Hidden 12 mos ago 2 mos ago Post by BrokenPromise
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STORYCRAFT
For Roleplayers


TABLE OF CONTENTS

What is Storycraft?

Suspension of Disbelief
Three Rules for Creating Believable Dialog
Mary Sues, God Modding, and the quest for a cool character: Part One
Mary Sues, God Modding, and the quest for a cool character: Part Two
Round VS Flat, Static VS Dynamic: Is a Character Arc Always Necessary?
Relationships, and why Characters aren't People

Good Collaboration Practices

Some notes:

The articles will be posted in whatever order I feel like writing at the time, but they will be organized here for easier navigation. All finished articles should have a clickable hyperlink that takes you directly to that article. There may be more articles in the future that haven’t been listed here yet.

You may post here if it pleases you. I’m not against discourse, just keep it as professional as you can.

This series is inspired by Matthew Kadish’s Storycraft articles. If you'd like something that pertains more to general writing and is more in depth than what's offered here, his articles are excellent.
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Hidden 12 mos ago Post by BrokenPromise
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What is Storycraft?

Storycraft is a catch all term for everything that goes into making a story. Naturally, “Storycraft for Roleplayers” concerns itself with roleplaying. Regardless of medium, storycraft is about appealing to the broadest audience you can.

Critical roleplayers are more sensitive to plot holes while non-critical ones are more tolerant of them. One who practices storycraft will ensure they have no plot holes to make sure everyone can enjoy their posts.

Critical roleplayers have robust vocabularies and do not mind reading stories filled with big complicated words. However, your non-critical roleplayers will become frustrated if they encounter too many words they don’t understand. One who knows storycraft will use complex words only on occasion, as critical roleplayers don’t mind simplistic vocabulary.

Put simply, storycraft is about writing as well as you possibly can.
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Suspension of Disbelief

Has this happened to you before?

You’re enjoying something with a story. Things are getting tense, things could go either way, things have you glued to this story and you must know what happens. But when something happens you’re left aghast. Strange things have happened before, but this feels absurd. You’re no longer enjoying the story after that. Instead, you’re trying to make sense of it. But all you come up with are more questions. You’re not as invested in things moving forward.

Suspension of disbelief is the magic that lets readers enjoy stories, especially ones that could never happen in reality. A reader that is suspending their disbelief has faith that a writer’s post makes sense. They may not fully understand the world or how a character’s powers work, but they can overlook a lot of smaller details without having them explained to them. They will not question how someone can launch a fireball from their hands without getting burned, nor will they question why the trained henchmen have such terrible aim compared to the heroes. When a reader’s suspension of disbelief is pushed too far, it will break, and the reader will actively disbelieve the post. They will become much more critical of details that they wouldn’t have otherwise addressed.

It’s clear that maintaining suspension of disbelief is important. It’s how a GM can craft a world that players can feel a part of, and how player characters can use their powers without it coming across as power gaming.

But how do we create this magnificent effect?

We don’t have to! Barring those that dislike fiction, readers will start suspending their disbelief the second they start reading a story. They want to enjoy what they are reading and end up doing this subconsciously. It’s your job as a writer to maintain the faith they have in you.

Maintaining suspension of disbelief is simple to explain. For starters, you want to be consistent. If your world behaves in a consistent, familiar manner, readers will have no reason to disbelieve anything.

To break it down further, everything you write should “agree” with at least one of the three types of consistency. These consistencies are as follows:

-External Consistency:This is everything that the reader understands outside of your story. We know that cars can drive faster than people can run, gravity exists, and bagels are a great breakfast food. For the most part, anything that behaves in reality as a reader understands it falls under external consistency.

-Genre Consistency: Readers often become familiar with genres and the tropes associated with them. If they participate in a magical girl RP, they would not be surprised to see a highschool girl bench press a semi. Nor would a fan of eighties action movies wonder how a single commando could win a firefight against a hundred trained soldiers. It should be noted that not everyone has extensive experience in the genre of your story, so it may be desirable to partially explain some of these details away. The commando’s experience could be highlighted among other factors.

-Internal Consistency: This pertains to everything exclusively in your story/posts. If my character has five grenades, they can’t throw six of them. If they struggle to cast fireballs quickly, they can’t cast a stronger spell even faster. If they are shy, they can’t also be outgoing and charismatic. Not without reason at least.


You likely realized there’s a sort of hierarchy with these consistencies. External consistency can be overridden by genre consistency, which in turn takes a back seat to internal consistency.

Suspension of disbelief may seem simple to maintain, but it’s a frail thing. Forgetting that two characters have prior knowledge of one another or mixing up the location of a key item can be all it takes for a reader’s suspension of disbelief to crack. Though the most common ruiner of stories has to be the Deus Ex Machina, or “God on a Crane” for those that don’t speak latin. The name refers to a crane that was used during Greek plays to lower gods onto the stage, often to fix whatever was happening in the moment. There are countless examples of this, but I’m going to grab one of my own to use as an example.

Once I had a chance encounter with an editor from Marvel. His name was Eliot R. Brown. He was a lot friendlier than what I pictured an editor being, and he would talk to me about all kinds of stuff. During one discussion he told me that manga was a fad, and would go away in a few years. That bit of advice didn’t age too well, but what he had to say about storycraft has molded me into the writer I am today.

He offered to look over one of my stories. Naturally, I showed him part of a story that I was pretty sure would make me a household name. It involved a fight between a half-demon-half angel-dual scythe-wielding-guy called Gail and a thirty foot tall vampire/gargoyle called Stormcrow. The story opened with them fighting each other. Before a decisive blow could be struck, a third party instantly teleported Gail to safety by way of a mysterious teleportation device they had on a big airship.

There was a lot of cringe stuff in that fight. Lots of bad one liners and other things. It was bad even by the standards of fanfiction.net. But out of everything I had written, the one thing he took the most offense to was the teleporter. He claimed its very existence was problematic. I tried to assure him that the teleporter was not problematic, and that a lot of people used them. And that was when he hit me with a question so powerful it forced me to scrap the entire opening of my story.

“If the teleporter can instantly transport things to and from the ship, what’s stopping them from teleporting an anvil thrice blessed right on top of Stormcrow’s head?”

The teleporter had broken Eliot’s suspension of disbelief, and for good reason. It had no clear weaknesses and was too easy to abuse. You could instantly save anyone or teleport blessed anvils wherever you wanted. It made the idea of fighting dangerous targets like Stormcrow seem silly when you could just kill everything with the teleporter. Its existence not only invalidated the fight, but the entire story. So long as the teleporter existed, you couldn’t have any kind of stakes.

That’s not to say that the teleporter couldn’t have stayed. What it needed were clear limitations in how it could be used. Maybe instead of Gail getting suprise rescued, he could have used a cell phone to let his partner know he needed a lift. Then he’d be instructed that he needed to stay perfectly still in a specific spot in order to get rescued. All while in the presence of a thirty foot vampire gargoyle with four arms. He might also have needed to be in a spot where he was clearly visible to the ship. There might also be a possibility that if things were handled poorly, Stormcrow could be teleported along with him, which would be game over for everyone. Stuff like that would have made the teleporter much riskier to use and not invalidate the rest of the story. Though better than that would have been to introduce the teleporter later where it could have its functions better explained during a low risk event.

I could give more examples, but that covers the basics for suspension of disbelief. It’s obviously important for a GM, but even players need to keep it in mind. Your character’s behavior and abilities should be consistent. Characters are allowed to grow and change over time, but it’s not something that should be happening scene to scene. So strive to be consistent with your writing, and those that read your posts will never struggle to suspend their disbelief.
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Three Rules for Creating Believable Dialog

Beepee pushed his shovel into the soil. He had lost track of how long he had been digging. The sun was low in the sky, and he was so deep that he couldn’t see the rows of tombstones anymore.

*Clank*

His shovel hit something hard. It was possible he had found what he was looking for, but this wasn’t the first time a root was masquerading as a false positive. But wiping away the dirt revealed the wooden lid of a coffin. This was his mark.

A crane pulled Beepee and the coffin out of the hole and set them off to the side. Once free, he hopped off the coffin and pried open the lid with his shovel.

“Gail!” Beepee kicked the coffin. “Get up!”

The individual inside could have been described as a divine creature. He was an unusual hybrid that was part angel and demon. Gail had the physique of an olympian, and his twin scythes rested behind his back. But that was where his majestic features ended. Gail’s hair could best be described as “80’s anime protagonist spikey” and had the eyes of a serpent. The only article of clothing he wore was a pair of overalls, with one of the straps unbuttoned for stylish effect. His complexion was closer to that of a vampire than either an angel or demon.

“Woah!” Gail sat up and turned to the person who dug him out. “Beepee?”

“I don’t have all day, Gail.”

“You weren’t this nasty when we were younger.” Gail stood up and crossed his scythes on his back. When he stepped out of the coffin the handles hit, which caused him to stumble forward several feet.

“I have no idea what younger me was thinking when they made you.”

“They thought ‘hey, what’s the coolest thing I can possibly conjure?’ And then made me.”

Beepee was quiet for a time. “That is, tragically, what happened.”

“If you’re just going to keep insulting me, I think I’ll go back to bed.”

“You’ll have plenty of time to sleep later.” Beepee leaned on his shovel. “But today I’d like to show everyone how you can effectively write dialog. Naturally, I thought it would be more effective to demonstrate through a conversation and who better to talk to than someone who knows nothing about such things?”

“Sounds cool, is there anything in it for me?”

“Knowledge is its own reward.” Beepee grumbled his words.

“That sounds a bit pretentious.” With a sigh, Gail folded his arms. “I mean I know the basics! It’s important to place ‘tags’ near your dialog so that you know who’s speaking. Like you know I’m speaking because ‘Gail folded his arms’ is nestled between both bits of my dialog. You can place conversation tags before, after, and in between sentences to let people know who’s talking.”

“Sometimes you don’t need tags at all?”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“I don’t believe it.”

“You should.”

“Why?”

“Because we’re doing it right now.”

“We are?”

“Yes.”

“Wow! We are!”

“Fascinating, isn’t it?”

“How does it work?”

“Because any time the speaker changes, you make a new paragraph. Since there’s only two of us here it’s simple for a reader to follow along. This is one of those rare instances in which a common rule of writing does not hold true. But…” Beepee placed his hands on his hips. “I do not recommend writing an entire post without narration.”

“I mean.” Gail chuckled. “It’s not like you can convey action through dialog.”

“Gail?”

“Yea?”

“Do you see what’s in my hand?”

“The shovel?”

“Take it.”

“Sure thing.”

“What do you think of it?”

“It’s a lot heavier than I was expecting.”

“That’s because it’s a steel handle. Most are made of wood or fiberglass, but that one is designed to be durable.”

“Was it hard to dig me out with this?”

“No, I was able to type myself doing it in just a paragraph or so.”

“I see.”

“But did you see what you just did?”

“Huh?” Gail looked at the shovel that now rested in his hands. “Son of a gun…”

“What I’m trying to illustrate here is there’s always an exception to the rules.” Beepee took his shovel back. “You can write an entire post with just dialog, but there are caveats to such an approach. That’s what makes writing dialog so fun to me. There are so many things you can do with it so long as you understand the basics.”

“Now you said that when we change speakers we make a new paragraph.” Gail rolled his shoulders. “I get that, but don’t a lot of roleplayers break up their dialog into multiple paragraphs even if it’s the same speaker?”

“That is true. There’s no rule that a single speaker can’t have their dialog stretch over multiple paragraphs. But I would advise against such a thing during collabs or when you have multiple speakers in a single post. It makes reading a lot more difficult.”

Gail raised his finger. “But that’s what color tags are for!”

Beepee scoffed. “Color tags are no substitute for good writing practices! You don’t want someone to be unable to understand your post if they happen to be colorblind or the text colors are too similar.”

“I didn’t realize that was a sore spot for you. Anyway, I think that’s enough baby stuff. I want to know that deep eldritch knowledge regarding dialog.”

“We’re still talking about the basics here.” Beepee took his shovel and shoved it into the earth. “But I’d say there are three really important rules to keep in mind. The first one is to sound natural.”

“So don’t talk in a gravelly voice?”

Beepee squinted his eyes. “You’re a jackass, you know that? What I mean is that when a character speaks, it should sound natural to them. You may have some information that you’d like to come up in a scene, but you need to remember that it’s coming from a character and not a robot that’s going to spout exposition for you. ”

"Ahhh…” Gail nodded. “So basically, stay in character.’”

Beepee Lifted up two fingers. “The second rule is that you want your dialog to be doing something.”

“That’s kind of a given, isn’t it?”

“Not necessarily.” Beepee grunted before continuing. “Dialog is at its most interesting when it serves a purpose. If your character opens their mouth, they should be asking questions, deflecting questions, teasing a friend, mocking an enemy, convincing someone, deflecting criticism, that sort of thing. If a character says something that adds nothing to the RP, it probably isn’t good dialogue. It needs a strong purpose and direction. Two characters regurgitating beliefs they both share isn’t interesting.”

“And that just leaves…”

“Number three, which is subtext. I’ll talk about this more later, but the simple version is you want an underlying message that’s revealed through your dialog. People rarely blurt out exactly what they’re feeling or thinking, so it’s an important technique to master if you want to write more convincing dialog.”

“And that’s three! So I’m an expert at dialog now?”

Beepee laughed. “Let’s see what you’ve learned… What would you like to drink?”

Gail placed a hand on his chin. “Well, as a demon hunter who loves the color of blood, I think I’ll have some grapefruit juice.” Beepee cringed at his remark. “What? I just felt like mentioning I was a demon hunter!”

“But it was so on the nose!” Beepee was still sneering as he spoke. “There was no subtext there at all! Nobody talks like that.”

“Alright, well let’s see you do any better!” Gail put his fists on his hips. “What would you like to drink?”

“If I had to give my occupation in response to that question?” Beepee sighed. “As much as I would enjoy a drink, the crane started to misfire.” He reached for a toolbox under the seat of the crane. “I think it just needs a tune up, but I’d like to check one of the spark plugs just to be sure.”

Gail blinked. “I mean, people who aren’t mechanics can remove spark plugs.”

“That’s what makes the subtext so interesting, Gail! You aren’t giving the reader a clear cut answer. Subconsciously they are trying to piece together things based on what I say. There’s mystery and hidden meaning in subtext, while ‘I like grapefruit juice because it looks like blood and oh yea I’m also a demon hunter’ just can’t compare. Moreover, it’s not impossible to picture a human saying what I said.”

“Okay!” Gail groaned. “Let’s just try something else!”

“Let’s do some role playing then. You’re doing your weekly grocery shop and the local convenience store is out of milk. What’s your reaction?”

Gail filled up his lungs with air. “What the hell? They’re out of milk?!” He brandished his scythes. “Damn them! Do they expect me to sustain myself on dry cheerios?” He swung both of his blades into the soil. “I demand to see the manager! I DEMAND SATISFACTION!!!” Gail cleared his throat. “Like that?”

“I mean-” Beepee shrugged. “If your goal was to be funny or come across as a psychopath, I think you did a good job.”

“I wasn’t.”

Oh.” Beepee rubbed the back of his head. “Yea, that was really melodramatic. It can be tempting to give characters huge mood swings all the time because it’s entertaining, but it ends up coming across as a bit silly or unearned, especially if you’re trying to be dramatic. If you fly off the handle every time something happens, it’s going to make stuff that deserves that big emotional outburst impossible to sell.”

“Makes sense, I guess.”

“And that’s strike two.” Beepee squinted. “Last chance. Let’s say we both graduated from the Silvermyth Demon Hunting School. We both know it produces the best demon hunters and all of them fight with scythes. But we need to convey that information to the reader. How would you do that?”

Gail scratched his head for a bit, but then his face lit up with a smile. “As you know, Beepee-”

Beepee placed a hand over his face. “You did not just hit me with ‘as you know, Bob’ dialog.”

“What’s that?”

Beepee snorted. “It’s when you start some dialog with ‘as you know’ and then continue to tell a character something they already know. There’s no reason to tell a fellow demon hunter that graduated from the Silvermyth Demon Hunting School about their reputation. It’s unnatural, lazy writing. There’s no subtext.”

“But I didn’t finish!”

“We all knew what was coming!” Beepee pointed at the coffin. “Time to go back to bed!”




Well that was embarrassing.

To cap things off, I thought it might be beneficial to show something that properly implements what was discussed here.

I have a dialog heavy post that I’m going to write. Rilla is having dinner with Nixie, and plans on enlisting with a special military force.

I’ve decided I need to work the following details into my post.

-Nixie is a good cook.
-Rilla and Nixie are sisters, with Rilla being the older by four years.
-Rilla can work on steamtech gear.
-Rilla is elated to be accepted into the “Storm Billy” unit, which pilots steamtech mech suits and is made of men and women.
-Alternate history WW II: Italy is a superpower and Germany is on the allied side.
-Nixie is worried about Rillia and wants her to be a seamstress with her.
-Their parents died in the war.
-Rilla is motivated by revenge.
-Nixie doesn’t want to be alone.

As an added challenge, I’m going to try to have all of this information come out in dialog without using narration for any exposition.

Let’s see if I can fit all of that in one scene. Shouldn’t be hard.

Rilla and Nixie sat down for dinner with a bowl of soup in front of each of them.

“Nixie, you are a good cook. You are also my sister, albeit younger by four years. I am happy that I can work on steamtech and am also elated to be accepted into the Storm Billy unit, which pilots steamtech mech suits. The unit has men and women in it.”

“Rillia, Italy is a superpower and Germany is on the allied side of the war. I’m worried about you and want you to be a seamstress with me.”

“Our parents died in a war, and I’m motivated by revenge!”

“I don’t want to be alone.”


See? Easy.

Of course it feels flat and devoid of personality because I ignored everything we talked about. There’s no attempt to sound natural, nor any subtext. Let’s try that again, but really keep story craft in mind this time.

Rilla and Nixie sat down for dinner with a bowl of soup in front of each of them.

“Oh wow!” Rilla eyed her soup. “This is cream of broccoli! My favorite!”

Nixie sighed. She hadn’t touched her soup. “I thought it was only fitting, given the circumstances.”

“You know, you’ve come a long way from when you first started cooking.” Rilla held her spoon up to her lips. “IIt tasted awful, but I was too lazy to make anything myself. Now I look forward to eating my sister’s food!” She shook her head. “I have four years over you and I can’t even cook beans!”

“How does it compare to field rations?”


Already we can tell something’s bothering Nixie, even if it hasn’t been stated outright. But she wants to seem supportive of her sister because she knows directly opposing Rilla will drive a wedge between them. Instead she’s trying to guide the conversation in a direction that benefits her.

“I wouldn’t know.” Rilla fanned her mouth after tasting the soup. “I know steamtech. I use to have a hard time doing anything in dad’s workshop, but once you understand the basics it’s all pretty intuitive. I bet cooking’s the same way. You get your hands on all those ingredients and after a while you just know what works and what doesn’t.” Rilla was half way done with her soup already.

“You don’t really have the physique of a soldier.”

“Oh yea, and they let me know too!” Rilla’s grin got a bit wider. “They all say I look too good to be a soldier, but I got assigned to the Storm Billy unit as a field mechanic. Nice thing about that is we all pilot mech suits, and the suit does all the work. None of us look like soldiers though.” She stopped to laugh. “There were a lot more girls in our unit than I thought there would be. Can you believe what things would be like if Hitler was elected? That wouldn’t fly! There’s also no way we would have joined the allied powers. I bet we’d be fighting alongside the Italians. They would have been strong friends, but the Americans are almost a match for them.” She only had a few spoonfuls of soup left.


As you can see, Rilla is deflecting any attempts at a real discussion. Nixie is trying to get her to talk about her being recruited, but Rilla keeps steering the conversation away from it. But her bowl of soup is almost empty, and Nixie knows she needs to change her strategy if she has any hope of changing her sister’s mind.

“You know.” Nixie folded her hands over her chest. “You may not be able to cook as well as me, but you are every bit as good at sewing as I am. Our parent’s dream for us was that we’d work together.” She looked away. “I would go to war with you if I thought I could, but I can’t. I won’t, and I wish you’d reconsider for our parent’s sake. They wanted us to be seamstresses together.”


Rilla likely knows what her parent’s dream for them was, but it feels natural and bears repeating here since Rilla’s desires go against it. This is one of those rare cases where an “as you know, bob” moment can work.

The smile ran from Rilla’s face as she lowered her spoon into her bowl. She locked eyes with her sister before folding her arms over her chest. “They wanted us to do a lot of things. Sit with good posture, eat nutritious food, marry ambitious men, be ambitious ourselves, and yes, they even said they wanted us to take over the family business. You haven’t taken everything they asked to heart.”

“But-”

“And that’s fine! They weren’t perfect, and they knew we weren’t perfect. But we’re doing our best to make them proud.” Rilla tipped her head. “Do you remember what your last words to mom and dad were?”

Nixie took a deep breath. “I think I told them to be back soon.”

“That was a nice thing to say.” She looked at the table. “I told them I hated them.”

“You did?”

“I was upset that they were leaving us to visit Italy. They wanted me to look after you, and I took it personally. I stayed mad at them for many days until our dear old uncle told me what happened to them. Just days after they declared war on us.” Rilla stood up and placed her hands on the table. She towered over Nixie, who looked like a child when compared to her sister. “They wanted me to keep you safe. I can’t do that here, Nixie.” She thrust her finger into the table. “They’re invading Switzerland and Austria. The Italians are going to enter the country if we continue to do nothing about it. I’m doing this to protect you, to honor our parent’s wishes.”

“We can leave Germany though.” Nixie raised her hands. “W-we can flee to the Netherlands and take a boat to the United Kingdom.”

Rilla grit her teeth and dropped her fist into the table. “We are not fleeing our home! Dad’s workshop is here, the storefront is here, the kitchen you’ve been prepping meals in is here! Do you think our parents wanted us to flee to another country? Was that part of their vision for us?”


Rilla’s actions are on the dramatic side, but it avoids being melodrama because of the set up. The situation calls for it. This isn’t your everyday drama. They’re talking about their parents wishes for them, which is a lot more serious than the convenience store being understocked on milk.

“I just don’t want to lose you.” Nixie whimpered. “We’ve lost so much already.”

“Which is why I’m going to make sure the next person to lose something is the Italians.”


Aaaaaand cut.

While that scene took longer to write, it’s a lot more entertaining to read. It feels more natural, Rilla and Nixie feel like they’re arguing something, and the subtext under the surface keeps the reader engaged.

Unfortunately, most RP posts are plagued by on the nose descriptions and detailed accounts of things that aren’t necessary. I’d be lying if I said that I always kept my own advice in mind when I write, but stuff happens. Sometimes you’re behind schedule, or you get peer pressured into trying to mirror your fellow RPers way of writing. And hey, no offense if you like to write ten paragraphs worth of exposition for everything your character sees. I’ll be making an article on narration later, but a lot of things that work for dialog also work for narration. If your character sees a cute girl, consider having their inner monologue be about how this girl reminds them of someone/something else instead of reacting to how cute they are. Subtext can be worked into nearly every aspect of your posts. I do have some things I’d like to say on collabs, but I’ll save that for the appropriate article.

It should be evident that even in your everyday posting you can find more interesting ways to have your characters speak. Just remember the three rules of good dialog and you’ll go far. So strive for engaging dialog, and readers will always want to read what your characters are saying.
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How do you do dice rolls?
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I'm sorry, I didn't notice you posted here. You can find a button for dice rolls on the main page in the upper right corner. Right under where you click to log in.
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Mary Sues, God Modding, and the Quest for a Cool Character: Part One

What excites most roleplayers is writing posts about their character. They might have an idea for one or inspiration strikes when they look at a role play. Regardless of how it starts, they usually have to turn their idea into a character sheet and submit it for the GM to review.

Sometimes these characters bring concerns to the GM or other players.

A good GM will often give feedback on characters that don’t quite fit the setting, if they don’t outright reject them. Though a less experienced or overconfident GM may decide to accept the character as-is. This character may cause open tensions if the other players aren’t passing messages along in private. If they hate it enough, they may even leave an RP that they otherwise enjoyed.

But the player with the offending character just wanted to write a story. Certainly they didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. What happened?

Let’s look at the type of character that might cause that kind of reaction. You’ll have to forgive me for not writing a full character sheet. But there should be enough there for you to gauge the character.






Rilla Müller
The Superstar


Age 21 | Female | 120 LBs | 5’
Mechsuit | Popstar | Neko


Rilia is a young pop idol that’s taken Germany by storm! She’s also an engineer that’s used her knowledge of electronics to make her own mech suit to protect her homeland. Her suit can create powerful shockwaves and fire condensed sound in the form of projectiles. She can also overcharge her mech’s arms and shoot lightning bolts from them. Lastly, her suit gives her incredible athletic ability, allowing her to jump over buildings or beat cars in a drag race.




Trashy anime idol garbage may not be your cup of tea, but the question remains: Is this a character you would accept into an RP? Do they seem like a god modder (or a power player) looking at the sheet?

What even are god modders?

To answer that question, we’re going to briefly hop over to the fanfiction space. Much like roleplaying, Fanfiction writers usually create characters that play alongside other characters they didn’t make. The only difference is that they control everything. Some of the more detestable “fan characters” can feel a lot like god modders, but are called Mary Sues.

You’ve likely heard of the term Mary Sue before, but what does it really mean? Everyone says it’s a character that’s too perfect or powerful, but that can’t be right. Superman isn’t considered a Mary Sue. He has every power imaginable, yet his fans adore him.

Here’s a history lesson. Back in the seventies, they didn’t have the internet to pass around fanfiction. Instead, it was submitted to “fanzines” to be published and distributed at conventions. The most popular one for Star Trek fanfiction was “The Menagerie,” which had to sift through a lot of crap to get to the good stuff.

One of the editors (Paula Smith) was so fed up with a certain kind of story that she wrote “A Trekkie's Tale,” a parody that featured one Lt Mary Sue as the main character. It’s not required reading, but I’ll include it here if you want a look.

"Gee, golly, gosh, gloriosky," thought Mary Sue as she stepped on the bridge of the Enterprise. "Here I am, the youngest lieutenant in the fleet—only fifteen and a half years old."

Captain Kirk came up to her. "Oh, Lieutenant, I love you madly. Will you come to bed with me?"
"Captain! I am not that kind of girl!"
"You're right, and I respect you for it. Here, take over the ship for a minute while I go get some coffee for us."
Mr. Spock came onto the bridge. "What are you doing in the command seat, Lieutenant?"
"The Captain told me to."
"Flawlessly logical. I admire your mind."
Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy and Mr. Scott beamed down with Lt. Mary Sue to Rigel XXXVII. They were attacked by green androids and thrown into prison. In a moment of weakness Lt. Mary Sue revealed to Mr. Spock that she too was half Vulcan. Recovering quickly, she sprung the lock with her hairpin and they all got away back to the ship.
But back on board, Dr. McCoy and Lt. Mary Sue found out that the men who had beamed down were seriously stricken by the jumping cold robbies, Mary Sue less so. While the four officers languished in Sick Bay, Lt. Mary Sue ran the ship, and ran it so well she received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Vulcan Order of Gallantry and the Tralfamadorian Order of Good Guyhood.
However the disease finally got to her and she fell fatally ill. In the Sick Bay as she breathed her last, she was surrounded by Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Mr. Scott, all weeping unashamedly at the loss of her beautiful youth and youthful beauty, intelligence, capability and all around niceness. Even to this day her birthday is a national holiday on the Enterprise.


To summarize, The original Mary Sue is not a god modder in the traditional sense. While she is impossibly smart for her age and has a lot of skills, these are more indicators of being a god modder. What really makes Mary Sue a Mary Sue is that the world’s logic bends to her whim. It’s possible for a “fifteen and a half” year old to have youthful beauty. It’s a bit harder to believe that she became a Lieutenant at such a young age. But to be a better doctor than Dr McCoy, more logical than Spock, refuse Kirk (ew, dude!) and man an entire ship that needs four people to pilot makes her become nonsensical. Emulsion is thoroughly destroyed.

This is why characters like Superman aren’t Mary Sues. While powerful, his universe functions in a way that he can be that powerful. Moreover, his stories are still interesting (usually!) because as mighty as he is, we see time and time again that he can’t right every wrong.

Going back to Rilla Müller’s character sheet, we really don’t have enough information to determine if we’re dealing with a problematic character. We need to see what kind of RP she’s being placed in. Let’s say the RP is an anime inspired version of an alternate history world war two setting where Hitler never came into power and the Germans ended up joining the allies. The other very important difference is that the prominent technology for this alternate history closely matches the steam-punk aesthetic.

The issues become really obvious now, don’t they?

Rilla Müller isn’t as egregious as Mary Sue, but she has a number of immersion breaking features that don’t make her compatible with the setting. While Germany had its fair share of singers, they didn’t really have an idol culture like Japan did. Moreover, idol culture didn’t really start until well after WWII ended. Rilla is also a neko/cat girl, which isn’t something most steampunk or historic fiction pieces would allow for. Perhaps the biggest offender is her electric powered mech suit, which should be powered by steam in a setting like this. Without a proper explanation, her electric/sonic arments seem out of place.

The next question is, can we save Rilla Müller? Is there an acceptable character hiding somewhere in there?

Among the numerous bits of sentence-long-writing-advice is something called “Kill your darlings.” Like most writing advice, it doesn’t do much to explain the nuances of the problem it’s trying to solve. The idea is that you might have a cool character, but you might not have room for them in the story you want to tell. But you don’t always have to “Kill” your darling, you might be able to change them.

Let’s pretend I thought up Rilla Müller as she is on our character sheet. Since then, I’ve read the RP’s interest check and realize that she doesn’t quite fit.

The next step is to strip away everything that conflicts with the setting but stopping at what’s important to me. I do this by asking myself why a character is the way they are. Does Rilla need to be an idol, or can she just be someone who likes singing? Does she need to be a neko, or am I more interested in a character with a certain personality type? Does she need to be a wiz with electricity, or could she be a wiz with steam? These answers are going to be different for everyone, but I find that any time I do this, I end up with a character that’s scaled back from my original idea but is just as fun to play. The trick is separating what you want from what you need to be happy with your character.






Rilla Müller
Backyard Tech Superstar


Age 21 | Female | 120 LBs | 5’
Mechsuit | Engineer | German


Rilia is an up and coming engineer that built her own steam powered mech suit in her father’s workshop. Her suit uses pressurized steam to fire brass steaks and has a steam thrower for boiling targets that get too close. Lastly, her suit is capable of using its hot steam to propel her as she runs and jumps, increasing her speed and mobility.




This isn’t the only correct version of Rilla Müller that we can make. I could lean into her being a singer instead of the engineer direction. She’s only 21 so I don’t want to give her a lot of skills that she doesn’t need. But you don’t need to know how to build mech suits if you want to pilot them. Though if she’s going to be a singer, maybe she likes it because she likes helping others. She could have enlisted as a medic or some kind of support role. I also decided to grab a picture with a more flamboyant appearance this time. The ribbon on her head kind of looks like a pair of bunny ears. If I cared enough, I could probably search for an image of a girl with a bow on her head to get the cat girl look if it was something I really wanted to keep.






Rilla Müller
Medicinal Superstar


Age 21 | Female | 120 LBs | 5’
Mechsuit | Medic | German


Rilia is a singer by trade but decided to become a medic to help with the war effort. She goes into battle in a steam powered mech suit armed with a single machine gun. Her suit is also equipped with an assortment of tools to quickly bandage up wounded soldiers and get them back home. Lastly, her suit is capable of using its hot steam to propel her as she runs and jumps, increasing her speed and mobility. Perfect for bringing the wounded back from the front line.




We could do a few more, but I think these two results show that no matter how absurd a character concept, it can be boiled down to its core components and work with anything.

It’s easy to get excited to play your ideal character and forget that Roleplaying is, actually, a social activity. If you just want to write stories about your ideal character you can do that on your own. But the real joy of roleplaying comes from the interactions. Having your character do something and then having another character react to it. Discussing directions for the plot to go while keeping enough back that there’s still a surprise. While you shouldn’t feel the need to bend over backwards for everyone, you should do your part to avoid joining an RP with a character that doesn’t fit. If you can’t be satisfied with anything but the character you’ve envisioned, then maybe that RP isn’t for you.

And don’t hate on people who submit these kinds of characters. Mary Sues aren’t usually a sign of a nasty, maleficent player. They usually don’t understand the setting or want their character to come across as really cool.

I have more to say on the behavior of Mary Sue type characters, as they’re a bit more than what I outlined above. I’d also like to demonstrate how how you can go about making your characters instantly likable. But I’m going to save that for another article that will deal with posts rather than the character sheet. This is already coming out a little later than I wanted, so I hope you read the next one. Until then, pay attention to a roleplay’s theme and setting, and you’ll never have to worry about your characters fitting in.
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Hidden 9 mos ago Post by BangoSkank
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Great posts. Wanted to contribute.

You might still get some utility out of the original CS too as what your revamped character aspires to be/do. Or as a character trait to completely subvert.

This ended up being a tangent about character development rather than Mary Sues but I'll post it just the same, in a hider. If it's too much a tangent let me know and I'll get it deleted and post it somewhere else.

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Shouldn't it be referred to as god-moding, since it's based on god mode, rather than a god mod? I don't wanna split hairs, but I want to be sure if it's been accepted by now, or if it's an outright typo.
Hidden 9 mos ago Post by BrokenPromise
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@BangoSkank Thanks for the kind words, and there's nothing wrong with adding onto an existing article with your own advice. I was told once that the guides section was filled with total egomaniacs who just wanted to force their ideas down other people's throats. I don't believe that's true, but I see some guides have been locked to prevent people from commenting on them. I think inviting people to talk about what you write shows that you're confident in what you're saying, and allows you to improve should someone make a contribution or notice an error.

Funnily enough, Mary sues were just a way to start the conversation about what makes for a strong character, which was originally going to be part of this article but life happened. So I decided to ship this out as part one with part two on the way. It's how I trick people into reading about intermediate/advanced writing techniques that I know they can handle.

Shouldn't it be referred to as god-moding, since it's based on god mode, rather than a god mod? I don't wanna split hairs, but I want to be sure if it's been accepted by now, or if it's an outright typo.


God-modding seems to be fine. However, godmoding works too. There's a lot of carry over between the video game and RP spaces, so a lot of similar sounding words get used interchangeably.
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Mary Sues, God Modding, and the Quest for a Cool Character: Part Two

In the last part, we talked about Mary Sues and went over a method for turning crazy character ideas into usable character sheets. This time we’ll be talking about making a strong character that’s likable in post. But first, I’d like to clarify something about Mary Sues.

What makes a Sue a Sue doesn’t always crop up on a character sheet. You can have someone who seems to fit in the setting, but then circumstances cause unusual things to happen. Maybe a junior detective can single-handedly solve a case that baffled his superiors. Maybe an inexperienced hero turns the tables on an experienced villain. A character who never swam a day in their lives is a better swimmer than everyone else at the race. In a vacuum these examples could be flukes, but they challenge a reader’s suspension of disbelief every time they happen. The issue with Sues and God Modders is they do this all the time.

You may wonder why someone would do that if it’s so hated. Inexperienced writers might not know any better. Everyone loves an underdog story, but the novice writer is not aware of the nuances that make the event memorable, and fails to make it feel earned. Alternatively, they may want escapism. The character can be perfect in all the ways the player wishes they were. Their character can have existent social skills, be smart, and never face adversity. In a role play setting where everyone has their own characters to play, their wish fulfillment fantasies often come at the expense of other players, if not the plot as a whole.

The best strategy to avoid writing a Sue is to get experience and not use your character for pure escapism. Making something that suits the world is a great first step, but we’ve already covered that. Moreover, a character sheet is a starting point. We’ll need to take our characters the rest of the way by writing posts.

There are some things that storycraft dictates we should do to create strong, memorable characters. There is no litmus test that can tell us if a character is strong or not. A strong character is simply a well written one. A Mary Sue may have traits that make them likable, but that does not mean that they are a strong or interesting character. let’s look at some elements that we can use to see how well written a character is.

Those elements would be their…

-Character Arc
-Motivation
-Activity Level
-Struggle/Flaws
-Likability

Let’s explore these in depth.

Character Arc:

You want your character to have an arc. They start in one place, and as the story progresses, they learn and grow into someone else. At the end of the RP your character should not be the same person they were at the start. This is the mark of a character that can reflect and change their outlook as things move on. This can master some difficult skill, or learn to overcome a negative part of themself. They don’t have to become a totally different person, but their experiences should change them. These changes do not always have to be for the better.

In most situations, a Mary Sue will start off perfect. They do not have an arc because there is nothing to change, as any change would only make them worse off.

Motivation:

Characters should have their own core drives. A father might do anything to protect his family, a nurse might be motivated to save every life she encounters, a monster may wish to be seen as a person. Their core values should dictate what they do in the RP, and be strong enough that they drive their important decisions. This helps decide the people they work with and the people they avoid.

A Mary Sue typically won’t have a drive like that. Their actions are dictated by the plot and what needs to happen.

Activity Level:

Related to motivation, Activity Level is all about how frequently your character takes initiative. A sign of a strong character is one that is compelled to do things. They don’t just sit around and wait for things to happen. They make choices, often without being prompted, and do not passively react to everything. Nobody can be active all the time, but most of your character’s actions should be a result of their decision making.

A Sue does not need to make choices often. They are reactionary creatures, often stumbling into conflicts and allowing the situation to dictate their actions.

Struggle/Flaws:

Most characters will spend more time winning than losing. Otherwise D&D campaigns would be a lot shorter. But how easy do your character’s victories come? Everyone has a set of skills that they are especially good at, but they may have a weakness and/or come across tasks that are difficult for them. Everyone struggles with something, be it physical or mental. Characters that struggle to complete tasks, or even fail while doing them, earn our empathy and endear us to them.

A Mary Sue does not struggle often, if at all. They are equipped for nearly every situation they come across. If they have flaws, they are often meaningless flaws that never prevent them from getting what they want.

Likability:

This one is a bit more complicated… and one some Sues get right!

Michael Hauge is a renowned Story consultant and script doctor. He’s worked on a lot of Will Smith’s projects, before Will decided to slap Chris Rock. He’s also on the Board of Directors of the American Screenwriters Association and the Advisory Board for Scriptwriter Magazine in London. Most notably for our uses, he wrote a book called “Writing Screenplays That Sell”, where he lays out four character elements that make audiences instantly like a character. Those are:

-Make a character good at what he/she does.
-Make the character funny.
-Make the character the recipient of an undeserved misfortune.
-Give the character a strong moral code.

These are all traits that endear us to real people, and they work just as well with characters. Half of these are built into most Mary Sues. A Sue is often good at everything they do. While not all of them are funny, many of them have a tragic backstory, and have no issue following their moral compass. This is why some Sues can be likable even if they are poorly written.




With those basic elements outlined, let’s take a look at one of the Rilla Müller sheets in part one and decide how we’re going to develop her.



Rilla Müller
Backyard Tech Superstar


Age 21 | Female | 120 LBs | 5’
Mechsuit | Engineer | German


Rilia is an up and coming engineer that built her own steam powered mech suit in her father’s workshop. Her suit uses pressurized steam to fire brass steaks and has a steam thrower for boiling targets that get too close. Lastly, her suit is capable of using its hot steam to propel her as she runs and jumps, increasing her speed and mobility.


We’ll just go down the list.

Because I wrote a pretty bare bones character sheet, there’s not a ton of stuff we can use to determine what her character arc could be. But for those of you that read my article on dialog, Rilia’s name may look familiar. That’s the girl that was arguing with her sister. If you remember it, you probably also remember her hatred for the Italian fascists that killed her parents. I like the idea of her having cognitive dissonance because while she thinks the best of humanity as a general rule, she also believes that Italians are the true scum of the earth, effectively becoming a racist. She would have many opportunities to see the error of her ways. Maybe one of the other players is playing a defecting Italian that she doesn’t trust initially, or she could have repeated encounters with Italian civilians. Either way, she’ll come to change her view on Italians and learn to separate them from the acts of their heinous dictator.

I should probably mention that this type of plot won’t work in every RP. Racism isn’t something every GM wants to tackle, even if they tolerate other dark themes. If you’re unsure, you may wish to talk it over with the GM before you dedicate time to writing a character they won’t let you play. But this is a war drama, and racism/nationalism is sure to play a big part of the story.

With the arc taken care of, motivation falls into place. She’s motivated by her need for revenge, which is secondary only to her desire to save her people. Before her arc concludes at least. If there’s an Italian soldier that wishes to defect or surrender, she is going to be the most insistent that they kill him rather than keep him alive, even if he has useful secrets.

To make her active, we just need to make sure Rilia isn’t passive in the RP. She will take orders from her superiors, but she should be self motivated and not always need to be told what to do. If two of her squad mates are shot in front of her, she needs to decide if she’s going to help neutralize the threat or focus on evacuating her allies. Being told how to handle the situation removes her agency.

Now we move onto any flaws she may have, and anything she could struggle with. I think it should be noted that in order for a flaw to feel impactful, it needs to actually inconvenience the character. So while it would be tempting to write off her unbridled hatred for the Italians as a flaw, she’s in a war zone. Having contempt for her enemy is not a flaw that’s going to hold her back in all but a few situations. It would be a different story if she had to butt heads with an allied Italian, but I think I’m going to give her something else just in case. I have two ideal picks for her. We could give her another moral flaw and make her vain. She’s a nice person, but she needs to show off and frequently does things that are way out of her freaking element. This makes certain situations more challenging, as she won’t reliably follow orders and overestimates herself. Alternatively, we give her a physical flaw. Maybe she’s not good at fighting due to her inexperience, or she’s a paraplegic and can’t walk without her mech suit. If you’re going with the latter, make sure there’s a time when such a flaw can show itself. Remember, flaws do not have to stick with the character forever. Over time they can grow and change, and her lack of fighting skill or oversized ego could be resolved with time. That might even be a more interesting arc than her overcoming her racism.

Now all that’s left to worry about is her likability. She joined the mech suit unit because she was a good mechanic. Even if she isn’t as good at fighting as other characters, her skill in crafting crazy gadgets for her mech suit, ability to sing, and clever word play is sure to sell Rilia’s skills. There will also be opportunities to do funny things with her. Do note that a character doesn’t have to turn themselves into a joke to be funny. She might just have comedic chemistry with another character or have a really good pun game. As described previously, her parents were killed when the Italians attacked, which is her undeserved misfortune. And her strong moral code comes from her underlying belief that no human deserves to suffer the horrors of war, which will get even stronger once she decides Italians are humans too.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you go about playing a strong character that almost everyone will love. We give our characters flaws, because they are strong enough to overcome them. We make them competent, but not perfect. We also ensure we don’t upstage other player characters unless it makes sense to do so.

I could end the discussion here, but there’s an elephant in the room that has yet to be addressed. Some of you are likely wondering if it’s possible to have something like a predetermined arc or direction to grow. You’re not penning a story by yourself. Your character is subject to the whims of the GM and other players. Doesn’t this make determining things like who your character is in the future kind of challenging?

In a word: Yes.

I think I’ll share another one of my war stories with you. I was once in an RP with a character called Benny. Benny was kind of strong. They were able to fight as well as the strongest characters in the setting, had lots of friends, and had a tremendous amount of political power because why not? They were a Sue, without question.

I was invited onto the GM team to help determine the direction of the RP. I had a lot of ideas, and voiced my concerns about Benny’s strength. While I was acknowledged and systems I created were implemented, the GM would always make sure to add a little loop hole that Benny could use to exploit said system. I stepped down form being a GM, and left not long after that. I was pretty fed up with Benny and their player.

About a year later, I met Benny’s player out in the wild. We just had a nice talk about Benny and we didn’t allow our past experiences with each other make us salty. I learned two things talking to Benny’s player. The first was that they didn’t understand basic storycraft. But the second thing was that Benny being this political,physical, and social power house was largely because of the main GM. Benny was only ever supposed to be a powerhouse of a fighter. Unfortunately, their powerhouse status made them quite desirable to all the player characters, and everyone wanted to be friends with them. This was further exacerbated by the GM, who refused to challenge the character. At one point Benny snapped at a powerful, irritable character that was looking for an excuse to attack Benny and the rest of the players. But rather than capitalizing on the opportunity, they were all “I admire your passion and why you’re doing this.” Like, what? Even Benny’s player was a little miffed about the whole thing. Benny had been caught in a trap where they could do spectacular things, but none of it interesting. Their character had become a Mary Sue.

The lesson to be learned is that your character’s development isn’t totally in your hands, but there are workarounds. You can have a plan B or just be adaptable. As the RP goes on you can decide if the events your character is experiencing will shape your character differently. Your plan is merely a roadmap to help guide your character in the right direction. Don’t be afraid to take detours if they look interesting. Maybe Rilia doesn’t overcome her racism through interactions with good Italians. Maybe it’s seeing her own behavior mirrored by evil Italian officers that causes her to snap out of it. Alternatively, you can talk with the other players and GM about the direction you’d like to take your character in. I love being part of another character’s journey, and everyone that helps your character grow will be more endeared to them because of it. Also, sometimes desires change. After roleplaying a character for many years, you may decide to take them in a different direction.

And there you have it, a few elements to keep in mind as your character moves about the RP they’re in. It’s not the end of the world if your character is missing a few of these elements. Even something as seemingly important as a character arc does not need to be present for a character to do well. There is a concept involving “round” and “flat” characters, but I’ll talk more about that later. For now, just strive for strong characters, and readers will never accuse them of being a Mary Sue.

EDIT: I forgot to include this in my article somewhere, but @BangoSkank made a few interesting points on using your initial concept for further character development, which is worth a read and can be found here.
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Round VS Flat, Static VS Dynamic: Is a Character Arc Always Necessary?

Something we’re told constantly when we set out to make a good character is to have a character arc. Give your character a journey where they mature and grow into the best version of themselves, or in some cases, the worst version. That has more or less been how main characters have been written since time eternal. Naturally, we try to mimic this in role playing so that our characters can be just as strong as their story counterparts.

If you’ve ever tried this, you know it’s much harder in practice.

What can end up happening is that the RP takes an unexpected turn. Maybe something happens that makes your original idea impossible, or a player drops and their character is retired. It can create a lot of extra work.Even if things go well, you’re still need to decide how this thing is going to unfold. You don’t want to drag things on only for the interesting stuff to happen at the end of the RP, but if you resolve things too quickly, your character will have completed their arc with no room to grow moving forward. Because a character stops being interesting once their arc ends, right?

Not necessarily.

When writing stories, any given character can be defined with a number of attributes based on their personality and arc. There are subtle differences between each, and some mistakenly use them interchangeably. In fact I did so in the last article before re-writing it! These attributes are:

Flat: Character that has a simple personality and is easy to understand. They fill archetypes perfectly and can rarely surprise a reader.

Round: A more complex character that cannot be immediately understood. They often have conflicting ideas and a reader will have to be observant to understand how they tick.

Static: Characters like this do not change as the story goes on. They will always be as they are.

Dynamic: A character with the capacity to grow and change as the story progresses. Their personality can be altered by the events of the story.

Flat and round refers to a character’s personality, while static and dynamic refers to their growth/arc.

The temptation is to say characters with complex traits (round/dynamic) are better than those with simple (flat/static) ones, but this isn’t always the case. The sad truth is that not every character is going to get the same amount of time to shine. A protagonist will likely be featured in many chapters, if not all of them. Other characters won’t get this level of exposure. Good writers know this, and make most side characters flat. Because they have no complex motives, you don’t need to see a lot of them to understand them. These characters are often static for the same reason. They don’t have an arc to further develop, reducing the amount of page time they need to be effective. Moreover, characters that never change are allowed to be their best selves right away. They don’t need to undergo an arc to be interesting, or maybe their arc concluded before the story started.

There are some examples where flat and static characters fill the protagonist role, like Sherlock Holmes. He’s already capped his deduction skills as a detective, and his personality isn’t hard to figure out. He’s all about the thrill of chasing down his mark and discovering whodunnit. If you want something more recent, Goku is another example. He fights to protect earth, and his motto is to never stop training to push what the best version of himself is. Goku has faced countless foes and hardships, but this never changed his core beliefs. Same with Looney Tunes and other early forms of episodic television. It’s rare for the characters to change much from one episode to the next. Nor do we need to see more than an episode to understand how the character thinks.

The reason why it’s important to make a distinction between one type of character or another is because of their needs. Characters with complex traits are internally focused. It’s watching them grapple with their flaws and struggle to change that endears us to them. Simple characters do not have that advantage. They are externally focused, and while they may be inherently charismatic or interesting, it is watching them resist change or make the world change that endears us to them. If you want your simple character to be more interesting, then you need to challenge them. This is one of the reasons why the pupil/teacher trope works so well. Actually, let’s demo that right now.

Once again, I’m going to borrow Rilla Müller for this example. She’s an inventor of steam gadgets and racist against Italians due to what they did to her family. Moreover, she needs to learn how to better pilot her mech suit if she wants to be of any use in the upcoming war. To this end, the higher ups decide to have her train with legendary mech suit pilot Fiorello Bianchi. Yes, that is a very Italian name, and Rilla is very not okay working with him.

It’s a rocky start, as you can imagine. Rilla is a round, dynamic character, so her prejudices prevent her from getting what she wants. Her hate for Italians prevents her from listening to Fiorello, even though it would help her get the vengeance she seeks. Meanwhile, Fiorello is her flat/static support. He’s an accomplished mech pilot and he performs as well as he can every time. He also has little difficulty focusing on his objective during a mission. When she disobeys him, he still does his best to make sure she doesn’t get herself killed. He resists the urge to let her get her just deserts. He frequently adapts to her reckless behavior and may outright save her on occasion. There it is on display: Rilia struggling with her inner flaws, and Fiorello struggling against his pupil’s personality..

Over time, Fiorello will be able to help Rilla overcome her flaw. It should be something Rilia is ultimately responsible for, but Fiorello can help guide her. Through him, she may realize that there are exceptions to the rules sometimes. Maybe she starts to take him seriously as her teacher and grows as a pilot. Then there will come a time when Rilla is tempted to give into her racism again. Say she comes across a group of Italians in a burning building. It would be easy to let the fire claim “their kind,” the race of people responsible for her parents death. But she makes the harder choice and risks her health to save them. The act endears us to Rilia because she was strong enough to change, but it also endears us to Fiorello for making her realize she could.

But Rilla isn’t done as a character. She’s grown, and her social dissonance has been corrected, but that just means she’s a bit more like a simpler type of character. If she completes her arc “too early” in a story, that just means her needs as a character have changed. You could find other aspects of her to grow and change, but you could also just treat her like a simple character. Don’t make her change, have her try to change her environment. She’s an accomplished inventor, so maybe she can help someone else with their mech suit. Maybe trick it out or something. And just because she’s overcome her bias doesn’t mean she can’t still struggle with it. Other factors in the story might tempt her to revert, but she resists them every time.

There you have it. Character arcs are cool but by no means something that is essential to have a good character. By having them struggle to resist change or change others it is possible to endear our characters to readers. So strive for external changes for your simple characters, and they’ll never need an arc.
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Relationships, and why Characters are not People

I am not a romance writer. I have no idea how the advice I’m about to give holds up in a full blown romance RP. But if you want to do a romance subplot or a platonic relationship, this should be effective.

To start, your characters have to want or need something that the other one provides. You might have one character who’s unsure of himself, but capable. You could pair them up with a brazen character who talks a big game, but can’t back it up. They can feed off one another and move closer to their goals. Alternatively, you could make a toxic relationship by pairing a character who wants to be loved with one that wants to control. There isn’t a huge difference between romantic and platonic relationships. Aside from some sexual tension, both types of relationships follow the format of “We benefit from spending time together, thus we do.”

And that’s it, really.

But we’re not here to write relationships, we’re here to write interesting relationships. Anyone who’s been reading along knows my favorite method for creating interest is to have some conflict. The relationship could have internal conflict. Maybe some loser needs to “get gud” to impress the girl of their dreams, or two characters with diametric flaws need to learn how to deal with each other while trying to overcome their weakness. Alternatively, you could have external conflict. Two characters instantly fall in love, but their social status, race, or occupation makes such a pairing undesirable due to external factors. That creates tension outside of the relationship. Not every relationship needs to be founded by flawed characters. You can certainly have “static” characters that had all that development in their background already. But there’s a reason stories about happily married couples don't focus too hard on relationship drama.

You might be tempted to put two characters in a relationship because they fill a dynamic you like. “That cute girl and that serious guy would make quite the couple.” And that might be true. Opposites attract and all that. But it can be hard to work out why these two want to be around each other if they gain nothing out of their union. When the going gets tough, when something better comes along, why do they continue to stick around? It’s fine to have couples with wildly different personalities, but make sure there’s more to it than that.

But not too much more. I’m willing to bet that a lot of new writers want their work to be good. They aren’t afraid to do a little bit of work to make their character more complex. I know some people who try to figure out every detail they can. They will flesh out their character's parents and siblings, even if they never show up in the RP. They’ll create lists of their favorite foods, where they go out to eat, down to their most trivial hobbies. Pets past and present, modes of transportation, irrelevant hobbies. Because all of this extra detail is sure to make a great character. Because characters are people and-

No, no that’s not quite right.

Characters are distilled versions of people. They’ve been stripped of unnecessary fluff so that a story can be told. Rilla, my German steam suit pilot character, would likely order a draft beer if she went out to eat. She does this for no other reason than she’s German and they like the good stuff. If you let me order, who can say what I’ll get? Some days I feel like an Arnold Palmer and other times a water will do. Maybe I want to try something new? This isn’t a problem in real life, but in a RP my actions would be hard to keep up with. Never mind ordering food, these “inconsistencies” in behavior become more baffling during critical moments. If I had to choose which of my friends to prioritize saving from a burning building, I would be expected to panic. No one would assume that who I chose to save had any bearing on my personal feelings. But Rilla would be scrutinized for her choice. Who she chose to save would (and should) be seen as revealing a truth about her character. Not only the readers, but other characters would form opinions based on what she did. This “keep it simple, stupid” mentality also works for relationships. Many have written books on how to get a partner, and they still fail to illustrate the complexity of navigating relationships. That kind of depth isn’t needed or wanted to explain why two people choose to stick together. A simple, logical reason will suffice. We want a story at the end of the day.

Let’s put it all together and give Rilla a boyfriend. We’ll start by listing off her strengths and flaws. Rillia is quite the craftsman. She made her mech suit herself and performs all of her own maintenance. She’s also crafty enough to repair machines that she didn’t personally build. Rilla is fiercely motivated and shows more bravery than anyone else in her squad. She’s not afraid to take charge and doesn’t let setbacks slow her down. Her weaknesses are just as numerous. Rilla’s mech suit may be a sight to behold but her craftsmanship is better than her marksmanship. She also gets a lot of her drive from her desire to avenge her parents, so she’s rather passionate about killing the Italians. Sometimes her actions are more reckless than brave.

Distilled to their simplest elements: Great with steam tech, motivated and brave, angry and a weak fighter, reckless. For a good relationship, we should pick someone that can benefit from her strengths and cover her weaknesses. We’re not looking for the ying to Rilla’s yang, just a few areas of compatibility are fine. We could address her combat ability and bravery with a war hero who suffers from PTSD and feels he can no longer fight. He could teach her and rekindle his fighting spirit. Maybe she encounters a fresh recruit like herself who loves and tolerates everyone, but doesn’t know how to properly maintain his steam tank. Maybe she hits it off with the squad’s operator. He’s lethargic but cool under pressure. These are three very different guys that would all make a great romantic interest for Rilla. They can both grow from one another and will have plenty of tension between them.

So there you have it. I didn’t really cover a whole lot of new stuff here. We just took the basics we already knew and applied it to a complex topic like relationships. The only thing I didn’t explicitly cover is the chemistry between players. The above assumes that you are writing your character's love interest yourself or writing with someone who values good story craft. Theoretically good relationships can still fail to be interesting if the players change how the characters behave. I’ve seen relationships that promise to have strong development fall flat because the players decided that the characters can overlook all of their partner’s flaws. Even ones that run against the character’s morals or logic. So strive to understand your character’s needs, and they’ll never (theoretically) enter a boring relationship.




Has it been three months already? I went on a bit of a bender there where I was joining roleplays left and right. Now that most of them have died slowed down I’ll probably get the next one out sooner. I don’t think I’m going to do many more in this style. I have a few more articles on Storycraft left in me. We’ll see how many I have before capping things off with that collaboration tutorial I’ve been putting off for a few years now.
Hidden 2 mos ago Post by BrokenPromise
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BrokenPromise With Rightious Hands

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...

*Rubs back of neck*

It's easy to lose track of time at the end of the year.

I've been slowly working on a few other articles, but I didn't like any of them because it felt like different applications of what's already been explained in here. Did you know you can use subtext to mix emotions and action together in narration? Yes, yes you did.

But I know what I'm really trying to do here. I'm dancing around that collab article that I said I was going to write years ago. The funny thing is, I kind of started STORYCRAFT for the sole purpose of getting myself to write it. So I think the next thing I'll write will be our series finale. It should be worth the wait when it finally drops.
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