I’ve been reading the “A Song Called Youth” trilogy by John Shirley, and it’s been both fun and surprising. At a superficial level, it’s a Cyberpunk romp a la “Hardwired” by Walter Jon Williams, but there’s a lot more depth to it. The plot was, to be honest, a bit questionable (massive Christian neo-fascist plot to take over the world, yeahhh…) but the characters make it worthwhile. For better or for worse, the evil guys are certainly evil, which makes the trope pill a bit easier to swallow.
But that’s not what’s interesting. The characters are very, very good. And the example I will use is Daniel “Hard-Eyes” Torrence. He shows up in a supporting role in the first book, and organically grows into a much more significant character. But it’s done in full view of the reader…I can’t get into details without giving parts of the later books away, but you really feel for Hard-Eyes, you hurt when he hurts, you cheer when he triumphs. The book has built up to it slowly, so this character who’s almost a throwaway at the beginning is built up to someone you care about.
And this caring…this is what brings me here. It’s a difficult step to cross when really trying to write fiction, especially coming from my academic background vis a vis writing…though I had some guidance with regards to short fiction in high school, all of my writing work since is technical. And the high school guidance was kind of slim…the best advice I got on character development was “your characters need more development.” Big help, that. To be fair, having it pointed out when I was a headstrong 17 year old was helpful…but it didn’t mean I had much idea of how to follow through with that. So this may be a sign I’m getting it.
Because I’m starting to get ticked off at cardboard characters…really ticked off. And where it’s coming through is roleplaying games. When it comes to tabletop games, GMs have both an easier and much harder time getting their players to care about characters. In theory, a player should be able to care about their own character very easily…they have the power to put a lot of pieces into place for making someone they get attached to. In theory. In reality, there are important steps that are completely the responsibility of the GM. If there isn’t enough room for characters to run around, they stay as flat as their sheets. And this…happens. A lot.
I’m not sure what the solution is, and to be completely honest, it pissing me off in other people’s games doesn’t necessarily mean I do better. People like what I do, but I don’t know if I’ve gotten any constructive criticism recently…so who knows what I need to do to improve. Maybe a different type of game? I don’t know. To be fair, most games I play in I enjoy…this one is just a bit of an aberration. And that’s not entirely the fault of the GM. But it is hard to contribute to game when you just…don’t…give…a fuck. And I can’t fix that alone.