fakename: Comet above a cottonwood tree (HaleBopp)
[personal profile] fakename
One person told me once that making a character do what you want in a story is like herding cats. Of course, this mostly is short hand for "the characterization of the character and the situation means that there isn't one simple path or one most interesting path." So, how, without changing the situation strongly or the character, can you herd a cat?

For me, there's a couple of ways. First of all, you can use pen and paper game master advice for directing players. Let's look at how that'd work.

For example, you could use what's often called flags. Basically, if Bob loves gold, you can explicitly tell Bob that there's gold there. On the other hand, you can use a 'negative' flag for drama - so, say, Suzy has a deep abiding fear of mines in the north. It would be fun for Suzy to either react to the fear or try to conquer it. Combine them, and you could have Paul trying to chase his uber villain into an abandoned gold mine followed by Suzy and Bob. How to apply that to your wayward character? That'd mean reanalyzing what of their issues that could be applied by making them go there. Perhaps you'd need to have another character encourage them.

Another trick is the "All roads lead to Rome" thing. You go east? There's a mine. You go west. There's a mine. You go to the town? They suggest you go to the mine. You go on a boat. You eventually end up at the mine. This is very hard to do well. A more subtle approach is to have all the clues and incentives to prioritize going to the mines. That's still having all the roads leading to the mines, but it's the player's choice to go there. How to apply that? Well, you could have them getting persuaded by evidence or characters to do what you need them to do. You could have them explaining their motivation to another character. You could have a rabid bear chase them.

Another trick is to change the focus. Yes, you go to the mines, but it's entirely a psychological examination of Suzy's fears just before they go in, and you skip out on the stuff inside. If you can't see your characters doing whatever the plot needs, take something in that plot that is relevant to them and focus on that. You can see this in tv shows, where, for example, a drama might have a fire going on, but it's not about the fire. It's about how people are in that fire.

A final relevant trick is using plot coupons. This could be something like "Bob will do anything for his sister." Uber villain just called her a slattern and ran into the mines. Instant excuse to go to the mines. You could use mistaken impressions too. Bob may think uber villain did that, but it could be someone else. It could be Duke SoandSo trying to get Bob to take out the uber villain.

It's important to be careful when you decide on "will always do" things. People are never so firm in their convictions when faced with reality, and if they are, usually they've got very good reasons to be. Having a character who's always the wittiest, and always the most mothering ignores that there may be a million other people in the world just as witty and just as mothering. It's not the extremes of your character that make them unique. It's how they break and adhere to their convictions.

Let's say none of this fits the issue.

Well is the problem the character? If they'd never go on a boat, and their conflict with it is boring, then you've got the wrong character. If they don't want to investigate a murder, and there's no fruitful consequences to this, then they're not your investigator.

Is the problem the scene? You want Bob to meet Suzy, but the ballroom masquerade just seems like Bob would be smashing teacups and getting smashed. Well, don't use it. Maybe Suzy thinks the same thing. Maybe she left it and met up with Bob in a more amiable local. That could show more of your world. Maybe the entire class issues of the masquerade could be shown another way or in another place.

Is the problem your perception of how the characters would fit in the space? Maybe research the event / era / location. Maybe tackle another event with the same cast to see how to change the focus to something that flows.

Maybe it's supposed to be an awkward quickly over thing. Sometimes people try to draw out scenes that don't work, or agonize over talks that don't need to be written. Always be willing to say that cats can't be herded and move on.
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