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Topic Tuesday #8: Character Agency


Brayon

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Jimmy Buffett once said in a song, "There's a fine line between Saturday Night and Sunday Morning." The same holds true for a writer when writing their story, the plot and character agency. First a quick definition of what Character Agency is.

 

From Michigan State University website:

Quote

Agency demonstrates the ability to make decisions that affect the story. A character’s agency pushes, creates and changes the plot. The characters contribute to the existence of the story, and the audience then connects with characters based on empathy, sympathy, and pathos; therefore, one of the most basic and fundamental aspects of creating a character is making them feel and seem human.

 

 

With the technical stuff out of the way, let's discuss agency.

 

For me, Agency is a way to connect to the character. I'm an avid Role-Player of the tabletop version. You may have seen several of my postings across GA about playing different RPGs, such as Dungeons and Dragons. Character Agency is vital in the realm of RPGs as it is in the realm of writing. The choice one makes, when playing or writing a character, shapes the world around him. As Jonas, my Warlock who is in a Pact with a Fiend Patron, do I save the fey village, or do I let the orcs slaughter the little ones? His actions at that choice are agency. Jonas could stop the orcs, there's only three of them, and 3 on 1 odds is something he could handle. Or, he can do nothing, let the orcs do what they are going to do. It's his choice. His action, or inaction, is shaping the world and has consequences on the fey of the village.

 

The Fine Line a/k/a Railroad/Sandbox

The fine line that both a Dungeonmaster and Writer needs to be aware of is the Railroad/Sandbox line. Some more definitions, and from an excellent YouTuber Matthew Colville, and he uses a famous litature work to show examples of Railroad/Sandbox, and Character Agency.

 

So... How do you handle Character Agency?

 

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On 5/8/2018 at 3:49 PM, BHopper2 said:

So... How do you handle Character Agency?

 

I think I get what you're aiming at :) 

 

My characters often change a storyline on me, usually at a very bad time. I have on my head the story will go this way, and my characters won't agree. By changing a character's actions they then change the story and so their world. 

 

A story has to stay true to its characters. Having a character act...well, out of character, will upset your readers and may ruin the story IMO. 

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Having never done any gaming, I'm coming at this from the other end.  My characters do indeed take over the story.  A "bad boy" can't be reformed - he'll stay true to his underlying philosophy of life.  An intelligent boyfriend eventually figures that out.  That wasn't what I intended, but it's what happened, and the results were far more interesting when the author decided to go with the flow.   So, maybe I should take up gaming.  :) 

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Yeah I just write what my characters tell me.... I put them in situations then I listen to them and see how they handle it.  I'm pretty good at getting inside their heads too... it's scary.

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3 hours ago, Backwoods Boy said:

Having never done any gaming, I'm coming at this from the other end.  My characters do indeed take over the story.  A "bad boy" can't be reformed - he'll stay true to his underlying philosophy of life.  An intelligent boyfriend eventually figures that out.  That wasn't what I intended, but it's what happened, and the results were far more interesting when the author decided to go with the flow.   So, maybe I should take up gaming.  :) 

Or in my case, the "Bad Boy" turned into a "Broken Sweetheart."

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My stories are very character driven, and my characters have a lot of agency. Sometimes they do things I never planned for them to do. Not that my stories never go the way I intend, but if my characters have strong opinions, I have little choice but to do what they want if I want the story to, well, happen. I can't force any of this stuff. If it doesn't work out the way I wanted it to, I just have to adjust.

 

I'm reminded of my own D&D group when you're talking about this. Our DM is truly an expert at world building, and he's worked with us to create a world that presents challenges and interesting experiences for all our characters by having us make up backstories that he can later incorporate into the story. But we make some choices that he really wasn't expecting. One time, we went to The Elemental Plane of Water where we met this crazy necromancer (guest player), and at the end of our quest, this place we were in was collapsing and she teleported us back to the 'real world'. But she transported us halfway across the world from where we'd started out. New stories. Later, we'd been helping these rebels fight some evil regime by getting hold of some magical weapons for them, but the party wanted to move on. (I wanted to stay and help them fight the power, but I was overruled.) So, we buggered off and let the rebels fend for themselves. The DM was... surprised. But we decide where we go, and he gives us options along the way. Clearly, we're terrible heroes, though, leaving a small group of rebels to fend for themselves against an evil empire in their hour of need. I'm beginning to call our cleric's alignment into question...

 

Sorry, went off on a tangent there, lol!

Edited by Thorn Wilde
Damn apostrophes...
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