Exaggerating Characters for Readability

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Inksword
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Exaggerating Characters for Readability

#1 Post by Inksword » Mon Feb 11, 2019 2:05 pm

I've noticed something of a trend in visual novels, at least the popular ones. Mostly it's that visual novels seem to lean on tropes and exaggeration to define their characters a lot. Character's tend not to just be shy, they're stuttering messes when confronted with social interaction. They're not just angry, they regularly explode into shouting matches or are constantly scowling. Now, those two examples aren't the "baseline" but even when I think about the more subtle or baseline for VN characters versus how my real friend group or highschool works it seems like there's a much higher degree of contrast between the fictional characters than would reflect reality.

Now, I understand there's a few reasons for this. A lot of VNs target an audience that wants tropes and characters that fall neatly into archetypes There's also something to be said for more extreme characters being more easily distinguished; even if their voices aren't unique in the overall VN landscape, they are strong and easily distinguished from each other within the game. By having a character fit into a trope, it's easier to build to the parts of your game that are unique too, a shorthand that lets you assume the audience is familiar with the basics of the character so you can move on to other things.

But is this good? Is it lazy to rely on tropes to fill in the blanks in a player's mind when you should be hand-crafting those blank spaces? I worry a bit about whether games that have more realistic, real-world portrayals of people might suffer due to living in a games culture where half the population is expecting to be able to stick "dere" on the end of a word to describe a female character. Obviously the indie scene like these forums suffers from this a lot less, but it's a big deal in professional VNs it seems.

Where do you calibrate your characters in terms of exaggeration and contrast? How much do rely on story shorthands to indicate personality and leave you room for other things? Or do you seek to make more realistic characters who may not be as distinguishable from each other? Should you worry if your characters are all more down-to-earth because players won't be able to distinguish them? I felt like starting a discussion about it and wanted to see what people had to say. Thoughts?

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Re: Exaggerating Characters for Readability

#2 Post by parttimestorier » Mon Feb 11, 2019 4:38 pm

I don't think there's really a right or wrong answer to this, because it's entirely subjective. Some people enjoy certain stock character types and don't mind if they're a bit exaggerated, and other people prefer stories that are more realistic. As long as all your marketing materials make it clear which one of those two types of stories you're writing, you'll probably find an audience who likes it. You aren't going to be able to please everyone either way.

That being said, to a certain extent people's expectations surrounding characterization are probably based on genre. For instance, if you're writing a slice-of-life romantic comedy about a high school boy getting up to various silly hijinks with a bunch of different girls he knows, then readers might go into that expecting the same kind of tropes they've seen in other VNs like that. But even then, there are some really popular VNs that set you up to think they're going to check all the generic school life eroge boxes, taking advantage of how people expect that, only to turn around and subvert them entirely. So while you should probably think about what kind of readers you might be attracting with the genre you're writing in, that still doesn't necessarily mean that people won't like your story if you do something a little different.

As for your last question, I don't think you need to worry that people wouldn't be able to distinguish between more realistic characters. There are a lot of different ways to give different characters different voices that aren't exaggerated. I'm definitely not an expert on this, as it's still something I'm working on figuring out myself. But for one example, when I just talk casually with my friends I tend to say "like" as a filler word a lot, or describe other people saying things with phrases like "and then he was like . . ." So if I find myself writing dialogue that way, I might stop and think about making sure that not all characters talk like that. Maybe only one specific character does and others don't. I also have one character in a project I'm working on now who's a bit grumpy and emotionally closed-off, so she mostly talks in short abrupt sentences, and she isn't the type who would just volunteer information about herself or keep talking in more detail than was specifically asked for. I think both of those things are pretty distinct differences between characters that are still pretty normal ways that real people might talk.
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Re: Exaggerating Characters for Readability

#3 Post by Mammon » Tue Feb 12, 2019 4:15 am

Vicious circle. In a larger project there's a producer who tells what they want to the writer, usually in broad enough strokes that you're left with a trope instead of a well-rounded character. Especially if some of the intricacies cannot be added fluently by the writer or are forgotten about. Then the writer writes a trope instead of a more rounded character like they would've written if this were their own project and inspiration. Perhaps the producer denies or demands revisions for any intricacies that were added, to make the character safer, more likeable by scraping off potentially dislikeable traits, and easier to market. The story comes out, is safe and successful enough where other projects with intricate characters can fail, and the producers learn from experience or while learning the business that tropes work better. After a few cycles of being conditioned and taught to use tropes they now demand it out of principle. Because they think that's what the audience wants and that's the safe route that allows them to shift blame on the writer when things fail. More and more tropes, it becomes more and more common, so producers will demand it over good characters more and more.

That's what I assumed happened. Of course there's a lot of different factors, but in the larger projects where writers are being paid per word but not for quality I can see this being a vast factor. Adding character means arguing with a producer over keeping it in. Just writing the amount of words you need, even when it's just cloudgazing fluff, is a paycheck earned easier. And large companies don't care for quality anyway, just profit. If they can choose between a risky investment with potential and a bland piece of crap at production values that will turn a profit more often than not, they will go with the second. Just look at anime in 2017 when (I don't remember which company, I think crunchyroll) bought all qualities of anime to get a big as possible selection and thus gave money earned by people watching series like Boku no Hero to some low-production highschool anime. That highschool anime production studio, by producing low-quality low-risk stuff could still make a marginal profit. That works for them and a lot of anime studios, resulting in a lot of crap anime. Same for the DC universe, they don't care if Superman vs Batman is terrible, just that it makes more of a profit than it costs to produce. Which it did. Or why anime go for a safe style that they know people like and which many of their artists can produce, while unique styles like Hellsing Ultimate (which can look terrible when copied, just look at some of the terrified-expressions in the last few episodes) are rarely seen. I assume the same has been going on with VNs and most of japanese trope culture for years now.

It's safe, it's cheaper, it's less risky. Therefore, it's what companies prefer over more rounded characters.
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Re: Exaggerating Characters for Readability

#4 Post by gekiganwing » Tue Feb 12, 2019 2:56 pm

Inksword wrote:
Mon Feb 11, 2019 2:05 pm
Or do you seek to make more realistic characters who may not be as distinguishable from each other? Should you worry if your characters are all more down-to-earth because players won't be able to distinguish them?
Think of specific examples of published fiction which you consider to have at least one down-to-earth character. Especially ones which you have enjoyed. Then consider the following...

* Have these works of fiction been thought of as commercially successful?
* Are they considered successful, but often labeled as indie, arthouse, or not quite mainstream?

It's good to be experimental and bold when writing fiction. I try to encourage people to stick with their vision. Be creative, rather than churn out a story that sticks with established genre / medium conventions. At the same time, consider whether your story might struggle to make money.
Inksword wrote:
Mon Feb 11, 2019 2:05 pm
I worry a bit about whether games that have more realistic, real-world portrayals of people might suffer due to living in a games culture where half the population is expecting to be able to stick "dere" on the end of a word to describe a female character. Obviously the indie scene like these forums suffers from this a lot less, but it's a big deal in professional VNs it seems.
Sometimes gameplay or a method of presentation can make a difference. Include a decent number of puzzles, and then people might think of your story as an adventure game. Let the protagonist walk around the fictional world, and then people might think of your story as a narrative game.

Sometimes an art style can make a difference. I usually expect that drawings will reflect the tone of a story. (Of course, there are exceptions.) Think about what sort of illustrations would convey the sort of story you want to tell. It can help to compare your art to a published work.

One last thing... be confident in how you present your story. If you were creating an alternative comic, but said, "Please don't call it a comic because it's not a PG-rated superhero story or a gag-a-day newspaper story," then I would not consider its presentation to be confident.

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Re: Exaggerating Characters for Readability

#5 Post by Katy133 » Thu Feb 14, 2019 9:02 pm

I believe that every story is a remix of something else. We don't write stories in a bubble. They are zeitgeist. They are of the time they were written in. Every story is the culmination of every story told previously. Every sci-fi today was either directly inspired by Moebius, or indirectly related to Moebius (meaning, the writer saw sci-fi works inspired by works that were inspired by Moebius). In turn, Moebius was influenced by Herge's work, The Adventures of Tintin. Think of it like a family tree, but for stories. Keeping all this in mind, I'd say that it is impossible to write a story without using tropes to some extent. Rather, we use them in different ways with variations. I remember one of my animation professors telling me that "There is no such thing as 'over-acting.' There is only acting that doesn't fit into the story's world," and I'd say that that can be applied here: Some visual novels have worldbuilding that is closer to reality, while others are more exaggerated in some way. And depending on that level of exaggeration, the tropes will be presented differently.
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