Where Have All the Communities Gone?

There’s something that’s always confused me about a lot of fantasy characters, and even more of the RPG characters I’ve run into. See, I’ve learned from personal experience that very few people actually like operating completely alone, and most would choose not to.

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So why are there so many lone wolves out there?

Sure, we can talk about the rate of destruction of peasant villages from which heroes are destined to emerge until the cows come home. Or about how it’s easier to motivate someone who’s lost everything for revenge. But I’m not talking about the in-world reasons, only the out-of-world. I look at the traveling party full of orphans, or the hordes of fantasy novel leads with home lives they can’t tolerate and not much by way of friends for some reason, and I wonder—why is it that, when connections are such an important element of people’s lives, it’s so common for them to be written without them?

Now, I can see a few obvious reasons. In most role-playing games, after all, connections are weaknesses; if you write yourself a mother, or a teacher, or a younger sibling, it’s better than even odds that at some point the GM is at best going to threaten them to give you a plot hook and at worst likely to kill them off to trigger an emotional reaction. And I can see this as a reason; what’s the point of setting oneself up for more angst than is necessary? Easier to get it out of the way, one tragic event at the beginning from which it can all be recovered, right?

And yes, connections can hold you back; it’s not too many people who will go off into the wide world on some cockamamie adventure when there are people at home they need to protect. At least, not without trying to find a few alternatives, delaying the trip a bit while they ensure that the place they’re leaving is properly defended, or otherwise being more attached to their old lives than they are to the plot.

And of course, there are the people who don’t write connections because it’s easier not to write them. I’m sure you know the type. Heck, most of you have probably been the type, early in your writing careers, and who’s to blame you? Relationships are difficult things to write: romances have all been seen before, friends are rather subjective, families have expected patterns and there’s all this panic about cliché, and bosses—don’t get me started on bosses. And you have to take into account all the changes since they first met, and the longer the relationship the more variables there are to juggle. It can be pretty daunting.

So with all these reasons not to write them, why do I find it so confusing? It’s simple. The relationship—be it familial, friendly, romantic, educational, or whatever else one might come up with—is one of the greatest forces in existence when it comes to shaping a character. Everyone bears marks of their old associations, one way or another. Even the people surrounded by negative role models will often be trying not to be like the ones they grew up under. Their vocabularies, their moral codes, their modes of dress, their prejudices, their approaches to dealing with new people or solving problems or managing stress: all of them have as likely as not been influenced by their families and communities. And why would anyone want to deny a character that much opportunity for depth?


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