eyrien Warlord Prince from a Black Jewels Trilogy forum RPG, or even Ealasaid, my Vistani Seeress of Le Morte de Mordred fame.
I shouldn’t have been looking to other’s games at all–not when I had a novel of my own to plumb.
But that says something about my characters, doesn’t it? That’s there’s something not quite right about them. They’re not fully-fledged yet. Not distinctive enough yet. Or lovable. Yet.
It got me to thinking about what kind of character would win that contest, and I wonder if I couldn’t use those traits to try and develop them more completely, if not in time to try and win a tablet, at least for the novel I have half-way outlined.
Here’s what I think I’ve found:
Nobody cares about the character who doesn’t want something, and bad. But a good goal isn’t enough, either. He needs to meet enough resistance to make it a real challenge. Enough to make it seem nigh-impossible. Maybe it is impossible, but at least the struggle will keep us turning the page. Some have said that if Lord of the Rings is grim, A Song of Ice and Fire is downright bleak. Isn’t that nigh-overwhelming conflict part of why we love it so?
The Hound’s no Florian
There’s no such thing as true creativity, but at least we can make original arrangements of the same tired tropes. Better yet, what about turning that cliche around? Isn’t that just what George R. R. Martin does with his characters–takes most of what we’re used to in fantasy and turns it on our head? What convention(s) do(es) your character confront?
And what does that character have to say to the audience? What is the fundamental theme–message, maybe even–that our readers take from our hero/ine’s tale? What does it say about our world that the Hound is more honorable than any knight?* Or that love proves folly for Robb? Why should we, at our core, care to see your character succeed? What do we learn about ourselves in the process?
Yet, those elements alone won’t be enough to sway the judges, not in that contest. It looks to be that form is just as important. How do you relay all three above elements in 400 words or less? You’ll need to mix enough flash fiction into the backstory to make it more narrative (or other creative presentation) than mere encyclopedia entry. And anyone who’s made a conscious effort to write flash knows just how damn hard it really is to pack enough punch into a page or less.
Give me the novel any day. You short story and short shorts writers are the ones who’ve got it rough.
Do I have what it takes to make a winning entry? No, not yet. But I can damn well start to learn.
What other traits befitting a memorable hero/ine would you count here? Do you agree with the ones I’ve chosen? Disagree?
*Note: I’ve only read about one-fourth through Storm of Swords, so forgive me if I like some of the foresight the rest of you may have.