Most of the works analyzed here at Lost in Translation have been the a partial or full adaptation of the story in an original. While the degree of success may change from work to work, the intent was to take the whole of an original work and move it to another or, in the case of remakes and reboots, the same medium. However, not every adaptation aims for that goal. A small few don’t use the story so much as the main character or characters. The most recent analysis featuring a character being adapted is the 2007 Nancy Drew film.
For the most part, when a work gets adapted, it’s because the adapter wants to bring the story over to the new medium. With movies, the studio wants to bring in the fans, and the safest way is to remake the story in the original work and place it on screen. Tinkering can cause a backlash, especially with the speed of today’s social media. Warner Bros. would have been crucified if they had altered the Harry Potter films in any way from how the novels presented not just the characters but the setting.
With some works, though, chosing an iconic moment to tell is difficult. This becomes especially true for long running series. The tendency for non-comics media versions of superheroes to go off in their own directions has been discussed before; the short version is that the needs of the new medium, either a film with limited time to delve into the intricacies of the character and plots or a TV series with time to fill, will cause the adaptation to veer in a new direction. Even Marvel Studio’s offerings and Fox’s X-Men films, based on story lines in the comics, have their own take.
It’s not just superheroes, though. Supers are noticeable because of their popularity in theatres. Other long running series have been adapted. The original Nancy Drew Mystery Stories ran from 1930 until 2003, with 175 titles released in that time. With all the titles available, the 2007 movie still created a new mystery for her; the character is better known than any one of her published books. Even James Bond, with Ian Fleming writing 12 novels and 2 collections of short stories, has been adapted as a character. While the first three Sean Connery movies, Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger stayed close to the original novels, though with some changes, later works, including The Man With the Golden Gun and Octopussy, both with Roger Moore, and the entirety of the Pierce Brosnan run, featured new stories about Bond*.
That’s not to say that anytime a character with a series gets an adaptation, the work is automatically a character adaptation. The 1978 Superman movie with Christopher Reeve and 2013’s Man of Steel are both about the same character, but they also both retell the character’s story, just through different interpretations. Likewise, the 2011 remake of The Mechanic told the same story, just with a different approach, an action movie instead of a character piece.
The flip side to the above is that a work doesn’t have to focus on just one character to be a character adaptation. The exemplar here is The Addams Family from 1991. The movie showed the Addamses coping with life among the mundanes. Each character was recognizable, not just in appearance but in action and personality. The movie extrapolated from both the original one-panel comics and the 1964 TV series to explore what they would do outside the comfort of their home.
At what point does an adaptation become more about the character or characters than the original story? The main difference is having a new plot created for the character, as with Nancy Drew, The Addams Family, and the sequels to the Tim Burton Batman film. This approach works well when the character is better known than any of his or her existing stories, which tends to happen with older characters. Pop culture osmosis means that a younger generation will know of the character in general without having experienced the original work first hand, if at all. Nancy Drew is a teenage girl detective who can get herself in and out of trouble. The Addamses, as the song says, “They’re creepy and they’re kooky.” James Bond is a suave British agent with a license to kill.
Another way to tell that a work is a spin-off. Spin-offs are works that are related to an original or even an adaptation, based on a character or situation that was minor in the original but got attention from the audience. The Ma & Pa Kettle series of movies came about after the hard luck characters in The Egg and I became breakout hits despite being supporting characters. The Angel spin-off from Buffy the Vampire Slayer followed the tortured vampire to LA after leaving Sunnydale. After Cheers ended, Frasier followed the character to Seattle. In each of these cases, the character’s/characters’ story continued. Note that not all spin-offs are popular. There are times when a studio misreads the audience’s desires; this was the case with the Friends spin-off, Joey. Friends was popular, lasting ten seasons. When it wrapped up, fans still wanted more, so NBC spun off the character of Joey. The new show didn’t maintain the ratings the parent show had, and only lasted two seasons.
Like full works, characters can also be adapted. While adapting a character for a new medium is part of the process of adaptation, it is possible for a character to be adapted without the rest of his or her story. The degree of success lies in how well the adapters – whether studio executives, comic artists and writers, or even fanfic authors – understand the character and can portray that understanding to the audience.
* Special mention here for the Timothy Dalton outing, The Living Daylights, which re-told the short story of the same name, then expanded on it. The full 007 series deserves to have its own project as it covers not just simple adaptation, but character adaptation and expansion into a franchise.
“Why do you assume I have a choice?” Stephen King, Night Shift.
A month ago I explained horror from an LDS viewpoint, justifying, as it were, the existence of the horror genre. But why me? I recognize the need for electricians but have no desire to be one myself, so the need itself is not reason enough for my participation, and while I don’t think that there’s any reason to defend myself (I already did that to my satisfaction) there is room for curiosity to be had. Why did— well, you think of an author yourself and add “write in that genre?” because I definitely don’t feel qualified to compare myself to the Greats at this point. But why does anyone write how and what they do? (more…)
Stories, games, and all fictions are about people, about characters, about what they do and why. They may not be like us, we may not like them, but that’s what’s going on. We’re watching people (even if not human) do stuff to get results, though we may put it in more colorful ways.
Goals, methods of reaching them, and results are, in a way, everything a story is about. In the end, you’ve got to save the prince so you can throw the one ring into the fiery pit of the starship engine to bypass the alien invaders before your ninja rival does.* No goals, no methods, no results, no story, no interest.
Therefore, your world has to include characters that have believable goals, ways of achieving them, and results.
Which is obvious.
And, as you’ve heard me say many times, and doubtlessly will again, obvious is the problem.
Let’s dive in. (more…)
Lady Geek Girl has a look at the “miswriting” of disabled characters in media which is informative (and predictable if you know the media.), but I find the real impact is how she ties this together to look at two awesome fictional characters with disabilities – Toph of The Last Airbender and Tyiron of Game of Thrones and how they provided opportunities for good writing.
Some food for thought for writers.
So have you written/drawn/created disabled characters, and if so how much research did you do? I confess that upon review, I haven’t, except one memorable case of a character with speech impediment and a minor brain injury (and that actually was part of a larger experience where he got religion and evolved as a person).
Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach. He blogs on careers at http://www.musehack.com/, publishes books on career and culture at http://www.informotron.com/, and does a site of creative tools at http://www.seventhsanctum.com/. He can be reached at http://www.stevensavage.com/.
This post originally appeared at The Oak Wheel on May 22, 2014.
“Companions, the creator seeks- not corpses, not herds of believers. Fellow creators, the creator seeks, those who inscribe new values on new tablets. Fellow creators, the creator seeks, and fellow harvesters; for everything about him is ripe for the harvest.” Thus Spake Zarathustra, by Friedrich Nietzsche.
Blue and orange morality, says TV Tropes, is what you have when “characters have a moral framework that is so utterly alien and foreign to human experience that we can’t peg them as good or evil… There might be a logic behind their actions, it’s just that they operate with entirely different sets of values and premises with which to draw their conclusions.” (more…)
Hello, my name is Michał Solański (mostly known around the web as Solarius Scorch) and this is my second article on Seventh Sanctum. Our benevolent host Steven Savage was kind enough to invite me to open my own article series called “Bag of Tricks”, in which I will suggest a number of plot ideas and, well, tricks for game masters. Each article will cover a different RPG genre by addressing one particular problem or aspect — sometimes central to the genre, sometimes just interesting enough to be discussed. I hope you shall find it useful, or at least entertaining to some extent.
This initial article covers heroic fantasy, though it may be somewhat applicable to other fantasy genres featuring thematic heroes and individual combat.
Shōnen is a very popular manga and anime genre, including such titles as Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Dragon Ball or Fairy Tail (and if you include its close relative, seinen, also series like Ninja Scroll or Basilisk). Shōnen stories usually feature adventures of absurdly powerful warriors, mixed with typical middle school level shenanigans and significant amounts of fanservice. Therefore the shōnen genre appeals to nearly all male teenagers (which means boys 12 to 65 years old), and the characters themselves also attract hordes of fangirls. Fanservice aside, these titles are watched for one major reason: fighting scenes! Most shōnen series are extremely silly, but that’s not the point at all; what counts is fighting with swords (or kunai, naginatas, bare fists — mark your favourite answer if you like these things). And this is what makes them watchable.
As a genre that specializes in martial action, shōnen developed a number of rather interesting means of heating up scenes to the max. Naturally, some of them are just camera work and other audiovisual methods, but since this column is about role-playing games, let’s have a look at plot-related tropes that make shōnen fights unique. After all, the art of game mastering is largely an art of theft, all in order to enrich your players’ experience during the weekly gorefest.
It should be pretty clear by now that this little article is most useful for heroic fantasy games, where player characters can and will fight, fight, fight the power! Call of Cthulhu is unlikely to apply here, but on the other hand my old eyes have seen things I once considered unimaginable…
Some enemies simply cannot be beaten, period. However, their invincibility doesn’t originate simply from their overwhelming might, or “high enough level”, but from some particular property they have — something that gives them the ability to easily and leisurely negate all attacks launched at them. The most straightforward examples of such abilities are defensive powers, like instant dematerialization (rendering the user able to ignore strikes and go through walls), armour that cannot be punctured in battle conditions, or good old total invisibility. More advanced forms of Impassability may be based on pretty much anything, starting with rapid cloning to commanding air currents to the ability to absorb attacks as raw energy. It doesn’t matter how exactly Impassability works, what matters is that this opponent is absolutely impossible to overcome, unless they do something really stupid — and you know they won’t…
How can we use such an opponent in our adventure? Naturally, its main use is to force the players to come up with a plan to win against them despite each normal attack being mercilessly nullified (otherwise it wouldn’t be an Impassable enemy after all). Ideally, in order to bring down this one foe, the characters would have to use their special abilities creatively, but it’s not really necessary — getting them to come up with an interesting, non-obvious idea is what really counts.
Let’s consider a simple example: the opponent has placed a network of magical portals on the battlefield, between which he can freely travel in a blink of the eye, and each teleportation also provides instantaneous healing; moreover, these portals cannot be destroyed without some advanced magic that the party doesn’t have. Such an opponent cannot realistically be vanquished by normal means, unless with one extremely strong and accurate attack that would be way beyond the party’s hopes.
However, understanding the nature of the Impassability and some creative use of combat terrain can still turn the tides of battle: for example, the heroes might succeed in using the portal network for sending a magical discharge which will temporarily stun the enemy (preferably after some diversion). Or perhaps after an appropriately long (and probably painful) observation they will find some sort of weakness in the enemy technique, eg. for a fraction of a second after teleportation he is defenceless? This challenge may prove to be really difficult to your players, but remember that nothing compares to the wonderful feeling of showing someone who considers themselves invincible that they were wrong after all.
Another variant of this idea, perhaps easier on the players — but equally interesting — is pitching two Impassable warriors against each other (naturally, at least one of them is likely to be a player character). Both combatants realize that they are unable to hurt each other just like that, because, say, one of them is protected by a flawless armour, while the other has insane regeneration rate and also can absorb matter into their own body.
Winning will be a tough nut to crack for both of them; merely looking for an opening will probably take most of the duel, but with some decent narration, this struggle can make the player in question sweat a lot. If it’s the player character who has the armour and their enemy is the one regenerating, a good idea would be to start by separating the opponent from the ground to deny them access to regeneration material — but how to do this? Conversely, their opponent will look for a way to find a way to win that doesn’t involve piercing through the opponent’s armour — maybe they could be buried alive or electrocuted? Each combatant will therefore keep looking for a way to overcome the other’s absolute defence, while trying to predict how their own absolute defence might be rendered ineffective. The one to find and use the method first will be the winner.
Wrong place, wrong enemy
Let’s have a look at another common shōnen plot. Many players have a tendency of getting used to one particular fighting method that they use against absolutely everyone, because for some reason it simply is the most efficient. In its most primitive version it’s just the “I cut them with my sword, because I have it at +5”, but it may also refer to a particular spell, manoeuvre or special ability, depending on the setting and mechanics. Such a trademark move is nothing bad per se, it can even be quite helpful in establishing the character’s image (most protagonists featured in anime for teenagers also have one standard combat technique to use on most foes), but in the long run it may get a little boring. Especially if half of the PCs are using the exact same move. Let’s spice things up from time to time, shall we?
What do I have in mind? It’s simple: let’s put our hero in a situation where using his default power is impossible or inefficient. Do they rely upon their speed and agility in combat? Make them fight on slippery ground where sudden movement is out of the question (if we’re feeling extra mean, let’s give the enemy an ability or equipment to ignore such terrain hazards). Do they solve everything with a fireball? Make them fight underwater. Are they a powerful psionic, able to attack minds directly? Throw mindless robots at them. And so on, et cetera.
As you probably can see, such decisions’ only goal is to knock the player off their everyday routine: denied their trademark move, they will have to fall back to other abilities (perhaps considered of little use before), and most of all to think hard on what to do. But there is also another reason why such a plot idea can be beneficial: although abilities that are written on a character sheet and meticulously improved session to session are very fun (because it’s fulfilling and satisfying to use them), we only really get to know them when we learn of their limitations. A player who loves their fireball spell is unlikely to no longer like it if they can’t use it for once; but if carefully prodded, they may start to like it even more, because it becomes more substantial — a specialist’s trusted tool instead of a simple problem-solving button.
Nevertheless, this trick should be used sensibly — otherwise the player is likely to interpret it not as an interesting plot element, but rather as common pettiness on the game master’s side. It should also be used sparingly, because it’s supposed to be an exceptional situation after all, one removed from everyday experience. Still, watching a fire mage frantically searching through their pockets for that cheap water spell scroll they would never use normally is quality entertainment for the entire party (and certainly for the game master).
A motif with a person
When considering supervillains and many shōnen heroes, it is easy to identify some sort of a motif that is attached to nearly all of them and often determines their basic attributes — looks, equipment and special powers. These powers, or some central aspect of them, is what more often than not appears to be the character’s core: it seems to conceptually determine their other features. For example Kimimarō from Naruto is able to transform his own bones (which allows him to turn his bones into blades protruding from his skin), therefore his body is frail, his complexion pale, and his eyes dead. Similarly, Fairy Tail protagonist Natsu, being an apprentice of a dragon with fire- based powers, has flame-like hair, sharp teeth and explosive temper. Or compare Medusa from Soul Eater, known for her affinity for snakes, has yellow eyes with vertical slits and a very expressive tongue. While not every shōnen character has their motif, even not having one can also be significant in some way, as it may denote someone really special.
How exactly does it relate to role-playing? Such a motif is not very likely to be crucial to battle tactics or contents of a campaign, but certainly is a comfortable and easy method of creating non-player characters that players will remember. Such a move may also have beneficial effects on the conceptual coherence of an adventure, helping introduce some symbolics to it (more or less unsubtly). How directly we should use this idea depends of course on our party’s sophistication, who may or may not be impressed with such motif characters, so let’s not get carried away here. However, I guarantee that even if your players are deadly serious people, who consider something like a snake-man to be utterly pathetic, they are still bound to appreciate the fact that a mysterious knight that turned out to have a snake-like tongue had been seen much earlier with a shield depicting a snake, and not, say, a badger.
Speaking of the rather important issue of potential laughableness: why would anyone walk around in some bizarre outfit, and one related to their powers to boot? Well, such a hero (or villain) should be designed so that such clothes would be beneficial or necessary to their profile, or at least neutral. If for example our subject commands metal, it wouldn’t be weird for them to wear heavy armour all the time and be known to the world as the Iron Count (don’t forget to give them steel-coloured eyes). Similarly, it would be logical for an adept of martial arts taught by Secret Masters of the Sun who Reign the Light to wear a robe embroidered with sun symbols, showing their pride and reverence for this tradition, and perhaps to abuse figures of speech related to sun or daylight. Like I mentioned before, the level of subtlety should be chosen according to our players to avoid excessive campiness, but it’s almost always good to use such ideas for one simple reason: in shōnen series, only common thugs and other small fries wear civilian clothes, important characters hardly ever do.
Eventually, it should be said that motifs have a tendency to pass from a master to a pupil, from an ancestor to a descendant (particularly obvious in Naruto, but fairly prevalent across the genre). Style imitation is not only a matter of practicality (logically, a pupil will know the same techniques as their teacher), but it is also a sign of the pupil’s loyalty and pride. It is particularly important if the master was met with an untimely end, and their student takes upon themselves the responsibility for continuation of their master’s work.
This mechanism in itself can be exploited by game masters in several ways: for example let’s assume that the party needs to find a famous hero, who is known to wear long coat with a red rune of fire and an inquisitorial hat with a feather, which in the given setting is quite an exotic outfit. When they finally succeed in finding this person, it turns out that the guy is not only much younger than expected, but there are also additional issues (examples: the youngster can’t really do much; the youngster can do a lot, but mistakenly blames the party for killing their master; the youngster works for the opposite side of the conflict; etc.). Such plot hooks can easily result in scenes that are either comedic or dramatic, whatever suits you best.
And so we’ve reached the end of this little article. I have briefly described just three of the many dead horse shōnen tropes that with minimal effort can be translated to the language of role playing games and included in your bag of plot tricks. Naturally, this little list is quite far from completion, and many readers are bound to come up with more ideas. Why don’t you share them in the comment section below? Dattebayo!
You have built a world. You know it’s origins and its ecology, you know it’s people and their religion, you know technology or sorcery (or both) thta they use. You have a world that is a living-breathing creation, all in your head, and your documents, and your stories.
It’s time to populate it with characters. Sure you’ve probably started early, but we are going in order here.
Most of us creating worlds have them populated with people to tell stories about or to play (in the case of the game). Characters in a way are the start and the result of worldbuilding – the result of the worldbuilding we do to have people to tell a story about. More on that later, however.
So, where do you characters fit into all of this? Well, let’s take a look. (more…)