Characters, Motivation, and Storytelling.   Posted by The Raconteur.Group: archive 0
The Raconteur
 GM, 7 posts
 Teller of Tales
 Writer of Wrongs
Thu 22 Aug 2013
at 18:34
Characters, Motivation, and Storytelling
There's this thing I've heard from players ever since the first time I picked up dice.  The situation goes something like this.  The GM throws something out there in the fiction; a girl runs into the tavern begging for help, the sorceress becomes infatuated with one of the PCs or the village elder wants the party to help out against the local bandits.  You know.  The normal stuff.  It almost never fails but that at least one of the players has his or her character ignore or disengage from what as been tossed out there.  The reason they give is that old stand-by, "My character wouldn't do that."  Or some variation thereof.

Without trying to be too judgmental let me say this.  That is a horrible reason.  Let's put this unassailable truth out there on the table: the character isn't real.  It doesn't exist.  Only players actually exist.  The characters only have any imagined existence insofar as what the players literally inject into the collective fiction.  All the personality traits and background and stuff that is in the player's head doesn't mean anything until it makes it out into the actual game fiction.

This is a freeing concept if you think about it.  Players really can approach the game and the story being told and stop worrying about "What would my character do?"  What they can now ask is this, "What is the most interesting thing for the story that my character could do?"  Can you see the difference there and the possibilities it opens up?

Many novelists say that their characters surprise them during the creation of their story.  Why?  Because novelists approach things from the perspective of what's best for the story.  When they reach a decision point in the writing they have the character do the most interesting thing for the story and then figure out why the character did it later.  If that decision clashes with the vision of the character they had in their head then that constitutes surprise.  Then they alter the vision of the character in their head a bit and the character grows and changes.

What does this mean for us?  It means don't get too wrapped up in trying to figure out the character's personality and motivations and backstory before play.  Just go with it.  When you reach decision points, make interesting decisions that push the story in cool directions.  Then explore in the writing why the character made those decisions.

This message was last edited by the GM at 01:44, Fri 23 Aug 2013.