Allow me to introduce you to the first of many articles focused on the scope of writing and development within storytelling. These Writing Corners will act as my personal interpretation into distinct elements for storytelling and other topics that align with the main focus of the centered article. While most of the examples that I will use will be related to video games, I will outline the most important parts, aligning them in reference to written literature structures, and using them as a base to universally connect the two forms of art together. In this week’s WC, I’ll start us off with a concept that is essential to creating a story, a fundamental that is necessary for direction and establishing forms of narrative: Main Characters.
What makes the Main Character the main interest of a story?
In many stories, if not all, there’s a directive notice to the plot in which the MC is either apart of or has a hand in playing which leads to the events that create the story. Their appearance is used in a way to narrate the story, illustrating points and/or details that would’ve had otherwise been overlooked through the eyes of multiple characters. The main character could be considered the “missing puzzle piece” within the story that prevents further conflict from arising within the world or could be the very thing that is causing conflict and is unaware of it.
When introducing the main character within your story, it’s important to remember simple concepts and structures that are to be used with every character:
- Story and Character Development: A character within a story deserves every bit of detail and attention to their appearance within their works. This application doubles in priority for the main character as they are our eyes and ears to the situation within their titled works. A knight that is tasked with saving a princess and slaying a dragon would be informed about the dragon, how powerful it is, whether it’s safe to fight it now or later, and if it can be defeated. As much detail can be given about the dragon that hasn’t been seen on the screen/page, the same amount of detail can be given to the titular character that isn’t aware they are the main focus for us, the readers/players, as the tale unfolds. A good example of story and character development for the main character that I found to be one of the better standards was in Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King. The synopsis of the tale accounts to a cursed king, cursed into a toad-like monster, and his equally cursed daughter, who’s been turned into a horse, roaming the land alongside a single guard who was unaffected by the curse that had been cast by a vengeful jester wielding an ancient and powerful staff. While the title of the game states that the cursed king might have some importance within the game (Which holds true in some degrees) it’s treated as a red herring but, in a twist, it’s subverted in the direction of our silent main character. With the king and princess in their altered states, one more hostile to civilians than others, the guard acts as their liaison, representing the kingdom, fighting their battles, sharing in part their troubles as a soldier, and continues to follow the king and princess, instilling hope in their advances to defeat the man that caused this conflict, lifting the curse and bringing peace back to the kingdom.
Now, without saying a word, the main character has already shown a distinct sign of loyalty to his king and princess in helping them regain their kingdom. The game follows up with the player in revealing more about the main character as a knight that has served the king faithfully and has suffered from amnesia since appearing at the castle as a young child; showing proof in further testimonies to his development as a character – un-wavered by these memories throughout the entirety of the story. Along the way, he’s met with other characters that join in his quest to help the cursed king. He’s shown immeasurable trust amongst these characters, which furthers develop his ability to lead as the game progresses, and is even recognized through the efforts of the cursed king who deems him worthy as a candidate for marriage with his daughter; something which is exclusively forbidden since commoners are unable to marry royalty without their own royal backgrounds within this setting.
Despite his silent disposition, he’s established his character as a righteous knight that travels with the remains of royalty from a cursed kingdom and sees the journey to an end in the hopes of making things right once more. His story has a definition to the role he plays within the game, he’s developed from that of a guard into that of a leader while engaging in liaison affairs on behalf of his cursed king, and these developments are made prominent from the involvement of other characters as they progress to the endgame. Not bad for a silent protagonist, huh?
- Involvement within the story: Plot twists and secret developments aside, the involvement of a character, main or not, is credited as having some sort of part to play within the story. Whether they were a simple cattle boy that tended to a farm before being visited by an intergalactic samurai of the distant past (Star Wars) or a primate that travels across lush jungles while fighting off anthropomorphic reptiles that have stolen his bananas (Donkey Kong Country), the prologue of their beginnings are made clear.
Octopath Traveler is a game that uses this concept as its main form of storytelling and focus, giving you control over eight characters whose individual tales play an important narrative in revealing the world to which they inhabit. Unlike that of the pride and true method of some stories, the main character for this game is split amongst the eight party members that you can choose from when starting the game. Each is given their own specific narrative which provides them with a background to their story, a goal they are in pursuit towards, and a climax of events which leads to their stories conclusion.
While playing a character, the involvement of other characters is virtually unseen within that character’s story. While this could be seen as inefficient to the establishment of character it actually does the opposite. Their narrative is uninterrupted by outside sources, creating a raw and tangible continuation in their tales. For example, Cyrus, an astute scholar, begins his adventure in search of a missing book from his kingdom’s library that’s known for its dark magic; he’s blissfully unaware of this little fact, mind you. Each chapter, in his narrative, showcases that the individuals who had possessed the book had been wrought with great power but with the price of their humanity as the cost. By the end of his journey, he learns that the book was being used to convert humans into a red crystalized substance and that those who knew of this power, which is revealed to be a nice handful of individuals amongst the eight storylines, could lead to the very resurrection of a demonic monster that nearly brought ruin to the world from a millennia ago.
These events mark an endgame that never occurs within the main story. Yes, I’m not joking, an awesome setup that could lead to our eight heroes fighting against an apocalyptic monster is an optional quest that never interferes with the character’s main narrative. Cyrus’s goal in finding the book, meeting old acquaintances that promote his character along the way, revealing his intuitive detective skills that could even impress Sherlock Holmes, his persona of a high-educated scholar whose goal in life is to teach others in hopes that they will one day become teachers in some way, and his obliviousness to social situations is the life’s essence within his narrative and that of his traveling companions; individually different, narratively sound.
- The Characters are Extensions of the World: Whether it’s one or two main characters, a character is supposed to represent something new and different; Different parts of the world, different cultures, different groups, etc. The diversity of establishing characters as something unique, distinctly different than the cliche of making them the main focus of a story because of A, B, and C, is an on and off again occurrence within acts of fiction and written literature.
One example from a film that was executed well in using two protagonists was Independence Day (1996). This particular film as a summer blockbuster used the dynamic star power of Will Smith as Captain Steven Hiller and Jeff Goldblum as David Levinson, to tell a story from two different perspectives in a story about aliens invading from space. Steven Hiller’s role within the movie was to encapsulate a certain crowd and a distinct measure of authority for his character. He was in the armed forces, a captain, an African American, his girlfriend-turned-wife is a stripper, he had a child, respected as a leader and experienced survivors remorse (In a more angered fashion) all throughout the entire film. On the other hand, David Levinson used to work with the government, now working for the people, an untypical nerd archetype, conflicted scientist, riddled with guilt from his past mistakes (Love and Success), survivors remorse (Incredibly emotional) and an
The two individuals come from entirely different backgrounds, sharing very few similarities in regards to their unknown positions as main characters. They start from the opposite side of the continent, a West Coast-East Coast comparison, which eventually leads them coming together in a place that doesn’t exist, however, is used to center their assault on the alien forces (Area 51) by using the unknown to create a new future (Defeating the aliens). A union of two characters, different personalities, familiar goals and attention to details within their own specifics; he shoots and he will science.
- Personality: That last thing that any character needs, ESPECIALLY A MC, is the lack, or interest, of having a personality. In my earlier thoughts, I explained how a silent character, whose personality is pretty neutral, can be demonstrated by their actions; this is used to convey an “actions speak louder than words” prerogative. On the other hand, the implication of giving the main character a personality is what sets the tone of their story.
In a game called No More Heroes, the title card protagonist for this game is a man by the name of Travis Touchdown. His personality is a unique blend of social tropes, doused with a bit of realism, subversion of cliches, and a mockery to multiple stereotypes. In other words, he’s the anti-hero to your general perspective of heroes; hence the title. He becomes an assassin just for the hell of it, indulged upon with the idea of getting some “naked tango” lessons from another character if he ends up becoming the number one assassin amongst them all, all while giving very little details about himself including his past and his motivations. He uses this persona to engage the audience that’s clearly playing the game, messing with the meta, yet again, in regards to the 4th Wall Breaking format.
He uses his personality to subvert expectations to which the story might imply, leading the player along in a world that is, without question, a cliche and stereotyped obstacle that he, our main character, is going to break down. If Travis had no personality, or refused to develop one by the end of the game, his actions to do what he does and his ability to connect with the player, or the audience – as he puts it, would disengage the player and make the game less of a contrived story with flaws that held inner meanings – rather than a game that was just being played because it had an interesting title and story, but with a protagonist that was a dull as loose board.