Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Bravely Default method of quick characterization

This week's post is about characterization and specifically how to quickly provide characterization to a single character. Within the space of a scene, the reader will have a firm grasp of the character despite the fact that this character was introduced in this very scene. I discovered this method by watching it in action.

Lately I've been playing a game called "Bravely Default". It was developed by Square Enix for the Nintendo DS. Within this game are a number of bosses called jobmasters. These characters all work for The Empire and come after the heroes in military units. There's over a dozen of them, some of them only have one scene worth of screentime, and yet they are all distinct and developed. As I wrote Journey to Chaos, I wondered how they accomplished this. Certainly a video game with voice acting has more tools with which a character can make an impression but there was more to it. Image and sound were only two of the components of this method. There were three more: Monologue, Costume, and Introductory Scenario.

1. Monologue
Each character, as they were introduced, would go on a monologue. This would involve their motivation, their style of speaking, their method of operation, and any quirks they may have. They would taunt the heroes, who by their replies, would foil and underscore the latest enemy. At Tvtropes, we call this a Kirk Summation; the hero pops the villain's bubble by telling them how stupid their master plan is or the true horror of their well-intentioned goal.

2. Costume
Each job/class in the game has its own costume and this serves to further develop the jobmaster who initially possesses its asterisk. The White and Black Mages wear robes of their respective colors, the Knight wears plate mail, the Performer wears a dress and cutesy accessories, the Valkirye wears a different sort of heavy armor from the Knight, etc. The colors, the style,  and decoration give the character a distinctive look. For example, between her blue dress and white bunny ears, Praline makes an impression before she opens her mouth and sings. Also, whether or not the outfit has a practical purpose feeds into their abilities and thus into who they are. The Knight has high defense and low speed because he's moving around in plate mail, and by contrast, the Thief and Ninja are much faster but take more damage because they wear lighter clothes.  Characterization

3. Introductory Scenario
How the character introduces themselves adds to their first impression. On TvTropes, this is their Establishing Character Moment; the first action they take says a lot about them because it provides the first information that the reader receives about them. In Bravely Default, the Hunter jobmaster is encountered within a pocket of wilderness that is filled with corpses of a certain creature. As the heroes look around, the Hunter jumps from their perch atop one of these corpses. This tells both of the character's danger and their Hunter essence.

I first employed this method myself in Journey to Chaos book 4: (tentatively titled) Clerics at War. I thought about how I could establish this certain cleric. The first thing I had him do was arrive at a battlefield and administer Last Rites to a fallen disciple according to his own religious order (Introductory Scenario). Then I described how he was dressed; his monastic habit, his religious themed accessories, the symbolism of his magic staff, etc. (Costume). Finally, he engaged in a mostly one-sided conversation with Eric, my protagonist, about who he is, what he does, why he does it, and all in a manner I tried to make unique to him (Monologue). I needed to develop this character further, in both the book itself and in my notes, but this provided a solid staging ground for it.

This method can be used to quickly develop a character. Within one scene, their appearance, personality and motives can be established. From there, you can use the character actively in the narrative, such as for a boss fight.

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