moral characters

for the life of me i still don’t understand why people watch htgawm and sort the characters into like categories of perfect angel baby vs literal irredeemable devil. pete/the cast have said multiple times the whole point is that the show is about morally grey characters who do bad things while still being fundamentally good people and exploring those shades of grey and you’re!!!! missing!!! the point!!!!

shit tier: using orcs as a stock evil race without character or morals
ok tier: acknowledging orcs are people with thoughts and aspirations beyond pillaging 
good tier: fleshed out orc characters with complex personalities
god tier: gay orcs kissing

The 10 Elements of a MAIN CHARACTER

To all the writers who have ever been told “Your characters have to be three dimensional!” or “They should be well-rounded!” and just felt like saying: “What does that even MEAN?! What goes into a 3-dimensional character? Specifically? And how do you go about creating one?!”

Good news. There’s a way. 

Great main characters – heroes, protagonists, deuteragonist, whatever you want to call them – have ten things in common. Ten things that are easily developed, once you know what to create within your character. So no one will ever be able to tell you “needs to be more three dimensional!” ever again. Ha. 

1) Weaknesses: Main characters should be flawed, but I’m not saying this because it will make them more realistic (though it will) – I’m saying they need to be flawed because if they’re not, they shouldn’t be a main character. Story is another word for change, or more accurately, character growth. Not character as in “fictional person”, character meaning “heart and soul”. Story is someone’s character changing, for better or worse. Main characters at the beginning of the story are lacking something vital, some knowledge of themselves, some knowledge of how to live a better life, and this void is ruining their lives. They must overcome these weaknesses, if they’re going to become complete, and reach a happy ending. There are two types of weaknesses: Psychological and Moral. Psychological ones only hurt the main character. Moral ones cause the main character to hurt other people. Easy.  

2) Goal: Characters exist because they want something. Desiring something, and the fight against opposition for that desire, is the lifeblood of story; and because character is story, it’s also desire that can breathe life into words on a page, and begin the process of creating a real person in a reader’s mind. It’s this ‘desire for something’ that sparks that first connection between reader and character. It makes us think “Well, now I have to find out if this person gets what they want.” This is a powerful link. (How many mediocre movies do we suffer through, when we could easily stop watching, because we’re still trapped by that question of “what happens?”) So if this is powerful enough to keep people watching an annoying movie, imagine how powerful it can be in an excellent story. 

Like in Up, the goal is to get the house to Paradise Falls.

3) Want: If the main character wants something, they want it for a darn good reason. Usually, they think that attaining the goal will fill the void they can sense in their lives, the deficiency they can feel, but don’t know how to fix. And they’re almost always wrong. Getting the goal doesn’t help anything; which is why, while pursuing that goal, they discover a deeper need that will heal them. Which brings us to …

4) Need/Elixir: Main characters are missing something, a weakness in their innermost selves is causing them to live a less-than-wonderful life. Through story, these main characters can be healed. Once they discover what’s missing, and accept it, and change the way they live to include this truth they’ve uncovered … they’re healed. Learning this truth, whatever it is, forms the purpose of the story for the main character. The reader, and the character, think the story is about achieving that big tangible goal the premise talks about; really, underneath it all, the story is about someone achieving a big intangible truth, that will ultimately save their life and future. Often, this need is exactly what the character fears or professes to hate. 

Like Finding Nemo, where Dory states exactly what Marlin needs to learn. 

5) Ghosts: 

Not this kind of ghosts.

Ghosts are events in your character’s past which mark the source of their weaknesses and strengths. Because these happened, the character became who they are. All we need to know about backstory are these moments, because who the character became is all we care about. There’s really only one ghost you absolutely need: the source of their moral and psychological weakness. Something happened that knocked the character’s world off kilter, and everything from that moment onward has been tainted by what happened. This moment haunts them (hence the name), and holds them back from uncovering that need that will heal their weaknesses. Pixar are masters of this: the source of Carl being stuck in the past, curmudgeonly, unable of loving anyone new? Ellie dying; his ghost. In Finding Nemo, the source of Marlin being suffocating, protective to the point of being harmful, possessive, and fearful? His wife and 99% of his children being eaten in front of him; his ghost. 

6) True Character: These are the strengths, values, convictions, fears, faults, beliefs, worldview, and outlook on life that make the main character who they truly are. 

7) Characterization: This is everything on the surface of a main character. The way they look, talk, act, etc. All of this originates from those deeper elements of their being, the strengths, values, ghosts, weaknesses, needs, that make them who they truly are. So often, you can think of this as a facade they’re projecting, a way to shield the the truth about themselves, how they wish to be perceived. The story, and the other characters, are slowly going to see deeper than this characterization, revealing more and more of the reasons it is the way it is. 

8) Arc: If the character is going to change from “Incomplete Person” to “Complete Person” there’s going to be a journey they go on to make that possible. The external story, the pursuit of that big tangible goal the premise is about, is causing an inner journey to take place. What they have to do in pursuit of that external goal will apply pressure to those weaknesses, and pressure causes change. This process has seven steps, but if I write it all here this post is going to be obscenely long. So I might wait and give this its own post.

9) Changed Person: Who is the character going to be at the end of this story? They better be different, or else the story didn’t work. How do they show how different they’ve become? What is the moral choice they make, that spins their trajectory from “the future doesn’t look so great” to “happily ever after”? This should be known right away, maybe even before anything else is settled about the character. This gives a distinct end goal, a way to work backwards, a destination in mind that you can navigate towards.  

10) Fascination and Illumination: The surface characterization, and the brief glimpses of the true character underneath create curiosity in the reader/audience. What the character says, and the implied subtext beneath the dialogue, creates a puzzle the audience wants to solve. Actions they take work the same way; if the writer indicates there’s deeper motivation behind why a character behaves in the way they do, we buy into solving that mystery right away. We can’t help it. “Who are you really? Why are you the way you are? And how is that going to effect the story?” These are all the unspoken, almost not consciously acknowledged, questions that fascinating characters provoke. Searching out meaning, connecting the dots to find the truth – we can’t resist this. We’re not fascinated by tons of backstory and exposition about a character; we’re fascinated by story, by mystery, by the technique of withholding information and having to interpret and hunt out the truth on our own.  So gradually, the story and the characters will force that character to reveal a little more, and a little more, until we have a complete picture of who this person is. Crucial that this information isn’t told up front. Gradually illuminate it. It’s just like getting to know a real person. 

So how does this work in a real character? Let’s take a look at Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert, because almost everybody has seen that movie. 

Moral Weaknesses: He’s selfish. He’s a little greedy. He’s a little rude. He uses his charisma and bravado to keep people at a distance from the real him. 

Psychological Weaknesses: Insecurity, fear of vulnerability, feels like the real him (Eugene) would be unwanted, unlovable, and have nothing – just like when he was an orphaned kid. Also, he doesn’t know who he wants to be, what he wants to live for. 

Goal: Flynn wants to get that crown. So he has to get Blondie to see the floating lights, so she’ll give it back to him, and then they can part ways as unlikely friends.  

Want: Why does he want the crown? What does it mean for him? He actually states it (reluctantly) in song: “I have dreams like you, no really. Just much less touchy feely. They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny. On an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone. Surrounded by enormous piles of money.” He senses there’s something off in his life, something is missing. But he mistakenly believes this missing piece is money, which will allow him to buy a lonely island, where he can live out his days as Flynn and no one will ever know Eugene. 

Need: “All those days chasing down a daydream. All those years living in a blur. All that time never truly seeing, things the way they were. Now she’s here, shining in the starlight. Now she’s here, suddenly I know. If she’s here, it’s crystal clear, I’m where I’m meant to go.” He wants a crown … he needs to fall in love with Rapunzel. He needs to love something more than himself, and find out that love isn’t something to fear and push away. He needs to abandon the 'Tales of Flynnagin Rider’ ambition, and get a more worthwhile, new dream. 

Ghost: The source of all of his weaknesses can be linked to his “little bit of a downer” childhood as an orphan. Interestingly, he isn’t aware of another facet of that ghost, and Rapunzel points it out to him. “Was he a thief too?” she asks. He looks taken aback, before answering “Uh, no.” Something’s gone wrong. The choices he’s making are not living up to that original role model.  

Characterization: Flynn’s charming, funny, smart, charismatic, and arrogant (in a somehow charming sort of way). He’s also rude, contemptuous, and sarcastic. All traits that help him keep up that 'swashbuckling rogue’ facade, and push people away from the real him. 

True Character: Underneath all that, he’s a Disney prince. That pretty much sums it up.  

Changed Person: “Started going by Eugene again, stopped thieving, and basically turned it all around.” He started the story as the guarded and evasive Flynn, he ends as the selfless and thoroughly-in-love Eugene. 

Fascination and Illumination: Imagine if everything about Flynn had been told, right up front. We know he’s an orphan, we know he’s upheld a fake reputation, we know he’s a kind and loving guy underneath it all, we even know about his “tales of Flynnagin” childhood dream. You know what happens? We like him … but we’re not interested in him. There’s nothing we need to find out. There’s no curiosity. And if there’s no curiosity, and nothing being illuminated, your story’s not going anywhere. So instead, we find out – alongside Rapunzel – more about Flynn as the story progresses. And that is how it should be. 

So!

Developing characters in this way, I’ve found, really reduces worries about how “well-rounded” and three dimensional I’ve made them. They feel real to me. And besides helping me create characters, this ten element technique has also let me analyze characters I like, which is strangely fun. It’s a great way to figure out why a character works, what causes them to be so effective, and how you can go about creating them yourself. 

Yeah, I’m a bit of a nerd. 

But if you want, try it out. Develop a character. Analyze a character. You might find it as useful/fun as I do.

Because Gravity Falls is the standard to which the morality of all cartoon characters should be measured, even though one of the protagonists is a con man.

  • you: why are you crying
  • me: sam vimes went from a man who looked the other way and drank to forget all the injustice in the world to a man who's such a powerful force for justice that he can stop wars before they start and still make it home in time to read his son a bedtime story

Unlearn internalized misogyny in your writing.

  • Femininity is not weakness 
  • Softness is not bad 
  • It is possible to enjoy both traditionally​ male activities and traditionally female activities 
  • Other women are not amoral temptresses or rivals 
  • There’s nothing wrong with a woman knowing she’s attractive 
  • There’s nothing wrong with a woman wanting to be attractive 
  • Attractiveness has no bearing on sexual desire or history 
  • Being sexually active has no bearing in a woman’s morals or character 
  • Not being sexually active has no bearing in a woman’s morals or character 
  • Weight is not a value judgment 
  • Attractiveness is not a value judgment 
  • Able-bodiedness is not a value judgment
  • The ability to bear children has no bearing on womanhood
  • The desire or decision whether to have children has no bearing on womanhood
  • Women can and do support each other, even when they’re working towards different goals 
  • Women can be friends even when they want different things 
  • Thin white women don’t have exclusive rights to femininity 
  • Butch women are just as validly women 
  • Queer women are just as validly women 
  • Women can be as vicious, cruel, petty, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and abusive as men, and they shouldn’t be excused from it because of their gender 
  • Being a woman has nothing to do with genitals, chromosomes, or physical presentation

imagine a video game where you create a hero whose destiny is to save everyone, but throughout the game you start making harder and more questionable decisions, and the game gets darker and darker. and in the end you’re just standing there, clutching the controller and finally realizing you were playing the villain all along

... Somehow, Still Talking About This Captain America Shit (Now With Bonus Spider-Man and Agents of SHIELD)

So now Secret Empire has revealed its Shyamalan Twist and given the readers a Good Guy Steve Rogers as well as Hydra Cap, and the kinds of dickbags who, when this whole bullshit began were dismissing people’s complaints with “oh come on, don’t you know how comics works, it’s all going to be put back at the end, blah blah blah…” are crowing I-Told-You-So’s.

But here’s the thing:

Yeah, fucknuts.  We always knew this.

Keep reading

It’s okay to have fictional characters do problematic stuff. Really, it is. Fictional characters are there to tell a story; not to be perfect paragons of virtue.

“Yeah!” some people will say. “It’s fine as long as you show that it’s problematic!”

And I’ll say: No. You don’t need to always do that either. We can’t expect writers to point out every moral misstep a character makes.

It’s okay to have characters do something problematic, and it’s okay to assume that the readers can see why it’s problematic on their own.

A Stupid Way to come up with Original Characters and Stories (That Somehow Works)
  • Find a character from a work you admire. Any media will do, but Children’s media works the best.
  • Ask yourself a few questions about the character in question. I don’t have a complete list, and the questions are likely going to vary, and most of this is coming off the top of my head, but yeah, here are a few suggestions.
    • Was there anything about this character that ticked you off? Maybe this character did something that you thought was ooc? Or maybe this character is too perfect and could use a few more flaws.
    • Does the medium or genre prevent the character from performing certain actions? Furthermore, do certain aspects of the characters life, including sex, gender, social status, and age prevent this character from acting in a certain way?
    • Is there something you want to see the character do that you know will never happen in the show?
    • And finally, is there anything you want to change about this character?
  • Rant to yourself or to tumblr about everything the show apparently did wrong. Constantly switch between getting mad at yourself for nitpicking a show you love and being mad at the work itself for not being 100% perfect. 
  • Scream into a pillow, make yourself some hot cocoa, eat a full dinner, and then take a hot shower. 
  • Get out a sketchpad or a word document or anything else you use to brainstorm and start drawing and or writing about the character in the show. But write the character the way you think they should be, as opposed to the way their presented in canon. 
    • Take into account that changing some aspects of your character will effect the story in some pretty big ways, especially if what you changed is an action the character performed. Maybe that Magical Princess ran away at a young age under the stress of becoming queen before joining a gang and ultimately becoming a crime boss? Maybe that Alien supervillain can be reformed by showing them the good things about the planet Earth. When you change an aspect of a story, justify the change by having it affect every other aspect of the story. Whatever you do, though, don’t handwave the change. Instead embrace it… those changes are where the heart of your story lies.
    • Don’t be afraid to add in elements from other works of fiction other than the one you’ve chosen. Most of the plot elements of Gravity falls and Rick and Morty, for example, are just similar enough to make a meeting between Ford Pines and Rick Sanchez possible. 
  • Look over your work and note just how far you’ve drifted from canon. If you’ve changed the idea enough, it should feel kinda alien to the original work. If it’s too similar, then if might be a good idea to repeat the previous steps.
    • Some of the things to note include tone, genre, level of obscenity, and target demographic. Considering how fanworks typically go, we almost unconsciously make dark shows light and fluffy and light and fluffy shows dark and gritty. This can be a good thing when done right.
    • The humour of the work will also depends on the type of humour you feel comfortable writing. Sometimes your humour will be almost exactly like the original work, and sometimes it’ll be drastically different. Aim for the latter.
    • If you added in elements from another work of fiction, then certain patterns are inevitably going to be formed. using the Rick and Morty/ Gravity Falls fandom above, one can’t help but make Ford and Rick foils of each other; two interdimensional science dorks, but one has a stronger sense of morality. The character reactions between the two of them is dripping with potential that we’ll never see in canon, because these two shows air on different networks and are aimed at different target demographics.
  • If necessary, repeat the process again, but this time apply this to your version of the character. Continue until your happy with what you have.
  • Finally, rename the characters, and if you’re an artist, re-draw them as well. The new names and designs should reflect the character you wrote, not the character you were inspired by. 
  • And bam, you just made something original. 

Now obviously, this isn’t the only way to make characters or write stories… artists tend to draw from real life just as often as they reference other works of fiction. But the great thing about this process is that it depends entirely on your own personal interpretation of not only the work of fiction in question, but also of how the world around you works. I believe that we, as humans, are natural complainers and nitpickers, constantly believing ourselves to be the sole authority on how the world should work. On one hand, it might be easy to just rant about it and call it a day, but I believe these rants hold quite a lot of creative potential. Writing isn’t about coming up with something wholly new and original… story telling is pretty much limited to the human experience, and we’ll always fall back on something familiar (note the tropeless tale)… instead, its about writing about the familiar in a new way.

Thoughts?

Let’s Be Honest-- Clint/Hawkeye is Totally Underated

He’s totally badass– with no real “super” human abilities like Captain America and Thor or “super gear” like Falcon and Iron Man

And his sass is undeniablly one of the most entertaining parts of the films.  Its such simple humor but that is what makes it so fantastic

And he is arguably one of the most relatable, loyal, and moral of the characters.

“The inconsistent type is one who wages war against evil and believes that war for the sake of goodness does not have the moral consequences or effect on the character that war otherwise brings with it. This is the Christian, or the perfect bigot.”

—F. Nietzsche, The Will to Power, §342 (edited excerpt).

D&D: How to Use Character Arcs as a Dungeon Master

In my previous post on character arcs, I talked about how a player should determine how they want their character’s arc to begin and end. It was from a player’s perspective. But how does a DM write an adventure that will make that player’s arc happen?

First, get the information you need. Ask your players to each determine how their characters will begin the campaign and how they want them to change by the end of it. Then ask for copies of their character’s traits, flaws, ideals, and bonds. Note whether a player’s character is going to die tragically and if they are okay with that. With this information, you can give the players what I call a moral quandary, personalized for their own character’s arc. A moral quandary is giving the player two difficult options that the player must decide how their character would choose. The character should lean to one side of a moral quandary at the beginning of an adventure, but gradually start to lean the other way as their arc comes to completion. 

For instance, a cleric might be presented with a choice to kill an evildoer or merely capture them. If the cleric is heading down an arc where their ideal changes from “all life is precious” to “evil must be stopped at all costs” in their character arc is going to make very different choices in that situation depending on where they are on their arc.

Let’s figure out how we can use this info as a DM and where to put moral quandaries using a 9-point story structure. These are not an entire campaign, but you can use each point as a fixed point in the narrative; a story outline based on the characters’ arcs. Plenty of different stuff can happen between each point, but the points must happen to create a robust story.

Call to Action

The player is given an initial call to action. Essentially, a moral quandary disguised as a quest hook. Try to have a separate but related call to action for each player. Ideally, the players should refuse the call to action, as they haven’t been “changed” yet. If they play to their characters’ initial backgrounds and traits, they will refuse the call. You can even enforce this by loading your call with descriptions of how the character is feeling. “You are offended that someone would even offer something so morally reprehensible to you, despite the fact that you could use the money.”

A good-hearted rogue is starting a tragic fall arc and is offered a chance to make millions from some morally questionable actions involving an evil regime, but decides it is wrong. An innocent paladin starting a coming of age arc could be offered a chance to rise against an evil regime, but values their own safety. A studious apprentice wizard starting a corruption arc is offered power in exchange for service to an evil regime, but decides they can get power on their own.

Inciting Incident

Something happens to force the player to action, whether they are ready or not. Try to come up with an inciting incident that involves all of the players, not just one. The inciting incident can act as where the adventuring party finally meets.

The evil regime in the Call to Action ends up invading the players’ quiet suburb to enforce martial law. The players escape or fight back or else they and their loved ones die or are enslaved. The rogue decides to run from their debts by joining the party. The paladin has seen firsthand what the regime can do, and will now join the party to find someone else who can help them stop it. The wizard seeks out more power to stop the regime.

1st Plot Point

The players learn the first shreds of information about the overarching narrative of the campaign. After the inciting incident, some characters might not be convinced and want to turn back. This gives them a reason to continue onward together, as a team. There should be no turning back from the 1st plot point.

Players learn how this evil regime has been spreading across the kingdom. It still holds many mysteries, but its power is great and threatening. Its power is centered in a capital city, which the players now opt to travel to in order to find the things they currently desire.

1st Pinch Point

A pinch point is the first real display of power from the antagonist or opposing force. In D&D this should be actual combat, though it doesn’t have to be. As long as the players see firsthand what the antagonist can do to their characters, this part will add the tension/drama that it should. If you want to have a 1st Pinch Point for each character, then this display of force should directly target the player’s character arc and spark the desire to change through a moral quandary. It’s an awakening. Create tension by ending a session with this pinch point.

The players come across a thieves’ guild run by the evil regime. The rogue takes note of how rich, glamorous, and lawless the life of a criminal is to spark their tragic fall arc. The paladin realizes how deep the corruption of the world runs and sparks their coming of age arc as their innocence starts to fade. The wizard realizes how much resources the evil regime has, and wonders what sorts of power they had in mind for him sparking their corruption arc.

Midpoint

More info is revealed about the antagonist and the perception of the characters change. They have an epiphany and decide to continue onward through their arc. This can, and most likely will, happen at different times for each character and their varying arcs.

The players learn about the leader of the regime. They have been pushed to the breaking point by the regime’s forces. The rogue decides join the regime and start doing crime for the regime and acting as a double agent against the party. The paladin no longer cares about finding someone else to help them stop the regime, vowing to end it themselves. The wizard gets an unholy tome and decides to learn how to make a pact with the demon the regime mentioned to overpower the regime. They are all still heading to the capital, though now with severely divergent goals.

2nd Pinch Point

The antagonist reveals their full power and threatens the completion of the characters’ arcs. The entire party should, in general, be at their lowest moment and completely without hope. This should happen at the same time for everyone. Ideally, end a session with this pinch point to create a cliffhanger and highlight the hopelessness.

The players reach the capital of the evil regime. The rogue is faced with a moral test, where they will be offered riches and allowed to live if they rat out their adventuring party. They choose to take the offer and are betrayed by the regime’s leader and sentenced to death anyway. The paladin comes face to face with the regime’s leader after being ratted out by the rogue. They fail the encounter and barely manage to escape with their life. The wizard is also defeated and their unholy tome is destroyed in the battle. The rogue is imprisoned and the paladin and rogue escape the leader and are being hunted in the capital.

2nd Plot Point

The last piece of the puzzle has come together in the second plot point. The characters finish their arc and learn how to overcome the antagonist. This can happen at different points and doesn’t have to happen quickly. For a tragic character, this is the part where they finally meet their end. Tragic characters fail to change or their change is self-destructive and they fail to overcome the antagonist of the story (tragic, isn’t it?). Think of this part as a moral quandary that characters’ finally “know the answer” to, as far as their character arc is concerned.

The rogue tries to escape, succeeds, but heads back to the thieves’ guild instead of his adventuring allies, and they ultimately betray and kill him. The paladin’s innocence is shattered and they gather rebel forces over time to take on the regime’s leader, becoming a leader themselves. They also find an unlikely ally in the wizard, who has finally succumbed to evil. The wizard still doesn’t know how to summon the demon, but they have already gotten a taste of evil’s power by performing vile rituals on captured regime members and will now use their power for vengeance against the regime’s leader.

Climax

The characters finally face off with the antagonist. The promise set out at the beginning of the campaign is fulfilled. The characters, having completed their arcs, are now changed enough to be able to defeat the antagonist. This should be the players at their most powerful and should be the most epic battle to take place in the campaign.

The paladin’s rebel army and the wizard’s evil magic face off against the evil regime’s leader. The battle is long and epic, but the characters succeed, freeing the kingdom of the evil regime.

Resolution

The game shouldn’t abruptly end after the antagonist is defeated! There needs to be closure. The players’ characters find out the results and the aftermath of defeating the antagonist, for better or for worse. In the case of an ongoing game, you should now set up the next campaign here.

The paladin and wizard regard each other as unsteady allies who no longer have a common enemy. The wizard seeks more power, even seeking to possibly usurp the void of power left from the regime’s defeat. The paladin and their rebel army gather in defiance of the wizard. The paladin tells the wizard to leave the kingdom and not threaten anyone with their evil, else the paladin will smite them down. The wizard, not having many spells left after the battle and not being ready to face an entire army, teleports away to parts unknown with a puff of green smoke. The paladin is placed in power, and the wizard now acts as a looming threat. Perhaps an NPC and villain for the next campaign?


This character arc outline is not cut-and-dry. You should use it as a guide, not a rule. Some characters might abruptly choose to change. Some will reach different parts of the outline at different times or out of order. Some characters might waffle between two sides of their arc before deciding which side they want to be on. But the more you talk to your players about it, the easier it is to come up with a generalized plan for your campaign’s story. Heck, your story might even change from what you initially intended by the end of it (a character with a bad roll can still end up dying before even finishing their arc!) But hopefully this will aid you in making the players love their characters even more and have fun as they grow and change in your campaign’s world. That’s what it’s all about, after all.

I was applying for a Roll20 game...

DM: (looking at my character sheet) Why is your alignment Spooky?

Me: It just fit my character’s morals better than anything on the canon alignments chart.

DM: Please pick an actual alignment. I don’t care if it’s on the chart, it just has to be something that describes morals.

Me: …Neutral Spooky?

(Needless to say, I was not invited to that game when it started.)