Tabula Rasa Character: Does It Fit the Hype?

Yesterday, I remarked on the lack of connections many characters, both in fiction and in games, seemed to have within their worlds. One response in particular caught my eye: Brickwall, presenting the tabula rasa, or blank slate, character as one of the reasons why people wouldn’t start with pre-existing relationships. As he puts it, “Who is easier to have form relationships with the others that inevitably come along than someone who doesn’t already have relationships to handle?”

As you can probably guess from my post title, I disagree.

Now, I’ll grant that his first example works: it is usually harder to set a character already married or otherwise in a committed relationship up with a new love interest. (Though he fails to take into account a number of factors that make it a lot easier, including political marriages. Who says everyone who’s tied the knot is a. really monogamously-minded, and b. actually in love?) And those sorts of messes are interesting in their own right. So yes, for most people one could grant a point to the tabula rasa. But I’m still not impressed.

The second one was the one that got me considering this response to be worth a post in and of itself. It operates on three assumptions that I disagree with—that the mentoring parent is necessarily the father (I apprenticed out to my mother, thank you very much), that having a strong parental figure precludes having a mentor figure, and (somewhat more implied) that the mentor figure has to necessarily be a parental figure. Pretty heavy load for one sentence. The first assumption I’ll assume to be an accident, so I’ll leave it alone. For the second: What if the character and her parent have a strong relationship, but don’t necessarily share interests, or if the parent has the interest in teaching but not the aptitude? Or if the character’s too busy taking her family for granted to realize what she can learn for them, and as such figures she has to look elsewhere? And think of it this way—there’s more prestige in being mentored by someone impressive from outside the family than from inside, as there’s little chance of nepotism: the right to the mentor’s tutelage must be earned. And more prestige is more reward. And as for the mentor having to necessarily feel like a parental figure, I disagree. I’ve seen a lot of real-world examples of the older-student mentor type, both for other people and for myself. (Heck, for a while I was one.) Reports of the need for a tabula rasa have been greatly exaggerated.

Now we have the third example—that someone without children of his own will be more parental towards the youngster in need of guidance than someone who’s been a parent, and thus the tabula rasa is better suited to ‘taking a student’ plots. Not so; if anything, I find someone with progeny, or at least young dependent(s) of some sort, likelier to take on a student. Why? First: in my experience, parents tend to have stronger parental instincts than non-parents. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen parents I knew taking care of other children as automatically as they did their own; on the other hand, a majority of the childless people I know (myself included) have next to no caring instinct and if anything wish the little brats would go somewhere else. Also, someone who’s had a young dependent is likelier to be reminded of the young dependent by the student du jour—and if he still has said young dependent, and the young dependent is friends with or otherwise close to the plot student, he might even take on the student as a favor to the young dependent. Sorry, but the tabula rasa has a blank score here.

And that’s just arguing with the comment itself (my response got a little long for one day). Tomorrow, I’ll have reasons why a tabula rasa character might actually be less likely to create new and interesting characterization-worthy relationships than someone who already has a family or a few contacts.


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  1. The Return of the Tabula Rasa Character | Exchange of Realities
  2. Impractical Applications (Splicing in Connections) | Exchange of Realities

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