Notes on World Viewing Character

Yesterday, I asked, “How does the character view the world?” The logical converse to that, of course, is “How does the world view this character?” But when that question last got put in front of me, I started getting nervous. “How does the world view this character?” seems to me to be a rather fraught question, rather like slipping a few grenades into a present steal; it’s bound to blow up in someone’s face, and the question is only “whose”? Here are three of the explosions I’m most used to seeing.

  • The world does not all see the character the same way. This goes double when you’re dealing with strong revulsion or strong attraction. Different people will have different contexts, different parallels to draw, different first impressions. You can’t expect someone who first met her when she was completely centered and had her public face on to come off with the same initial image as someone who first met her when she was setback’d, underslept and crabby; likewise, a person who hardly ever sees her and one who pretty much lives with her are likely to get different pictures even if the character behaves the exact same way in public and in private. If she is well-liked, don’t be surprised if someone objects to her because she’s well-liked; irrational jealousy is a perfectly human response.
  • Even for characters who have about the same reaction, the causes might be different. Yeah, that’s not going to look the same on the surface, but if the character’s having to scramble to undo a bad impression, assuming it’s the same reason as every other bad first impression for the last three years appeared to be can be hazardous to your health. (Particularly if the assumption is that something’s wrong with the person responding to the character.)
  • Unless both character and creator are highly perceptive and socially adept, it’s pretty likely that “everyone”–whether the everyone is the book audience, the subset of other characters whose opinions matter to the character, the rest of the game table if this is an RPG, what have you—will have at least a somewhat different image of the character from what the character thinks their image of her is. I’ve never seen a single interaction that didn’t cross wires somewhere; why would this be any different? And I have, much more often, seen players and writers who thought they were coming across one way and were actually giving a completely different set of signals. In fact, I find it safest to assume that I don’t understand at all why someone’s reacting the way they are and accordingly ask them what’s going on; I learn a lot from that.

Does “How does the world view this character?” make you flinch for different reasons? If so, what are they?

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