love interests, socializing, culture and character development

Discussion in 'Writers Forum' started by kitty fabulous, Jan 13, 2005.

  1. kitty fabulous

    kitty fabulous smoked tofu

    ok, setting the topic of language aside for the moment, so that my brain doesn't suffer a complete meltdown, let's look at the character development, specifically, in regards to how a character relates to others in a book or story.

    i've a confession to make: my main character, and some of the supporting characters, have their origins in role-playing games. because that's the kind of nerd i am. my main character was a halfling, and much of the way she related to other characters and dealt with her own interior struggles had to do with halfling culture and her relationship to it. of course, if i'm to write anything about her that i can actually do anything with, she needs to be severed from her halfling roots and given a new people and culture, which i think was in her destiny when i rolled her up, anyway. the raw material of the game that got me started is no longer useful, and needs to be scrapped so that i can do something original with her.

    unfortunately, many of her motivations go with it, especially in regards to how she socializes. some elements of her new people are similar: they live communally, they frequently go barefoot (but as a cultural thing, not a biological adaptation), and they smoke. they are simple, earthy people. but other than those surface similarities they in no way resemble halflings, and i'd really like to keep it that way. the entire social structure that provided her motivations has gone out the window.

    one thing i'm noticing right away is that Briar has no love interests. there were reasons for this in the game, but i'm reaching for some in the story and not finding anything. she has close male friends tha drastically affect her life, but no prospects for or interest in romance - in fact i think the very concept would still kind of freak her out. it seems to me that romantic relationships are part of normal character development, especially for adolescents, when so much of their social energy is geared towards finding a mate. why is briar different? i'm still struggling to find an answer to that one, and wasting a lot of paper in the process. furthermore, i've noticed that none of my characters seem to have much in the way of a romantic life. quite frankly as my characters develop the only reason for this i can find is that i myself am a bitter disillusioned bitch with fucked up relationship patterns & can't write a love story to save my life.

    how important are love relationships to storyline & character development, especially in a story dealing with adolescents? will the development of romance between characters interfere with the action & plot? will the lack of romance rob the story of vitality, depth and emotion?

    looking deeper i find also that Briar has no female friends, and doesn't socialize well with other female characters. well, actually, she doesn't socialize well with anybody - that's kind of her thing. again, there were cultural reasons for that in the game, but there are none so far in the story. how do i create a structure for gender relations & character socialization? most important i think is going to be how her culture interacts with the surrounding ones, as she grew up somewhat removed from her roots - that detail is key to the plot. the whole story goes out the window if she has a healthy relationship with her own culture from the start. how do other writers deal with socializing characters against the backdrop of culture? i can't just "not worry about culture", because the cultures and their relationships to each other are what drives the plot.
  2. SelfControl

    SelfControl Boned.

    Will read the whole thing later, but first thing's first: if you're going to use pre-existing framework (the D&D standard that haunts a good 50% of fantasy writing), you need to be doing something new with it, otherwise... well, I dunno, maybe people won't get bored of it, but it makes you more of a writer if you're coming up with your own stuff.

    Sorry if that seems harsh, it wasn't meant to be.
  3. White Scorpion

    White Scorpion 4umotographer

    There is something very revealing said above that I am tempted to use for myself.
  4. kitty fabulous

    kitty fabulous smoked tofu

    if you'd read my post you'd be aware that the challenge is i'm faced with coming up with a new social structure because i'm NOT using the D&D framework, and want to AVOID any direct parallels. i have to re-write the character, and give her new motivations, because her old ones came from her rather dysfunctional relationship with halfling & human culture.

    it's long i know, and i probably should have broken it down into 2 or 3 posts because there's actually a couple of challenges in the original post.

    we have the question of building a new social framework; we have the question of gender relations, and we have the question of love relationships, and how important they are to character development.

    yeah, the first post was a little disorganized, but dammit, people, you're all supposed to just know what's going on im my head!:p
  5. SelfControl

    SelfControl Boned.

    With regards to love interests: Not everyone's obsessed with love, or sex. It's a big part of people's motivation for doing things, but it's rarely as obvious as Hollywood tries to paint it.

    If you make your characters good friends and don't give them any discernable love interest, people will wonder if they're supposed to be lovers (see Frodo and Sam;)). This is a good thing. You will be able to have much more fun implying relationships rather than just ramming fuckfests in every 30 pages (not that I'm accusing you of doing that), and ultimately, it will be more believable. Think about reality: For every person who you are romantically involved with, there will be many many more who you are attracted to. If you want realism, that might be worth including: the characters' thoughts on love, sex and romance, rather than just the openness and carnality of it.

    If you really don't want her to think about the idea of romance... you'll need to think about reasons for it. The most obvious, albeit from a non-RPG perspective, would be some kind of repressed sexual trauma: rape or abuse, for example. Maybe it's a tired theme, but it would give you something you could develop. If you want a believable character, you'll need a reason why she lacks what many would consider a very primal, central drive - particularly for an adolescent - even if it's not that one (I don't know how dark you'd want to go).

    As for the cultural aspect; you've actually written yourself a very useful device for writing. By having someone who is outside their own culture, you have a logical means to explore both cultures naturally through her perceptions and thoughts. This is especially useful for a fantasy writer, as the reader is likely to need a lot more explaining to them than they would if they were reading about an existing place. You can use this to imply moods and thus to advance the plot: commenting on how comfortable or uncomfortable she feels in various surroundings can offer hints as to her real origins, for example.

    Without knowing the exact plot, there's not a great deal I can add, but yeah, that might help.

    I really should write something of my own, shouldn't i?
  6. kitty fabulous

    kitty fabulous smoked tofu

    to explain it would take a post way longer than i want to type. Briar had a backstory that was more complicated than most of her adventures, and in truth i enjoyed writing about her more than i enjoyed playing her, which is why i removed her from the D&D contex to do something original.

    you can see Briar in action in my forum, the Welcome Inn, and although here she is still a halfling, she has already begun to make the transition out of the game. Her relationship with one of the characters in the Inn forms the basis for one of her friendships in the story, although both Briar and Twik will be entirely re-written with new cultures and backgrounds. In the Welcome Inn, they still are strongly affected by D&D, even if they are not written according to the "rules". it is possible that a lot of the relationships she had will be able to translate to her new identity, but for now the cultural ground they rest on has grown rather swampy & ill-defined.

    Perhaps we may think of the Welcome Inn as a half-way house for characters in transition.

    i had wanted to write something about her culture and relationships, but my son just came home & is chasing the cat, so my thoughts are rather scattered at the moment. in a nutshell, being cut off from communal life of the halflings at such a critical stage in her development made it difficult for her to form intimate relationships. furthermore, she had a rather dysfunctional family in a culture where a few ripples made waves for everybody. when her father broke with clan she became exposed to the human culture through the inn where she grew up. this inn had a "hin" flavor, ("hin" were what the halflings in the game called themselves) but was really geared more towards humans wanting to sample hin ale & pipeweed. she learned to fear men, human men especially, from her closest friend who was a human prostitute working out of her dad's inn while her dad looked the other way. she thought of humans as big, clumsy, stupid and untrustworthy (though easy to swindle) and spent much of the game trying to be hin, but just not getting it. knowing her dad was clannless made her uncomfortable around her own kind, and she spent a lot of time alone, even going to the expense of getting private rooms at inns along the way during her travels. she never really meshed with the rest of the group, with the exception of a druid (ironically enough a human male) who reminded her of her own people's closeness with nature and the earth and was the only one in the party who regularly smoked with her, and a dwarf in whom she found a father figure more worthy of respect. later on, she imitated the dwarf even though she'd been afraid to get to near him (well, his axe was bigger than she was) and inappropriately expressed her friendship for the druid by mercilessly bullying and insulting him. by that point, she just couldn't handle friendships in a healthy manner. the only other female character was a stock character elf who died partway through the adventure and didn't really have enough personality for anyone to relate to.

    this is all very nice for the game, but useless for the story. some of it may translate, but like i said, the cultural ground it was built on is rather muddy right now. her new people are also communal, but both they and the various human races have entirely different attitudes towards family, relationships, and sex than the cultures affecting Briar in the game. this in turn is going to effect her friendships and her relationships with siblings. also, in the game, she was a stranger in a strange land, coming over from the halfling country just following a state of unrest in the human lands. in my story, her people have been interacting with at least 2 of the human races for quite some time, and already have an established presence in their cities, so the move away from clan won't affect her so strongly, although when her people became urbanized their culture blended so much with the humans that the ones back home would consider briar to be almost human herself, definately foreign. they are also an indiginous people in a human land, considering themselves a separate tribe ("nation" would not be exactly the right word), although the humans don't see it that way; they see her people as dwelling on their land, and would wonder why they hadn't been paying taxes if they weren't so busy ignoring each other. anyway, they already share space at times, so it's not like she'll be travelling across nations like she did in the game.

    so far i have her socializing a little better than in the game, which actually isn't as fun to write. at the welcome inn, she's actually worse. she appears perceptive, but detatched, and something of a rather mean drunk. this will probably be different in the story as well. but i actually was having fun writing her as a bitter, withdrawn, unsocial bitch. healthy characters are boring.
  7. SelfControl

    SelfControl Boned.

    If it were me, I'd be inclined to have her anti-social at first. I think you'll struggle to keep her bitter and withdrawn the whole time, but having her slowly come out of her shell could be interesting, even if it wasn't crucial to the plot and wasn't especially commented on.

    It's a nice idea though, like she's almost an orphan, but the parent she's lost is her culture, and the new parent/culture doesn't really feel like her own. You could draw parallels. She sounds like an observer, possibly an internal narrator; my first thought was Catcher In The Rye, not necessarily because they're similar, but I can imagine her being a step back from everything, commenting to herself on what's going on rather than getting too involved. Might have read it completely wrong though.
  8. kitty fabulous

    kitty fabulous smoked tofu

    i hesitate to use the word "anti-social". she's unsocial, or non-social, but even at her meanest she isn't against society. she just doesn't fit in with it in a traditional sense, because she has no solid structure to lean on. she's hostile, but not hateful. let's just say she's having a difficult adolescence.

    it is kind of crucial to the plot that she gets at least a little harder and colder towards the middle of the story, because she does some things that both cultures would find unconscionable, and ordinarily she might too, were she not trying to distance herself from her own grief. it takes something pretty drastic to wake her up.

    i just don't have the cultural reasons for her original isolation, discomfort with relationships, and fear of the opposite sex. so i've got to come up with new reasons. it's like i'm forming the culture around the character's hang-ups, instead of the other way around. and i'm not so sure that's the best way to go.
  9. SelfControl

    SelfControl Boned.

    What's wrong with just tweaking the originals? I would've thought a lack of or confusion with racial identity could cause those kinds of problems.

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