Saturday, May 14, 2011

On Knowing What to Expect From Character Interactions

Not all character interactions in a story, especially an RP, are fun and butterflies. (Well, they darn well had better not be, anyway.) Interactions can and should go sour, they should spiral into arguments or awkward silences or send the characters off sulking in opposite directions, because realistically nobody is universally liked, and nobody universally likes everybody. A "negative" interaction can be just as sound and interesting as a "positive" one, often even more so. Sometimes, though, when I see an interaction go bad, shortly afterward I see one of the players involved, often the initiator, react with surprise and dismay: why won't anyone interact with me?, they say.

Well, here we go to answer that question. Note: This is about the reactions of characters, not about how to respond to constructive criticism from players.

Calm down. Take a deep breath. Remember: Unless you've been deliberately trolling, other characters' reluctance to talk to your character is probably not about you.

An interaction going bad should not be a surprise. If your character has done something to make another character dislike or distrust them, it should be easy to see that coming. Your character might not see it coming-- obliviousness is certainly an acceptable character trait-- but as a writer, you are most likely already aware of barriers to conversation. Even if your character hasn't done something to this character specifically, if you've deliberately written them as creepy, or deceitful, or combative, or generally unlikable, there's a good chance that the interaction won't go well. There's nothing wrong with this. But if your character has some trait that is not conducive to friendly chatter or close heart-to-hearts, don't be surprised that trying those kinds of interactions go poorly. Realistically, they should.

Likewise, be aware of the other character. Is the character you're talking to skittish or slow to trust people? A nice chat about feelings probably won't work. Are they written as combative or angry, do they hate everyone? Unless your character is specifically trying not to, they may make this person mad. So long as the other writer is not known to be a troll or have a particular dislike of you, the character in question is not a "voice of the author" character, and the character's behavior in the interaction is consistent with their overall writing, a bad reaction to your character is most likely nothing personal.

This also applies if you're looking for other characters to initiate interactions with your character. If it's consistent for your character to keep to herself, and the other characters in the party are all fairly antisocial, you may be out of luck... unless you get creative. Look for other ways for characters to connect. Not all interaction is speaking; if two fairly silent characters end up doing daily weapons practice at the same time, for example, they'll probably get used to each other's presence, and build up comfort to talk to people. It may just take time for a character to open up, just like it would with another person.

Of course this can be frustrating, especially if your character has made herself untrustworthy and most of the party won't talk to her, or if your character's perfectly nice but the rest of the party all hate everything and won't talk to him. Just remember that it's most likely not about you.

What if it is personal? Well, if the other player is trolling everyone in general, the GM likely already knows about it, but you might put in a word anyway. If they seem to just have taken a dislike to you, it may be a little more difficult to handle, but try to put together a case of instances of attacks on your character being inconsistent to the other character's other writing.

And if nobody wants their character to interact with yours because you've been trolling, well, that's your own grave you've dug. But if that's the case I doubt you're reading this, or care.

Writing rant disclaimer:
Some of you may have read some of my fiction or participate in an RP I am part of. If you notice that something in my writing has something I have labeled as a problem in my rant, go ahead and tell me so! I may not have noticed that I'm doing whatever it is, so that can help me! However, I do want to keep this place polite, so please no unnecessary bashing of my characters, or, for that matter, anyone else's, be it a fellow commenter or a fellow RP'er. 

Disclaimer 2: Most of my readers, at this point in the blog's lifetime, have probably been or are currently in some campaign I'm in. I'd like to reiterate that this is NOT about you personally. Certainly I hope it will be helpful to some of you, but it's about a phenomenon I've seen in general, not the specific actions of one player.

1 comment:

  1. There's nothing quite like feeling bad/awkward/unhelpful about/with how you initially chose to write your characters, and sometimes it's a little difficult to remain consistent in my writing with out of character knowledge like; How almost none of my characters get along with another person's even though we're on relatively good terms. In those instances I feel like I'm fueling some sort of problem even though I'm not.

    In general I tend to want to have positive interactions, but I don't mind negative ones either if(and only if) it's written well, which IMO tends to be about 50/50(same with positive interactions too sadly). But yeah, nice article, hopefully there's a lot of reads.


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