Static Characters

Last post we talked about characters, mainly protagonists. In keeping with the same thread, I want to touch on static protagonists, and I can’t think of a better example than video game protagonists.

The guy from King’s Field the Ancient City

Nothing is known about who you are, from where you came, or what you can do then BAM! you get the cursed idol, and off you go to return it to the altar and destroy the root of some kind of evil, which may or may not be evil, but just darkness…or whatever.

So, with this totally static character, the audience/player never sees any kind of change. Hell, the protagonist never says a word. What, then, makes it interesting? How does the story move forward?

The environment. The further towards the dark altar you go, the more about that particular and mysterious world is revealed. This static issue may well be why so many people don’t get into video games. It does, however, draw in players who are imaginative enough to replace the character with themselves. Childish? Maybe, but what’s wrong with being enamored with the magic of childhood? Did we not all pretend to be knights slaying dragons, or princesses riding off on a white horse?

A better example is the Dragonborn from Skyrim

While the newest DLC allows the protagonist, who is Dragonborn, to meet and fight the first Dragonborn, the Dragonborn you play is much more mysterious than Mirak, the badguy.

In Skyrim you are some dude/chick about to get your head lopped off for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is no clue given to how you got to where you were, or why you were there in the first place.

As the game progresses, either by you venturing off on your on own or by following quest lines, the game reveals all kinds of dynamic stories, but the protagonist is rather one dimensional. Sure, you can give snippy replies, or very regal replies to dialogue, but if you wish to see all that the game has to offer, you bounce between the very good person spectrum to the very bad person spectrum, and nothing ever makes you a clearly cut, defined character.

So, again, it is the world that draws us in, the supporting characters, the music, the sights.

I have found that the static protagonist is a video game staple; we rarely if ever find them in books, TV, or movies. Matter of fact, I can’t readily produce one example.

There is also a form of dynamic character in some video games, but this is relatively new; only available now that games can produce such high quality worlds. I mean, when comparing the protagonist from Halo, to the two crazy dudes from Contra, we see a huge rise in complexity; we get a back story, plot development, etc.

In the Mass Effect Series we see even more. Regardless of playing as John or Jane Shepard, the player gets to be either good, bad, or neutral and some of the impending circumstances do force a very small change in the character.

Lately, I have seen the writing in games surpass script writing for television and movies. I have also seen it surpass many books, and truthfully, many of these mainstream authors are simply being decimated in the context of creativity. Then again, that’s why they sell so well. You see, games tend to stay completely true to very neatly defined genres, and so their admirers are hardcore fans of that genre. These other authors write in and around all kinds of genres then they get lumped into a category called genre fiction. I mean, what the hell is that, anyway?

True fans of any specific genre tend to find indie writers, who write stories in their favored genre. The downfall here is that these indie authors don’t have degrees in English literature and composition. They don’t have access to professional editors with doctorates in literature, so the work, while extremely creative, suffers in the technical aspect.

Regardless of all that, and with the advent of XBox One, we’re about to embark upon an age of magic, sci fi, and action, the likes of which no one has ever seen. That coupled with the rise of indie writers, producers, composers, and programmers working together, is going to overthrow the well known, and kind of dated, mainstream entertainment media.

Did you know that Lionsgate is an indie company?

How much longer before indie game producers release something totally original?

Some people still denounce games, but the writing there is really coming together, and anyone who doesn’t keep up, as a writer or a fan, is going to miss out on super cool stuff.

Back to the key point, here, static characters can make a dynamic universe all the more interesting whereas dynamic characters take the forefront in plots for stories with a static universe.

What do you think? I’d love to hear everyone’s opinion.

 

Character development

Recently I’ve had some time to analyze characters; I mean, that’s normally the driving force behind any kind of story. There are some exceptions, but we can all agree that 9 out of 10 times a story is driven forward by the protagonist. Sometimes that character is reluctant, and the author forces outside influences upon the character to manifest reactions. Other times, the protagonist is written as a character, who is actively searching for some kind of resolution. In either event, the character starts off with a sort of blank slate; we do not know anything about him/her, and by the end, the protagonist has undergone some sort of change. Before you say anything, no, this is not always the case. Let’s look at some standard examples though.

Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Real quick, I want to point out that this was published in 1937…it is soooo time for something new.

Anyway, Bilbo is an unsuspecting, naive, and fairly sheltered protagonist, and probably starts as the reluctant character, who by force of the story, becomes an active character seeking some sort of resolution; helping the dwarves, defeating the dragon, etc.

More recently, but still outdated, we have Luke Skywalker from Star Wars Episode 4

For those who know me, you’ll appreciate my (for once) unbiased opinion. Oh, wait, I already said it was outdated….

Okay, so young Skywalker, a reckless youth longing for adventure gets swept away by practically the biggest adventure imaginable; he has to stop the Death Star from destroying planets.

In this case, Skywalker starts off an impetuous character with the need to go a few rounds with the world around him…then his folks get killed and suddenly the reality of what it means to be at odds comes smashing him in the nards…or something like that. No, but seriously, folks, Skywalker undergoes several changes throughout the movies. Some of those changes are his own doings in order to grow and develop as an individual, and some of those changes, say, almost crossing over to the Dark Side, are brought about by other influences.

Regardless of the type of story; novel, movie, show, etc., the writer must find some method of changing his/her protagonist. If not, then the writer has to alter some other aspect of the created world, something I may touch upon in future posts.

There are other instances, in say, short stories, where a character may not need to change, but it then varies on the…convolution of that story; its particular complexities. It takes quite the story to have a static character, or many static characters, and still be appealing. Think about all those T.V. shows that came and went. Why? Most of the time, their characters were lame, and the story just wasn’t cool enough to keep people’s attention.

We need to see our characters-in order to identify with them, undergo strife and change.

Writers, think about it. Reply with your own situations. Readers and viewers, keep that in mind next time you’re involved with some flick or book. Please comment. Share your opinions.

Highmage’s Plight

highmage's plight by D.H. Aire

highmage’s plight by D.H. Aire

Get it today on Smashwords

Professor George Bradley, computer staff in hand, “envisions” an archaeological site, which could turn history on its head. Then he falls through a ripple in reality. This is a world where a starship crash landed, bringing about a war, which led to the laws of magic defeating those of science.

He enters a world where: trolls think they are human; elves believe humans can’t do magic since they don’t have souls; a child of prophecy is dying of a curse; a shape-changer is bent on killing him; a seeress keeps too many secrets; and an ogre and a boy struggle to defend a keep against the evil ruling it.

This is a world where a starship crash landed, bringing about a war, which led to the laws of magic defeating those of science.

Here a demon rages, intent on destroying all life, its minions intent on killing the human mage from another world.

If that wasn’t bad enough, George’s computer is now rather sarcastic.

Well, this sounds like it’s either a great plot or a disaster waiting to happen. Let’s take a look inside.

And so the new age began in a battle of magery with the survival of humanity and the traitorous elves that had abandoned their mad liege at stake. It was a battle neither side won as the Guardian called up the Gate. It burst forth above them in the sky swallowed the roiling winds of the demon wrought life stealing magery cast by their once great king far to the north.

The clouds parted as the unicorn reared, sunlight bathing him. Estha McQuin rose, dusting herself off and shouting at her granddaughter and their people, “Well, you lot, show some hospitality to our friends! They look worse for wear than we do!”

The unicorn had watched as the goblins, descendants of the elves who had, out of fear, remained loyal to the twisted demonic shadow of the Elfking. They broke through the Imperial mages’ wards as they had too often over the centuries, but this time as the legionnaires fought to turn them back something was amiss.

Reinforcements!” a commander cried.

None came.

Scryers shouted, “We’ve lost our link!”

Goblins screamed, cutting down the legionnaires and their mages defending the borderlands.

The unicorn reared and called a warning that echoed through the ether that reached the latest Guardian of the Gate in his study, at the very heart of the Empire.

The stallion raced south, its goblins pursuers bounding ever closer. He had to see what other mischief the Demonlord had managed, that he might relay it as the Highmage hurried to sit before his fireplace to establish a full mental link, afraid of what he was to learn.

Chapter 1: Highmage’s Plight

Flames crackled in the fireplace, the room’s only source of light set along the center of the stone wall. Shadows were cast over the intricately carved thousand-year-old desk and stacks of books on Imperial history and magery piled high in every corner. The aged, silver haired Highmage sat facing the fire chanting a spell. The flames gyrated higher with every word and an image formed.

He felt the call from the Northlands to seek vision from the fire. The unicorn reared within the flames. Through the unicorn’s eyes, he could see Imperial troops fleeing before a horde of goblins. The kingdom of Gwire, for long centuries the Empire’s ally, had to have fallen by treason, allowing the Demonlord’s armies to wreak havoc there. The Highmage sighed, seeing smoke rising from the ruins of the overrun line of border fortresses. Goblins could be seen flowing out of it, the blood of their victims drenching their weapons and mail.

Thunder pealed outside, which shook the Highmage clear of the vision. As rain poured on the tile roof, he could hear the Demonlord’s laughter in that thunder. It had begun! The Age of Mankind upon the face of this world was drawing to a close.

Trembling, the Highmage, the Guardian of this world, knew that with the northern forces in disarray it would only be a matter of time before the Empire itself fell. Ancient prophecy held that should Gwire and its Royal House fall, the Demonlord’s victory was assured. So the Empire had pledged troops to forever defend the borderlands.

I am not digging the writing. It comes off bulky and mixes through a sort of haphazard narrative and pieces, which serve better in conversation, but then this is a short excerpt. Maybe you want to give it a chance.

Character Interactions

All characters, from, well, anything; movies, T’V, novels, graphic novels, video games, etc., require a kernel of consistency. Characters need to remain uniform throughout the tale. This, however, does not mean they must be static; unchanging. It definitely doesn’t mean that they have to be one dimensional.

Take Batman…Ok, not the Adam West Batman, but the Dark Knight, he’s rigid, brooding, curt, but when Alfred’s around, he softens up a little. When Catwoman’s around, he get’s a little distracted.

Now, Batman has been around for a really long time, and there are many variations, though they are all very similar, and this character is very well developed. Regardless, I like to see how the author, or creator, or whoever it is, manipulates the world, the supporting characters, and the villains to force an unpredictable reaction from the main character. The writer doesn’t make his protagonist do or say something unexpected, he/she forces it in a very natural, almost subversive fashion.

This wasn’t something I even conceptualized until recently…well, fairly recently as compared to length of my writing career. Right now, for instance, I’m in the middle of cleaning up a story, one that’s been available for free for a while, Losing Human.

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You can download for free from Smashwords, here.

Or, you can wait a little while because, as I said, I’m cleaning it up for a short story compilation I’m going to be releasing in print soon.

Anyway, here’s my case in point with the protagonist, Dr. Heisler.

“Project Human is your pet. You asked for Dekker, Jenkins, and Schlessinger. Your goal was…,” he turned to his computer while speaking. “To help the human race break beyond its limitations by way of harnessing the power of time.”

“I recall what I wrote,” Heisler snipped.

“Via advanced MRC’s people can one day leave behind their old, damaged, or diseased bodies, and walk amongst us with a renewed passion for life, and learning,” Kessler continued unabashed.

“That’s still my goal. Nothing’s changed. We all knew problems were going to arise. Even solar energy-,” Heisler argued.

“Enough, Doctor,” Kessler interjected. “It isn’t the program I’m having problems with.”

“I know. I understand. I should’ve allowed Dekker to shut Franklin off. I’m sorry that I lost sight of…,” Heisler trailed off, and staring blankly for an awkwardly long moment, he grew angry. “No. I’m not sorry. I knew what I was doing, and I’d do it again. You’ve got to crack eggs to make an omelet, no? No one was injured. Nothing was broken…I fail to understand why everyone is against me.”

Kessler’s mouth twitched. Luckily, the others entered before he exploded on Heisler. Awkward glances prevailed then everyone took seats.

“Doctor Heisler, here is not making a good case,” Kessler started. “Regardless, head of finances has decided to withdraw the bulk of its resources from Project Human-.”

“Doctor Kessler,” Dekker pleaded.

“It’s out of my hands, gentlemen, but listen, and listen attentively. There’s still some money in the budget. If you can work with what you have, reformulate some of your…methods, and produce usable results, I may be able to push for consideration when the next fiscal year comes around,” Kessler explained.

“There’s plenty for us to do, really,” Jenkins said optimistically.

Kessler shot a glance over to Heisler. He smirked in reply.

“All right everyone, let’s go plan this out,” Heisler announced. “Kessler…thanks for your time.”

So, Heisler a rigid, non-feeling, intellectual tin-man as portrayed throughout most of the story, is forced to act a little differently when his friend Johnny enters the picture.

“Because we’re all different. Different outlooks, different professions, different likes…versatility, Johnny. Versatility. We don’t need to be around one another. There’s no…emotional attachment. We work on a project. Then we move on,” Heisler explained. “Like animals. They don’t look for each other to, to…go and hang out. They just live. A dog doesn’t get sad. A dog doesn’t need a funeral.”

“First of all, dogs run in packs. So your argument is crap right from the get go. Second of all, my dog Petey was sad as shit when his favorite toy fell apart,” Johnny argued.

“How did it fall apart?”

“He chewed it up,” Johnny said with an air of contempt.

“Right. He chewed it up…because of a biological need, which you deprived him of when you domesticated him. In the wild, a dog chews a stick. When it breaks, he isn’t sad about it…I don’t think Petey was saddened by destroying his own toy…no, I think the dog simply developed a longing for its true nature; surviving nature,” Heisler clarified. “Look at it this way; people, when removed from their natural order, develop psychological problems. You take an adolescent boy, and lock him in a basement, he’s going to become deranged, not because of a lack of toys, but because he’s been limited to such a small fraction of what his interpretive systems require.”

“You ever own a dog?” Johnny asked.

“No, Johnny. I never owned a dog.”

“You ever raised an adolescent?” he asked.

“No, Johnny. I never raised an adolescent.”

“Then what do you know?” Johnny posed.

“I never drank bleach, but I don’t need to, to know it will burn,” Heisler fired back.

“Think about it from the bleach’s perspective,” Johnny jested. “It’s never been inside of a man, but life inside one, might be better than inside of a bottle.”

“Now, you’re just being difficult,” Heisler grinned.

“There’s a smile.”

Granted, it isn’t a whopping change, but it adds to Heisler’s character. Without Johnny, and in other occasions, Dr. Dekker, Heisler remains a one dimensional character, which makes for a boring protagonist.

Keep in mind, if you’re a writer, or keep a look out, if you’re a reader, for things that force characters to develop, or act a bit out of the ordinary. After all, we all have that one person, place, or thing that forces us to behave a little quirky.