Man, the weirdest thoughts pop into your head while you’re scrubbing every bathroom in the house.

I’ve known for a while now that I don’t tend to write characters who are deeply broken inside. On the whole, while the people in my books have their problems, those problems are more side notes in a tune that is generally well-adjusted. To the point where I’ve thought for a while now that this is something I should maybe push myself on more.

Then it occurred to me: I don’t seem to write such characters very often, but I have been known to play them in games.

A few case studies . . . we won’t even start with Ree. Ree’s problems weren’t just psychological, they were metaphysical, in a way that isn’t just Changeling-based but dependent on certain individualized quirks of that game. Let’s just say that dealing with fear by deciding the world’s just fucked anyway (and then helping to tear it down) is a bad plan. Allegra was of necessity broken to begin with — that’s a prerequisite for characters in Mummy — but being reborn fixed her, as it does in that game. Michael’s death broke her very badly, though, in that “he died because you couldn’t defend him/you should have died defending him” cue self-loathing kind of way. Ash was physically marked as a freak, so took the “hey! you’re a Slayer! congrats!” thing very, very badly; she felt like the victim of curveballs in a game she never signed up for. Catherine managed the feat of possessing a superiority complex and an inferiority complex at the same time, coupled with a tendency to lose her human cognitive abilities when she felt too seriously threatened. Oh, yeah, and the loss of identity that went with being too good of a shapeshifter. Sess was scared of everything that came within a hundred feet of her, and very nearly incapable of non-spastic conversation. Odette/Fionnuala . . . I’m not even going to count her, since kitsunealyc is the one who decided crossbreeding “Swan Lake” with “Donkeyskin” was a good idea.

Lessa might be the most stable, functional, well-adjusted character I’ve played in a while.

I wonder why the difference. The major thought that occurs to me is, when I’m playing in a game, I’m only working on one character instead of a whole cast. I can focus on the quirks and dysfuctions of that single person more intensively. Also, maybe it’s that as a writer or GM I can generate plot out of situations and external threats, whereas from a player position I really only have that one character to work with.

I can’t even remember how this thought occurred to me. But it made me realize I do create characters with internal breakage — just not so much in fiction.

Which is encouraging. It means I know how; now I just need to apply it.

0 Responses to “”

  1. sora_blue

    I wonder if it helps to create more of a conflict in those situations where you aren’t in control of the entire “story” to have characters with the internal breakage.

  2. unforth

    It’s funny, first, for me to note that as soon as you elucidated this, I thought “you know, I do exactly the same thing!”

    That said…I think this is a very interesting insight. I would suggest that it stems from the needs of roleplaying in a game setting: often, there is too little going on in a game that is directly of importance to our characters to spawn the necessary amounts of dialog, and so it is very helpful for characters to be broken. Even if they don’t start out that way, in fact, I find many people place their characters in situations that will ultimately have at least the potential effect of breaking them. This second bit is, I’d say, in large part due to the nature of games: in games, our characters are emotionally involved in times when very bad things happen, so of course the characters lose it when those things do happen (as in what you said about Allegra and Michael’s death). But, simply put, being broken is more interesting in an RP setting, and so most RP characters tend to either start broken or end broken, though often not both. 🙂

    How this translates in to writing is, I think, something I can’t peg down as well. I know one of my favorite devices in stories is to see characters I care about broken (either physically or mentally) and then put back together again or reassembled by their own efforts (ie, Rand).

    Which is to say, after a fashion, I guess, that I look forward to seeing it’s applications in your future projects, and that I’m glad you shared this, because it gives me some ideas for tackling my own deficiencies in this area. 😉

    • Marie Brennan

      in games, our characters are emotionally involved in times when very bad things happen, so of course the characters lose it when those things do happen

      There’s no reason that couldn’t be true in writing as well. But this:

      there is too little going on in a game that is directly of importance to our characters to spawn the necessary amounts of dialog, and so it is very helpful for characters to be broken

      strikes me as very true. I mean, you’re (ideally) not going to start writing a scene in which nothing much is going on. But in a LARP especially, there are often stretches of time where nothing much is going on (at least wrt your own character), and you can’t just edit those out. So having personal things to deal with can be a good method of keeping yourself and others occupied.

      I like broken characters in fiction, too, especially when you get the entire cycle of whole->broken->repair. Now I just need to look for chances to do it.

  3. gollumgollum

    Lessa’s stable, functional, and well-adjusted?

    Ruh-roh. (;

    (Of course, i think Zoe was my stable, functional and well-adjusted character, so that makes an amazing amount of sense. *grin*)

    • Marie Brennan

      She gets along with both of her parents and has no more than the normal amount of sibling conflict — I figure she bickers the most with Selyse, as they’re the closest in age. There’s the business with Aurjir, but I think she’s approaching that in a pretty functional way. She’s happy with who she is, and if she doesn’t quite know yet how to get what she wants out of life, at least she knows what she wants. And sure, the world is falling apart around her ears, but inside? She’s doing relatively okay.

      It comes down to the parents, really. What you said about Zoe, and since Lessa managed to miss inheriting Grektar’s racial issues, she’s got a pretty stable dad, too.

      • gollumgollum

        Yeah…to be fair, some of it is that she’s almost *too* well adjusted. (;

        • Marie Brennan

          Hey, it makes for a refreshing change of pace. And with Reynald “Angst Factory” Sharp, Ilyrio “Rebel Without a Clue” Broken Fletches, and Princess “Always in the Middle” Amarin in the party, I don’t think Lessa being stable is a bad thing. I mean, she has a temper, and she can be too blunt, but her biggest angst right now is “I’m doing a very bad job of protecting my friends when they keep dying and I don’t.” But that is to Allegra’s issues as a mild rainstorm is to Noah’s Flood.

          I kind of like playing somebody comfortable for once.

  4. oddsboy

    Welp, looks like ya need to get crackin’ on making Lessa more nutso. Maybe make it so she has, um, like she has Grektar’s dad in her head as a possessing spirit. Like the Odd Couple.


    • Marie Brennan

      It’s a good thing Heather doesn’t read LJ these days.

      Honestly, though, I don’t think that’s the kind of dysfunction Lessa would develop. She’ll develop some, I’m sure, but not of the Granddad The Evil Red Dragon In My Head type.

  5. diatryma

    It seems like you do broken *systems* to some extent– when you write a story, your system is the story, and the character is a portion. When you create a roleplaying character, your system is the character, not the plot. Or at least I’ll interpret it that way.

    By the way, I’ve just begun my first roleplaying thingything. It’s not nearly as involved as yours seem to be, though. I have the feeling I’ve just swum over to the dark side.

    • Marie Brennan

      Yessss, join usssss . . . . <evil grin>

      Interesting interpretation. I’m not sure my brain is wrapping around it properly, but that would be par for the course in terms of dealing with other people’s writing-related metaphors. Everybody views it differently.

      • diatryma

        I’m not sure if it’s a proper writing metaphor, but I’m going to keep poking it. Of course, my first character is as mundane as I could make her (in reaction to another that just annoyed me), so who knows if it applies to me.

        • Marie Brennan

          Tell me more? What’s the game, and what’s the character?

          • diatryma

            I don’t think it’s a set game sort of thing– it’s a variation on the Letter Game, I think. Bunch of immortals or near-immortals, various subtypes (the way it was explained to me was that if we were all Japanese spirits, we’d end up with a lot of different types), and we communicate in various ways, including letters. The game’s entirely through the mail and journals, so far (a week in) and it should be pretty interesting.
            I figured that if my character were awesome, she’d be the key character whose death kicks off the game. And another player posted a very… okay. It’s pretty much a Mary Sue, but it also shows the community we’re dealing with that Mary Sue is a reference librarian sort of thing. So I made my character a kindergarten teacher who periodically undergoes a very rapid developmental shift, like toddlerhood, adolescence, and midlife crisis all in one, thus leading to a fair amount of lost memories and new lives.
            She should be fun to play with. But she’s not *broken* in the way that other characters I’ve written are. Messed up, yes; she was in Belgium in WW1. But her healing process is not going to involve pain, if that makes sense.

            So yeah. That is Baby’s First Roleplaying. I don’t think I’m in the wading pool any more.

  6. nconstruct

    I would say be careful with those cleaning chemicals, but if they bring some bit of inspiration then BINGO!

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