In this post I will begin my discussion of character. Characters for an interactive story should have fairly detailed personalities, but to design and create these personalities, we must know a little about characters in traditional stories, and human nature. We will also look at how characters can help to prove a premise, and how we can orchestrate our characters to cause conflict.
Types of Characters
There are two main characters that must be in every story to cause the main conflict, and then there are secondary characters that also help the conflict. To start, I will discuss the protagonist.
As I have stated before, the story should start at a turning point in some character’s life, and this character is the protagonist. The protagonist, or pivotal character, is the character who wants something so badly he or she will destroy or be destroyed in the process of getting it. The pivotal character, by definition, takes the lead in a movement, and in this case, the movement of the story and conflict. The protagonist has been forced by circumstances to do something they don’t necessarily want to do, but they don’t really have any other choice. Because the pivotal character has already made their most momentous decision before the story begins, they don’t change much throughout the rest of the story. They could change from passion to obsession, for example, but they won’t change from love to hate. If they change too much, then there is a possibility that they will either give up or give in before the story has had time to finish, and this will end the story prematurely. The pivotal character spurs other characters in the story to change. This is why the pivotal character is so important. They don’t do a whole lot on their own, but they do force the other characters, possibly even the main character of the story, to change. Also, they can’t change their mind, otherwise the story will die.
I think it would be unwise to make the player the protagonist in an interactive story. In many stories, the main character isn’t always the protagonist. There is a common misconception that the protagonist and the main character are the same, but they are not always. Of course, depending on your interactive story, it may be beneficial to make the main character the protagonist, but it doesn’t always have to be that way. The main character could even be the antagonist. There are no rules. They’re more like guidelines.
The antagonist is any character who opposes the pivotal character. To be a good antagonist, this character must be just as strong as the protagonist, and able to put up a good fight, otherwise there will be no story. Why will there be no story? Well, if the protagonist has no opposition, then he will just get whatever he wants, and the story will be over. No conflict, no growth, no story. I will talk more about conflict in the next post.
You may be wondering whether the antagonist must be a person or not. Surely there are many stories with antagonists that are environmental. It may seem this way, and it may seem like a good idea, but for interactive stories, it is not. Let me explain why. For a character to grow, they must be changing; dynamic. Change requires conflict. Obstacles, such as giant alien bugs, large cliffs, or huge oceans, do not force the character to change mentally. They force the character to change physically, or change the path they are on, but in the end, they do not cause growth in the character. A human antagonist, on the other hand, is the opposite of the protagonist. He upholds everything that the protagonist hates. When a protagonist who wants one thing comes up against an antagonist who doesn’t want anyone to have that thing, there will be conflict.
A Few Examples
Let’s look at an example of The Lord of the Rings. Who was the antagonist? Was it the orcs? No. Saruman? No. It was Sauron. Every obstacle that Gandalf, the protagonist, has to overcome, is a result of Sauron’s attempts to thwart the destruction of the ring. Why do I say Gandalf is the protagonist? What about Frodo? Frodo is a main character, yes, but think about it this way. If Gandalf had never come along, would Bilbo have ever left the Shire and found the ring? Would Frodo have ever left seeking to destroy it? All the other characters were forced to change because Gandalf wanted the ring destroyed. He had no choice; he knew that the ring must be destroyed, so he forced the other characters, such as Frodo, to change. Frodo changed from feeling indifferent about the outside world, to the willingness to give his life saving it. Aragorn changed from trying to avoid his throne to accepting it and becoming king. Legolas and Gimli changed from disliking each other to being best friends. Gandalf changed very little, and, from what I can tell, Sauron didn’t change at all.
Let’s look at another example. This one will be of The Pilgrim’s Progress. Who is the protagonist? Not Christian; he changes too much. Christian changes from heading towards destruction to resisting sin and walking into Heaven. Then who is the protagonist? Evangelist, who talks Christian into leaving the City of Destruction and heading towards the Celestial City, is the protagonist. He doesn’t change, but he does force Christian to change. Evangelist wants to save people from destruction so badly that he goes out and finds Christian, who he then convinces to leave destruction and find the true path. The antagonist is the devil, who commands all of the obstacles Christian faces, such as Apollyon.
The Main Character
The main character is not necessarily the protagonist. Frodo is the main character of the Lord of the Rings, but he is not the pivotal character. My definition of the main character is the character who is controlled by the player. So for an interactive story version of the Lord of the Rings, the main character could be Frodo, Aragorn, Sam, or someone else. It is up to the storyteller.
Secondary characters may not be the most accurate term for what I am talking about, but it will have to suffice. By secondary characters, I mean all characters who are not the protagonist, antagonist, or the main character, and yet still require a personality. In continuing the Lord of the Rings example, these would be characters such as Sam, Merry and Pippin, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, Saruman, etc. These are all important characters to the story, and they all have very well-defined personalities, and they all change, but they aren’t protagonists, antagonists, or extras.
Whether extras are required in an interactive story is again up to the storyteller. These are basically characters that have no personality; their only purpose is to populate the world to make it more real. The Lord of the Rings would be very empty if there were only characters with personalities; what would happen at all those huge epic battles? Not much. That is really all I have to say about extras.
When creating the different characters for an interactive story, they must be orchestrated properly. By this, I mean creating characters that will help prove the premise and create conflict. If all the characters are exactly the same and want the same thing, there will be no conflict. How is this achieved? The characters should be different enough so that their ideas conflict with each other. As I stated before, this is most important with the protagonist and antagonist. They must be created so they naturally are in conflict with each other, good and evil, light and dark, Gandalf and Sauron. However, if they aren’t stuck with each other, if one of them could just decide “Well, I’m done fighting, I think I’ll go home now,” then there would be no story. What they need is a “unity of opposites.” The opposite part is simple enough to understand; Gandalf wants the ring destroyed, and Sauron doesn’t. Opposites. The unity part, on the other hand, may take more explaining. The two opposite characters who are in conflict must be forced together, and neither of them can be allowed to leave the battle. For example, if Gandalf gives up and the ring isn’t destroyed, then Sauron wins and turns Middle Earth into hell. If Sauron gives up and lets the ring be destroyed, then he is also destroyed. Both Gandalf and Sauron are in danger of being destroyed, so they must destroy the other. They cannot both exist at the same time. The protagonist and antagonist of a story are like the Ultimate Question to Life, the Universe, and Everything, and the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything: they can’t both exist at the same time. If someone knew both the question and the answer, the universe would cease to exist and have to start all over again. Same goes for story.
I already talked a little about creating the protagonist and antagonist, but the other characters, the characters who actually change substantially, are also very important. The main character, or the character the player will control, will probably be the most difficult character to create. The storyteller must decide how much of a personality they want to give the main character, and this goes back to my post on objective and subjective storytelling. There is one thing that we must keep in mind when creating the main character: this is the player’s story, not yours. You’re creating the storyworld, but the player creates the story. If you give the main character too much personality, and the player doesn’t like that personality, they may not want to finish the story.
There are several options for creating the main character’s personality. Oh, and by main character, I mean the character who is controlled by the player. One idea is to allow the player to create the main character’s personality. The main character would start out with a blank slate, and the player would make choices that define them. These choices could even be made before the story officially starts; in an “opening gambit” as it were. This would be a short scene before the rest of the story that forces the player to make certain decisions, and from these decisions, the computer creates a personality model for the main character that the player must deal with for the rest of the story. This would definitely be an interesting way to create the personality of the main character, but it is by no means the only way.
As I discussed in my post on objective and subjective storytelling, there are several different levels of control the player can have over the main character. How much control should ultimately be up to the storyteller, but for the character to truly be able to change and create conflict and grow, he must have a personality of his own, separate from the player’s. An example: in an interactive story of The Lord of the Rings, the player would probably be in control of Frodo. If Frodo had no personality and simply did whatever the player told him to do, then there would be no conflict between him and Sam when Gollum comes along. There would be no conflict when it comes time to throw the ring into Mount Doom. There would be no conflict, because Frodo, since he’s a mindless automaton, would have no real way of interacting with the other characters in the story except on a physical level. Interactive stories are interactive on an emotional and mental level, not only a physical level. You are interacting with characters, not things.
To orchestrate secondary characters is very similar to orchestrating any other character, only the unity of opposites is not as important. The protagonist and antagonist must be locked in battle, but the secondary characters are allowed to fail without ending the story. If Gollum were to steal the ring from Frodo, for example, Gandalf could have theoretically still recovered the ring and had another secondary character destroy it. Isildur failed in destroying the ring first, so years later the task was passed on to Frodo. But if Gandalf were to die, the story would end, because there would be no character to spur the other characters to action. I hope I am driving this point home without it becoming too tiresome.
Obviously the main character should not just be able to die because of a stupid mistake, but I digress.
There is little more to orchestration other than practice. Creating characters for an interactive story isn’t simply a formula that need be followed. Examining real people and how they interact with each other is always a good way to learn about human behavior, but reading good stories is probably the best way to learn about dramatic human behavior. Creating characters is the most important part of creating an interactive story, because they create the story. Take the time to make the characters truly golden, and your interactive story will succeed.