Guest Post: Journaling In Character

Tonight’s post is brought to us by regular commenter Shinali, lady of the prolific (and hilarious) IC journals; she kindly offered this one to me after my request for guest posts a while back.

Sometimes your character’s views on things matter, but there is no way she would share them publicly. Other times you are having trouble getting a read on her, and you need to hear more of her voice.

My in-character journaling officially began with Kyrie’s opinions on the other PCs. For example: “Gesolvart: hard name to say. Very pompous and gentlemanly (at the same time!). Good defense against violent men. Liar and conman, learn not to trust him.” This serves both as a vague reminder of his early actions, but more importantly it tells us not only what Kyrie thought then, but also serves as a “note to self”-style warning. Character notes soon changed to a very biased summary of recent events. This or a basic plot summary in voice is a decent place to start, as they let you focus on voice and opinion rather than inventing events.

The first thing to assume when IC journaling is that there is a reasonable expectation that no one else will read it. This is not a memoir, it’s a private commentary on the wild things happening around them, and hence has little to no filter. This allows them to safely call other characters weird or arrogant without fear of reprisal, or put down new secret information on paper so they can sort it out. Of course, some secrets are so big they shouldn’t be written anywhere, leading to notes like this from Samar’s journal, “Well the rest of the meeting was dreadfully boring and such and no one, even me, want to hear about it later. Seriously. In other, unrelated news, there aren’t near enough wards on this book.” This can apply to big game-relevant secrets, or your character’s secret fascination with something.

The second assumption is that they would only write about things that they care about, or think they will care about later. A discussion with a powerful person might be summarized as small talk. Deciding whether it’s safe to leave a certain person in charge may involve deep introspective commentary. An intense negotiation and ancient ruins might get a brief description, but the new magical item or the new personal idol might get paragraphs of description…or the reverse.

The third assumption is that the fourth wall is almost as strong as on-screen. You could do it the other way, but to get the character’s true views, this limitation actually helps. Now, you can let the highly educated character speak in modern slang, or leap to conclusions you’d have trouble justifying onscreen, and lampshading is fun. Character-based conclusion-jumping is often easiest because you may never know the truth as in, “Never ever ever drink tea served by Natesa. *shudder* How powerful is she that she can do that to someone like Amoth?!” Now we have Samar assuming that Natesa (who is quite powerful) is of an entirely different caliber of power.
In short, they should only know what they know onscreen, although they can write as if they are aware of a potential audience if you want (this does not contradict the first assumption – they might later distill it into memoirs).

There are further assumptions with certain circumstances. Characters with accents or who are not fluent in the main narrative/game language would write in the language they are most comfortable in, probably the same that they normally dream in. Familiars probably write in a similar or slightly higher level of language they use to speak to their master on-screen, such as Lan in her letter saying, “We also learned the cats have bad bugs who do not want to be friends,” instead of “there are demon beetles in the cats and they didn’t speak to me.”
If a character has a deeply hidden secret that no one knows about, they would likely write in a way that implies that the diary knows about it, even if they do not explicitly mention it. That is actually true of anything the character already knows – they needn’t define a bit of jargon in their own diary unless it’s new and they need the reminder.

As an aside, especially if you lack events to comment on (such as before the game begins), there is always letting them answer one of those online surveys or prompts that make their way around the internet. In this case, break the fourth wall as needed or desired. Favorite movie? Fill in a play from their setting or a movie they would like if they lived here and now. You might discover something really unusual, such as that Kyrie’s friend most likely to pull pranks has the same name as the local queen.

In short, you let the character narrate and commentate and there is no real right or wrong way for a character to write their diary – maybe it’s a travelogue, maybe it’s written as letters to someone who will never read them, maybe they have nothing to hide and it’s their personal blog or rough draft of their memoirs. Simply pick the way they would write it, and run with it. Maybe your character will finally reveal that deep dark secret they have kept from you all these months.

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