Relating to a character in a fantasy or SciFi story

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Relating to a character in a fantasy or SciFi story

#1 Post by JayBlue » Thu Aug 03, 2017 3:12 pm

How do people relate to characters that are harder to relate to. It's easy to relate to a character in a more modern slice of life VN, but what about fantasy or SciFi?

How do we relate to a hero that has to kill the demon lord? How do we relate to the captain of a thousand spaceships?
If an Owl hoots in a forest, does it make a sound?

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Re: Relating to a character in a fantasy or SciFi story

#2 Post by Shinoki » Thu Aug 03, 2017 10:46 pm

Give him relate-able things that make him human. Family, friends, lovers, etc. Weird personality quirks, funny habits, normal people troubles like "dang, my teammate is hogging the bathroom again even though we have to go out in five minutes" or "I want to go home and spend some time with my wife instead of working all day long, ordering people around," etc.

To be honest, with a lot of modern slice of life stuff, I feel like the setting isn't exactly as intimate with the readers as people like to think. People who read visual novels come from many walks of life. Not everyone has had the same school experience with uniforms and cute girls and supportive buddies and whatnot. Not everyone goes out to hang out and all. However, even if the setting is slightly unfamiliar, as long as the characters are still people, people still being people, I feel like a character can be relate-able.

Even if a psychopathic madman without any logic or backstory was in a modern setting or an unfamiliar setting, I feel like I wouldn't be able to relate to him because he as a human being is too alien to me. However, if a normal person or an upstanding person or a person with social anxiety was in a modern setting or an unfamiliar setting, I would probably be able to empathize with that person because I can understand that person as a human being. Of course, there's still the character building that goes into any character out there that needs to be done. (Fleshed out characters will almost always be more relate-able than 2D cutouts of personality.)

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Re: Relating to a character in a fantasy or SciFi story

#3 Post by SundownKid » Fri Aug 04, 2017 7:33 am

I don't think it's harder to relate to a character in sci-fi or fantasy, they have to always deal with the same issues or problems, just in a different lens. In fact as the previous poster said, I actually find it harder to relate to the typical slice of life protagonist. My high school experience was completely different considering I grew up in America, so I don't really have much in common, and I have passed the point in my life where the lessons learned by high school students can really be applied in my life. I identify more with older protagonists dealing with adult problems, not "that bully took my lunch money" and "I have self esteem issues and need to believe in myself".

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Re: Relating to a character in a fantasy or SciFi story

#4 Post by Mammon » Fri Aug 04, 2017 8:41 am

You should keep in mind that people don't necessarily want someone they can relate to, rather than someone they want to relate to. Let's take Harry Potter as a well-known example: turning out to be a wizard is by no means common, nor is being an orphan raised by awful family members something that strikes a semblance with most of us. However, people can easily relate to him because he's 'normal' and suddenly thrown into a fantasy setting just as much as the audience, plus the story focusses a lot on him as a regular teenager with regular pre-teen and teen problems rather than strange and outlandish situations he's apparently accustomed to had he been raised by wizards.

Relateability isn't a necessity either, rather the audience needs to either understand why the protagonist does it or at least be able to accept their choices. This can easily go wrong, look at people being upset by the protagonist being too awesome or inactive or good-natured etc. For a good way to do it, let's take your 'captain of a thousand spaceships' example (although someone commanding more than one ship is by definition an admiral or higher), specifically 'Legend of the Galactic heroes' which actually has two such characters. Neither is very relateable by most people. One is very ambitious and quick to judge the worth or worthlessness of his peers. The other, Yang Wen-Li is the absolute opposite, being by the books and dutiful to the ideals of democracy, but through those traits often on the losing side due to the incompetence of his superiors. The incomptence that Reinhard usually circumvents.
As said, neither is very relateable, though in various ways they can be a bit. However, both are considered great characters because of their well-defined and consistent personalities.

One more alternative is that one's ability to relate to someone is very flexible. I myself like playing otome games where I place myself in the shoes of the male LI seducing the protagonist, rather than the other way around. Those men are not made to be relateable, but that makes them more relateable than a blank slate if they do have traits for me to relate to. And they can be, quite easily in fact.

So, in order to make someone with an uncommon life relateable:
-Focus on the factors in life that are relateable, everyone has those.
-Ignore having to make a relateable character, make a likeable/strong personality that the audience can like without relating.
-Count upon the audience's ability to be flexible in relating to the protagonist.

One more example I'd like to add is of my own game, Stalker&Yandere. The yandere protagonist is by no means relateable by many of the people who letsplayed it. She doesn't have to be, from what I've seen her thought process can be enjoyable/weird to read, or she can be considered an ordinary girl who's about to make a very poor decision and the people are actively vying for this not to happen. Or they'll relate to the one normal character in the game, because he is the normal character.

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Re: Relating to a character in a fantasy or SciFi story

#5 Post by gekiganwing » Fri Aug 04, 2017 10:12 am

JayBlue wrote:
Thu Aug 03, 2017 3:12 pm
How do we relate to a hero that has to kill the demon lord?
Who is the person, and what do they think about their job? Do they consider it a huge burden, and they hate dealing with stress and combat? Do they find it fulfilling, and they believe it's worth the effort in order to overcome evil? Do they plan to overcome the demon lord with something other than fighting -- maybe through economic domination, or persuading them through logic, or giving them a huge bribe?

It might help to think about characters in a fictional world who aren't the most proactive people, but who could be compelling. Maybe there's room for a fantasy story that can focus on a healer who the hero recruits. Let's imagine that she admires the hero, but she is torn because of commitments to her family, local temple, and/or a guy in her town. Let's imagine that she dislikes the demon lord, but she has second thoughts because the demon lord's nation does not have crippling taxes, or because they've almost found a cure for the plague.
SundownKid wrote:I have passed the point in my life where the lessons learned by high school students can really be applied in my life.
A character's age should make a difference. Their main dilemma might be "Improve my skills to find a better job." Or their concern might be "How do I deal with my parents growing old?"

Likewise, a character's experiences should matter. A person living in a sci-fi universe might only understand life on one or two planets. A clone might grow up separated from the original person, and because of their environment, see the world in a different way. A couple of personal and off-topic thoughts on these two topics...
Earlier this year, I saw The Boss Baby. I would not recommend it, and the movie would probably have been more entertaining if I were ten. However, there was a moment late in the film which caught me off-guard, and made me think quite a bit about how I've struggled to relate to other people.

I grew up around Chicago, where individual neighborhoods can be a mile apart, but so different from each other that they seem like different planets. A lot of my experiences were defined by clashes between multiple cultures and interests. For instance, I couldn't talk to my evangelical friends about my tastes in alternative comics. My activities in video game fandom were marked by sharp divides -- basically "play Street Fighter with friends, play Dragon Quest when alone."

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Re: Relating to a character in a fantasy or SciFi story

#6 Post by TheJerminator15 » Fri Aug 04, 2017 4:47 pm

I second heavily what Mammon said, you don't need to necessarily make them relatable but want to make people wish to relate to them.

Obviously, it helps a lot, but understanding the character is what I try to achieve, rather than relatability. Take Shirou Emiya for example, he's a massively broken kid who's thought processes are so wrong and out of the norm nobody can really relate to him (especially when on top of that he's surrounded by a growing harem of beautiful women who crave him). But, thanks to being in his perspective for practically all of the game, you understand his thoughts and exactly why he acts like that. You want to relate to him because of what he's been through and what he's trying to achieve and due to you understanding him, but you really can't because of how strange his thought processes are.

Crafting a character with human and relatable aspects is incredibly important to humanising a character and making them believable as others have said, but I personally don't focus much on making them relatable. I add in those human elements then prefer to focus on helping people understand their ways of thinking and perspectives.
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Re: Relating to a character in a fantasy or SciFi story

#7 Post by PMscenarios » Sun Aug 06, 2017 10:39 pm

I find it hard to understand -not- relating to a character in a fantasy or sci-fi personally.
Circumstances and worlds might be different, but emotions and fears are pretty universal. The important thing is if we understand the character's motivations and can empathize with them.

This would be the same with historic fiction too. I cannot fully comprehend or relate to the horrifying experience Harriet Ann Jacobs writes about in "Incidents in the life of a slave girl", but I empathized, cried for and cared about Linda so, so much. Being able to read something like that from the perspective of someone who lived it gave me a perspective I never otherwise would have known.
It is the same thing for fantasy/scifi. You're describing a unique world to the viewer, and how successful that world is, depends on how the characters in it react to and experience that world. Their emotions.

Who we relate to and care about will also differ with our personality and experiences. I don't relate to the protagonist in most stories. Basically ever. The hero's journey, the clumsy, naive girl, the feisty, "never give up" guy, the audience proxy - they never mean anything to me. I care about the antagonist, the left behind character nobody remembers, the alcoholic haven given up on his life after failure after failure - the side-characters.
I'm much more likely to care about a robot/demon/warlock or even the puppy-kicking evil villain than I ever am to the standard otome protagonist, to such a degree that I very, very rarely play otomes, since I mostly spend them being incredibly annoyed at the protag's personality/dialogue/thoughts(why do we give vn protags so little agency? It drives me nuts!).

My fav character period - is Mr. Smith in the Matrix trilogy. i could write an essay detailing why that is, but lets just say he's such a complicated, broken guy - a program, and yet incredibly human.
Every. thing. he says about humans he's actually saying about himself. The only times he actually talks about Neo is when he talks himself up. He's a program so scared of the imperfection and chaos that is humanity while at the same time desperately seeking imperfection, he's a broken program chasing down brokenness, he's an eternal being seeking mortality (life), while being terrified of the idea of being shut down. His whole being rests on his denial of how broken he really is.
His end scene in Revolution - the fear and vulnerability in his eyes when he recognizes what's happening - is almost single-handedly the reason I like the entire trilogy and not just the first movie.

This character, who's a program, a villain and a scifi side character is one of the most relatable messes I know.

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Re: Relating to a character in a fantasy or SciFi story

#8 Post by furesshu » Mon Aug 07, 2017 8:25 am

I highly recommend discarding the view that you must make a character relatable. More often than not, this results in someone with a bland, unremarkable personality that the players will instantly forget. Many games — particularly those heavily fixated on romance — try to be so inclusive that they wind up isolating their audience; the writer(s) fear(s) having a character do something that the player themselves wouldn't do, but because we are all individuals that have had different life experiences, there will never be a course of action that everyone can agree upon, and this leads to the character never doing anything as compromise. This is why so many protagonists end up as "doormats" that simply get pushed around by others, and a story that follows a weak lead is prone to falling apart. What you should be doing is creating a character with their own personality, motivations, and interests. If they're written consistently and given rationalizations for their actions, anyone will be able to understand why they do what they do.

But even besides that, you're only looking at the surface if you don't believe that others would be capable of relating to a hero sent on a journey to kill the demon lord. Let's say that the hero has been raised since young as "the chosen one", and everyone in the kingdom places their hopes on this single child from some remote village, but when the hero actually sets out on their quest, they learn that they're just average — that there are plenty of people more skilled than them. Their self-confidence is going to plummet, and they're going to be feel like they're betraying everyone's expectations. Lots of "gifted children" and content creators can understand this feeling.

Don't force a character to be relatable; it'll come naturally.

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