Wednesday Night Writing Exercise: Fear, to Ruby

I got this one from one of my 2011 exercises, which in itself was an extension of my template for writing a character’s fear profile. The idea is to figure out what role fear plays in a character’s life: how she views it, whether she shows it, when it’s all right and when it isn’t, and to what degree she seeks it out or avoids it. I’m going to do just one character tonight—but given that the character in question is Ruby the one-woman army, and that I’ve seen her show fear in a way I can recognize as such about two or three times over seven years of gaming, this should still be a challenge.

Ruby’s culture isn’t one of those ones that intensely discourages showing fear. Since her standard response is fight rather than flight, and her parents were merchants and therefore concerned with how that might mess up the family image, she’s learned to mostly quash the response, or at least to translate it into being somewhere else—but since her next situation involved her serving as a bodyguard, it comes back in full force if the threat isn’t so much to her as to someone else. At this point, one could almost make the point that it’s really hard to tell the difference between Ruby being scared and Ruby being angry. On the other hand, her combat training and tactical background tell her that to show fear is to show weakness, and to show weakness is to invite attack—so instead of showing fear as itself, she channels it into one of a number of tactics.

So does she show fear? Not often. She’ll admit to it sometimes, usually in the context of keeping someone else away from the fear-stimulus (for instance, she excused both herself and Lirit from one major battle with “I don’t want her anywhere near him. Heck, I don’t think I want me anywhere near him” or words to that effect), but usually, she defaults back to “the more scared I am, the harder I fight”. Generally, these threats aren’t physical, either—she’s fine with physical danger. It still operates under some sorts of rules, and if it doesn’t, she can figure out what sorts of rules it does operate under, and adjust her tactics accordingly. Besides, it’s a lot harder to be afraid of something when you know that your magic can whisk you out of the way and give you a good shot at a counterattack before anything it can hit you with lands. With social opponents, though, she gets nervous a lot faster—is she following the rules? How does anyone tell? At points like this, she often retreats into her young-girl persona—cheerful, friendly, short words and lots of them unless silence has been called for. I’m not entirely sure what she’d do if someone called her bluff. Fortunately, nobody has.

Ironically, this is pretty backwards from her upbringing, which far more justified the fear of physical threats than the fear of mental or social ones. In their case, it was probably a matter of “we don’t understand how it can be a threat, therefore it isn’t a threat”, whereas she sees it as “I know it’s a threat, it’s going about being a threat, but I don’t know how to counter it.”

Then there’s how she handles her fears. Ruby isn’t an adrenaline junkie, but she isn’t timid, either—rather, her approach to fear is either “grab a plan and stick to it because that’ll keep me safe” or “It’s in my way, I need to remove it” (the former being the more common approach in social situations, the latter in combat).

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