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RP Character vs. Fan Fiction Protagonist

STAR WARS: The Old Republic > English > Community > Roleplaying
RP Character vs. Fan Fiction Protagonist

Darth_Slaine's Avatar


Darth_Slaine
03.23.2012 , 04:15 PM | #1
This thread is not a duel to the death between RP characters and fan fiction protagonists -- as interesting as that might be.

Instead, I would like to open a discussion about the similarities and differences in RP and fan fic character development processes.

My primary TOR interest is fan fiction, but I have been unable to shake a strong secondary interest in roleplaying. Flitting back and forth between the two boards, as well as engaging in fan fic writing and RPing, has led me to notice certain differences in these media for the creation and portrayal of characters.

We tend to think of RP as immersive and interactive storytelling, so we might assume it would follow the same general trends as fan fic writing, but this is not so. The way we write characters and the way we RP them require slightly different areas of focus.

Let me explain...

In a fan fic, the protagonist is generally the star and center of attention. The plot unfolds as a vehicle for advancing this characters development --indeed, the plot is frequently there only to address points of character development. The story serves to highlight what we wish to show of the character and we excise scenes that have no bearing on the life of the protagonist.

In RP, the character is part of a cast or ensemble. He or she is not always the center of attention, though a personal storyline may take precedence from time to time. Sometimes the character exists on the fringes of someone else's story and is regulated to a support or observer role. Because the story arc is not obliged to drive character development for our individual creations, and because there may not be a script that will offer us an opportunity to get some good character growth in, RP character development is more a reactive than proactive process.

What I mean by that is when writing a fan fic I plan ahead when and where and how my character will develop, while in RP I react to things around me over which I may have little control. If your character punches mine, the next time we meet I will probably be a little wary of you -- that is reactive character development. The character develops through the accumulation of informative interactions rather than being written on a certain arc. This process can lead the character to go in directions that the player never intended (which should be kept to a minimum when writing fics).

Let us say that I am playing a happy-go-lucky smuggler, and one day, through no fault of his own he gets wrapped up in an OHNOORPHANAGEFIRE! After dusting the soot from his clothes, he may be permanently changed by watching all those toddlers go up in smoke. If this was a fic, then this is something I planned for and furthers development in the direction I wanted to go.... If this is RP, I might never have wanted my character to deal with such issues but the deed is done. I react and carry on.

Another difference I see pertains to the "specialness" of the character. As the star of a fic you can get away with a level of specialness that makes people nervous in RP. I think this is a product of two pressures...
  1. the ensemble feel: you don't want to outshine the other cast members with your super powers
  2. special snowflakism: I really hate that term, but there is no other way to put it -- I refer to the fear that a character will seem too special and therefore will be made fun of or labelled uncool

These pressures are not as strong in fic writing, but become amplified by the semi-competitive nature of RP.
There is a tendency among some RPers to wear normalness and un-specialness as a badge of honor -- my character repairs garden hoses! Now, any character can be interesting, but being a nobody is not inherently more interesting than insisting you are a somebody. Most people don't have time either for the "son of the secret blood-heart of the universe" or "3rd best garden hose repairer on Hoth." Averageness is not a virtue.

This leads me to my last point: balancing powers with weaknesses...

I see this as originating in RP and moving into fic writing. I believe it comes from the old pen and paper character creation systems in which you had a certain amount of points or slots and needed to offset powers with weaknesses.
In RP, this can have a place, because, as I mentioned, we are a tad competitive. It might be nice sometimes to have something that limits the overall power of one character in the ensemble.
In fic writing though, you don't need to worry about one player becoming the king of the world and taking over or eating the galaxy -- the writer is in total control of his/her characters. One should not feel that, as a writer, he or she must add a weakness to a character to make it more believable -- it is either written believably or it is not. If you write unbelievably, giving your character "situational snow blindness" will not help you.

The true downside of the weakness balancing, in both fic writing and in RP, is that it leads to the creation of an unbelievable character who is then justified because he has a weakness. Yes, it is true I am the best swordsman in the galaxy but I am allergic to goose feathers.

The addition of weaknesses to balance a character might make sense in some RP contexts but it should not be considered mandatory in all instances of character construction. The addition of weakness and the playing of non-special characters does not make anyone a better RPer or make characters more interesting.

Now, some areas of similarity...

Character backstories are equally valuable in both RP and fic writing. Personally, I find them to be equally useless, but I know some people have had great success with them. The use of backstory and its application to character development is pretty much the same in both RP and fic writing. In the end you must decide if it helps or if it doesn't. Once more, in neither field should it be considered mandatory to have a backstory. The backstory is a tool for getting into character -- nothing more.

In both RP and fic writing, characters need to seem natural, real and life-like (unless they are none of those things). They should speak like people might speak and react like people might react. For me, this is the heart of verisimilitude --maintaining the realness of interactions.

Finally, the Sith should always be the winners in both fic writing and RP.

So, you have heard some of my thoughts on the subject, I would like to hear some of yours... especially if you write fics and RP. Do you see any differences in character development and creation in the two media?



PS: You may notice I didn't mention Gary Stus, Mary Sues, self-insertions or any of those other over-cited boogeymen of RP and fic writing. The terms are rarely meaningful and do nothing to promote real discussion. If possible, I would ask you to avoid them.

Soultranna's Avatar


Soultranna
03.23.2012 , 08:31 PM | #2
I look at roleplay as organic collab fan fiction... everyone is present not just to further their own goals, but help with everyone else's (even as an antagonist, you're helping write the other person's story). The improv nature of it means that you have to be able to think fluidly, keep your general plotted course, but adjust based on what you encounter.

Writing fan fiction solo is, I find, a lot harder, because while I can easily put together a scene from start to finish, I'm really lousy on plotting things out. The "let things happen" nature of public roleplay helps overcome that hurdle.
Just another person behind a keyboard escaping reality for a while.

Sendra's Avatar


Sendra
03.24.2012 , 12:49 PM | #3
Quote: Originally Posted by Darth_Slaine View Post
This thread is not a duel to the death between RP characters and fan fiction protagonists -- as interesting as that might be.
Awwwwww. Sounds like bait and switch to me.

I agree with most (possibly all but that sounds too, ah, agreeable) of what you say, but I do love to talk about this, so I'm going to elaborate.

Quote:
We tend to think of RP as immersive and interactive storytelling, so we might assume it would follow the same general trends as fan fic writing, but this is not so. The way we write characters and the way we RP them require slightly different areas of focus.
I have never been fond of this description of RP. For me, RP is RP and writing is crafting a story. Which brings up yet another difference - for some, writing is use of elaborate sentence structure and colorful adjectives and adverbs - the more, the better. They enjoy doing it, others enjoy reading it, so more power to them all. Another view of writing is character- and story-crafting, and that is my preference - for both RP and writing.

Quote:
The character develops through the accumulation of informative interactions rather than being written on a certain arc. This process can lead the character to go in directions that the player never intended (which should be kept to a minimum when writing fics).
Exactly. My RP characters have some kind of need or drive, which may be more or less apparent from one time to another. But as things occur in RP, I may choose to use those events to instigate or develop some character change. The process of character change may be observable if I choose to make my character's inner thoughts available to others via after-action story write-ups, journal entries, little "bridge" stories between RP episodes. And of course in RP to the extent that I may, in conversation, make reference to it, reveal feelings and thoughts to a confidante, etc.

(Edit: On need or drive - I'm not talking about "find the man who slaughtered my family". I'm talking about things like "accumulate power/wealth so I can feel safe", "learn to trust", "find redemption for my previous untrustworthiness and learn to trust myself and be trusted", and so on.)

As a result of this change, I (the player) may initiate some specific actions or situations designed to push my character further in this direction. These situations rarely involve my character being the center of the story - I find the "center" usually too limiting unless it's a small intimate group. And yes, now that I'm thinking back, there have been RP scenes I set up with a small number of people specifically to accomplish a certain task. Even then, they didn't necessarily go as I planned. But the situation I needed to address was addressed, and RP could continue to move forward.

As for specialness, I have mixed feelings. I prefer strengths and weaknesses of character (in the sense of personality, wisdom, integrity, etc.) combined with top-quartile physical abilities (to be able to be an active participant in the world of the game we are playing in an MMO). When I refer to physical ability, I'm not even saying my character is superior to all the other players and RPers - I'm saying her performance is better than all those NPCs running around who need our help. They are the regular people of this world and this story. We, the player-characters, are the ones with the something-extra that gives us our special prowess, and special challenges. Not super-heroes. Just better than "regular people" who don't achieve much. In fact, because I (the player) am not a very skilled gamer and terrible at PvP (although I love it) - I usually play my characters as being inferior to other player-characters in combat prowess.

One thing I have finally learned about RP is that for a huge number of RPers, and for a large amount of their RP time, they don't really want to be actively working on story and character development. They want to spend most of the time "hanging out", socializing, drinking, flirting, only loosely in character. Keeping your character in a social situation in which you could and would be at these social settings, and would be welcome OOC, so that people will interact, cuts off a lot of potential characters and stories. These constraints are completely absent in story writing. In a story, every moment of the story contributes - to the story. There is no hanging out and "chillin" - unless it is also driving the story forward somehow. This aspect of RP (for many RPers) as simple socializing wearing fancy clothes was and still is a hard one for me to reconcile with my drive for character and story.

Another huge difference between interactive RP and story writing is in the character's life cycle - and especially its end. A small number of RPers are perfectly willing to let their characters be killed - some even have the end planned. But in an MMO, most of us want to keep playing our characters that we have a lot invested in. We keep that possibility open by NOT creating carefully-crafted dramatic story arcs, with one character as the center of attention, that must follow a specific trajectory - and end.

Quote:
This leads me to my last point: balancing powers with weaknesses...
This is a sensitive subject for me. I normally play as not really having super powers at all. When I do, those super powers only bring me up to the same level as the other player characters. So when those powers are required to be simply functional and viable in the game world, and they are somehow weakened or removed through RP, then I've been forced into a disadvantage situation. When put into that situation, whether I go with it depends on the RP that got us there, and a quick assessment of the potential of where I can go from here. My last character spent the last year and a half or more of my in-game time working to regain her power. It did result in a whole lot of amazing RP (some of it in my head, in the form of private stories) that sadly I never got the chance to write down.

Quote:
The true downside of the weakness balancing, in both fic writing and in RP, is that it leads to the creation of an unbelievable character who is then justified because he has a weakness. Yes, it is true I am the best swordsman in the galaxy but I am allergic to goose feathers.
The RP aspect comes along mostly for characters who cannot and will not "lose" an encounter. If it's on your character sheet "unbeatable" then you have made it extremely difficult for anyone to interact with you. I don't know why so many RPers are so afraid of losing a fight (or argument or take-over attempt or whatever the conflict is). The loss gives motivation and richness and depth to your character. My characters lose all the time - I admit it gets really old being the ONLY chump willing to lose, and winning now and then might be kind of nice.

My opinion lately, is that the reason for this "must win" factor for many role players is the RP stakes we play for. In a carefully crafted story, we probably do want the big decisive battle to actually be decisive of something. But in RP, we generally (at least in my version of fun RP) want to keep going. We are not trying to push someone out of the story, not trying to settle the conflict "once and for all". It's often difficult to find some resolution that allows for some drama and development, but doesn't drive one party out of the story - but we need to put our creativity into that rather than into "muahahaha! I have destroyed you! Now all that was yours is now mine! And you will DIEEEEE!!!"

Instead, the winner gets bragging rights, increased morale and confidence (in character), the loser goes away to lick their wounds, drown their sorrows, reassess the situation and strategy, (rescue the prisoners, recapture their territory or belongings), etc. Character development happens on both (all) sides. Possibly some alliances somewhere will shift. Possibly some neutrals and independents and covert types are rallied and deployed in various ways. There's more RP overall. If one side ALWAYS loses (if it's a PvP battle, for example, and one side is simply better at PvP than the other), then you might occasionally need to cooperate with each other or outsiders to contrive ways for the losing side to get back their prisoners, etc.

Quote:
Character backstories are equally valuable in both RP and fic writing. Personally, I find them to be equally useless, but I know some people have had great success with them. The use of backstory and its application to character development is pretty much the same in both RP and fic writing. In the end you must decide if it helps or if it doesn't. Once more, in neither field should it be considered mandatory to have a backstory. The backstory is a tool for getting into character -- nothing more.
In a good GM game, or in a good RP community in which you can trust some other RPers with a good sense of story, detailed character back stories can provide hooks for others to create situations for you to respond to. I have done it both ways, even within the same character. I had a character with minimal back story. As a result, I was able to "learn" of my character's father and his clan, that I was part of (without knowing it until then). That tied me in to an even larger story which gave me more hooks for RP. Sharing that story (OOC) with a few trusted RP leaders, then opened up the opportunity for something completely unexpected and life changing for my character (the loss of power I referred to above).

Quote:
In both RP and fic writing, characters need to seem natural, real and life-like (unless they are none of those things). They should speak like people might speak and react like people might react. For me, this is the heart of verisimilitude --maintaining the realness of interactions.
This - totally this. I like my characters to be people. I was a little uncomfortable at first when playing my Sage, that she was "too good". I'm using the class quests, flashpoints, etc. for her just as a guide to figure her out. She's a light Jedi, and a real person (Mirialan, not human, but person none-the-less). I find I can easily, without thinking about it or checking the light/dark feedback and backtracking, choose the "compassionate and wise" response. Why am I saying this? Just that if I, the player, can do this, then my character, far more compassionate and wise than I am, even, and raised and trained as a Jedi - definitely can. So I'm not so worried about "is she too good"? She can't be "too good" because I the player can't be "too good", and can't make her so. She does have a weakness of character that could conceivably be exploited, if she ever did become a central character in a story of her own or someone else's making. But will that flaw ever be learned by someone wishing to exploit it? I don't know -and I'm not going to help them. :-p

If I were writing a story, I would create an antagonist who would figure out this weakness of hers and exploit it, intentionally or otherwise.

Quote:
Finally, the Sith should always be the winners in both fic writing and RP.
Sure, I can see the Sith ultimately winning this war, for about 10 seconds before they self-destruct as a result of all the raging, back-stabbing, destroying all allies and underlings just because they can.
Sendira - Sage Valdra Senn/Val-dra Senn - Scoundrel/Mercenary
Lord Adraas RP server
Proud Member of The Loose Canon Cartel: Together, we will rule the RP servers with the iron fist of flexibility and the jackboot of inclusiveness.

LegendOfTheWolf's Avatar


LegendOfTheWolf
04.30.2012 , 05:30 PM | #4
I personally enjoy both, but the thing I have found is roleplay is my main focus. For example, I have RP'd my charaters for a few months now, and I have written 4 small stories.
Ofcourse, with the RP I have done, it is easily to write more and expand on the RP, ei, more actions to me mentioned, thoughts, the list goes on. But RP doesn't prove useless, remember most of RP isn't scripted, so it's always nice when your taken surprised by another charaters action, which keep it ineresting, writing a long story still in development, ( for me personally) is pretty boring mainly because you know what happens, and know everything, RP doesn't allow you to know EVERYTHING.

So yeah, RP trumps Fan fiction.

Sotof's Avatar


Sotof
04.30.2012 , 05:40 PM | #5
Fan fiction like a house of cards and the RP is the top pair. Either you made it well and it will stand, or you did a shoddy job of it and it will crash down on you. Likewise even if the house of cards do hold then Bioware can blow a wind at it and it will fall to the ground. But the latter don't stop me from having fun.
My name is not Bob.

CosmicKat's Avatar


CosmicKat
05.01.2012 , 10:17 AM | #6
What you are describing is the difference between being a player and being the GM (gamemaster). Writing fan faction is being the GM. Roleplaying is being an actor. GMing is being writer, director, and incidental actors. The GM crafts and steers the story, the players react to it. Different GM's will have differing levels of involvement that they expect from their players. Some just want you to 'follow along' with what story they are telling while others will want you to improvise and alter the plot through your roleplay.

I'm not saying this is an issue with you specifically, but I've seen many many people get the two roles confused. They may appear similar but in reality the player and GM are as different to the process as a player and referee are in sports.

elliotcat's Avatar


elliotcat
05.01.2012 , 02:30 PM | #7
I think RP can be really interesting for developing what happens before or after a fanfic. I'm thinking about writing a story about my main, set during the class story, so if I RPed her I would either set the RP before or after that, and it could be a great way to develop her. It's interesting to consider where she came from, and to maybe RP her past before writing her story.

Ebon Hawk: Latula // Elaeys // Raima // Jaea // Macara // Meulin // Damarra // Kanaaya

"We will snatch purpose from the jaws of futility...are you ready to wreak some havoc?"

Sotof's Avatar


Sotof
05.02.2012 , 08:06 AM | #8
Quote: Originally Posted by CosmicKat View Post
What you are describing is the difference between being a player and being the GM (gamemaster). Writing fan faction is being the GM. Roleplaying is being an actor. GMing is being writer, director, and incidental actors. The GM crafts and steers the story, the players react to it. Different GM's will have differing levels of involvement that they expect from their players. Some just want you to 'follow along' with what story they are telling while others will want you to improvise and alter the plot through your roleplay.

I'm not saying this is an issue with you specifically, but I've seen many many people get the two roles confused. They may appear similar but in reality the player and GM are as different to the process as a player and referee are in sports.
While I agree with the general gist of what you are saying I just wanted to add something... Roleplaying* is per definition fan fiction, even the smallest amount of it is since it is based on the fiction of the fan(s) that they just created. Fan fiction does not have to be roleplaying however, as you can write a story without ever playing the role of the characters in the story.


* In a pre-defined universe like Star Wars where you have no say in what actually happens in the lore. If you make up your own fiction your roleplay can of course become lore.
My name is not Bob.