Database: The Player's Craft: Weakness - A Writer's Best Friend

Alright, so you're coming up with a new SIMM character, and your mind is brimming over with rich trek ideas. And part of you wants to make something unbeatable - smart, strong, fast, tough, well trained, and generally unbeatable! It's possible in Trek - Data was all those things, and it wouldn't be hard to tweak that idea and embellish it to make a character even more awesome than Data was (with inbuilt phaser fingers and tricorder eyes)! Heck... you could have a Q as a character if you wanted! And why wouldn't you?

Basically, because it would make your posts dull as ditch water. Let me explain...

At the most basic level, stories are about characters overcoming challenges. Whether the story is about a gallant knight from the land of Zorkoth on a quest to defeat a dragon, or it's an unmarried pregnant girl living in Liverpool with a dysfunctional relationship with her mother, almost all stories boil down to that basic concept - characters overcoming challenges. The story draws you in by letting you connect with the character, and then presents them with some challenge, generally with the threat of failure. And because we care about the character, we keep reading, hoping that they overcome the challenge and don't suffer too much.

Thus there's two key elements that make interesting story characters that people want to read about. First, you want the people who read the story to connect with them. Second, you want a character who can be challenged in various ways.

The problem with making an ultimate bad-ass character is that it potentially fails on both counts. First, people don't connect with them because they're perfect and ever-confident and awesome, and most people are flawed, make lots of mistakes, and often find themselves out of their depth. And second, because the more invincible and perfect your character is, the harder it will be to really put them in a challenging situation. A teenager locked in a burning building is exciting. Superman locked in a burning building isn't. We all know he's fireproof, even if he couldn't break down the walls and fly away.

So what's the alternative?

Well... as odd as it may seem, making characters with flaws, quirks and distinct weaknesses makes for a MUCH more worthwhile (and fun) character. Now, this sometimes goes against our instincts. Choosing a SIMM character can sometimes feel like choosing an alter-ego. This is a person who's character you adopt, and becomes like an extension of you. It's natural that we'd actually WANT them to be strong, smart and generally perfect. If we got to change ourselves into anyone we wanted, who WOULDN'T want to be someone more perfect than we are?

But you're NOT choosing an alter ego. You're writing a character in a story; one that you're hoping others will read and like the exploits of, and want their characters to relate to. Someone who's going to go through a lot bigger, scarier, and more intense experiences that you or I ever will, with a real chance of it ending horribly badly. Someone who'll fail sometimes, just like we do, so we actually cheer when they succeed, because it COULD have gone the other way!

You can make them brilliant in some ways, everyone has their strengths, but always balance it out. Your doctor might be a world-class surgeon, but they might have rubbish people skills. Your scientist might be an astrophysics genius, but they don't understand transporters and they can't cook to save themselves. Your security chief might be a master of hand-to-hand combat and a crack shot, but he's badly over-confidant and can also never keep a girlfriend for more than a week or two. Make a character that real people, with real strengths and weaknesses of their own, can relate to!

And make the weaknesses something that you're willing to explore. That's where the really interesting stories happen! The doctor and the security chief are obliged to pretend they're married for the sake of a mission - can they avoid their relational weaknesses from ruining the mission? The astrophysics genius is trapped on an exploding ship - can he get the transporter working and escape?

The question is, when you come up against threats and bad guys, who do you want to LOOK scary? Yourself, or the bad guys? If YOU look tougher that might feel good from your perspective, but it's probably going to make for a pretty dull post. Worf spends half an hour beating up on 40 midgets armed only with wiffle-bats. Meh!

Alternatively, if your ENEMY looks frighteningly tough (like the Borg when they first appeared, or the Jem Hadar), suddenly everyone's hooked! How can our heroes ever beat THIS? Think back, and some of the most engaging episodes of star trek have been when the heroes have felt totally outclassed; like the Enterprise against the Borg Cube that's just carved its way through the fleet at Wolf 359, or the Defiant against 1500 enemy ships.

What's the moral here? Don't make your characters James Bond; invincible super-agents, feared by men, adored by women, and never a hair out of place. Star trek (and SIMMing) thrives on characters with a mix of strengths and weaknesses. A SIMM is a collaborative writing project, so it's at its absolute best and most interesting when several characters have to work together to beat some challenge, each person throwing their strengths into the mix, and helping others out with the things they're not so good at.

And every now and then, let your character loose at something! Not every day, but just enough to make their victories and successes matter, because you know it doesn't ALWAYS end that way!

Thorin: I would like to take some time with some case examples. I will use characters in UF As examples:

I think the difference is between playing a game (where the object is to win) and writing a story. In a game you want to grab as many power-ups and magic swords as you can so YOU are the one who saves the princess. In a good story, for every handsome prince there are 10 Dwarves, a wicked step mother and a damsel in distress, all of whom have to be played well and be prepared NOT to win the day.

As a player/writer, my main thought should be, how do I get the most out of my character AND the ones around me. This external focus is often lacking in SIMM as people are so caught up in their own characters malfunction that they ignore everyone else. Have a think about all of the ships that you have each been on. Think of the characters (not your own) who have stood out to you and why? Was it because of their heroic stance and powerful laser guns, or because they were provocative?

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