Making Stories and Characters Vibrant and Fun?

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BlackMagnolia
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Making Stories and Characters Vibrant and Fun?

#1 Post by BlackMagnolia » Sun Apr 01, 2018 3:31 am

Hi. I have a dilemma.

I have difficulty making a story interactive and fun. My style of writing has always been dark, heavy-handed and melancholic. I always go for themes and characters that are very fringe, morally-questionable, and psychological in nature. But what I began to realize is that even though I write and seek out stories like these, I never finish them or enjoy actually writing the story itself. Mainly because it is taxing and become to heavy and tangled for its own good. Needless to say, it all falls apart. As hard as I try to keep it simple, it never is.

The stuff I usually tackle is a far cry from what I actually enjoy playing and i think there is a disconnect. To give a few examples, I can easily play and love games like Huniepop, Littlewitch Romanesque, Gravity Rush, Bravely Default, Atelier Sophie, Stella Glow, Fire Emblem Echoes - I think you can see a pattern here. All vibrant, colorful character-driven games - some more story-driven than others but nonetheless they all pop.

I don't want to give up on the types of characters and themes that are prevalent in my work but I do want to present it in a more engaging and imaginative way instead of the realistic, heavy-handed on the nose approach.

So, what I want to know is what stories in games do you find fun and engaging and why? What can I do to write a more sturdy, fun and engaging story with characters that pop? Should I put writing aside for a second and play and study more games before attempting to write?

Thank you in advance.
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Re: Making Stories and Characters Vibrant and Fun?

#2 Post by Ezmar » Sun Apr 01, 2018 8:35 pm

Maybe think more about writing jokes or comedy. Start reading comedy articles, writings, whatever. I'm writing a VN that's very realistic and deals with a lot of heavy themes like loss and death, but my writing style tends to be fairly humorous at times, since I have a background in comedic writing. In addition to the "powerful moments" I want to create, I'm also thinking about opportunities for levity and comedy that I can capitalize on. And the only way to learn to recognize that is to get used to thinking about making jokes naturally, without trying to force it.

Obviously this doesn't mean your writing has to be comedic in nature, but it's another color that adds a feeling of life to the writing. If you don't know how to do it, it will show, and if you do, it will come out.

I'm no professional, though, so take my advice as you will.

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Re: Making Stories and Characters Vibrant and Fun?

#3 Post by BlackMagnolia » Sun Apr 01, 2018 9:34 pm

Ezmar wrote:
Sun Apr 01, 2018 8:35 pm
Maybe think more about writing jokes or comedy. Start reading comedy articles, writings, whatever. I'm writing a VN that's very realistic and deals with a lot of heavy themes like loss and death, but my writing style tends to be fairly humorous at times, since I have a background in comedic writing. In addition to the "powerful moments" I want to create, I'm also thinking about opportunities for levity and comedy that I can capitalize on. And the only way to learn to recognize that is to get used to thinking about making jokes naturally, without trying to force it.

Obviously this doesn't mean your writing has to be comedic in nature, but it's another color that adds a feeling of life to the writing. If you don't know how to do it, it will show, and if you do, it will come out.
I can honestly say i haven't thought of it that way. I have studied comedy quite extensively but that was some time ago. Digging out those old stand-up specials and watching some shows that I've found funny could definitely work and add some dimensions that my stories miss. Thank you for you input, it's appreciated.
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Re: Making Stories and Characters Vibrant and Fun?

#4 Post by Ezmar » Sun Apr 01, 2018 9:47 pm

The biggest thing with making characters come alive is banter between them. What do they do when things aren't serious? If they're always in serious mode, it can come across as bland, with characters only existing to further the plot and story. For as much fault as I found with Fate/Stay Night when I read it, the most important moments were the moments where there was downtime between the action, and some awkward jokes were cracked. I personally think it could have used more of that to cut how plodding the seriousness got at times, and what was there felt kind of half-assed (especially in comparison to the Tiger Dojos, some of which were genuinely hilarious), but even aside from all that, levity is how you make characters grow and seem like people. It evokes a sense of intimacy between the reader and the character, like you're seeing a part of them they don't show to the world at large. That's a big part of why those "colorful" stories "pop".

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Re: Making Stories and Characters Vibrant and Fun?

#5 Post by BlackMagnolia » Sun Apr 01, 2018 10:36 pm

Ezmar wrote:
Sun Apr 01, 2018 9:47 pm
The biggest thing with making characters come alive is banter between them. What do they do when things aren't serious? If they're always in serious mode, it can come across as bland, with characters only existing to further the plot and story. For as much fault as I found with Fate/Stay Night when I read it, the most important moments were the moments where there was downtime between the action, and some awkward jokes were cracked. I personally think it could have used more of that to cut how plodding the seriousness got at times, and what was there felt kind of half-assed (especially in comparison to the Tiger Dojos, some of which were genuinely hilarious), but even aside from all that, levity is how you make characters grow and seem like people. It evokes a sense of intimacy between the reader and the character, like you're seeing a part of them they don't show to the world at large. That's a big part of why those "colorful" stories "pop".
Now that you mention it, "serious" games like Resident Evil or Silent Hill or The Last of Us do have moments of wise-cracking or joke endings to alleviate the mental stress of going through it all. One of the acclaim for Silent Hill 3, for instance, was the characterization of the protagonist, a teenage girl. In between all the horrific segments and discomforting atmosphere, the awkward yet well-placed jokes and wry, sarcastic comments they made definitely added color to what would mostly be just an exercise of mental torture.

Same with games like Tales, Mass Effect, Nier, Drakengard and Dragon Age - the banter that naturally triggered between the characters during the long stretches of traveling and missions were definitely a characteristic highlight.

Thank you very much again for your input! It adds a ton of perspective to basic essentials that I was glossing over before. I think I'll step away from the word processor and play more games to get the flow and execution of things in mind for future reference.
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Re: Making Stories and Characters Vibrant and Fun?

#6 Post by Widdershins » Mon Apr 02, 2018 1:46 am

I've found studying the mechanics of the stories I like (as well as stories I don't!) is certainly beneficial, both with games and in other mediums, too! I've a couple additional thoughts culled from my own experiences with writing-- hopefully they might help you out, as well.

First and foremost, I'd suggest if your characters/stories feel too dour to be enjoyable, you may need to dig into them further. As you and Ezmar discuss above, most good tragic stories include lighter moments (it isn't just games-- even Shakespeare's tragedies have pops of comedy). Not only do such moments relieve tension, but (importantly!) they function to make both the story and the characters more relatable: after all, reality isn't unbroken grimdark, but comprised of both shadows and light.

So if your characters feel too heavy, I'd ask: what brings them joy? what's their sense of humor like? Even if they lack any sense of humor whatsoever, that's something other characters are likely to notice, and provides opportunity for interactions-- like banter!-- that highlight that humanity. If they're single-minded and miserable, how can you contrast that with a situation that ought to bring happiness? Does a moment find them standing at a carnival with cotton candy and tears in their eyes? Are they furiously gloomy at a children's birthday party?

Essentially, there's a base requirement to provide the reader/player a good reason to follow you into the world you're creating, and that is doubly true (and doubly hard) when you're writing a sad story or unsympathetic characters. It starts with providing a seat at the table: here's a moment to relate to, here's a character you can identify with, these are experiences you may have had. Humanity is messy, and it's more than one thing at a time-- often, it's several things in conflict. All Sadness, All Badness, All The Time won't serve, because while it might be gritty, it doesn't ultimately feel any more real than a happy story without conflict-- and it's far less pleasant.

What makes a story enjoyable, in my belief, isn't determined by tone (happy, dark, comic, etc), as much as whether I can connect to it in a satisfying way. So the next big question is: why is this a story you want to tell? Do you want to see how much this amoral character can get away with before their inevitable downfall? Do you want to examine the corrupt underbelly of a city through the eyes of an honorable character, one who cannot hope to win against the forces they fight? You love your characters and your themes, else you wouldn't be drawn to them-- so find the core of what you love about them, and use it as your guiding star, because someone else out there will love it, too.

Last bit I'll add may or may not be relevant to you, but your use of the terms heavy-handed and on the nose strike a chord with me, so I'll put this out there, just in case: oftentimes, when my writing feels flat and heavy-handed/on the nose, I find I can sometimes fix the problem by either spending time writing in my journal, or typing a long letter to a friend, before I pick up the story again. I attribute it to the notion that I pull stories out of the gray, foggy region of my mind I can't always access with clarity-- and it happens that's the same region where I often banish ideas I don't have practical use for, and dark thoughts to stew. Sometimes, those thoughts need space to breathe before they'll give me uncluttered access to my story again. It might be worth trying to air your own personal thoughts more often, even/especially privately, and then see what comes out.

I hope some part of this helps. Best of luck to you!

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Re: Making Stories and Characters Vibrant and Fun?

#7 Post by Mammon » Mon Apr 02, 2018 3:12 am

As you and Ezmar already discussed, more light and humorous moments are important, but how to add these? Sometimes the best solution is just to add a character just for that purpose, or label a few already added characters as such if there's no need for them to be gritty and depressed. Or have the setting decide; dark when they're alone but humorous and forcing a smile when they're in public. In that celebrity story you're writing the last seems to be particularly useful. The star can't be seen in the tabloids and the papers as a moody and grim person, they have to seem open, friendly and happy. They're pretending and feightning their happiness, but that in itself can come in various nuances and help with explaining why they're doing it when it goes against their character.
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Re: Making Stories and Characters Vibrant and Fun?

#8 Post by BlackMagnolia » Tue Apr 03, 2018 12:45 am

Widdershins - your advice is extremely thought-provoking and helpful. Especially that last bit which I'll definitely try my hand at.

Mammon - I'll definitely put more stock into having satellite characters like that. I generally dislike them but with more thought they can add flavor to a story. I never thought of having the setting define the characters personality and behavior before. Maybe that would help instead of defining characters separate from their environment like I usually do.

Thank you all for your advice. It's much appreciated and considered.
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Re: Making Stories and Characters Vibrant and Fun?

#9 Post by Fairess » Sat Apr 07, 2018 2:26 pm

Hello, there!

Just wanted to chime in with my two cents. I'm not sure I could agree more with Widdershins--that sort of advice is exactly what helped me through my project when I was stuck in the middle and juggling too many character/plot issues and couldn't make the chemistry between my two characters work.

I think it's inevitable, regardless of genre, that you'll reach a part in your narrative where you know exactly where you want everything to end but can't seem to get there. Two people are supposed to fall in love and yet each scene with them feels flat. You wanted to have a dramatic moment of support where all the sadness was given meaning and turned into a moment of growth. All the action led up to this point and yet everything that was supposed to tie together is lying on the floor in knots. How do you pick it all up and move things forward?

Like Widdershins said, for me it was about finding that 'guiding star.' I didn't want to move forward with all these scenes but I knew I had to if I was going to finish the project. I ended up breaking away from the main narrative long enough to write the scene I actually wanted to write regardless of not knowing how I would move the rest of the story there. And it was fun!

That ultimately gave me a direction where I knew I wanted to go. It helped me shave away the parts of the story that weren't important (soooo much dead weight builds up by the time you've hit the middle of a narrative) and direct the narrative back where I knew it needed to be.

Tragedy and humor are so intimately connected--how could we be happy if we never knew what it felt like to be sad? Adding humor can be so simple as a character looking up from their misery long enough to see the irony in it, or realizing that the world around them is so much bigger than the sadness they feel. Dig deeper into a character's past and you'll find things that make them happy, which can add an undertone of hope to even the most hopeless situation. When you find that happy spot where you really love writing out a scene, I think you'll naturally find that balance you're looking for.

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Re: Making Stories and Characters Vibrant and Fun?

#10 Post by yoshibb » Tue Apr 10, 2018 5:59 pm

Adding to what others have said but I usually find comedy in contrast. For example, two characters run into an enemy who is much stronger than they are on their journey. Character deals with the situation analytically, they consider things seriously, and they struggle with figuring out a plan of attack that doesn't end up with both of them dead. Character B is a more wisecracking, light-hearted type, they hide their fear of the situation with humor, and they are hopelessly dependent on Character A's strength/intelligence to get them through it even though they don't openly mention it. So you have a straight man and a comedian, both of them playing off each other. Character B helps A stay grounded and keep them from feeling hopeless (A may even crack a joke now and then) and Character B is able to stay calm and help to the best of their abilities because they know A is in control. Having contrasting characters attacking the same situation in different ways can create comedy very easily. The only pitfall here is when your more comedic character feels like they are outside of the plot, only there for humor. There's been plenty of media where the comic relief character is uncomfortable/cringey because they are cracking jokes while people are dying or suffering. The comedian should be apart of the story, not just there to inject humor when you need a moment of levity.

But you don't even need to create a new character for this. You can usually find this in the cast you already have. I've never met anyone who is miserable and serious all the time. In my group of friends, I think the worst would be tragically funny. So as Widdershins said, explore your characters. What makes them laugh and how would they deal with what you consider hilarious situations. Drop them into a scenario the polar opposite of what they are used to and write out how they would function. Also, I've found that character questionnaires can help with this sort of thing because they'll ask things you might not have thought of.
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Re: Making Stories and Characters Vibrant and Fun?

#11 Post by BlackMagnolia » Tue Apr 17, 2018 9:36 pm

Thank you all for your advice. it's been helping tremendously in my current project and I'm sure it'll make my work much more richer and dynamic in the future.
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